my new job comes with a surprise relocation pay-back clause

A reader writes:

I was recently recruited for a new role at a Company A, a major corporation with offices around the country. When they first reached out to me several weeks ago, I was very upfront that while I might consider relocating to the company’s headquarters in Michigan, my strong preference would be to stay in California (where I currently live and where most of the employers in my industry are based) or relocate to Chicago (where I’m from).

I stuck to this line throughout the interview process, which included flying me to Michigan to visit the company’s headquarters and meet several senior managers. When we got to the offer stage, the company said they wanted the position based in Michigan. I demurred and inquired about basing the job in their California office. The recruiter said they would talk to some people and see what they could do and, in the meantime, offered to connect me with a relocation specialist to go over logistical details if I ended up accepting the job in Michigan. The relo guy told me the package included the whole shebang: packers, shipping, movers, airfare, corporate housing and a rental car for a month, and a stipend for incidentals. He never mentioned that it included any kind of payback requirement.

The recruiter later came back and said the company really needed the job to be based in Michigan but could increase the salary a bit.

At this point, after much consideration and deliberation, I accepted the job and the company began a background check (yes, they do background checks after you’ve accepted the offer, ugh). I figured the role was interesting enough, the company was good to have on the resume and offered potential for advancement, the higher standard of living meant I could command a larger salary when I eventually returned to California, and Michigan could be an interesting change of pace in the meantime.

Fast forward a week, and the background check finally cleared. The relocation team then reached out to me to get the ball rolling on scheduling movers, etc. The first step, they said, would be to send some paperwork, including a “payback agreement.” I was polite and encouraged her to send it along for me to review. It requires me to pay back 100% of the relocation expenses if I resign within 12 months.

I know these “clawback” clauses are common in relocations, but I’m annoyed that I’m hearing about this for the first time now — after I’ve accepted the offer and withdrawn myself from consideration for other jobs. Is this on me for not asking about a payback agreement earlier? Should the company have mentioned it sooner?

I have serious reservations about relocating to Michigan (and have been transparent about this with the recruiter and hiring manager all along). A big part of the reason I accepted the offer was because the relocation package had been presented as free-and-clear. I figured if the job (or Michigan) didn’t work out, there would be no penalty for leaving. I had also been talking to another company, Company B, about a potential opportunity based in California, but they’re in the middle of some internal restructuring and weren’t ready to pull the trigger when Company A made me its initial offer. I’m holding out hope that Company B (essentially my dream employer) might come back in a few months if/when they’re ready to move forward, but I’m worried it’ll happen when I’m still in the “repayment” period with Company A, and that I could end up having to pass on the opportunity or on the hook for reimbursing Company A for the relocation costs (and possibly my own relocation costs back to California, if Company B doesn’t offer a relo package).

Do I have any leverage here to get around signing this payback agreement? I feel pretty backed into it since we’re so far along in the process, but I’m pretty upset it wasn’t mentioned sooner and don’t feel especially excited about agreeing to it, especially since they approached me for this job and they’re the ones that want me to relocate. There’s also no “move back” language covering me if I’m laid off or fired — like I said, most companies in my industry are based in California, so I would likely incur serious costs moving back to California if I was terminated.

Any advice on what I should tell the recruiter or how I should respond?

I’m skeptical that you should be taking the job at all. You really don’t sound like you want to move there, and relocating to another state for a job is a big deal (especially when it’s a change as significant as California to Michigan).

I’m usually happy to excoriate employers for springing new terms on you after you’ve already accepted an offer, but this kind of repayment clause is really typical — so typical that I don’t think they really erred by not spelling it out for you earlier. It would be highly unlikely to get that kind of relocation assistance without a commitment to stay for a year or pay it back. And that’s pretty reasonable — they’re basically saying to you, “Before we spend a sizable amount of money moving you out here, we want to make sure you’ve thought this through and are really sure you can make this work for at least 12 months.”

I don’t think you can try to get out of signing it. You might be able to get wording added about covering your move back if you’re laid off, but probably only if you’re pretty senior. Overall, it’s very standard language, and pushing back on it is going to read as “I’m not really committed to the move and the job.”

Which, frankly, is true. You’ve said clearly here that you have serious reservations about relocating to Michigan. I’m guessing that those concerns are even bigger now that you’ve learned you’ll have to pay back that relocation money if you leave within a year. That tells you a lot about what you really want and don’t want here. You want be able to easily leave this job in the next 12 months. That’s … not the mindset or commitment level you need if you’re going to move halfway across the country for a job. Ever, and especially if you’re letting them pay for it.

Take this job if you’re excited about everything that comes with the offer — which includes the relocation. If you’re talking yourself into it by thinking “well, I can always undo it,” it’s probably not an offer you should be taking.

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. DMC*

    The company is spending a lot of money up front to recruit you, asking that you stay 12 months is perfectly reasonable. It is so standard, as Alison stated, that they probably figured you’d realize that. If that was important to you, it would have made sense to ask about it. Not having any idea that it’s so standard would indicate that you are a bit out of touch with industry norms. Also, it is quite normal for companies to do background checks after the offer stage, though usually there is some notation that the job is contingent upon completing a background check (some state laws even require they be done after the offer stage).

    1. Mike C.*

      What I’ve seen with these systems is that they use an “internal” relocation service, then total up an arbitrary cost that they use to lock you down. I’m rather skeptical of what’s going on here.

      1. Michelenyc*

        I have been relocated 3 times (major corporations) and they all used an outside company. None of them had an in-house relocation team.

        1. Anna*

          Yeah, there probably wouldn’t be enough work to have an internal group who did this even a fraction of their time.

          1. Mike C.*

            More likely the group was subcontracted out, but the cost was still arbitrary. I’m not saying that everyone does this, just to watch out for it.

            1. Champagne_Dreams*

              I doubt the cost was arbitrary so much as that you were unaware of the tax burden relocation creates, and therefore just how much in taxes the company paid on your behalf, which was invisible to you, but payable if you violate the repayment agreement.

              TL:DR Relocation = big taxes.

              1. Jerry Vandesic*

                If the company does it correctly, the tax burden can be minimal. Paying the movers directly is not taxable. Neither is a trip to look for a house. Paying the costs of selling your house can be complex from a tax POV, but one way to minimize the impact is for the employer to buy your house (sans any real estate fee), and then they sell it to the new buyer (this time including the RE fee). That way the RE fee gets paid to your broker but you don’t have any tax liability on that payment your employer is making on your behalf.

                All that being said, it can get complicated if you have a non-standard relo.

      2. LQ*

        What are you skeptical of here? That they are making an offer to someone with relocation expenses? That they negotiated and gave the person more after negotiation? That they have a very standard clause going along with the relocation expenses? I feel like this employer is acting in perfectly good faith. Not sure what is a thing to be skeptical about here? I mean moving someone costs money, it isn’t free. Even if it is an “internal service” which I’ve never run across, it still costs money.

        1. Mike C.*

          What happened to my friend is that the “relocation fee” was several times what he would have paid to move himself, and didn’t realize this until he saw the number after everything was said and done. This doesn’t even have

          And by “internal service”, I mean that the employer arraigned everything and just came up with a “cost” later. I get that this isn’t free, come on! But there’s a huge difference between “fair market cost” several times that amount.

          I really don’t understand why everyone is so suspicious about my post. I’m not making things up here, I’m not saying that everyone does this, I’m simply saying that this can happen so be sure you fully understand the costs when making the decision.

          1. Observer*

            I have no idea what happened to your friend. But the reality is that even if the employer arranges everything itself – and even if it uses its own staff, they don’t just pick a number out of a hat, if they are at all competent. They know exactly what their costs are, if it’s contracted out, and pretty close to that if they used their own staff.

