how to turn down requests to visit our office, retroactive pay decreases, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How to turn down supporters’ requests to visit our office

I work for a high-profile animal welfare charity, and we often get requests by supporters to visit our office. Unfortunately, we are a small team with limited time and there really is nothing to see here! (We are not involved in hands-on work and there are no animals to see here!) We have no idea what they are hoping to see – I guess they feel we have a special relationship with them so they can just drop in for a chat when they are in town.

How do I politely tell these people we just cannot facilitate visits without sounding rude?

“We’re a small staff that tends to be stretched thin, so it’s hard to accommodate visits during the workday — and we’re a pretty basic office anyway, without animals on-site, so you likely wouldn’t find it interesting to visit! But while you’re in town, a great place to visit is ___ (insert some animal-friendly destination like a sanctuary if there’s one within driving distance).”

Also, if it’s a regular request, you might consider holding a monthly happy hour, volunteer night, or other low-resource event for volunteers and supporters, which would give you something to funnel people toward: “We’re a small staff so it’s hard to accommodate visits during the workday, but we have a monthly ___ that we’d love for you to attend if you’ll be here during it.”

And of course, it probably goes without saying, but you’d want to make the time to meet with high-dollar donors (or prospective high-dollar donors), since helping major donors feel more invested in your organization is a fundamental part of fundraising and usually more than pays for itself.

2. My former company told my former coworker that she can’t talk to me anymore

I recently left a job because I was extremely unhappy there. I made a few friends there. I was told by one of them that she is no longer allowed to talk to me and she has to cut ties with me completely because the boss says so. My former boss is telling her she can not talk to me on her private time. I did not leave and go to a competitive company; I am staying home with my family. She does not email me from work or call me from her desk; this is strictly an outside work friendship. Can a company really do that?

A handful states, such as New York and California, have laws that explicitly protect an employee’s lawful activities off the clock and off the employer’s premises, and my guess is that this would be covered by those laws. But outside of those states, yes, an employer can put all sorts of weird requirements on employees, including that they not socialize with former employees.

That said, how is your employer going to know if your former coworker is continuing to talk to you? It seems like it would be pretty easy for her to continue the friendship without them knowing about it. (Which isn’t to say that she should have to do that — this is a ridiculous overreach from the employer. But that might be the solution, unless she’s willing to push back on her manager.)

3. Can my employer decrease my pay retroactively?

Can an employer can make a pay change (decrease) retroactive? For example, I get paid a base salary, plus commission. My boss is talking about taking away the commission part of the salary structure and putting me on a base salary. Would that take effect start from the day we speak or a future agreed upon date, or could he make that take effect for this current month?

The commissions earned for the month are usually paid on the second pay date of the following month. Would the August commission be compromised if the pay change were to take effect in September? Or, would the commissions still be owed to me since it was for the month of August, and work was already completed?

Employers cannot decrease your pay retroactively. They can change it going forward at any time if you agree to that, but they can’t just announce to you, “Oh, by the way, you’ve been working at 80% of your previous rate these last two weeks.” The idea is that you need to agree to your pay rate. If you can’t reach an agreement, you can leave the job — but they can’t change it behind your back and not tell you.

Commissions, though, might be trickier, depending on the exact wording of your commission agreement with your employer.

4. Can my employer call me on my day off and tell me to come in?

Our new work schedule always comes out on Thursday and is finalized by Saturday of the same week. I check the final schedule and write it down to plan my life around my work schedule. Last week, I checked my schedule and it said that I would have Monday off. When I woke up Monday, I had a text from a coworker that said my manager decided that I was working all day — my scheduled day off.

Normally I have no problem with being called in, but I was not asked if I could; I was just told to come in. Here’s the problem: I am a few hours away from my job visiting family because I was supposed to be off. Calling me to come in a few hours before the shift was to begin will not leave me with enough time. I had to say no. Are managers allowed to schedule you last second, as in, the day of, on your day off without asking if you can actually do it? Secondly, would they be able to fire me for unwillingness to work if I can’t come in when they ask me to?

Yes, they’re allowed to do that — but you’re also allowed to explain that you can’t come in. In theory, they could fire you over that if they wanted to, but they’re unlikely to do that. (They’re also allowed to fire you for wearing an ugly tie or using words that start with Z, but that’s unlikely too.) The next time this happens, just say something like, “I can’t come in today; since I was scheduled to be off, I’m out of town.”

5. Are reimbursements supposed to be taxed?

When I incur expenses for my job (mileage for travelling to a meeting, say), I fill out an expense report and at the end of the pay period my employer reimburses me. Is this money taxable? My present employer just told me it’s illegal for a company to tax money that was paid to me as a reimbursable expense, yet my last employer always taxed it, to the tune of several hundred dollars over the 5 years I worked for them. I am living in Maryland now, my last job was in Texas, in case that makes a difference.

As long as they were legitimate, documented business expenses, that money should not be taxed. It’s not income; it’s simply reimbursement of a business expense.

I’m not sure if there’s anything you can do to correct it retroactively, but an accountant could probably tell you. (I assume you’d need them to issue you a corrected W2, and you’d need to file an amended return, but I’m just guessing.)

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric

    For #5, I’m not so sure it is clear cut. I believe it is up to the employer to determine if they want to deal with the IRS regulations surrounding non-taxable reimbursements. Try googling “non-accountale reimbursement plan” for more details.

