(Photograph by Deb Lindsey)

@Workaholics often ask what they owe soon-to-be-former employers. My thoughts: You owe them your best work while you’re there and no preventable messes after you leave. Don’t burn bridges, but don’t let yourself be pushed off them, either. And two weeks’ notice is a convention, not a commandment.

Reader: I volunteered months ago for a project to be presented at our annual conference some months from now. In the meantime, I’ve started to look for a new job. If I leave before the conference, the project will be in shambles. What is my obligation to my current employer? Should I ask a future employer to let me attend the conference? (There would be no conflict of interest.)

Karla: This is why having a single person assigned to a vital project is a bad idea: A falling piano or bad sushi could just as easily prevent you from attending that conference as a new job offer. Let your boss know you’d like another volunteer to help you with preparations. That way, if a job offer comes through, you’ll have a pinch hitter ready.

Reader: I am one of four employees, two of them related. Mine is an entry-level job with no room for growth, so I am interviewing. Now, one of the two related co-workers is really sick and will likely be leaving soon. That means the other worker will be out of the office often. Our fourth, a new hire, is still training.

I feel terrible for possibly leaving them in the lurch. My boss (referring to someone else) said that the day a person gives notice is that person’s last day. How can I mitigate the damage?

Karla: Your sick co-worker provides a perfect cover story and incentive to get the newbie up to speed. Document your tasks, which you should be doing anyway (see “piano/sushi”). After you get an offer, ask the new employer to grant you time for the transition; most will understand. If your boss sticks to the “first notice = last day” policy, it’s not your foot being shot.

Reader: I have been the victim of hostility and discrimination for years from my bosses. I’m expecting a job offer soon. I hate leaving the co-workers I like in the lurch. But my managers will humiliate me if I stay two weeks after giving notice. Can I just leave?

Karla: Oh good grief, go. Two weeks’ notice is a courtesy your tormentors don’t deserve or probably want. The co-workers worth caring about will help you pack.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com. You can also find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook.

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

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Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at wpmagazine@washpost.com.

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