          2. Green*

            They often use contractors (not internal services, even for massive companies) and pay for white glove service. I literally didn’t have to do a thing to move except unpack. They paid for the movers to pack my stuff. They paid pet fees for an airline ticket. They paid for house hunting plane trips. They shipped one of my cars. They paid a gas stipend, hotels, and restaurants while we drove cross-country. They paid for legal fees on my house closing. They paid the remainder of rent until my house re-rented. They gave me a stipend.

            Could I have moved myself for cheaper? Heck yeah. But I don’t doubt they spent every penny they said they did.

          3. HS*

            but… he’s *not* moving himself. He’s being professionally moved, including packing, getting corporate housing, and a long-term car rental. That’s $$$$$$$$$. We’ve done professional moves twice, both times were easily $15K +, and we were moving within the midwest, not across the country. I’m sure the relocation company makes a profit, but they’re not price gouging. Personally, having moved myself several times and tried working with moving companies on my own, I think those professional relocation folks are AWESOME. They know where the good moving crews are, they get them to show up on time, and they’ve connected us with terrific realtors.

            In both of our moves, we were informed at the very start that there was a pay back clause and given an estimate for moving costs. It was as transparent as I think you’re going to get, unless you make all the arrangements yourself. And we always had the option to turn down moving assistance. No one ever twisted our arms and told us we couldn’t take the job unless we signed off on the relocation package.

            1. CarrieUK*

              We’ve just been internationally relocated, the costs of which are EYE WATERING. But worth every penny to have someone do it all for us because this is complicated and horrible.

          4. Turtle Candle*

            I think the reason you’re getting so much pushback is that while your later comments clarify that you meant, “Here’s how my friend got screwed over, keep an eye out for this,” your original post strongly implied (at least to me, and I think to a number of the people who replied to you) that standard operating procedure for all companies was to dramatically inflate numbers in order to play “gotcha!” with their new hires. So you got a lot of people going, “whoa, no, not my experience at all!”

            It’s not that we’re all saying that you should be as trusting as a newborn lamb when it comes to an employment agreement. It’s that you appeared to be saying that something that is not, in other peoples’ experience, common, is in fact the way that everyone does it, and that therefore the whole thing is a deliberate scam.

        2. nonegiven*

          When my son was relocated, the company paid the movers to pack and move his belongings and gave him a cash relocation bonus, which he used for plane tickets, utility deposits and a few nights in a hotel before his things arrived. What he signed said that he would have to repay the cash portion and didn’t include the moving company expense.

        3. Christopher Tracy*

          Agreed, LQ. This is pretty standard, and I don’t see anything shady about what the company’s doing.

      3. AnotherHRPro*

        Major companies generally outsource relocation with a reputable relocation firm. And relocating someone and covering all the costs is actually very expensive. A cheap relo runs no less than 20,000-50,000 and bigger ones run hundreds of thousands of dollars. Having moved cross country multiple time on relocation and working in HR, I can confirm that these are real costs that the company writes real checks for.

        1. Mike C.*

          And I can confirm that my friend was still quoted several times that amount.

          Look, it doesn’t matter if “everyone generally does this or that”, what matters is that some companies can be unscrupulous and that someone evaluating these offers should keep that in mind and get a number beforehand.

          I don’t understand why this is so contentious. Some companies are honest. Some are dishonest. Check before signing the paperwork. That’s all.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s because your original comment made it sound like these are usually sketchy in some way, when that isn’t generally the case.

          2. animaniactoo*

            I think the reason it’s so contentious is that your phrasing was “this is the standard way it’s done” rather than “beware, in a few of these I’ve known about, this happened, so watch out for that.” If you’d said something along the lines of the latter, I think you’d have gotten a bunch of “wow, that’s not normal!” and “that sucks!” responses rather than people feeling they needed to defend that wasn’t their experience of it.

          3. MK*

            Some companies are dishonest, but they rarely plan their dishonesty do far in advance that they will quote an exorbitant relocation fee to swindle you out of money in case you leave early.

            Also, I personally am very wary of “I could have gotten this done X times cheaper!” statements. Often people are basing them on hazy and inaccurate impressions of what they think something should cost, or what it cost to do it 10 years ago in another area, or they are thinking of different services entirely. Another thing is that a company will likely not shop around for bargains the way a person might; they just hire a firm and pay what they are asked.

            1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

              When I moved from a beach city in LA to downtown Chicago my truck costs doubled from the original quote because they had to use a second truck in both locations as the cross country truck could not fit into the smaller streets.

              My company absorbed the cost and the only reason I knew about it was because the driver mentioned it. Had I tried to manage the move myself I would have been out a lot of money at this unexpected cost.

    2. Green*

      Yes; 12 months is perfectly reasonable. My company’s standard clause is 24 months, in fact. (It is a really nice relocation package.)

      1. ScarlettNZ*

        The company I work for has a standard payback clause over three years (but it is pro-rated over that time – they don’t expect you to pay the full amount back if you leave after, say, two years). Mind you, we are at the bottom of the world here so international relocation is expensive!

        1. Jinx*

          My company has a three year payback clause as well, but it’s not pro-rated. We are exempt from payback if we are laid off at least.

      2. Engineer Woman*

        I was thinking this same: 12 months is nothing for having moved you. If you are already thinking about leaving a company within 12 months (after they spend all that money in relocation and upping your salary) you should not have taken the offer!

        1. Kelly*

          Well said by many here. I’m a corporate recruiter consultant (20+ years) and it sounds like this candidate really doesn’t want the job. Relocation expenses paid or not, to be thinking about leaving within a few months is not a good way to start any new position. To have not have known that there would be a repay clause and especially not to have known there would be a background check sounds like this candidate is not quite ready for a more senior level position of employment.

  2. Belle*

    If you do take it (which I would agree with Allison not to), then I would make sure a termination clause is included. That if your employment ends for any reason outside of your control, that you do not have to pay back the relocation money. I have seen people burned by this so I would highly recommend it.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      You know people who have been laid off and then had to payback relocation expenses?

      That’s crazy, I’m shocked that’s possible.

        1. the gold digger*

          My friend was fired for violating the internet policy – that’s all they told her – and she still had to pay back tuition. Fortunately, she was able to find a new job that pays 50% more than her old one, so it all worked out for her.

      1. Recruiter*

        My company, which actually is very employee-friendly and reasonable, has it in any sort of sign on bonus/relo package verbiage that if employment is terminated for ANY reason (including layoffs/firing) within the year (or sometimes 6 months) than the employee is responsible for paying it back, which sucks. I negotiated that my verbiage was changed that I was only charges if I terminated employment (aka quit) and got no pushback.

        FWIW, we do offer a very nice severance agreement so it usually evens out, I think, but still!

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Even if they had the option to, if a company actually did try to clawback the relocation cost after firing or laying off someone, it would poison morale. If a company did this to a coworker, I’d immediately start looking for a new job elsewhere.

        2. snuck*

          I have negotiated similar… when moving west/east coast to set up a new workgroup/major reorg I requested that they return me to my home city if a restructure or employment rearrangement saw me out within 24mths.

          They weren’t willing to put it in the contract, but they did put it in an email… which was good enough for me… and held up when the whole shebang folded up and moved 7mths later – I went with it, without question, to the new city… I’ll never know entirely if it was my skills or that assurance… but I do know that the new management in the new area had a rrrrreal favourite that they preferred over me in everrrrrry way and drove me bonkers for years to come. I suspect they’d rather have cut me loose at first as I was an unknown quantity to them and part of the old management/world order. They did keep me another seven years though :)

      2. designbot*

        A friend had this happen to her at the 11 month mark. She was terminated and did not receive a final paycheck because the payback clause wiped the whole thing out, leaving her completely screwed.

      3. Green*

        I’m not aware of my company trying to recoup from anyone, but the termination clause was primarily for people acting in bad faith (i.e., lying about skills or certifications or trying to get fired) and was not applied to layoffs.