    1. Aam Admi

      In Canada, if your employer reimbursed actual expense incurred (i.e., at a specified rate per kilometre driven), it would not be taxable as long as the employer’s per km rate does not exceed the Govt’s prescribed max rate. However, if the employer provided a fixed allowance (eg $200 per month) that is not tied to the actual distance travelled, the entire allowance is taxable. In turn, you can claim a tax deduction for the actual expense using the Govt prescribed rate.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      It has to be an accountable plan, yes, but — at least in my experience — most employers meet that standard. [That means that the expenses are legitimate business expenses, you provided documentation to your employer of the expenses (like receipts or other proof), or and you were required to return any “extra” (like if your employer gives you $250 for expenses but you only spent $150).] More discussion on this below!

    3. cajun2core

      From the University of Alabama’s website:
      http://accountspayable.ua.edu/pages/travel-policies.html

      “If the travel voucher is submitted more than 60 days after the traveler’s return, the reimbursement will be taxable income to the employee. Tax withholding will be made from the subsequent salary check. (Federal tax regulations require that substantiation of the reimbursed expenses be made within a reasonable period. Under the IRS safe-harbor rule, that period is 60 days.)”

      Also, and this may be just an Alabama thing, but if one gets per-diem for only food and incidentals (not overnight lodging) then the income is taxable. For example, if you leave and return over 12 hours later and get a $30.00 per-diem for food then that income is taxable.

      1. Cassie

        Our university (in California) just implemented a plan similar to that (after 60 days, the reimbursement would be counted as taxable income) – I guess it’s just following the IRS rules? We do not allow for food on trips less than 24 hours or without an overnight stay.

  2. Adam

    I want to get hired at a place that doesn’t allow you to use words that start with Z just once, so I can then quit and walk out the door singing about Zany Zooming Zebras to show-tune music. I might even ask for a reference just to see what they’d say.

  3. Chocolate Teapot

    1. Would an annual Open Day be a possibility? There is one specific weekend during the year here where a number of different types of businesses and associations welcome visitors.

    1. AnonyMouse

      I worked at a really small nonprofit for a while that did something like this – occasional open houses (with drinks and appetizers that were usually donated) for supporters to mingle, learn more about the organisation, and bring friends who were interested in getting involved. It was a good way to make seeing the offices work for supporters and staff.

    2. anon-2

      #1 – ok, for a non-profit, that might be reasonable. In the for-profit world, when you’re dealing with a REAL customer – who might want to see your operation close-up – you better the hell accommodate him/her. I once worked at a place where a client wanted to see our operations group. At first the client services group said “OK”. Then the operations people railed – basically “we’re so hosed up, we don’t want anyone coming in here!” So – client services called and said “um, by golly, in the future, it’s not a good time right now. Yeah, that’s it, that’s the ticket, not a good time.”

      While internally everyone was high-fivin’ and congratulating themselves, the client was preparing a cancellation – and took their business to a competitor.

      #2 – Sounds like a high school sorority. Very sophomoric. Odd – they always say “don’t burn your bridges.” It’s very odd that a company demands you do so. Now, if there is some type of post-employment litigious situation, OK, it makes sense — but to mess with your outside social life… uhhh… be careful.

      #3 – no, if you earned a commission they owe it to you. Even if they fire you, they still have to pay up. They can change the structure going forward, but they can’t finagle out of not paying you what you earned. In a prior post – a Dinner Table Story – at one place I worked they tried to put an employee on probation – retroactively – to obstruct her from a promotional transfer. Same thing.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        For #1: whether you’re for-profit or non-profit, you’re still always making a judgment about whether the time it will take to accommodate the request is worth the potential payoff. If you’re a business dealing with mostly large customers, it probably generally does. If you’re a nonprofit dealing with lots of $10 donors, it often won’t.

      2. Koko

        Believe, donors are “real” customers. They’re often even harder to keep satisfied than customers who are purchasing tangible goods or services. They gave us money to do what we thought best with it to work towards our shared goals and it’s quite subjective to determine whether or not you did that. Plenty of donors will “take their business elsewhere” if they don’t feel they’ve been treated properly–sometimes legitimate complaints based on promises made and broken, like, “I asked you not to contact me and you kept mailing and calling me,” and sometimes more questionable complaints based on the customer/donor’s whims, like, “I wanted to come visit your office and you wouldn’t let me.” Just because there’s a non-profit tax structure doesn’t me we operate outside of the market economy. There’s competition, there’s customer service, there’s income from satisfied customers and expenses…the only difference is, the expenses are incurred fulfilling the organizational mission and usually benefit someone other than the customers more directly than the customers themselves.

  4. B

    In the uk, if i buy two single bus tickets, i get 100% of the money back. But if i buy a return or day ticket, the reimbursement has to go through payroll and is taxed. Crazy, no?

      1. anonintheuk

        Putting on my tax law hat, I suspect that is the peculiarity of your payrollers/internal accounts and they ought to stop it.

  5. Liz

    ‘Employers cannot decrease your pay retroactively. They can change it going forward at any time if you agree to that, but they can’t just announce to you, “Oh, by the way, you’ve been working at 80% of your previous rate these last two weeks.”’

    God, I wish someone would tell that to my former employer. Our union rep nearly fell out of her chair when we told her about the retroactive pay cuts.

    1. Molly

      I will never understand why employers even pretend to think this is legal. If you promise someone a set amount of money for a service, then don’t give them that money after they complete the service, you’re stealing from them, no matter how you spin it. You can call it a retroactive pay decrease or a boss’s day bonus or a unicorn tax, but you’re still just blatantly taking someone else’s money.

