how early should I tell an employer about my long-distance marriage?

A reader writes:

I’m in a long-distance marriage. My husband lives in Canada — we are about a 10-hour drive away, so visiting is still a plausible part of our lives. However, I’m currently looking for a job that will bring in more income; I’m applying to different things and trying to see what our options are.

How early in the process should I be telling prospective employers about my marriage? For a full-time job (especially one that might require odd/extra hours), I understand that a HR manager might be a little wary because it’d be easier for them to hire someone else will less ties/freer to dedicate time to the company. For instance, one job I interviewed for was a full-time job with “some odd hours/weekends.” Especially if they’d be wanting extra availability / hours from me on short notice, I guess someone like me wouldn’t be ideal for that position because what if I have plans to visit my husband that weekend? Then I’m not available, whereas someone with fewer ties COULD be more spontaneously available.

Or even if there was no issue with the hours, maybe if I was in HR, I’d also think things like, “Well, if we have an employee that might be regularly taking out-of-state trips, what if she has a transportation issue and can’t make it into the office?” Or something like that.

I’ve also applied for jobs with more flexible hours, too, and one question that has come up is why I want those flexible hours — and of course, it’s because flexible hours would be ideal as they would enable me to still visit my husband.

My general thought was that the first interview would be an okay time to drop hints that I am married, etc., and let them work out what that means to them for themselves. It is very possible that my husband will immigrate here soon (at least for a few years), but it isn’t a 100% definite thing.

How early should I talk about my marriage? How might HR managers respond — for a full-time job, for a flexible job? Also, I am fairly young — a recent college grad, actually, and also sort of wondering if they will judge me for being married at my age?

Obviously, from my end, I would put in 110% to make sure whatever arrangements I had with my husband didn’t conflict with whatever job I took. But I was just wondering how this might feel from an employer’s perspective.

I wouldn’t mention it at all, actually. It’s really none of their business. What is their business is your availability, but the reason for your availability (or lack thereof) isn’t the relevant part.

If you’re concerned that a job might need to you to be available on weekends on short notice, then once you get an offer you can ask about that. And when you do, it’s up to you how specific you get. You could certainly say, “My husband currently lives in Canada, and so I visit him one or two weekends per month. Does this position often require last-minute weekend work?” But you could also be less specific and simply say, “How often, if at all, does the person in this position usually end up needing to work on weekends? I ask because I often see out-of-town family on weekends.”

And if you’re directly asked about weekend availability at an earlier stage, you can use versions of those answers to respond.

But being in a long-distance marriage isn’t anything you’re obligated to disclose.

As for what an employer is likely to think about your situation if you do disclose it … Most people aren’t going to judge you for being married at a young age (if anything, employers might be inclined to like it, because — rightly or wrongly — they’ll think it signals maturity and stability). But what they might worry about is whether the long-distance thing is going to become too difficult for you, and they’ll lose you to Canada within the year. So that’s an additional argument for keeping it to yourself at this stage.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. koppejackie*

    OP, you’d be surprised at how much this happens. At my old job, someone (who worked in HR, even) had a LDM (long-distance marriage). No big deal at all, especially since she could work remotely.

    This happens a lot in academia, too. One spouse gets a super awesome teaching role and moves, while the other spouse remains behind to focus on their own teaching job.

    What you should be looking/asking for when you have interviews is how they view working remotely. Then, you won’t have to worry so much about the possibility of working over a weekend, at night, etc., while you’re with your husband.

    1. Cassie*

      I’m in academia and there’s been a couple of instances recently of long distance marriages – like one spouse in Europe while the other one is in California. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s not that uncommon for immigrants where one spouse prefers to stay in the home country while the other spouse brings the kids to the US for a better education or something like that. Although in those cases, there usually aren’t frequent visits back and forth.

      I don’t see much of a problem here – I wouldn’t mention it at the initial interview (people get weirded out by lots of stuff), and maybe not even mention it at all. Working remotely shouldn’t be that big of an issue, especially for general administrative-type duties – I’ve ended up doing a bit of work while on a long vacation abroad.

  2. Anon-Mouse*

    This is really similar to a situation I’m dealing with now. I was just sent an offer and during negotiation, I tried to negotiate flexible hours (time-shifting, working from home, that sort of thing) for health reasons. I didn’t tell them why, because I didn’t think it was any of their business and in my experience disclosing health issues can pop a red flag (illegal or not), but they’ve basically said no to everything and impressed upon me that it’s a culture of long hours, weekend work, that expects people to be physically in the office (even though the particular job I’d be doing is predominately independent in nature) so I don’t know, OP. On the one hand, it’s none of their business. On the other hand, maybe by being honest they’ll be willing to be more flexible? I wish now that I had at least risked it and told them my reasons for requesting flexible hours, because now I’m faced with making a decision on a job that sounds perfect in every way–except for the fact that my stupid health gets in the way.