    2. AnotherHRPro*

      You should make sure that if your employment is terminated without cause you don’t have to pay them back. Generally layoffs don’t have to payback, but for cause terminations sometimes do.

    3. Touche*

      I notice that she mentioned that she’d only pay back if she ‘resigned’ within 12 months. So as long as there is no wording to indicate she’d pay them back if fired I think she is good to go with the wording. If it does say ‘resign’ I’d leave it, if you push for a ‘through no fault of your own’ addition then you risk being fired and told it was your fault! And thinking of that, it is a good thing to keep in mind if ever asked to hand in your resignation instead of getting canned.

    4. Belle*

      In my friend’s case — the department was reorganized and her position eliminated. They tried to make her pay back the relocation assistance. She ended up winning in court but it dragged out for a while.

  3. Kate M*

    Yeah, taking a job with the intent to back out in under a year if a better offer comes along isn’t really in good faith. They will spend apparently a good amount of money relocating you, they upped the salary, and will invest in training you for the role. It’s not wrong for them to want you to stay for at least a year (at a minimum).

    I don’t blame you for not wanting the job that much, that’s fine. But I don’t think you get to back out of any good faith on your end just because they were the ones to approach you and really wanted you. You’re not under any obligation to take the job just because they asked.

    Also, I understand that you were upfront about not wanting to be located in Michigan. But it also sounds like they were upfront about wanting the position there. You’re thinking “well I told them up front that I wanted to be based in CA, so they wouldn’t have gone forward with me if that wasn’t an option.” They’re probably thinking, “well, we told him it was based in Michigan, so he wouldn’t have gone forward with the process if living in Michigan was a dealbreaker.”

    1. AMG*

      This. 12 months is not a big deal for a job. I know where to live is a very subjective thing, but speaking as someone who has lived most of my life in 2 of the states that Californians move to the most, many of them love leaving and are happy with the decision. If nothing else, you can save some money and reaffirm that you are a Californian at heart when you go back.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It’s not about being a Californian at heart. Moving away from the main hub of an industry makes it that much harder to switch jobs – especially when there is a huge price differential between the cost of living in the to locations (as there is here).

      2. lfi*

        my only thought with this – depending on where you are in CA… it might take you a very long time to move back. the bay area is pretty darn expensive, and if the bubble doesn’t burst it might take you a bit to get back into the area. that was part of our reason for staying put.

  4. LQ*

    You don’t have to take this job just because they offer it to you. You can decline and it is ok to decline a job because you don’t want to move or you don’t want to live in a place because it would make you unhappy. You can decline a job just because you don’t want to take it.
    (Assuming you are financially able to and I’m guessing you are since you don’t mention that you have to financially take this job.)

    I think this clause is fine.
    It is ok to say. Thank you, but no thank you. Really.

  5. Francis J. Dillon*

    I’m living in Michigan right now and I love it. However, if someone offered me a position in California I’d hesitate to jump on board. Moving across the country is a huge, huge change. The culture shift from the West to the Midwest is probably something else to consider, too.

    I won’t lie, people talk up Detroit a lot (where I’m just guessing you’ll be working), but it’s a very different city from any major city in the US. I love it here, but I went to school in Detroit, and lived in Detroit. I know the city like the back of my hand, and I still find awesome stuff to do. But it’s not at all like Chicago. So if you have the slightest bit of hesitation I’d really turn the offer down.

    If you’re still interested, maybe you could take a short vacation here, and get to know the area a bit?

    1. Cafe au Lait*

      I’m actually guessing Ann Arbor. Which is a very good town, and a lovely place to live. (I live right outside of it).

      1. Francis J. Dillon*

        A2 is pretty nice! And West Coast-ish (with all the vegan restaurants and whatnot), but still I think if OP isn’t sure she should either come check out the area herself, or turn the offer down. A year is a long time to be stuck in a place you don’t like.

        1. Mike C.*

          I’m sure that Ann Arbor is nice and all, but you have winter over there, not at all like what the West Coast is like.

          1. Francis J. Dillon*

            Winter is something to consider, yeah, but more importantly is transportation. You need a car to live in Michigan (there’s some extenuating circumstances, but 99 percent, yeah you need a car), and you’ll put a lot of wear on your vehicle.

          2. Intptt*

            I live on the West Coast, and I have winter. California isn’t the entirety of the West Coast.

            1. Not me*

              Exactly. I was born and raised 150 miles inland of Seattle (very much still “west coast”) and we have some pretty crazy winters with multiple feet of snow. Heck, sometimes the roads just a few MILES out of Seattle have enough snow that they are dangerous and closed during the winter. So yeah, there is absolutely winter on the West Coast.

              1. MicheleNYC*

                I am from Portland and I can attest to some crazy winter not NYC crazy but enough to cause citywide shut downs

              2. Omne*

                Well, you kind of have Winter. Snow is one thing but combine it with -40 degree (-60+ wind chill ) temps and that’s WINTER.

                1. the gold digger*

                  It’s not winter until you have to shovel your way out of your back door so you can shovel the front door from the outside because it’s absolutely impossible to open the front door.

                  And until you have looked at the ratings on winter coats to see how much cold they will withstand.

                  I got one rated for 15 below and it still wasn’t warm enough for the bus stop.

              3. Lady H*

                Yeah…I’m from northern Michigan and I was surprised with how much snow a place like Roslyn gets when I first moved out to Seattle. I didn’t expect there to be that much anywhere in the state! (That being said, looking at average snowfall stats going back 30 years, Michigan as a whole has pretty significant snowfall compared to most of Washington state, with some outliers at higher elevations in the latter.

                Although the reason the roads close in Seattle when it snows is because the city is (understandably) not at all prepared with the amount of plows that cities with “real” winters get, not because Seattle and the immediate area gets significant amounts of snow.

                Anyway, I don’t think that where the OP lives (since it sounds like maybe they work in tech, so I’m assuming they’re in the Bay Area?) gets the same kind of snow that anywhere in Michigan would, so it would be a big adjustment.

          3. Engineer Girl*

            You don’t have to drive 5 hours in California traffic to go skiing. Just saying…

            1. Lady H*

              The OP is in CA, so it’s really only relevant to talk about California vs. Michigan here. Though I admit that I had to talk about my experience in Seattle above, which was definitely off topic. :)

          4. matcha123*

            I love the winter, what’s wrong with the winter? I live in a place with no real winter and it sucks. I like to cold and the snow.
            Honestly, I don’t get why people act like having seasons is a terrible thing. Fine, if you don’t want to live in a place like Michigan because you don’t like the cold, but plenty of people do enjoy it!

        2. Random Lurker*

          I’ve lived all over the country, and A2 (my current home) is by far my favorite. It’s too bad that so many people immediately poo poo it because of the weather.

          That being said, I wish that winter was a bit shorter.

          1. Triangle Pose*

            A2 is great, I lived there for a few years, but for some people (like me!) Michigan winters are a totally valid reason to poo poo living there. It’s not even the cold, it’s the total lack of sunlight for weeks (?!) on end.

        3. The Strand*

          A2 is not West Coast like. It has historically been very popular with East Coasters, and has many transplants from NY, NJ. This in part because in 20s and 30s, UM didnt discriminate against bright people who were Jewish, as many other top schools did, by having a quota. Many bright folks, Jewish and Gentile both, heard the word of mouth and came from the Eastern Seaboard.
          It became an especially liberal place during the 60s, holding the first teachin about Vietnam if I recall correctly. It’s not that different from other college towns like Madison, Berkeley, Austin, etc, so some West Coasters and East Coasters who like an urban, liberal vibe say things like, “It’s one of the only decent places in the Midwest”, etc.
          You don’t need a car because the town is walkable (I got around fine on city and free UM bus systems).
          Someone from coastal Oregon or Washington could cope with five months of overcast skies, but the accompanying temperatures would be much colder; likewise the hot, muggy temps during summer would shock.