      What adds to my fury is this is so obvious that I think bosses only do it to employees they sense are vulnerable and don’t have the means or time or knowledge to take legal action.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            The government often has totally different rules for itself than for private employers. (For instance, its comp time rules are totally different than what everyone else has to play by.)

        1. Sigrid

          Huh? How was that not illegal? Was there an exemption for the state government written into the law? Governments have to follow laws too.

          1. fposte

            Some laws, yes. All laws, no. They’re often explicitly exempt, or not included in the stated categories. For instance, federal OSHA laws don’t cover state government employees. And sometimes there are laws the government has to follow that private sector doesn’t.

      1. Bea W

        My former employer claimed it was a policy, but when I asked to see it, they claimed it wasn’t written down.

        I was leaving so I decided to just move on with my new job. I had no energy to formally expose their BS, and anyhow they kept getting sued by former (and at least one current) employees over hinky things like this. So it wasn’t like their behavior was going completely unpunished. The VP of finance responsible for all of that is no longer there. I can only hope that is because her payroll antics finally caught up to her and bit a big chunk out of her rear.

        1. Liz

          In the case of my former employer, it WAS a policy, just a dodgy one which only got approved because the Fair Work Commissioner overseeing the new enterprise agreement didn’t care. (Australia, FYI.) We had our pay assessed every 120 days based on quality and quantity, and it just. kept. going. down. (The nature of our work changed a lot, and we didn’t get much of a chance to learn new processes.)

          Suffice to say, there’s a reason I left.

          Oh, and free tip for the AAM crowd: say it’s your last day, and there’s a hilarious news article about how your company’s CEO donated a whole lot of money to a political party and then that party got into power and awarded him a major contract. Try to resist the urge to tweet a link to the article, because HR WILL find it, and you WILL be kicked out with two and a half hours left of your final day.

  6. Beks

    Fantastic advice, thank you Ask a Manager, I really appreciate the time and effort you have put into answering my question. What a fantastic service, fast, approachable and free!

  7. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

    #3
    Taking people who were commissioned off of any kind of commission or incentive pay is a terrific motivational tool exactly nowhere.

    Anyway, this shouldn’t be hard. I don’t know of any laws around it, but there’s a deep tradition that commissions are earned when the sale is made. Commissions may be paid at another time, depending on agreement, example: earned when sale is made, paid when customer pays for the sale. If you are commissioned in Jan but not in Feb, you are due all of your commissions for all sales made in Jan because that was part of your compensation in January, regardless of whether that would have otherwise been paid in Feb or March.

    The flip side of that is that unless the sale is made during the time you are commissioned, you are not traditionally owed a commission, although a very specific agreement may say otherwise. You spend time on the customer in Jan but they don’t convert until Feb, no commission.

    Typically, a company will pay out all commissions due or commissions on sales made that will become due, in a lump sum at the end of transitioning a commission agreement (due to internal job change or leaving the company). In the OPs case, the final commission pay would be in the next month.

    It’s not hard. The only thing I can think of that would be tricky is if you were commissioning a lead generator on sales that would be made later on a hand off. I’d argue pretty strongly for the lead generator to be commissioned on the life of the leads generated during the commissioned period.

    I don’t know how the law handles it, but commission is not a bonus. Commission is part of your pay.

    (In addition to having spent many years as a straight commissioned sales person, I work in an industry that relies heavily on commission and have many employees who have at least a small commission. Commission be sacred.)

    1. Diet Coke Addict

      A coworker just recently left my job over my boss’s docking of his commission. Boss said that because of the state-mandated wage increase, he was no longer required to pay the commission, so he was bumping it down from [minimal] to [even less]. Employee left, boss threw a fit because he didn’t understand what the big deal was.

      It’s not a bonus, it’s part of the pay structure. I want to have this painted on the wall of my cubicle.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Grrrr.

        Don’t we have a new job for you yet? Employers who screw with commission are the lowest of the low. (Okay, not as low as employers who chain exit doors in factories but, really, really low.)

        1. Diet Coke Addict

          Working on it! Every day!

          My boss went back and forth on what to do with my commission before proudly declaring “I’m going to keep you at current–I was going to drop it down but I bump up all employees to Current once they’ve been here a year, and you’ve been here almost a year.” He could win an award in the Making Shit Up As You Go Along Olympics.

      2. Molly

        I hate yor boss. If he didn’t understand the big deal, he would have just given the guy his commission back, but obviously he wanted the money. Nobody doesn’t “get” why being refused a star mandated raise is a reason to leave a job.

        1. Diet Coke Addict

          My boss later told a customer, referring to this guy, “We had an employee who really knew this stuff, but he left. Really screwed us. I think he was just working here to get his employment benefits back.”

          Dude. Just stop.

    2. Cool Beans

      +1, especially if the employer offers a lower base because the commission is earned. Now, the employee would be stuck with a low base!

      1. E.R

        Exactly, which is usually the case. Most people in sales-type positions earn low base salaries with the expectation that they can earn enough commission to bump them well over the average salary mark. My boss has screwed around with my salary-commission-bonus structure over the last year, in ways that he would never do with salary-only employees ( I can’t imagine him going to our research team and saying, “I’m dropping your salary by $20,000, okay? Be grateful I employ you!” and expecting them to suck it up)

        On a side note, it’s perfectly acceptable to pay your sales people a decent, competitive salary with no commission, and, if you hire good people, they will not work less hard. We are not lazy cows who only work for the prospect of a few extra coins and otherwise sleep in. We are professionals, like your researchers, editors, programmers, marketers, and management staff, and you can compensate us the same way and fire us if you don’t like our performance, just like everyone else.

