my husband’s boss wants him to lie about our upcoming move

A reader writes:

I recently got a promotion that requires moving to a different city, three time zones away. My husband works for a company whose business is tied to the region we’re currently living in and he regularly travels for a couple of days every other week or so. He’s great at his job (and he loves it too!), so the current plan is for him to be at home in the new city for 3 weeks, then travel back to the region where his company is based for 2 weeks at a time. He’s cleared it with his boss and received support to proceed with this plan. Although we know the schedule will take some getting used to, he already travels a fair amount, we don’t have kids, and we’ve done long-distance before, so we’re optimistic about this being a great set-up for us…at least for now.

So what’s the issue, right? Well, my husband’s boss has told him to keep the move under wraps. My husband is not supposed to tell any of his professional contacts that he has moved away – it’s even hush hush within his own company. This makes me nervous in about a zillion ways – especially considering that my husband loves to talk, and regularly spends 4+ hours in a car with some of his contacts. I’m also concerned that without his contacts being aware of the move and his new schedule, he’ll end up traveling more than the original 2 weeks gone/3 weeks home plan because he’s not allowed to say the actual reason why he won’t/can’t be there for something in person.

The reasoning that his boss is sticking to is that it’s better to keep it quiet now, and prove to their contacts that nothing will change (quality or quantity of work, customer service, etc)…then if the move is found out later, they can say something like “Look, no harm no foul! It’s been working just fine!” All I can think of is that saying: “Oh the tangled webs we weave when we’re trying to deceive.” I can’t help but think that if our move is discovered, my husband will take the brunt of the fall-out and it will hurt him professionally, even though his boss is the one who told him not to say anything.

Every part of me thinks that this is a terrible idea and can only open the door for problems; however, this may be colored by the fact that I don’t have much respect for his boss in the first place. Do you have any thoughts, advice, or recommendations about how to handle this?

It would be one thing to just not proactively mention it to business contacts outside the company (although not to actually lie about it). But keeping it under wraps within his own company? I just can’t see how that’s going to be easy or even possible to do, and it seems like it’s setting up everyone involved for problems. Are his coworkers really not going to notice that he’s gone for two weeks of every month? What’s he going to do when meetings are scheduled for the two weeks when he’s supposed to be in the new city? It seems pretty unworkable, and it seems definitely unworkable if he doesn’t lie to people. That means that the boss’s request is putting him in a position where he either lies to people (not okay) or blows his cover pretty quickly.

In his shoes, I’d push back on the boss. He should say something like this: “I hear you on not wanting to worry clients, and I don’t see any reason to proactively announce it to them — although I also don’t want to be deceptive if it comes up and I can’t avoid it. But I think I’d need to be open about it internally. Otherwise I’m going to come across as suddenly difficult to schedule meetings with, and I’m worried it will change how I’m perceived, since people won’t understand the reasons for it. And when it does come out, I think it will do damage to my relationships with people when they realize that I was doing this for a while without letting anyone know. So I’d like to be transparent within the company about what I’m doing.”

If his boss is fairly reasonable, this has a good chance of swaying her. If it doesn’t, your husband will have to decide if he wants to take these risks or not — but I’d be really wary about doing that, because it’s almost surely going to end up reflecting oddly or badly on him once people start to figure it out.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephanie

    Yeah, that’s odd.

    I did have a job where we were based in the DC area, but had a satellite office in the Detroit area and all the Detroit-area employees had DC telephone numbers and were presented to clients as being in DC (our clients rarely came into the office). But that is is weird that your husband’s boss wouldn’t say anything internally. We all knew if someone switched to the Detroit office or worked remotely somewhere else.

  2. OP

    Thanks for tackling my question Alison! You always frame things so well in terms of how a response should be worded, it makes it look so easy :).

    Just a point of clarification – when he’s not traveling he works remotely from home (as do most of his work peers), so some of the concerns about internal meetings and his coworkers/peers noticing that he’s not there aren’t quite as big. He calls into them now, and presumably would do the same after the move.