    2. Grey*

      I love Michigan. I can’t imagine myself ever living anywhere else.

      But, yes, it’s very different than California.

    3. BRR*

      There could be a lot at play such as friends, family, weather, and career advancement. Or maybe the LW is like my husband and just doesn’t like change. Or it’s something we might not be able to guess just from the letter.

    4. just a thought*

      Look at all these Michigan people here! I love it here and never want to live anywhere else, but if you feel that way about California know that there’s bigger differences than Michigan besides the weather. There’s politics, diversity, and yeah, it’s significantly cheaper to live in this area. And you will definitely need a car!

      I actually wondered what part of the state it might be but I was thinking maybe Grand Rapids or Midland which are both quite conservative politically. GR in particular is in a very religious, conservative Christian area and that’s a big reason I don’t live in that part of the state anymore.

      1. rock'n'roll circus*

        Yeah I grew up around Midland, I would not want to be there, and absolutely not recommend it! Hell, people I know from the area are still amazing that I hang out in Detroit alone as a female…. they, kind of have no clue how a lot of the world works.

        1. Annie Moose*

          I work in the Tri-Cities area, and I have to say… I do like it here, I grew up here and my family’s in the area, but there’s just not a lot here to recommend it to an outsider! It’s very… rural. Not a whole lot to do unless you’re big into the outdoors. Certainly nothing like Chicago!!

      2. Vin Packer*

        Wow, had no idea there were so many MI people here (though no yoopers have chimed in, where the beautiful/hellish winter extremes are even more pronounced).

        Agreed that Midland is the worst, and GR is lined with churches, but the demographics of that latter are changing really quickly. Lots of younger crunchy liberal types moving in.

        1. Lady H*

          Just read an article saying that Grand Rapids (where I went to college!) is getting a HUGE influx of people from Seattle because the housing market here is insane. I’m curious if that will change Grand Rapids for the better or worse, I have a lot of love for the area and enjoy hearing how it’s grown since I moved away.

          Even though I think of GR as being pretty progressive compared to the rest of the area compared to a place like Holland, I moved out to Seattle right after graduation because as a young gay woman, I really wanted to be somewhere that it was easier to meet girls. (I was young and stupid, but hey…it worked!)

          1. the gold digger*

            I don’t live in GR, but my company (quasi tech) is headquartered there. I don’t know about the politics and religion, but I am always happy when I can reach nobody there at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and that people actually take vacation. I mean, the kind of vacation where they put up an out of office notice on their email and then do not do email.

            There is a very strong work/life balance with the emphasis on the life part in my company – one of my favorite things. (After working with almost all engineers who don’t notice what people are wearing and after never ever having to wait in the ladies’ room because only 2% of us are women.)(The men actually complain about sometimes having to go to a different floor not to have to wait. #WelcomeToMyWorldHahahaha.)

      3. 20 something-or-other*

        I immediately thought of Dow Chemical when I saw the corporate housing bit. Born and raised in Midland, and I too would not recommend it. Nice, safe place to grow up, nice place to visit family. But man, it is the most boring place ever.

    5. automotive engineer*

      I moved to Michigan to take my current job and I love it. I’ve settled in, bought a house, etc. and I’m a big fan. I still find it oddly midwestern at some point (I’m from the east coast) but Metro Detroit is really great.

    6. rock'n'roll circus*

      Joining in all the Michigan people, I grew up in a small town in Michigan without ever experiencing Detroit, then I spent 8 years in Tokyo. I moved to Detroit about 18 months ago and I LOVE this area, and I love my job, and I am so happy I decided to. The city itself and the area around it are fantastic, one of my friends after visiting here from Seattle has decided to move out here cause she fell in love with it to. There’s just something about Detroit but it is different.

      That said, for an adult 12 months really isn’t that long, but if you hate the idea I wouldn’t take the job. However, I might be slightly skewed cause I was an exchange student for a year in high school.

      1. matcha123*

        I don:t know if you’ll come back to this thread, but I’m from A2 and I’ve been living in Japan (not Tokyo) for years. Can I ask what kind of job you got? I’ve been looking into jobs back home, but I’d need help with relocation and I also don’t have a license…and before that, I don’t know what kind of job I could do.
        I do translation now…

      2. Rena*

        I’m part of the ‘brain drain’ from metro-Detroit to Seattle during the Great Recession, so I’m really amused to hear that there’s a migration from Seattle back to Detroit!

    7. stevenz*

      Francis, One can remain very fond of a place that one has fond memories of. There are good things to do and see in any place and a decent life can be had, depending on your expectations. But to someone thinking of relocating to Detroit especially, someone has to pour cold water on the idea, and I volunteer to be the one. Most people who say good things about living in Detroit don’t live in Detroit. They live in Grosse Pointe or Bloomfield or other such places and venture into Detroit only for the occasional ballet or Tigers game. Detroit itself is the most impoverished city in the US. It’s a political and financial basket case and has been for years. It’s future is not rosy.

      OP, as a former midwesterner myself, I can say that there are a lot of good things about those Great Lakes states, but the differences between them and California could fill a 2 terabyte drive. If I had a choice, and if I made enough money to live decently, I’d be on the next train to California. It’s young, it’s vibrant, it’s progressive, it’s tolerant, it’s creative, the weather is good, and so is the wine. Michigan is none of those things. Or Wisconsin or Ohio or Indiana or Illinois outside of Chicago, or Minnesota outside the Twin Cities.

      One – and only one – factor that might recommend this job is that if you make more there than you do in California now, your quality of life could skyrocket. You could buy a house with cash, you could afford an Audi S8, you could take great vacations with the money you’re *not* spending by California standards. But if you were me, you wouldn’t go. Best of luck either way. You have a hard decision to make. I’ll caution you about one more thing: if you haven’t experienced it already it’s really hard to move to a place where you don’t know anybody and have to basically build a new life from the ground up. You could commit to a year but you will never have the chance – or motivation – to make Michigan your home. Your bags will always be packed and you’ll watch the Weather Channel a lot to see what the high temperatures or ski conditions are in California. That’s what I have to say.

      1. Kate*

        Aww, I feel like I need to stick up for Michigan now! I’m in the Grand Rapids area, and while some earlier commenters were right about some of its more conservative roots, GR is becoming more and more progressive all the time. Lots of great new development, a vibrant and creative arts scene (Art Prize for one), amazing local restaurants with more and more emphasis on local, sustainable and organic ingredients. As for tolerant, I attended a candlelight vigil downtown on Sunday night for the victims of Orlando and was part of a crowd of hundreds. And if you want good wine, it’s only a two hour drive to Traverse City and the Leelenau Peninsula for some beautiful vineyards and great award winning wines. The only thing I can’t argue with is the weather. Summers are good, but snow is just a fact of life here in the winter.

        Anywhere you go you will run into challenges, but the community you belong to can be whatever you want to make it. Grand Rapids isn’t for everyone, but I’d hate to see people just write off the entire state because of some misconceptions and unfair comparisons!

        1. Rick*

          So very much seconded!

          Also, the weather is a trade-off. Unlike California, Michigan has no (or minimal) earthquakes, mudslides, droughts, or forest fires.

          Also, here are a few recognitions of Grand Rapids (although my list is a bit out-of-date):

          * #1 Travel Destination for 2014
          Lonely Planet, December 2013

          * 2nd Best Place to live in the US
          Wall Street Journal Market Watch, August 2011

          * Best City for Raising a Family
          Forbes, April 2012

          * Best Place to Retire
          AARP, October 2013

          * Best Places to Invest
          Fox Business, May 2012

          * 2nd Most Secure Large City in the U.S.
          Farmers Insurance, June 2013

          * Beer City, U.S.A.
, June 2013 and May 2012

          * Best Mid-Sized Transportation System in the U.S
          American Public Transportation Association, September 2013

      2. The Strand*

        Where are you living in Michigan? It simply isn’t true that no place but Chicago, and Twin Cities are progressive, tolerant, and creative, in the Great Lakes states. Thats an awfully big brush! Even I, a Michigan partisan, admit that Ohio has several interesting towns and cities. There are exciting communities throughout the US, and plenty of them in the Great Lakes.