        1. chewbecca

          My fiance works in sales and he’s completely salary. I appreciate it because we can plan our finances without wondering if it’ll change from month to month.

          When he comes home and tells me he entered a $50k order (like he did yesterday), I sometimes curse the lack of commission.

          1. E.R

            Yeah, my partner used to get excited when I would get a big sale or qualify for a big bonus, anticipating the big bucks. But at the end of the year, I would come out around the same as he did in total compensation (he did make a lot), so really all I had was the uncertainty of it all.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          I’m too old school to agree with you for a business that I’m in charge of, at least. We’re a sales organization and I’m going to tangibly reward people who close sales, that’ll never change. Commission is a relatively small percent of overall compensation but until I’m dead and buried, I want people to have the feeling of writing a check to themselves at the same time they are closing a sale for the company.

          One thing I have seen change over the years, dramatically, is that higher quality prospective, younger employees aren’t interested in lower salary + high commission potential positions (by in large). This doesn’t affect my division because we’ve never offered that type of structure, but it is seen sharply in our other division that does have something like that + the industry overall that once upon a time was heavily straight commission.

          1. Dan

            Honestly, I think that’s because were jaded and don’t trust people to follow through. Either that, or once we start making bank, they change the structure. Besides, predictability is good.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

              Ha, sorry, ENFP here.

              Predictability is the enemy. Unlimited potential is good.

              See also: why we have chocolate and vanilla.

          2. Fucshia

            That’s because it is the same ploy the MLM cheats use when they know you won’t actually get anywhere near that amount.

            After you’ve heard enough warnings or experienced this in person, it makes people wary of anything that doesn’t at least include a base salary they can live on.

          3. jhhj

            And given what we’ve seen here, it’s because they know that many companies (not all) fool around with commissions — delay payments, lower rates, cancel them entirely, suddenly claim sales don’t count — in a way they don’t ever do with salary. Salary is real, commissions are pie-in-the-sky maybe.

            Unlimited potential is good, but predictably getting enough money to live on is not the enemy.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

              I was teasing Dan. He’s a bit more “buttoned down” than I am.

              Seriously though, everybody needs a income stream that can be counted on to cover bills. High paid movie stars take commercial gigs in Japan when they are between movies so their income stream keeps streaming.

              This is important:

              commissions are pie-in-the-sky maybe

              I’d never recommend someone take a commission job ever where commissions are a maybe. Don’t do that! Those aren’t the kinds of jobs I am talking about at all.

              The commission job I’d recommend is one where your success determines how much commission you make, not whether you make it at all.

              (I freaking hate tiered plans where it’s something like $0 commission up to $X in sales, then Y% up to $Z sales, etc. etc. etc. Look 10 times at the fine print in those suckers. )

              1. jhhj

                The problem is that very clear commission schemes are great, until the company suddenly cuts the amounts (in a way they rarely do with salary), or decides to remove commissions altogether, or just delays paying them out for months, or does one of the other things people here have mentioned. (I know someone, for instance, who was fired because she earned too much in commissions, then had a huge fight to even get the ones she was entitled to.)

                They are pie-in-the-sky-maybe not because the schemes aren’t clear but because people do not trust that every company will do right and keep to the schemes.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      One point of clarification on my post:

      Bonus can also be as much of your pay structure as commission, depending on how it is set up. I don’t mean to imply that the word “bonus” means that it’s up to the employer whether she feels like paying it out or not. A person can have a bonus agreement with $X tied to Y metrics and that bonus is part of their compensation as much as commission is.

      The more general “Christmas” kinds of bonuses are vulnerable. You may get one every year and then one year not. While it sucks, if it wasn’t part of your pay agreement, it’s different.

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        That reminds me of what happened when my company cut bonuses.

        When I first started with my current company, bonuses were definitely a part of the pay structure. Up to 10% if you met all goals, but I think the average was probably closer to 5%. After a lot of bickering about unfairness (from the employees) and about the nightmare of allotting the bonus pots (from the managers), the company decided to get rid of the bonuses. Thankfully, upper management realized it would kill morale to just cut bonuses (à la Clark Griswold) so they gave everyone a 10% salary bump. People were literally cheering and high-fiving in the hallways when the news was announced.

      2. Jenna

        Even with a contract that specifies bonuses, if the company decides to be a jerk you may need to fight for them. The courts(at least in the instance that I know of in CA) will side with you, but, having to pay a lawyer is possible.

  8. GrumpyBoss

    I worked for #2 once. There are some crappy and power hungry managers out there. I was told not to talk to some peoe when they left, and I know others were told not to talk to me.

    No real advice for you other than if someone is worth being friends with, they’ll make an effort. I don’t mourn the loss of a couple of people who don’t speak to me anymore because I don’t have time for weak minded individuals so easily influenced.

    1. fposte

      Another possibility is that it was a workplace friendship that the employee isn’t that interested in extending, so she’s not going to fight any such restrictions because she’s not really motivated to.

      1. Barney Stinson

        I was going to suggest that it’s possible the employee doesn’t *want* to talk to this person and invented the restriction to give herself an excuse.

        1. MJ

          I thought the same thing. Work friendships often don’t survive when one person leaves the job, especially if the main thing they had in common was work. If the OP was extremely unhappy at work, the staying employee might not want to keep talking about work to someone who left unhappily. I have tried to extend friendships past the time of working together, and it feels really disloyal to talk about what is happening at work to the person who left, especially if they think the place I work is crappy. I might think it’s crappy too, but as long as I am there, I am invested in trying to improve it rather than tear it down.