    1. M

      My question then is how many of his coworkers that work from home actually live in the area? The fact that you are moving three time zones away may be why the boss is being cautious. Working from home in the same time zone and doing so three zones away is different. I see nothing wrong with boss wanting to keep it quiet to see how this actually works out before fighting whatever additional paperwork that this may entail (such as your husband now living in another state may change tax requirement, employer workman’s compensation insurance requirements etc.) with the organization. A perk for your husband may not translate into a benefit for all workers and I think its smart for the boss to not only trust your husband to do this but to wait before others (such as the corporation) shut it down before he can prove that its doable either just for your husband or perhaps extended to others that have a certain rank. I think if you push this too much your husband may end up having to chose whether or not to keep this job.

      1. Meg Murry

        But the thing is that the tax requirements and workman’s comp requirements, etc, need to go into place on day one of the husband moving – at a minimum, OP’s husband and boss need to get HR and payroll looped in for this before the move actually occurs. I agree that it makes sense to keep it on the quiet side (no loud announcements, keep it on a need-to-know basis) but there is a huge difference between not shouting the change from the rooftops and keeping it a complete secret.

        1. Natalie

          That entire situation – taxes and such – makes me think the boss didn’t actually get approval for this and that’s why he didn’t tell anyone. But you’d think Boss would realize it will come out when OP’s husband files next year!

          1. Hiring Mgr

            This was my thought also–maybe the boss’ boss didn’t approve, or wasn’t aware, but meanwhile the boss had given approval. Otherwise I can’t see any logical reason for keeping it secret from co-workers.

            I

          2. INTP

            Yes – I’m thinking the boss knows that Big Boss won’t give approval right away but is hoping they will after proving everything has worked out for a few months. But legally, payroll and HR need to know. You are supposed to be taxed and following the employment laws of the state you’re actually working in. I work for a very large company and they actually don’t allow anyone to work remotely unless the company has an office in the state they plan to work in, otherwise there’s too much legal hassle.

        2. sam

          I was just going to say this. Taxes need to be accounted for in the state where you’re performing the work – so if you’re sitting in state A (at home), you need to pay income taxes to that state. If your payroll department isn’t aware of this department and is only withholding for State B (office state), you’re going to have a giant tax mess at the end of the year when you go to file, including the possibility of penalties for failing to withhold properly in State A (depending on the state, of course).

          I’ve had to deal with this when I’ve simply worked in a separate state from where I lived, and periodically, but not often, worked from home. Because I only did it a few times, it wasn’t a huge deal financially, but it’s still a paperwork PITA.

          And you need to keep a DETAILED calendar of what days you’re in each state. My boss is currently splitting his time between two different offices (and lives in a third state) and this, not the travel, is what’s making him totally crazy.

          1. Stephanie

            Interestingly enough (to me, not the performers or athletes), this is some of what makes performers or athletes’ taxes so complicated, because they’re traveling and performing work (i.e., sportsing or performing) in so many different places while they travel.

            1. sam

              yeah – in some states it depends on whether you actually sleep in the state that night, in some places they’ll make de minimis exceptions (I know Georgia will only tax you if you spend over a certain number of days, because we have an office in Atlanta, and I didn’t have to deal with it because I only traveled there for 2 days last year, which was under the limit), but it’s a complicated morass, and if you have to add in city taxes on top of it! This billionaire was so obsessed with not being taxed as a New York resident that he became pretty much OCD about traveling outside of the state by midnight on various days (he also seems like kind of a selfish jerk, being a billionaire and all): http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/03/19/tax-me-if-you-can

              1. sam

                Also, the first guy in the article is actually a pretty stand-up guy, despite his fight to not pay 27million in taxes!. It’s the second guy who is a piece of work.

                1. Onymouse

                  I even found the first guy to be admirable in a way – he worked (very meticulously and honestly) to minimize his tax liability under the terms of current system, and clearly prioritized his family above his money.

                2. sam

                  Response to Onymouse – yeah, I had read the article a few years ago, and was combining the first and second guys in my head, when I re-read the article, I realized what I had done. The second guy was really trying to game the system, the first one was just massively OCD and meticulous, but quite honest.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian

            Yes, I used to work for a company that delivered groceries within an 11-state area, and we had to have a tax ID and pay state and local taxes according to in which city/state the drop site was located. I don’t know if the payroll taxes for the drivers was paid according to the location of the drop sites, or just by the location of the warehouse/office.