      3. matcha123*

        It wasn’t that long ago that NYC and LA were over-polluted, death traps that you’d never want to set foot in…

    8. July*

      I live in this general area too… the plus for OP being that Chicago is such a short trip away 3.5 hours from Ann Arbor, about 4 hours from Detroit, that you can easily weekend there regularly without much trouble (45 min plane ride, give or take) which I do regularly.

      Yes you need a car in Michigan, but you also need one in California. Chicago not so much. But I don’t think that’s a hindrance to OP.

      FWIW, Winter has been SO mild these past two years (especially last winter) and I really do hope for it again this year, although I’ll be in Texas for most of it. lol.

      There is great food here and lots to do if you look for it. It’s been crazy hot lately so if you like that, welcome.

      12 months is a short time. But it is a big move. Be sure, first.

  6. BRR*

    It’s not going to be what you want to hear but this is so common with relocation packages that I wouldn’t say it was presented free and clear unless they said “you don’t have to pay this back under any circumstances.” A year isn’t even towards the longer end of these agreements. My guess is it’s because you don’t want to move to Michigan and you’re trying to justify being unhappy about this job because of the relocation agreement. But you don’t have to justify it. You just don’t want to move to Michigan. There is nothing wrong with having a preference on where you want to live. I’m not sure how far along you are in the process but if you don’t want to relocate, let them know as soon as possible. It’s not going to be as easy as you think to tough it out for a year.

    1. H.C.*

      Especially with the upper Midwest winters (& did you mean to imply that with your handle?)

      1. BRR*

        Nah, that’s just my commenting name. My guess is it’s more than the winters. The more I think about it the more concerned I am about the LW taking this job as the thought of having to stay there a year makes them so uncomfortable.

      2. July*

        OP is from Chicago… they know bad winter. Last winter in Michigan was INCREDIBLY MILD. 13-14 was brutal tho.

        But that’s neither here nor there. If you dont want to move, dont make them spend the money if you’re already thinking of trying to find an out before you’ve even started.

    2. zd*

      I agree. It’s usually so standard that one of the pieces of advice I’ve commonly heard for people starting a relocation is “Make sure to ask the time frame on the payback clause.” 1 year is common and reasonable, but I’ve heard about places that slip in “if you leave within 5 years” which is a long time, and is usually advised to find that out so that you can negotiate it down to one year.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I’ve seen places that pro-rated it over several years – it was 100% payback at less than one year, and it went down from there.

  7. CB499*

    It would be really lousy of you to take this job that with the intention of moving on if Company B eventually presented you with an offer. It really sounds like you shouldn’t have accepted this offer. If I were you, I would back out now.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, planning to accept another job in as little as a few months after starting a new one is not great regardless of whether they are paying for relocation.

  8. De Minimis*

    I’ve moved cross-country several times for jobs, and no job is worth moving to a place you don’t want to be.

    Just seems like too much potential for things to go wrong here, and it would be really tough to go back once you have moved out there.

  9. K.*

    I would always assume there’s a payback agreement with relocation assistance; I don’t know of any instance where it’s been offered free and clear. My best friend had to stay for two years when she and her family moved from the northeast to the southeast.

    Also, a year in a new job and new city (even a new city in the same state) is really not a long time. I think it takes a year to really feel like you LIVE in a new city – like you know it, have favorite places, etc., not that you’re just inhabiting it. I’d assume I’d need a year to figure out if the job and city were for me. My mother likes to say that you spend the first year at a new job figuring out where the bathrooms are. If you’re already thinking a year is a long time to be in Michigan, that’s a huge sign that you don’t really want to go. Which is fine! I hate the desert so much that even if there were other location options on the table, I wouldn’t move forward in the process if there were a chance I’d end up there, so I feel you on not wanting to move to Michigan. That’s fair. You don’t have to go.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Same with my BF, his old job moved him from east coast to west and the agreement was if you left before two years, you’d have to pay back the relo costs.

    2. Laura*

      THIS! I moved to my current location a year ago and am only just now feeling like it’s “home.” It would take even longer if I didn’t like the place to begin with! But a year is a good length of time to evaluate what you do and don’t like about a place.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        I’ve been living in the Midwest off and on for 15 years, and I still don’t consider it home. I’m trying like hell to pay down/off student loans so I can take my ass back to the east coast where I belong. I hate it here so very much.

  10. CMT*

    If you pushed back on this, or even asked about it to be honest, I wonder if the company would rescind their offer. I mean, an prospective employee telling you they’re probably not going to even stay a year is a big deal.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Yes, if we had a candidate pushing back on this it would raise very big red flags.

  11. anon who needs a name*

    I accepted the job and the company began a background check (yes, they do background checks after you’ve accepted the offer, ugh)

    Why the ugh? I’ve always had background checks after I’ve accepted offers at major corporations. It’s not that unusual or irritating. In fact, I thought background checks were pretty standard after offers were accepted.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      As long as they make it clear that you shouldn’t give notice at your current job until the background check clears, it’s fine. But more commonly, it’s said like an afterthought, like they’re just assuming you’ll pass and everything will be fine, but that’s not really true. If you resign your current job and don’t pass the background check, you’re now out of work.

      More here:

      1. anon who needs a name*

        I guess I’ve just been lucky because the companies I have ended up working for have said to hold off giving my notice until everything comes back okay. I usually get the verbal offer, background check, and then the written offer.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          My current company did something similar only they did verbal offer, written offer, then background check. But the HR rep told me to put in my notice once she gave me the all clear, so I didn’t worry about it.

      2. Sunflower*

        yes! They didnt do that when I got my offer and I already gave notice. It was my first offer contingent upon background check. Luckily everything checked out but man those 4 days were nervewracked. Going forward, everytime I have an offer and acceopt, I’m going to check with HR on when I should give notice/when the back ground checks will be complete.

      3. Basia, also a Fed*

        I work for the federal government and they asked me not to give notice at my other job or tell anyone in the industry (because they weren’t going to tell the other candidates that they didn’t get the job until after I passed the background check and everything was finalized) until after I was fingerprinted and passed the check. It was almost three weeks after I accepted their “tentative” offer before I could give notice.

    2. MaryinTexas*

      I agree with you. Why spend the money on back ground check before you make an offer? This is pretty standard in hiring.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As long as you make it clear to candidates that the offer isn’t final until they clear that, and you make that clear before they accept (and possibly give notice to their current job), that’s fine. The problem is with employers who don’t.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah I think people get confused with reference checks and background checks. Usually your references are contacted before offer stage, but the more comprehensive background stuff, that they pay good money for, is done after acceptance and ideally before you start, but it can take a while so sometimes you’ve already started while the reports are still coming in.

        1. De Minimis*

          I’ve mentioned this before, but with the feds it’s fairly common to not even start the background check until the person begins work. They pay OPM contractors to conduct the investigation, and the paperwork is part of your initial onboarding packet. The cost can be pretty significant depending on the level of clearance, so they won’t do it until someone is already 100% on-board.

          1. De Minimis*

            And yes, it’s possible to fail the check and be let go, though what I’ve heard of happening is the employee quitting because they didn’t want to deal with the process.

          2. The IT Manager*

            Plus in these cases the employee can spend work time and get paid for filling out the background check paperwork rather than doing it on his own time and dime.

            1. De Minimis*

              Particularly in jobs like my previous one, where you had to get at least an interim clearance before you could even access a lot of the information systems….so a lot of your first day is usually spent filling out the background investigation paperwork.