    1. Stells*

      In your example, being honest wouldn’t change a thing. A company who’s culture is based on long hours MIGHT be willing to give you some flex time due to health reasons, but even if they do….you’ll still be considered the person who isn’t a team player or who isn’t as dedicated to the job as the people in the office.

      Being honest won’t change the company’s culture, and if you are able to get them to bend a little, you’ll probably be miserable working there.

    2. Legal Eagle*

      I agree with Stells. If the company culture is based on long hours, weekend work, and facetime, this just may not be the job for you.

  3. EngineerGirl*

    I think people are missing one key item. She is crossing borders. This could become problematic if there is a need for remote access while she is in another country. That part is very much the company’s business.

    1. PEBCAK*

      But AAM’s answer covers that. “Visiting family in Canada” is just fine.

      1. KellyK*

        Right. And it should come out in general questions about weekend work whether they will need her to be available some, all, or most weekends.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        No, it is not. The question is she needs to VPN in from Canada to support work. That may, or may not be problematic depending on the employer.

        Perhaps Jaime could comment?

        1. Cat*

          But she doesn’t need to specify that it’s her husband who’s in Canada, so “visiting family” would work fine for that purpose.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            The issue is if she needs to be available for work while she is in Canada. See below.

            1. Cat*

              No, I’m aware of that, but if her employers tell her she needs to work on the weekends and she says she’s regularly visiting family in Canada, that will get at the issue. They don’t need to know it’s her husband she’s visiting (okay, it’s conceivable that could change the tax implications but you can get to that at a later stage).

        2. Jamie*

          As long as she can get a decent internet connection the tech side shouldn’t be an issue. I’ve had people remote in everywhere from India to Iceland. Although careful of those roaming charges…stick to wi-fi.

          Disclosure, I have no experience with remote users in Canada though.

          My concern would be more where her primary residence is and if working from there for an American company creates a tax issue. I have no idea – I just know our employees that live and work in different states – even though they are in the field and our only office is here – have special income tax needs by state. So it really depends on where she legally resides, I’m guessing?

          1. KayDay*

            I doubt it would be an issue if she was just visiting (which is what it sounds like). I mean, I’ve checked my work email from multiple countries and done work during business trips, and never once paid income tax to a foreign nation for it.* If she maintains a bank account in Canada, it might be an issue, but that’s not relevant to the employer.

            I don’t know anything about VPN issues, but unless the company expects her to be on-call over the weekend, her situation isn’t any different from anyone who takes a weekend getaway to Vancouver or Montreal or Ellesmere Island.

            *If I go a long period of time without commenting, it is because I have been detained by a foreign country for tax evasion. In that case, please come save me!!!!!

          2. AB*

            Jamie, I may be mistaken, but I thought EngineerGirl was talking about compliance implications of remote access from a foreign country (EG, please correct me if I’m wrong).

            I once had a colleague who had his family living in South America. We were working for a bank in the U.S., and when they learned that his telecommuting time (a week every two months) was from a foreign country, he got in trouble — accessing the type of bank information he had access to via VPN from outside the U.S. was a breach of compliance (not sure if internal to the organization, or broader than that).

            I believe that North America (and thus Canada) would not be subject to the same restrictions, so this advice is not for the OP in particular, but it’s generally a good practice to check with your employer first if you intend to access information via VPN from a foreign country, to make sure it’s acceptable behavior.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Yes, it is the legal / policy side I’m talking about. It isn’t the matters of “can I do it” but of “can I do it and not get into trouble?”

              1. Jessa*

                The company should know though. If you disclose the location you will be remoting from, they should TELL you whether you can or not. It doesn’t matter WHY you are doing it though.

                1. Kerry*

                  Some industries might have a problem going from Canada to the US as things like the Patriot Act mean that many Canadian industries are worried about their information being stored on any American servers. But those would definitely be the exception and I can’t think of any similar issues for an American working in Canada

    2. Lexy*

      Not any more so than any other way you spend your weekends… I think Alison’s suggestion is perfect. “I often spend weekends out of town, how often would it be expected to be available on weekends?”. No need to get into who or where or why.

  4. Daisy*

    ‘My general thought was that the first interview would be an okay time to drop hints that I am married, etc.’
    Please don’t hint. They’re either going to think a) that you’re one of those weird people who think husbands should make every decision for their wives , or b) that you think they’re hitting on you. Say outright that you spend weekends away if you think it’s necessary, but leave marriage out of it.