          Assuming, though, that the company did make this demand, if the OP was very vocal about her unhappiness while at work, the company might be trying to reduce the influence of this disgruntled ex-employee (not that they should – there are probably more effective ways to deal with complaints from outside). It’s very difficult for a company to turn a culture around when there are disgruntled folks stirring the pot. I expect the company would not be making this edict if they were not expecting trouble from the ex-employee (again, not that such an edict is the best approach).

  9. Eliza Jane

    #5 seems pretty obvious if you take it to its logical conclusion, though I can believe that your previous managers didn’t know about it or think about it. I’ve worked with people whose business expenses in a year are higher than their salary — folks who spend the whole year traveling around the world and wining and dining customers.If you make $70K a year, and have $100K in business expenses, imagining that you have $170K salary and expecting a $36K tax bill is ludicrous.

    1. ConstructionHR

      Yeah, the money you spend out of your pocket on expenses has already been taxed once. No sense on it being taxed again.

      On mileage, if the company is paying at or under the IRS rate, it shouldn’t be taxed (if under & a lot of miles, the worker could take a deduction as a business expense (subject to the 2% AGI threshold)). If the company pays over the IRA rate the additional would be taxable.

    2. FRRibs

      Didn’t we have someone mention in comments a year or two ago that they had business expenses of 20k a month? I think it was a reply to a post about not having a credit rating sufficient to have a company card.

  10. Crystal

    #5
    If your employer pays expense reimbursement under an “accountable plan” in accordance with IRS accountable plan rules, then the reimbursement is not taxable. Accountable plan rules require that all expenses be supported with appropriate documentation, that expense reports are submitted in a timely fashion (generally within 30 days of the expense), and that expenses reimbursed are deductible as business expenses. Is is possible the employer who taxed your reimbursements employed salesmen who got an expense draw without submitting receipts? Or that the owner was reimbursing himself/herself for personal expenses? That could screw it up for everybody at the company.

    1. JayDee

      This. Or it’s possible they simply reimbursed at a higher rate than the IRS rates for things like mileage and per diem expenses (food and incidentals).

  11. Sarah

    OP #1 – Can you set up site visits at those shelters/sanctuaries your funds go to support? Sometimes donors want to see their money at work. It’s important that you address this internally.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      They might not do that type of work though. They might focus on advocacy — changing laws and people’s behavior — rather than direct animal services to individual animals. (And advocacy can be just as important, if not more so, since it affects more animals in the long run.)

      1. Koko

        On a related note, it bothers me so much when advocacy orgs in particular are shamed in the media for paying high salaries to their senior staff. What the public doesn’t seem to understand is that for orgs that are doing advocacy and public education and outreach, the staff salaries are usually the best place to be spending money because that’s where the work is really being done. They might be paying someone $150,000 a year, but that person is responsible for public communications and is great at persuasive writing and comes with a rolodex full of influential media contacts who will privilege their stories. But the public seems to expect you to spend $50,000 on the staff person (because it’s somehow gauche or greedy to earn a comfortable living working for a good cause), and then spend $100,000 on paid media, even though the impact of $150,000 on the right staff person and $0 on earned media has the potential to be much, much greater. Most of the work being done by advocacy groups isn’t being paid for through an invoice of something purchased, it’s being paid for through payroll.

        The question folks need to be asking is, “How effective is this organization with the amount of money they bring in?” not “How high are their staff salaries?” Plenty of organizations pay modest salaries that look good to donors, but they also perpetually have problems attracted experienced, highly-skilled people and simultaneously keep spending a lot of time and resources training young, inexperienced people who leave as soon as they have the experiences and qualifications to get a better-paying job. Those organizations’ efficacy is severely limited by their difficulty finding and retaining superstars. Orgs that pay competitive salaries can recruit talent away from people who have experience working at multi-million dollar Fortune 500 companies and instead benefit from the training those employees got at their previous employer.

  12. Diet Coke Addict

    #4, in retail it can be pretty common for managers to ask you to come in on short notice to fill in a shift, but really the manager should do you the courtesy of calling themselves, or at least texting themselves, rather than having a coworker do it. I did my fair share of time in retail and I don’t believe I ever saw a manager who would get really bent out of shape or fire someone over not being able to show up on short notice (although I’m positive they’re out there, retail being what it is). I think it’s one of those things that’s nice if you can to help out, but not fire-worthy. If you explain you’re out of town, most managers are probably going to say “Oh, ok. See you tomorrow then” and not think about it any more.

    1. LBK

      Yeah, and most of the time it’s “Jane called out, can you come in at 4 today to cover for her?” not “You must report to the store immediately” with no explanation or opportunity to say no. I wonder if the coworker just relayed the message poorly.

    2. Nina

      It’s very common in the restaurant industry as well. I did it as a waitress, although my coworker called me, not the manager.

      Yet when I needed someone to cover for me, the only person on call wasn’t even in the state. He was at a wedding.

      1. Hattie McDoogal

        Yep. And in my experience, it’s pretty common for the person being ordered to come in to say, “I can’t, because I’m drunk.” As management you can fly into a rage all you want over this, but if you fire one person for drinking on their day off, you have to fire, like, half the staff.

      2. Elizabeth West

        During the time I had moved back to my hometown to my dad’s house, I worked for a food company that ran cafeterias inside manufacturing facilities. They had three shifts because the plants had three shifts. More than once, my boss called me to cover the overnight shift because we had one person who wouldn’t show up. She usually did it herself, but there were times she had no one to be with her kids, and I had to get up and ride my bike (I didn’t have a car at the time) to the plant and make food at light-speed for the third-shift workers.