            1. Natalie

              We manage property in multiple cities/counties within the same state, and it’s this kind of thing as well. Local tax rates aren’t uniform.

          3. Chinook

            “If your payroll department isn’t aware of this department and is only withholding for State B (office state), you’re going to have a giant tax mess at the end of the year when you go to file, including the possibility of penalties for failing to withhold properly in State A (depending on the state, of course). ”

            I lived this in Canada – lived in Quebec and worked in Ontario. I paid Quebec taxes but my payroll taxes were deducted at (the much lower) Ontario rate. When it comes to legal matters, Quebec vs. Canada makes California vs. US look easy (they literally have a different civil legal system). But, it wasn’t that hard to work out because I was aware it was going to be an issue (because we moved to Quebec from N.S. mid-way through a year and owed a whole lot of taxes on our NS pay to Quebec), so i made sure I had some “pay the taxman” money put aside. The paperwork was a PITA (had to figure out/confirm I was paying into Canadian pension plan and not the Quebec one), but it wasn’t that difficult that the only thing that mattered when figuring out who to pay was where I lived on the given tax date (which is December 31 in Canada).

            Now, because our company had no office in Quebec, there were no issues on them having to worry about WCB or Quebec payroll taxes. The downside was that Quebec based employees also didn’t have access to Quebec labour laws (which included 1 extra month of paternity leave). I found this all out because I was the one having to explain it to our California-based HR department (and that discussion led me to AAM).

            1. the gold digger

              they literally have a different civil legal system

              This is what I remember from my business law class in college, where we studied the UCC: “Except in Louisiana.”

              1. Omne

                Ah the Napoleonic Code. You have to love a legal system that has something officially called the ” Doctrine of Confusion” in real property.

          4. INTP

            And not just taxes – you’re also supposed to follow the employment law of that state. If the OP, say, moves to California, and is a non-exempt employee, they would need to fill out a timesheet showing that they clocked out for lunch at an appropriate time. (I think in some states you can just put the total number of hours worked.) You can’t really hide that move from payroll/HR without implicating them in potential legal issues.

    2. AMG

      My best hope for the deception scenario would be that it’s the thing everyone knows but administration thinks is a secret, so nobody ever mentions it. But then there’s always a squeaky wheel in every group. Could be fine, could not. Please let us know when you have an update though–this is interesting!

    3. The IT Manager

      I think this additional info would result in alison focussing on a different aspect but I still agree it’s a problem. As you pointed out, your husband should be able to tell clients ‘I am only local two weeks out of 5 so my meetings with you must be then.” It sounds like his co-workers and clients will find out soon enough since he chats and he will be the one who looks bad about the lie misinforamtion and misdirection not his boss.

      And also state tax implications among other legal issues! This could get you guys covered in a confusing mess of red tape.

  3. Leah

    Totally agree that the OP’s husband would be the one to take the fall when it comes out if people are pissed. If the boss pushes, can he object AAM style? “While I don’t think an announcement is necessary,I’m afraid I can’t lie to my coworkers or clients if they ask directly about why I’m not available. How should we proceed?”

  4. PEBCAK

    There may be tax implications, especially if you are moving to a state where the company does not currently have an office. Don’t defraud the government.

  5. Partly Cloudy

    Yes, tax implications, workers comp, benefits/insurance, address of record… there are many reasons why at least certain departments in the home office HAVE to know about this.

    1. Alma

      I’m wondering how the husband working three time zones away will affect the business travel expense. Does he only travel during those 2 weeks in the office location? If your husband’s “home office” in your home is his home base, commuting from your new home to the office won’t be an allowable business expense, I’m thinking.

  6. AvonLady Barksdale

    This happened to me. My company was based in LA, I was in our tiny rented NYC office and I wanted to move out of state. My boss knew, the CEO knew, the head of finance and her assistant knew, my NYC colleagues knew. NO ONE ELSE KNEW. Clients were not allowed to know, but even my own department had no idea. My boss was afraid that other people would want to do the same thing, I guess, or she was afraid that people would ask to work from home.