  5. KellyK*

    I definitely like this advice. Don’t bring it up; ask specific questions about weekends and last-minute work.

    Alison, would you ask those questions in the interview itself, rather than waiting until an offer is made? Assuming it’s a question about the work and schedule, rather than bringing up the husband specifically. I would think that if the OP is applying in industries where last-minute weekend work is the norm (or where there are some companies where it might be), it would be better to ask during the interview, rather than risk them feeling like you’d wasted their time if you turn down an offer because of it.

    1. Stells*

      I agree that asking questions about work schedules/flex work/etc can/should be done in the interview. I wouldn’t frame it as “well I need XYZ” but more of a basic “What does a normal work week look like? – What are the expectations around working weekends and/or working remotely a day or two a week/month/etc” type inquiry.

      This way, you can get an idea of the company culture early on, and you don’t have to give any reason for it. Waiting until the offer stage will put you at a disadvantage, I would think, if the time commitment is something more than you’re willing to give.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You can ask about it in the interview, yes, as long as it’s not what you lead with and you have plenty of other questions about the work itself. But I’d bring it up again at the offer stage, to be sure.

      1. AmyNYC*

        I usually ask in the context of company culture – “I understand that (industry) is never going to be a 9 to 5, but how often do you see people in the office until 8 or on weekends?”
        No one has been insulted, and they’re usually more than happy to answer – and junior staff is usually more truthful about working late than supervisors.

  6. Jane*

    I work in an industry in which last-minute weekend work is the norm (law) but I know several people who have or have had spouses who live out of town (none out of the country though, which, as some have pointed out, might pose other issues) and I don’t they mentioned anything. I think it’s just one of those things where they try their very best to visit their spouse but recognized that in accepting this job it was not always going to be feasible or it would at least require them to have remote access. I agree that it’s not necessary to raise during the interviews but I supect the OP will get a feel for whether last-minute weekend work is required based either on the industry or on the conversations during the interviews about this particular job.

  7. EngineerGirl*

    OK, I’ll be a little clearer. If the OP needs to perform work for her company while she is in Canada there may be issues that affect the company:
    * tax issues of performing work while physically within the bounds of Canada
    * computer issues – if she has a work computer with an encrypted hard drive the encryption may be illegal under Canadian law
    * data access issues – transferring data via a Canadian carrier to the US, especially if encryption software (VPN) is used

    The key thing to ask is if they expect you to connect remotely during off-normal hours.

    1. :D*

      Might just be me- but if I’m looking for a new job (and not desperate), and my husband lives 10 hours away… I’m not doing ANY work on those weekends. Off the grid.

    2. Legal Eagle*

      Yes, these are important issues. She could specifically mention Canada and ask if she would need to connect remotely during off-normal hours.

    3. Waerloga*

      One thing I would need to know before I chime in on the canadian side… Does she have dual citizenship? If she does, she may need to be careful doing data work up in Canada if its through her company back into Canada. Best not to mention to the CRA and border services about accessing her work at all, at all.

      NOTB really.

      1. OP*

        No, I do not have dual citizenship; I’m only a US citizen. Thanks — I’ll keep this in mind.

        1. Jessa*

          The other issue could be if the company provides spousal benefits and the husband is a citizen of Canada. That you should let HR know about.

  8. Legal Eagle*

    How long have you been in a LDR/LDM? If you and your husband have successfully managed this distance for a long time, I would mention that whenever you wanted to get specific with the employer. (“Yes, my husband lives in Canada but we have been in a long distance relationship/marriage for X months/years and we have initiated plans for him to immigrate here.”) I would not get this specific in an initial interview though. Perhaps after I get an offer.

  9. Sara M*

    OP, I spent a year in a long-distance serious relationship (we eventually married, after he was able to move to my city). I just wanted to say–I hope you are able to live together soon, whether in your city or his, because it’s a very different experience and so much better. Much more intense and fulfilling. Good luck!

  10. OP*

    Thanks for all the helpful comments, everyone. This definitely wasn’t what I was expecting — I would’ve thought that, from a HR perspective, the manager would want to know (earlier rather than later) if a potential employer had such significant ties to someplace far away.

    As far as taxes, data, encryption — a lot of the jobs I’m applying for are entry-level marketing/editorial/administrative-type work… I’m not sure if I’d be getting any heavy confidential data through these jobs? I will keep an eye out for this issue, though. And I’m pretty sure that as a U.S. citizen, if I’m employed by a U.S. company, I report taxes even if I live/work from abroad. I’m not sure on the details of this process, but I know a lot of people do it (and still report taxes for their home country).