        One night, it was cold and I’d been asleep for two hours when she called practically crying, “Danny didn’t show up again!” She was trying to find a replacement for this loser but hadn’t yet. So I got up, put on my hoodie and backpack, got on my bike, and blearily rode to work. Halfway there, I heard a car behind me, slowly following me. I thought, “OMG,” and I tried to look, but it was dark and I was close to the ditch, and scared to death. Then the car pulled up closer and I saw that it was a police unit. No lights, just following me!

        The cops stopped me and asked where I was going, and I told them. Of course they stopped me–here’s this person in a hoodie and a backpack, pedaling furiously up the street at one in the morning, in Tiny Town USA–God only knew what I was up to. I said, “You scared the hell out of me; I thought you were a serial killer!” I guess it was pretty funny–to them!

        1. jag

          The concept of police stopping someone and asking them where they are going for simply travelling alone at night greatly disturbs me.

          I’ve had small town police follow me because I looked out of place and did not like it one bit.

          1. Davey1983

            I grew up in a somewhat small city (about 50K). The police there frequently stopped individuals and teenagers out late at night or early in the morning. My brother drove to work and got off around 1 am or so. He was pulled over about once a week or so by the police. He never got a ticket or even a warning. Just had to endure them being jerks to him.

            I, fortunately, only had one incident with the police there when I was growing up: when I was sitting in a church parking lot, in my car, waiting for my brother to grap some things inside the building (this was about 7 am). A couple of police offers came over, had me get out of the car, and then yelled at me for lying to them when I explained I was waiting for my brother. They proceeded to threaten to have me arrestested (being 16 with two large men with guns yell and threaten to arrest you is very scary– now I would tell them go ahead, just let me call my lawyer so he can meet us at the station).

            They eventually let me go when the building director and my brother came out, and the director confirmed everything I had told them. The director, fortunately, complained to the police cheif about the officers harrasing people that he invited onto his property, so I never had another problem (but it should never have happened in the first place).

            That being said, not every police officer in the town was a power hungry bully who liked picking on teenagers, but, sadly, a good amount of them were.

            1. FRRibs

              Something like that happened to me long ago.
              My friend needed to get something from his apartment, so he parked on the main street in town and ran off to the nearby housing complex. While sitting there in the dark, I noticed he had a cassette tape stuck in his car stereo; he had a tool bag sitting on the floor of the car so I grabbed a pair of pliers and tried to gingerly work the tape out.
              After a minute the night was lit by police lights and I realized that a young man wearing all black sweats hunched over a radio with a tool pouch, in the middle of the night on a street known for thefts from cars, does not look good; even worse when you don’t know you’re friend’s apartment number and before the days of cell phones so no way to call them. Luckilly he showed up while the police were grilling me.

    3. Colette

      It’s also possible that the manager didn’t ask the coworker to call – the coworker might have been scheduled and figured if the OP could work, she could have the day off.

      1. LBK

        I thought about that too – maybe the coworker either didn’t feel like working or had some kind of conflict. The manager may have said “No, you have to come in unless you can find coverage” so rather than asking around and hoping someone said yes, the coworker lied and told the OP the manager had requested she cover the shift.

        I don’t think that’s as likely, but it was a possibility that crossed my mind.

        1. Koko

          Yeah, I’ve worked at places where staff had to secure their own coverage and it basically meant nobody could ever get coverage. People who will say “yes” to a manager say “no” all the time to their coworkers.

    4. Davey1983

      Some years ago (when I was in going to college) I worked for a fast food place that had an owner who would inform you that you had to come in on your day off, usually calling you about 30 minutes before he wanted you to come in (God help you if you were out of town, or couldn’t get to the store in 30 minutes). Additionally, he would frequently tell you, 10 minutes before your shift ended, that you needed to work an additionaly x amount of hours, or that you had to come back in a couple of hours and work. He would not take no for an answer– he would fire people for not coming in or staying late.

      I explained to him on several occasions that when I was hired he agreed not to give me any split shifts (I actually had that in writting– didn’t matter to him), that I had classes/tests/study groups that I had had to attend (and scheduled around my work schedule)– didn’t matter with him. I only worked there for a few weeks before moving on.

    5. QC

      I regularly have to call people in or get called into work myself. I always take no for an answer and if it sounds like an employee is waffling I give them options or tell them they can tell me no. Employees have their own lives too and I try not to get bent out of shape about it.

      Now I would never text an employee to see if they are available but I also have the policy of no text messages for call out. If they call out it has to by phone. I have found it prevents people from “meh I don’t feel like working today, I will just text boss.” Having to call the boss to prevents a lot of that. And since I have that policy for call outs I have the same policy for myself to call people in. Personally if I had someone text me to come in I would request a call directly from my manager.

  13. LBK

    #5 I have only the most basic knowledge of how taxes work, so forgive my ignorance – how would they even tax your reimbursement? You say you spent $20, and they say “Okay, we have to do a 15% tax withholding, so you only get $17 back”? Or do they just add it to your W-2 at the end of the year as part of your salary?

    Furthermore, can someone explain why a business would want to do this? Does it cut their taxes, or is it just to screw over their employees for no reason?

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      If it were taxed, the reimbursement would be added to your paycheck like it was income. The only time I’ve heard of companies doing this is when the expenses were not legitimate business expenses, if the reimbursements were above IRS guidelines, or if there was not proper documentation (receipts) submitted. I suppose some companies may also do it out of ignorance.