          3. Basia, also a Fed*

            That’s not true in agency – see my comment above where I didn’t have an official offer and wasn’t allowed to give notice at my old job until after the background check.

    3. NicoleK*

      As a former manager who ran background checks….
      1. I worked for a small non profit, it costs money to run background checks so it doesn’t make sense to run background checks on all candidates, only the candidate who accepted the job
      2. The candidate had to sign a written consent authorizing a background check. I can’t imagine most candidates agreeing to a background check if no job offer is extended
      3. When the offer was extended, I verbally informed the person that the job offer is contingent on passing the background check and include the same language in the offer letter.

      1. Mike C.*

        The issue with number two is identity theft, doubly so if that background check includes credit report stuff.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        The key is to set a start date that’s (at least) 10 working days after the background check comes back. Don’t expect new hires to give notice until they have a 100% confirmed offer from you.

      3. Brett*

        > The candidate had to sign a written consent authorizing a background check. I can’t imagine most candidates agreeing to a background check if no job offer is extended.

        Many organizations require the background check consent as part of the application packet. It is mandatory before the first interview. (And I do mean the full go back 20 years and consent to release your taxes check, not just a reference check.)

    4. bridget*

      Last time I was offered a job “contingent on background check” I dropped out of the running for everything else even though it was technically not final. But that’s only because I’m very sure I’ll pass – I’ve passed three separate FBI background checks (fingerprints, the whole shebang) in the last three years, so if I don’t pass this next background check, something REALLY wrong has happened that will be a bigger problem than having dropped out of other opportunities. If I wasn’t that sure, I’d probably have insisted on them finishing the background check first.

  12. Interviewer*

    My company runs background checks only if a candidate accepts the offer. We don’t spend money to background check every applicant, or even a group of strong candidates. And the offer is contingent upon successful clearance.

    1. addlady*

      So . . . people are expected to accept offers that aren’t actually being extended?

      1. Juli G.*

        I don’t think it’s unreasonable as long as 1. the employer is upfront on the contingency and 2. the employer understands that candidate may not give notice until the check clears.

      2. MoinMoin*

        I think the contingency goes both ways. Generally you’d negotiate a start date that includes 2 weeks from the official offer letter and I’ve never received the official offer letter until after the background check clears.

      3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Right. All of this hullabaloo can be resolved if the hiring company allows the new hire enough time to give a respectful notice period to their current company AFTER the background check comes back.

    2. OP*

      So what about someone who’s in conversations with other potential employers?

      If you make me a conditional offer while I’m talking to other companies, do I accept your offer and withdraw myself from their consideration? What am I supposed to do if the background check then doesn’t clear and I’ve already cut the other companies loose?

      1. Kate M*

        I mean, I think in that case you don’t withdraw until the offer is finalized and accepted. You shouldn’t accept unless you’re actually willing to take a job, but if you conditionally accept (based on their offer conditional on a background check), and then the next day get another offer before the background check has cleared, I don’t think it would be the worst thing to withdraw and accept the other job. Not ideal, but if the offer is still conditional, the company shouldn’t have rejected the other candidates yet, so they could probably still move on to the next one.

  13. Oryx*

    So, I think the problem here is that you’re already looking for an exit strategy on a job you haven’t started yet. That’s not a good sign and, instead, is probably a sign that this isn’t the job for you.

    1. NicoleK*

      Yes, not sure why OP accepted the offer when she had serious reservations about moving, was waiting for her dream employer, and was considering quitting new job to accept an offer from dream employer.

    2. Daisy Steiner*

      To be fair, I look for an exit strategy on EVERY decision I make. Signing a lease – What’s the get-out clause? Taking a job – What’s my notice period? Buying a house – Well, if we have to sell within X time, it will cost us Y dollars, which is an acceptable loss to me.

      It’s just in my nature to want to know what the cost is (monetary, opportunity or whatever) of backing out of any decision I make. It doesn’t mean I’m not excited about it. Taking my dream job and moving to my dream country, I still did all these calculations – just so that if it all goes tits-up, I know what it’s going to cost me.

      1. LN*

        This is reasonable, but there IS an exit strategy here – after a year, which is not a terribly long time to live somewhere even if it’s not your favorite place in the world.

        1. Daisy Steiner*

          Yes, there is, and 12 months sounds perfectly reasonable. But Oryx was implying that the fact OP is looking for the exit strategy is in itself a reason not to go. If there’s other reasons too, then sure. But for me, looking for the exit is standard practice before I do pretty much anything

  14. Erin*

    A year sounds pretty reasonable to me. I also don’t think it’s weird they didn’t mention it beforehand, because I think when you accept a job the employer is uh, hoping and expecting you’ll be staying longer than a year.

    For me, even if I was taking a job with the mindset of, this is just temporary, or I can always find something better later….I would still in my mind be thinking, I have to stay there at least a year. Leaving before a year could constitute “job hopping.”

    (Personal side note: Not too long ago my husband received a great job offer across the country, when I had just received a job offer an hour away from us that I was thrilled about. We discussed him moving out there and me moving out a few months later, but ultimately decided against it, in part because I couldn’t leave my job so soon. Well, didn’t want to leave at all. He ended up taking a job within minutes of mine instead that he loves.)

    Also, do you really want to move literally halfway across the country, and then move halfway across the country, again, in the time frame of a few months? Even if all expenses were paid that sounds horrific.

    I’m not clear if you gave notice at your current job yet. I suppose if you did you could try to go back to them and explain that upon reflection, or upon new situations arising, relocating is impossible for you, or something like that.

    I think you have two choices: Stay at your current job in hopes that Company B gets back to you, applying to other California-based jobs in the meantime. Or, sign the agreement, relocate, and simply stick it out for a year. Start job searching again at that point. The ship probably will have sailed with Company B at that point, but there would always be other opportunities.

    I do not think moving and trying to leave within a few months, or trying to get out of signing these papers (unless you back out of the job altogether) is a viable option.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      And moving while staring a new job is very stressful. I can not imagine any circumstance where I would be thinking of doing it twice within a year. I’ve move 7 times in my career and each time I swear it is the last time just because it is so stressful – and that is with a very generous and helpful relocation program (with payback clause).

    2. MoinMoin*

      Yes, agreed. I work in relocation and my clients’ payback clauses are almost always at least 24 months. A year seems like nothing! You’d barely be getting used to the new place and really getting into the groove of knowing what you’re doing in a job until then. Side note- how is it already halfway through June? I feel like it’s still March.

      1. Teapot Project Coordinator*

        I’m planning future installations of projects in August – so I’m over here like, you people want things installed in June(because to everyone but me, the end of June seems reasonably far away) and I’ve already moved on to August, because July is booked.
        I thought to myself earlier this week: “Oh it’s almost fall! The trees will change soon!”(they won’t. it’s not even close, I just wholly forgot what month I was in)

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Seriously. I made an appointment for a haircut on Saturday and realized I haven’t had a haircut on 6 months. Who has time to relo twice in 12 mo.?

    3. Debbie Downer*

      I’m not sure you could reasonably expect Company B to extend you an offer once they get everything together in a few months anyway if you accept this other offer. They’d expect you to still be in California. You’d have to explain to them that you are now in Michigan for a new job. I think they’d be weary of bringing you back to California since they would reasonably assume you are now committed to a new company in Michigan.

  15. Cucumberzucchini*

    I don’t think it’s weird they didn’t tell you you’d have to pay the relocation money back if you left within a year because that’s so expected. A year isn’t a very long time either for something like that.

    If you do accept the offer I hope you only do it with the intent to stay at least a year. Moving is a big deal, but the grand scheme of things one year isn’t that big a deal for a job at a company that sounds pretty good, that’s going to pay you more (in a lower cost area) and is willing to completely cover all your moving costs.