    It was SO awkward. A client invited me to a party in NYC, I had to make up an excuse. I had a meeting in NYC right before a flight home, so I had my suitcase with me, and I told the client the truth– then begged my colleague not to tell my boss (we were friends and she knew the situation, so it was fine). When one of my co-workers asked me how things were going in NYC, I had to skirt the question, and man, did it suck. My boss only revealed my move when I left the company.

    It had zero impact on my day-to-day. My co-workers were being treated like children, basically. It sucks and no one should be put in that position unless there’s a damn good reason. That was on my list of reasons to look elsewhere, believe it or not– I had to get away from management that couldn’t even back up its own decisions.

    1. Dynamic Beige

      “My boss was afraid that other people would want to do the same thing”

      That was my gut reaction. If LW’s husband already works from home a lot and is not required to be in the office a lot and Boss is willing to agree to this arrangement — Husband must be a high performer that is worth doing a lot to keep. I can see that that would either breed resentment within the company “Why does *he* get to live in X when I can’t move to Zagreb and work from there?”/”Company better not be paying for his airfare or the place he stays when he’s here — that’s my raise going down the drain” or more trouble because *everyone* will want a special arrangement, too.

      I have a feeling that like ALB, within a year of trying to make this arrangement work, Husband will either be looking for a new job in the new location, or will have one.

  7. Juli G.

    I actually don’t find this a big deal. Yes, the employee record needs to be correct (especially if three time zones means California – or New Jersey. Not as different as CA but still some differences).

    Can he approach it more as not announcing it rather than keeping it a secret? I suspect it will actually impact very few people. Recently, I scheduled something with a colleague that was in a different building. I offered to come to her so we could chat in person as opposed to our usual over the phone. That’s when she mentioned she was now on the other side of the country (and she was promoted 2 weeks ago as well!)

    1. CoffeeLover

      I had the same feeling. Especially considering he works from home, I don’t see that it’s necessary to mention it to people. It would definitely make more sense to, but it’s not unworkable not to mention it. I would talk to the boss one more time, but if he still wants your husband to keep it under wraps then I would. I mean your husband is still getting a pretty set up. The other option is to quit and look for a new job at the new place. It’s always a better idea to at least find something else first before leaving. Wait and see how it plays out.

    2. INTP

      Not announcing to clients or coworkers, if he’s keeping the same hours despite the time change, isn’t a big deal. However, it really needs to be disclosed to HR and payroll for tax/legal reasons. I can’t tell from the letter if it’s being disclosed to the necessary parties and kept from everyone else or if the boss is literally keeping it a secret from the entire company.

      If he does have to actively lie, though, that could be a big deal with clients. If they find out, then they will wonder what else the company is lying to them about to keep their business. And I think the OP is right that this might result in him having to spend more weeks in the field when he can’t find a convincing reason why he can’t meet with a client within the next two weeks.

  8. Mimi

    There’s no way the employees won’t find out, and it will be very weird when they do (or earlier, when they suspect). I don’t see a happy outcome if the co-workers are lied to about this.

    1. Florida

      I agree that the employees will find out eventually. I also agree they when they do find out, they will wonder why it was such a secret before. If they think they will have morale problems because one employee has a special privilege, wait until they see the morale problems they have when the employees realize they were deliberately lied to.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Oh, so much this. The assumption that people will have a problem is bad enough, but the fact that they’re too scared to address that is the big issue here.

      2. Mimi

        Yes, and the co-workers will probably wonder what else is going on that is being kept from them, and why.
        Tangled web and all that.

  9. cv

    In addition to all the complications others have mentioned, I find it’s pretty common on conference calls/emails to chit chat or reference major events in the locations of other participants. “Keep warm with that blizzard coming!” “Are you going to the parade because the team in your town won the championship?” etc. It would be pretty awkward to be on the other side of the country from whatever people think is going on near you. Especially in the case of natural disasters – even if you’re working from home and don’t have to worry about going out, how do you explain losing power in the hurricane if you’re supposed to be thousands of miles away?