      1. LBK

        That makes more sense. Companies can also deduct salaries to an extent, too, right? I wonder if by making it look like the OP had a higher salary, that meant a higher deduction for the company. Doing a very brief skim of tax codes regarding business deductions, it looks like there are a lot more restrictions on deducting reimbursements/non-salary costs vs. salary costs. For example, most meals and entertainment you cover for an employee are only deductible up to 50% of the cost for the employer.

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think it’s typically done out of ignorance — “oh, we owe Jane $25 in reimbursements, just add it into her paycheck since that’s the most efficient way” … without thinking about the fact that that means she’ll be taxed on it as income.

        1. Eliza Jane

          So, if the company did this and the reimbursement was counted as taxable, could you then claim the money you spent as business expenses on your taxes, since it was your expense out of your “reported” income?

          I know you’re not a tax attorney, but it seems to me that if the reimbursement was reported as income, then the reality is that you just got paid more and were responsible for the expenses yourself.

          1. Eliza Jane

            Ha! I actually just found my own answer, sort of. From the IRS website:

            “If your employer reimburses you under an accountable plan, you should not include the payments in your gross income, and you may not deduct any of the reimbursed amounts.

            An accountable plan must meet three requirements:
            * You must have paid or incurred expenses that are deductible while performing services as an employee.
            * You must adequately account to your employer for these expenses within a reasonable time period.
            * You must return any excess reimbursement or allowance within a reasonable time period.

            If the plan under which you are reimbursed by your employer is non-accountable, the payments you receive should be included in the wages shown on your Form W-2. You must report the income and itemize your deductions to deduct these expenses.”

            So if you are under an accountable plan, it’s not counted as income, not taxed, and not deductible. If you are non-accountable, you do include it in your pay, but it’s deductible.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              That sounds right to me. If you think about it, it all makes sense — if you can show it was a legit business expense, it’s not taxable to you. If you can’t, it’s treated as income.

  14. Bea W

    #2 and 3 are things that a former employer would do. When I was moved from one project to another my manager told my co-workers they were not to talk to me, not even to ask questions. I had been on that project for nearly a decade since its inception and was the longest surving team member. The person who was swapped in was both entry level and new to the company. He was actually very capable but the project was complex. The learning curve was steep, and the systems we used were home grown. There were a couple things I was doing that had to be farmed out to another dept because no one else had the skill set. Never mind that it’s just no one’s business who anyone speaks to during non-working activities like lunch and breaks. It was both ludicrous and potentially detrimental to one of the company’s most lucrative projects.

  15. Laura

    #1 – I know the requests to visit the offices is likely a bit annoying, but if these people are donors, I think it’s important to suck it up and just show them around. They likely just want to say hello to staff. It doesn’t matter if they donate $10 or $10,000, today’s fundraising/charity market is so competitive that people want to see their dollars at work and ensure their funds are being spent responsibly. I would tweak the email to say “I (or whoever) would be happy to show you around X shelter where we direct our funds” instead of just blindly sending them to that location.

    If you invest time in a donor, you will have a donor for life. By meeting with them, I would imagine you would have a greater chance of interesting them in other ways to help, such as volunteering or championing your organization.

    1. Chayele

      I used to have this problem with donors, too. I worked at a nonprofit that was literally just people sitting at desks. There were no animals, clients, shiny objects, or anything. People would still insist on coming in. I don’t know what they expected to see!

    2. LBK

      I don’t know that it would necessarily make sense to say “We would be happy to show you around the shelter” – if they don’t work at the shelter, they probably aren’t equipped (or maybe even allowed) to give tours of it. I get what you’re saying that just sending them off to the shelter seems like passing the buck, but it would be no different than me saying “I don’t work in our corporate HQ so I’m not familiar with it, but let me direct you to Jane who does work there and can show you around the building.”

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually think it’s not as clear cut. If someone is a $10 donor, it probably doesn’t make economic sense for you to take time away from pressing work to give them a tour. You want to use some judgment, of course — if someone seems like they have the potential to become a major donor in time, you might spend some time with them — but in general, you’ve got to use your time where it will have the most impact, and if you have to show small-dollar donors around your office every week, that’s probably not meeting that bar.

      1. Anonie

        You can’t really look at the amount they are do donating because the ten dollar donor could also be the donor that leaves you their house in their will or their stocks. A nonprofit I worked for had that happen a couple of times. One lady would send us 5 dollars a month when she passed she left the nonprofit 250k in stocks. Even if you don’t have something that you feel is flashy to show or feel you are so inundated with work you don’t have the time to meet with them you have to take time to meet with donors. Your conversation could turn the 10 dollar donor into a 50 or 100 dollar donor.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yep, there’s always that risk. But in general, it’s often reasonable to make the call that your staff’s time is better spent on things other than random tours of the office space. That might vary for some organizations, but I’ve never worked anywhere where it would make sense to do it.

          1. Mitchell

            My industry has a lot of volunteers and donors. You donate to support our mission; your donation doesn’t buy you special privileges. Being a donor doesn’t mean you get to jump to the front of the line, get extra services, or get private tours whenever you feel like it.

            1. Mitchell

              Just realized my post sounds really negative. In actuality, I would say something like, “We really value your donation and we try hard to make sure that as much money as possible supports the cause directly. That means we don’t have any extra staff for tours. I hope you understand that we’ve done because we know every donation is a sacrifice and we want it be responsible with our funds.”