    Having said that, I personally would have to be paid a hell of a lot of money to have to deal with winter ever again. So do consider that – though the first winter if you’ve never seen snow can be magical.

  16. Lauren*

    Am I the only one who thinks a year is too short? I’m honestly surprised that a company putting that much money into a candidate, even an excellent one, feels that one year will be worth it. I would have thought two-five years would be more expected. Obviously, I am wrong but I am still surprised.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I think five years is way too long. A lot can happen in five years that can affect your tenure at a job or in a geographic location. I wouldn’t want someone slogging around in years 4 and 5 because she knew she wanted to, say, completely change careers after year 3.

      2. Kate M*

        To me a year seems about right. You don’t want to hold someone hostage at a workplace. If you want to keep someone longer, I think a good salary, good working conditions, and making sure their expectations actually align with what the job is works better. And relocation packages aren’t that standard anyway (from what I’ve seen, maybe in some fields), so it’s not like you have to spend a ton of money for every employee you bring on. It’s just a perk to get a more in demand candidate.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      Our payback period is 2 years but it is prorated in 6 month increments. So, if you leave after 18 months you only have to pay 1/4 back.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I would not expect a payback clause to be any longer than two years. There’s too much uncertainty out beyond that. You can stick out a year or two, but beyond that people would balk. Although pro-rated clauses help too.

    3. MR*

      A year seems short. I moved from west coast to east coast with a 2 year pro-rated repayment clause that was included in the offer letter , so all the info was up-front. I think the strange part is the relo company informing you, not the employer.

    4. A Girl Has No Name*

      Every place I’ve worked had a 2-year clause, with the payback being prorated. I thought that seemed reasonable. I don’t think many people would be willing to commit to much longer than that…You just never know what could happen.

    5. Triangle Pose*

      A year is pretty standard. Not just for clawback for relos, but for also for signing bonuses. One year is a pretty standard time period for an employee to have to stay for any external recruiter to keep their commission for placing that person, for an employee referral bonus to pay out, etc.

      Five years is super long! In some industries, it’s rare for anyone to stay that long, I think that would be way too long to still clawback a relo or signing bonus or any kind.

  17. animaniactoo*

    “especially since they approached me for this job and they’re the ones that want me to relocate”

    Yes, but they’re interested in the version of you that wants to be their employee longterm and is willing to move to where they need you to be. If you can’t give them that version of you, it’s not fair to allow them to make a significant investment in you even with the thought process that it will cost you nothing if it doesn’t work out.

    Because not only are they out the relocation costs, they’re also back to a new hunt to fill the position, and whatever internal issues not having the position filled/trained for a longer period of time will create. You’re understandably focused on the impact of this on you, but for your personal reputation as a desirable employee, you also need to be somewhat focused on what the impact is on the company if you’re not really going to be the person they think they are getting (someone invested in the role and there to stay more than a few months) when you agree to come on board.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Yes–we had a situation where my department lost three people after a short period of time, one right after another. (I realize that saying it that way makes it sound like there was a huge problem with the department, and we did look into it to see if that was the problem, but in that case it really did turn out to be a fluke: one decided he’d rather go to grad school, one had to move cross-country to take care of family, and one was offered a ‘dream job’ in another industry.) It was a massive drain on the department to keep pouring time and energy into a job search and training, only to lose the people before they even were able to significantly contribute. It definitely reached a point where we would have been very leery of anyone who was giving off signs of maybe not wanting to stay for at least a year, because understaffed as we were (which was why we were hiring, after all) the repeated cycles of hiring and training were really taking a toll.

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      If you can’t give them that version of you, it’s not fair to allow them to make a significant investment in you even with the thought process that it will cost you nothing if it doesn’t work out.

      This. OP, I’d retract my acceptance as soon as possible if I were you so this company can hire their second choice before that person becomes unavailable and they have to relaunch their entire hiring process again. Someone up thread said that by accepting this job when you know you don’t want it and would leave for the dream job if it was offered to you was acting in bad faith, and I wholeheartedly agree with that.

  18. Cat Lady, but not Crazy*

    Not that you asked, OP, but you may not know that the money they spend on moving you is likely to appear on your W-2 as taxable income. Thought you should know.

    1. Phoebe*

      Yes, but wouldn’t they also be tax deductible? I know when my brother moved from Hawaii to Willamsburg, VA for a job, many of his relocation expenses were.

        1. Noah*

          That is correct, but you can deduct anything above and beyond that your new employer doesn’t pay for. Things like hotel nights, mileage as you drive your car to the new location, pet boarding, and all sorts of things related to moving.

    2. Not Karen*

      Depends on how they do it. At CurrentJob, the relocation expenses was a reimbursement, so yes, it appeared on my W-2 as taxable income. At LastJob, my employer paid the moving company directly, so that part (and the largest expense) never went through me.

    3. littlemoose*

      Yes, it is taxable income. My employer actually paid me a little extra to offset the additional tax burden when I was relocated (that itself was taxable income too!).

  19. newlyhr*

    It sounds to me like the company has operated well within industry norms throughout the process. You don’t have to accept the position, but if you do, those are the terms. I sure would not move to Michigan from California unless I either really loved the job opportunity or had some personal reasons for being there.

  20. PizzaSquared*

    DON’T MOVE. I have spent a lot of my life living in places I didn’t want to be for career reasons. I’ve come to believe that this is virtually always a mistake. Certainly for me, it was a massive mistake that I regret on a regular basis. Life is more than work. We work to live, not vice versa. If you’re not happy outside of work, no job is going to cancel that out. Please, if you don’t want to live in Michigan, think long and hard before doing this move.

    Also, I’ve been relocated by several companies, and all of my relocation deals have had a similar clause. Though most (maybe all?) pro-rated the payback depending on how long I stayed. So the one time I did leave the job before the year was up, I only had to pay back a small portion of the relocation costs. Maybe that’s industry-specific, but it’s something I’d ask for if I were going to move again for a job (hint: I’m not).

    DON’T MOVE!!!

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Just to share the opposite perspective :)

      I’ve moved several for my partner’s job, including most recently to a place that was pretty much at the top of the list of places I never wanted to live in. It is a hard transition, especially when you don’t really like the place you’re living. My current city has grown on me some, but if I have a choice, this is not where I want to live long term.

      However, every time we’ve moved has turned out to be a great opportunity to get to know a new place, and connect and reconnect with friends we’d fallen out of touch with living far away. While I very much hope we’re able to settle down somewhere else for the long term, I’m really grateful we’ve gotten to have these “adventures” in our 20s. There can be silver linings!

    2. Laura*

      It’s also possible to decline relocation assistance. I wish I’d done that for my first job out of college, for many reasons. I had a gut feeling that I wouldn’t enjoy the work, but I didn’t think about the relocation assistance issue until I quit and they asked me to pay back over $400. Not something you want to deal with when quitting a job.

      The “package” had also included a company contracted to help you move, find a place, etc. I found the company to be so scuzzy and unprofessional, I had to block their number because they kept calling asking if I needed help moving. (I didn’t– I moved myself)

    3. Daisy Steiner*

      Like Jillociraptor, I have the opposite perspective. I definitely don’t live to work (avoid long hours where possible, took a lower paying job to cut my commute, not really interested in management etc.), but nevertheless I find that if I’m not happy in my work, it bleeds over into everything else in my life and makes me miserable – hobbies, relationships, etc. just don’t have the savour. The crux of my wellbeing hinges around whether I’m satisfied in my work. So for me, I’d rather have an amazing job in a ‘meh’ place, than a ‘meh’ job in an amazing place. It all depends on what you know about your own personality, and how important your job and/or your location are to your happiness.