    1. qkate

      +1: “how do you explain losing power in the hurricane if you’re supposed to be thousands of miles away?”

  10. thisisit

    a friend of mine did this for over a year (3 time zones). only she and her boss knew, and she flew back to the home office whenever she needed to, but otherwise worked from home. she ended up moving again, getting another job and quitting, realizing she didn’t like 2nd job, so went back to the first one (only this time they know she is remote). as far as i know, it was never a problem but i think it only worked because she rarely interacted with people in the office. you have to be able to be circumspect though.

  11. Spiky Plant

    Given that OP’s husband works from home anyway, I’m guessing that he’s a fairly valued employee and that they’re willing to let him move far away to keep him, but wouldn’t be willing to let others. It’s a pain to operate in a new state, after all (for reasons people talk about upthread). I think it’s probably a case of “clients don’t need to know, and we don’t want others to know this is a theoretical option for them.”

    Absolutely not the best way to handle it, but if you’re not a great boss, you probably just want to discourage people from asking for something, rather than explain to them why they can’t have it. Especially since some people might approach it from the same side as OP: the partner gets a job somewhere else and takes it, because the assumption is that that the employee can move far away.

  12. Ed

    I was in a similar position where I was replacing an on-site IT person at a acquired company but it was actually only temporary. The plan was for me to relocate to the company’s headquarters after 6 months because we were moving their data center to HQ (unbeknownst to them). Well, it became apparent to me very quickly that they all thought I was a permanent replacement. My first clue was they walked on eggshells whenever anyone from HQ paid a visit but they treated me like dirt because they thought I reported to them.

    I asked my manager at HQ how to proceed and she hesitated and said not to tell them I was eventually leaving. I thought about it and then told her I would not announce it or even correct anyone if they referenced me staying however I was not going to lie if asked directly about it. As far as the data center migration, I was willing to play dumb about that until we were ready to begin. It came out after a few months (after the DC move was announced) and they were pretty mad but things would have been worse if I had lied. There’s no coming back from an outright lie.

    1. videogame Princess

      Sounds like you worked with some jerks though. I wouldn’t take their reaction as particularly meaningful as to how normal people would behave, in this instance.

  13. Stranger than fiction

    Op, I’m wondering who is financing this thing? Normally it’s be the coany but sounds as if boss is relocating husband on his own volition which is just strange. If thing blow up boss can just shrug and say ‘I told him not to move’.

    1. OP

      Our actual relocation is covered by my company so his doesn’t really have any financial burden for it. In my husband’s company, most of the employees operate as independent contractors so they pay all business expenses themselves already – my husbands will just have to pay more now to travel further.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I wrote this below, but just FYI, this doesn’t sound like a situation where it’s legal to treat him as a 1099 contractor. He sounds like an employee.

        1. Stephanie

          Yeah, that raised an eyebrow (or two) for me as well. Alison, so if you were in this situation–realizing you’re illegally being treated as a contractor–what would you say?

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            It totally depends on whether you have a problem with it or not; some people don’t. Or, some people do but realize that their chances of a good outcome for themselves aren’t high. So you’ve got to factor those things in.

            But if someone does want to take it on, it’s pretty much the “I’ve just realized that we might be out of sync with the law on how we’re handling this and I don’t want us to get in trouble” approach:

            https://www.askamanager.org/2013/05/what-to-do-when-your-employer-illegally-treats-you-as-a-contractor.html

            http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/02/20/how-to-assert-your-legal-rights-at-work

  14. tango

    That happened with a friend. A company wanted to hire her to do customer service for maybe 5-8 hours a week answering email questions since they only sold their products online. This was to be a part time job for her along with going to school. Because she lived in New York and the company was based in another state, they had to get all the paperwork in order, secure a workers compensation policy and jump through a bunch of other hoops for NY state which became unworkable in both time and expense for just one part time employee. So they ended up withdrawing the offer and hiring someone in their home state.