    4. Natalie Anne Lanoville

      I agree. I empathise with OP #1 because I also work at a charity where our expenditures on non-program staff is very frugal, however I have found that it is always worthwhile to welcome donors to our place of business and show them around or sit and chat with them for a few minutes.

      Even if there’s ‘nothing to see here’, being introduced to, shaking the hand of and getting a ‘thank you for your support’ from a member of the executive or a key program delivery staff member is an invaluable aspect of donor stewardship.

      They can also provide critical feedback about their motivation for support and their impression of the communications they have received from you. This can help shape and improve your fundraising and communication tools.

      I’d say (in response to requests to drop by), “Person, we are thrilled to meet our supporters and show you around/introduce you to some of our key people. We’ll have a short donor survey for you to fill out at the end of your visit, if that’s OK with you? We value your feedback as much as your support.”

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, the only time it would be taxable is if your employer doesn’t have an “accountable plan.” Most employers do. A non-accontable plan would be one where the expenses aren’t considered legitimate business expenses, you didn’t have to provide documentation to your employer of the expenses (like turning in receipts or other proof), or you weren’t required to return any “extra” (like if your employer gives you $250 for expenses but you only spent $150 and didn’t return the rest). In those cases, you’re taxed on whatever didn’t meet those standards. But it’s pretty common for employers to have accountable plans to do meet those standards, and so the reimbursements aren’t taxable.

        At least that’s always been my understanding, and that link seems to say that too.

        1. Chayele

          So I asked an accountant who does payroll, just to see if I’m nuts. Apparently it’s quite a tangled mess. For instance, there is an IRS reimbursable rate for mileage. If your employer pays you more than that rate, then the excess is taxable wage income that goes on your W-2. The same rule applies if you get a per diem for food or whatever and you spend less than the per diem. You get taxed on the difference. Those are for “accountable” plans. Now, if you get a per diem for food and you don’t ever have to show a receipt or anything to prove your expenses, the ENTIRE amount is taxable, not just the difference between the total and what you actually spent. Now, in reality, do people always report these little amounts? I’m sure they don’t.

            1. Chayele

              I’m sure that in practice a lot of it just goes unreported. I’m not trying to be a pain or argue with you, by the way. I was just curious.

          1. Jerry Vandesic

            I wonder about the per diem taxability. Have things changed in the last few years? About ten years ago I was sent overseas by my company for nearly six months, and they paid me $157 per day to cover my living (food, etc.) expenses, and it was tax free. No receipts. And because I lived fairly frugally I was able to pay off my student loans with this tax free money when I got back to the US. I loved it.

            1. doreen

              They haven’t changed – but when you are actually traveling you don’t pay taxes on the difference between your per diem and what you spend, exactly. You pay taxes on the difference between what your employer reimburses you and the per diem the federal government pays its employees if your reimbursement is higher. The Federal rate is broken down by lodging and “meals and incidentals” . So, for example, the Sept per diem for NYC is $303 for lodging (which requires a receipt) and $71 per day for meals and incidentals, which do not require a receipt as it’s under $75. If your company reimburses you $350 for the hotel, you’ll pay taxes on the $47 difference. If they give you $81 for M&I, you pay tax on the $10 ,but if they give you $71 for meals and incidentals it’s not taxable- even if you spend less. The Feds have rates for foreign countries as well as US locations.

              And I specify when you’re traveling because there are other circumstances where some employers provide “supper money” or “meal allowances” that is totally taxable. I’ve had jobs that provided meal allowances for working a certain number of hours of overtime or starting or ending your day more than a certain number of hours earlier or later than the usual schedule. Those are always taxable.

              1. Chinook

                Now I understand why everywhere I ever worked or volunteered always reimbursed at the government rate. I honestly thought that was because it was more efficient to use numbers someone else has figured out, indexes for COLA and uses for taxpayer funded expenses (i.e. no need to reinvent the wheel). I had no clue that paying more than that could trigger taxes.

      2. Chayele

        It says you do not count it as income if they don’t have a certain kind of plan. You have to read all the way down the page.

  16. Allison

    #4 I had two jobs in college where people could call me in at the last minute. One wanted me to come in “right now” and got irritated when I said it would take 20 minutes for me to put on my uniform and walk over. My TARDIS was in the shop that day. At both jobs I turned down requests to come in on my days off, and at both jobs they stopped giving me hours. The problem is that these places are generally understaffed as it is, with corporate only approving so many hours for the manager to dole out, so if someone does call out they really need someone to take their place. It’s not fair, but in customer service jobs there is an unspoken expectation that you’ll come when called unless you have a really good reason why you can’t.

    I also had a couple jobs that did “on call” shifts, which in my opinion is a much better system and more places should have them.

    1. Jessica

      I don’t know, I’ve worked plenty of retail and I’ve never had had not wanting to come in on my day off used against me. When I said no, they’s just phone the next person on the list. There was usually always some who wanted the extra hours. You shouldn’t be expected to be “on call” at a job that pays retail wages.

      1. Jessica

        Or rather, if your retail job expects you to be on call, that’s a pretty crappy retail job. Quit and get a better one.

  17. Anon 8024

    “If you can’t reach an agreement [regarding pay], you can leave the job”

    No you can’t. You have to give two weeks’ notice, during the notice period of which they can pay you and make you do just about whatever they want.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      In that case, you could say, “I’d be glad to give two weeks notice, but I cannot work at the new, lowered rate you’re proposing. If you’re able to continue paying me the rate we’ve agreed to up until now, I’d be glad to give two weeks notice and do what I can during that time to help with the transition.”

      If they say no, you say, “Unfortunately I can’t work for that rate.”

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