    And by the way, by “hints” I actually meant — during one interview, the manager told me that the department frequently does conferences anywhere in North America, and I asked if they do any in Canada. I later added, “Because my husband lives in Canada — that’s why I was asking.” It was a very casual thing; the manager was very nice and so the conversation wasn’t overly stiff, and I felt I could make that statement there. Hope that wasn’t a mistake.

    But I think I’ll definitely make note of this advice and maybe wait until actual offers to disclose more.

    1. Nutella Nutterson*

      The only real concern I’d have has nothing to do with HR, but to do with immigration and border control: they sometimes get VERY weird about people crossing the border frequently. It’s something to think about in terms of scheduling visits and potentially being unable to get back to the office Monday morning.

      1. Waerloga*

        Depends on the situation. She should be fine because she’ll be using one usual entry route, preferably the most direct, to join with her husband.

        Do it enough times, it becomes a usual response. Change entry routes frequently, that’s more of an alert.

        1. OP*

          Also, as a citizen, I can’t imagine that it’s likely I’d be denied entry into the United States. It’s more likely that if there was any issue (and I’ve been going back and forth for years now and there’s never been — but who knows, nowadays?), I just wouldn’t be allowed into Canada.

  11. OP*

    Oh, and to answer some other commenters:

    My husband and I have known each other for around 8 years, and have been officially managing visits, etc., for about 3 years.

    And Sara M — thank you! Long distance relationships really do take a lot of effort, and I hope we can live together soon, too. I’m happy for you that your relationship turned out well and that you and your husband pushed through that period successfully.

  12. KitKat*

    I thought being single would work for you because employers will think you are more available to stay late or work extended hours since you won’t have as many obligations.

  13. Beth*

    No, no, no, no, no. Do NOT raise this. It brings in all sorts of potential liability issues for the employer. If you don’t get the job, why was it? Because you disclosed you were married and they worried they’d lose you to maternity leave in a year or two? Or because of the long distance thing?

    I went to grad school in Canada. When I moved back to the US, I missed Canada like crazy and I went back (5-ish hour drive for me) every single weekend to visit friends for the better part of the first year that I was gone. So what? Employees can be doing anything in their free time, and surely these prospective employers don’t worry about it. It should be a non-issue, so don’t make it into an issue.

    No one at the border made a big deal about my crossing frequently. As a US citizen you can legally be in Canada for up to 6 months of the year. (And I agree if there is a problem, it will be upon trying to enter Canada, not return to the US.) Having a job and an address in the US will go a long way towards clearing up any potential problem if Canada begins to think you’re going there to live with your husband.

    1. E*

      Not at all in relation to the question at hand, but I find it interesting that both you and the OP have mentioned that any border problems that may arise are more likely to happen upon entering Canada, not the U.S. Not that I’m trying to start an argument here (obviously OP has been doing this for years), but my experience has been exactly the opposite! I’m from Detroit and visit Canada a few times a year, and in my entire life I’ve never had a problem entering Canada but have been stopped multiple times on the way back. Maybe it’s just this particular boarder crossing?

      1. Beth*

        I’ve had serious questioning by the US border patrol (and even searches of my car.) I didn’t mean that the US will just let all citizens slide on through. Other commenters have suggested that crossing the border may become an issue which would interfere with the OP’s ability to get to work. In the situation of the OP, though, the biggest problem which might arise and actually interfere with/prevent travel would be a concern that since her husband is in Canada, she might enter Canada as a tourist but not leave. Canada could actually bar her from entering (although with her circumstances that seems highly unlikely.) There is no reason that the US would bar her from returning, though. (I am assuming she is a US citizen.) Questioning and search of a car is inconvenient but there’s no reason to think that would interfere with her work in any way (unless of course she was trying to enter with illegal substances, etc..)

        1. OP*

          Right. This is the only reason I could think that a citizen would not be allowed re-entry into their own country? — if they were harboring some sort of contraband or something. Of course, I’m not an expert on immigration law. The only (more prevalent) issue that’s ever come up is, as Beth said, whether or not they’re worried I’ll try to immigrate on the fly — and my husband (NOT a US citizen) has definitely had these problems trying to visit me. On my end, though, it’d be Canada’s concern.

  14. Beth*

    P.S. just to add – the very fact that I had just graduated from grad school in Canada and was still living there – a mere 4.25 hours from the business in the US for which I ended up working – made HR really uneasy. They were clearly worried that I wouldn’t really want to work for them for any length of time (even though I was originally from the area.) And I had no real “ties” to Canada other than classmates. As AAM suggests, they might worry, even if you assure them otherwise, having a husband in Canada could make them worry that you might end up going to Canada and not staying at the job for very long. Better to not mention it at all until you’re actually working there.

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