    My point is not only is personal taxes a consideration, but the expense and hassle to your employer for having employees in another state. No biggie possibly if they already employ people in the new state but if not, they might not be willing to take on the expense or spend the time to meet the requirements. And when/if they get caught somewhere down the line and fines and so on possibly levied, guess whose head is going to be on the chopping block? Everyone who worked togather to keep this a secret from the company.
    I would only do it if HR and appropriate company people signed off on the relocation. Otherwise, look for a new job.

    1. Case of the Mondays

      It seems so ridiculous to me that you need worker’s compensation insurance for an employee working on a computer at home. If that employee falls down the stairs while taking a bathroom break is that now a comp claim instead of a health insurance claim? If you were in the office, yes? At home, I don’t really see it as related to work. I guess carpal tunnel would be but even then it would make more sense for the law to follow where the company is rather than where the employee lives. If you live in state A and commute to state B’s office, state B’s laws apply. Why does that change if you work from home in state A for state B. Also, I remote into my work computer. So, my work is technically being done in my physical office even though I’m physically at home on another computer. I know the law is what it is but it just seems backwards.

      1. Jerry Vandesic

        It’s not ridiculous. It’s a cost that the company needs to pay for. Sure, someone who sits in front of a computer will have a small workers comp rate as compared to another worker that demolishes buildings, but the cost is not zero. If the company isn’t able to manage the details of having someone work in another state, they need to step up and admit it. They shouldn’t break the law and simply skip out of their obligations to their employee.

        Second, your example of commuting to another state doesn’t really apply. Living in state A and commuting to state B means that the work is being done in state B. State B is where the insurance needs to be handled.

        Finally, your argument that the work is actually happening in the computer in your office won’t fly with any judge. The insurance is for you and your physical body, not the bits inside the computer (a business policy would cover damage to your computer or loss of data).

      2. Stephanie

        Eh, things happen. An old coworker had something fall off the top of her bookcase and got a mild concussion. That ended up being a workers comp claim. I’m guessing, too, the employee’s home office could be considered “work.”

    2. Alma

      I was covered by the Main Office’s insurance policy, but because I lived and worked in another area of the state, was in a different insurance pool. The administrator couldn’t figure out why they were getting two bills from the insuror, until I got a letter telling me my insurance was dropped for non-payment of premiums the month I had MRI’s, physical therapy, and surgery for a ruptured disc. She was able to get it reinstated, but not to cover those two months. So there may be issues like this.

      (I also expected the Big Boss would have been brought into the loop on this major major screw-up. In my exit interview three years later, it was a point of contention – I received the medical services, why did I not pay the bills? He had NO idea that I had no coverage during that time. The administrator still has her job all these years later, and I am still shadowed by his negative view of me.)

  15. Ben Around

    If someone lies to you, from that point onward, anytime you see/hear/think about that person, she or he is the a-hole who lied to you.

    What a terrible idea by the boss.

  16. OP

    Thanks for all the comments everyone. I’ll encourage him to get his boss on board with a don’t directly lie and keep it quite approach, but tell the truth if asked directly.

    It’s hard to figure how much to share so that the story makes sense without getting too specific. Regarding taxes, he files a 1099 so the onus is on my husband to file according to the law – and not as complicated for his company logistically compared to if he received a W-2.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      For what it’s worth, this doesn’t sound like a situation where it’s legal to treat him as a 1099 contractor. He sounds like an employee.

      1. Ben Around

        I about fell over when I saw that he’s treated as a 1099 contractor. I work on a 1099 basis, and my clients can’t give me the kind of direction that’s been described here. I agree that this situation sounds illegal.

  17. Jan

    I had a similar situation and it’s just a huge red flag to start looking around. My boss offered me the option of working from home after my maternity leave, and then the week before my leave ended she called to say that while I still could, our leadership and HR didn’t know about it because “they don’t need to know what happens in our department” and that I had to show up occasionally to make it look like I was in the office. Fun times…

  18. Beth NYPL

    Yikes, this has the potential to be really awkward and problematic. I agree that I’d push back about keeping it a secret *from his own company*!

    P.S. re: All I can think of is that saying: “Oh the tangled webs we weave when we’re trying to deceive.”
    The saying/quote is actually:
    “Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive.”
    Marmion, Walter Scott

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