  21. HR*

    Here is a little know FACT about the FLSA in light of this being a “very common practice.” If you are EXEMPT, a relocation deduction or payback is illegal. There are only a very FEW exceptions why an exempt person’s pay can have deductions and relo isn’t on the list (neither is education assistance -which is also common). The DOL has also issued Opinion Letters which stipulate that asking for an actual payback check is a no-no. The company MAY have worked with an attorney to create a “forgivable loan” for this type of thing, but I’d bet that’s not what they did. The reality is they think they can do it and not sure how they would feel about having this discussion.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re taking about paycheck deductions though. My understanding is that a signed contract agreeing to pay back the relocation money is perfectly enforceable?

      1. Stan*

        This is my experience with tuition assistance. They can’t deduct it or withhold your final check, but they can require you to pay it back since there’s a signed contract. I would assume relocation is similar.

      2. HR Empress*

        A forgivable loan drafted by an attorney is probably O.K. An agreement that the company writes up that says that you agree to a deduction or will pay back is not. See USDOL fact Sheet #17

        Also, see the USDOL opinion letter dated March 10, 2006. This is an excerpt near the end of the document which addresses the “write a check” scenario – “… It would not matter whether an employer implements such a policy by making periodic deductions from employee salaries, or by requiring employees to make out-of-pocket reimbursements from compensation already received. Either approach would result in employees not
        receiving their predetermined salaries when due on a “guaranteed” basis or “free and clear” and would
        produce impermissible reductions in compensation because of the quality of the work performed under
        the terms of the employer’s policies, contrary to 29 C.F.R. § 541.602(a). “

          1. HR Empress*

            Wow! I’m not 100% sure that the loan document created by an attorney is completely defensible… Essentially, the DOL wants EXEMPT employees to receive their full salary all the time.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Right, you’re receiving your full salary. But separately, you signed a legal agreement to repay non-salary (relocation) expenses, which you must write a separate check to reimburse if you leave before X months, per the terms of the contract.

              These agreements are perfectly legal and routinely drafted by employment lawyers; the factsheet you linked to above is about deductions from pay, but these aren’t generally set up to be deductions from pay.

              1. Triangle Pose*

                The letter actually says it doesn’t matter if it is deductions from pay or requiring the employee to write a check to reimburse the employer.

                “It would not matter whether an employer implements such a policy by making periodic deductions from employee salaries, or by requiring employees to make out-of-pocket reimbursements from compensation already received.” The DOL letter specifically says that signed agreements between the employee and employer doesn’t matter, the employer still can’t enforce this.

                However, it is unclear to me that a relocation repayment agreement in this instance would be covered by this DOL guidance. The fact sheet is about companies trying to enact policies whereby the employee must reimburse the employer for loss or damage of the employer’s funds or property due to the employees’ failure to properly carry out their duties (i.e. employee breaks company laptop, company wants employee to write a check to pay the company back for repair/new laptop). A relocation package provided before an employee even began her duties might be a stretch.

                I would want a labor attorney to weigh in, I’d bet there are limits to how you can structure a repayment agreement to ensure you don’t run afoul of non-compete laws or labor laws. I find HR’s point interesting. Separate from this specific relocation situation, I’d bet most people think it’s okay for employers to make you write a check to cover damage like this when DOL Guidance says it is unenforcable.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Ah, I had clicked on the link to the factsheet just above. But yes, the quote from the DOL letter is about “damage to or loss of company equipment,” which is a whole different thing.

                  I’ve searched to see if I can find anything saying relo payback agreements aren’t legal or enforceable, and everything I’m finding confirms that as long as they’re written correctly they’re perfectly legal and enforceable.

          2. Triangle Pose*

            I think HR’s point is that if you are exempt, the agreement must be structured as a forgivable loan, NOT a contract that allows the company to deduct the relo amount from your paycheck. It reads to me like HR suspects the company has done the latter, which goes against the DOL guidance. The part about the document being drafted by an attorney is not as significant.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Ah! I thought she was saying that relo repayment agreements aren’t legal at all, which definitely isn’t the case. (I still think she might saying that though?)

              1. Terra*

                It might also be in reference to someone above who said that a friend’s final paycheck was entirely docked for repayment purposes which sounds like it would be illegal according to this.

          3. Library Director*

            It happens in library too often. I had a former board member draft these type of statements and push them through as new policy. I had many a head-butting session on items that the DOL are very clear about, but he considered as employees “gaming the system”.

  22. BrightEyes*

    I agree with Alison here. I’m in the relocation business and a repayment agreement is standard with 99.99% of the clients I work with- and most of the time we can’t start services without a signed agreement on file. Relocating is so stressful anyway, especially with the additional factor of the contrast in climate & culture between Michigan and California, that I would recommend against taking this job.

  23. The IT Manager*

    A payback agreement if you leave before a year is normal. A normal length of time to plan to stay is two or three years so a payback if leave before a year after they relocate you not in anyway unreasonable. The person acting in bad faith is you. It seems that you really only to stay until you get a better offer which you hope to be months. I bet if you had to pay for your own move, you wouldn’t be making the move with this level of uncertainty.

  24. Ann Furthermore*

    OP, if you really, really don’t want to move, then you shouldn’t. Your heart won’t be in your job, and you’ll just be counting the days until you can resign and move back to CA.

    But this may also be a great opportunity to do something new, and have a new adventure. A year really isn’t that long, and who knows what could happen? If you think it will be a good stepping stone for your career down the road, then you should at least consider moving, keep an open mind, and try to get something positive out of the experience. If you move with your mind made up that you’re going to hate it, then chances are you will. I say all this assuming that you’re single. Uprooting a spouse and/or kids is a whole other story. I wouldn’t even consider doing that unless the job in question was something I was really excited about.

    Years ago, I worked for a company that was acquired by one based in San Antonio. There was some talk about me relocating down there. At the time, I was young, single, and didn’t have any commitments to worry about. San Antonio had never even registered on my radar as someplace I’d ever want to live, but I figured, hey, what the heck? If nothing else it will be an adventure. It ended up not happening, first because the company would not offer any relocation assistance, and second, because I met quite a few of my potential new co-workers, and they were all sad, miserable, horribly unhappy people that all despised their jobs. No thanks!

  25. OP*

    Hi all, OP here. Thanks, Allison, for running this, and everyone for the insightful comments.

    A few things for extra context:

    – Under normal circumstances, I would just stay at my current job until and unless the opportunity with Company B came through. Unfortunately, the reason I started having conversations with both of these companies was because I was the casualty in a major downsizing at my previous company, so I’m between jobs and need a new one, soon. The Michigan job with Company A is the best, most solid option currently on the table. Other openings at the moment are scarce, and I’m not in a financial position to hold out for a better option or Company B much longer…

    – My industry is SUPER WEIRD. Relos are less common in my particular corner of it, where most companies’ operations are based in California. Company A, in Michigan, is pretty much the sole exception to this. So I haven’t really encountered a relo before this. The payback agreement wasn’t a total surprise — I just figured if I was going to be presented with one, it would have been mentioned before I was expected to accept the offer. I was very straightforward with the recruiter that this was my first relo and I was unfamiliar with the process, so I felt a little blindsided by this.

    – Relocating to Michigan isn’t really a problem — I’m young and single, so I have the freedom to do it, and spending at least a year in a new city/state could be, at least, an adventure. My main problem is the prospect of a job at Company B, which is like the Harvard of my (again, very weird) industry. It’s extremely selective, openings there are rare, and most people in my industry spend their careers dreaming of landing a job there. It could be, without exaggeration, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wouldn’t even *think* about leaving Company A within a year or burning that bridge for anyone *but* Company B.

    – The “ugh” about doing the background check after I’d accepted the offer is that because I was talking to several potential employers, I withdrew myself from consideration when I accepted Company A’s conditional offer. So that would’ve been potentially disastrous if the background check hadn’t cleared (although it did), since the other prospective employers would have probably moved on.

    1. Blurple*

      I can see where you’re coming from. How about this: If you did get a Company B job in, I don’t know, 6 months, would you be able to pay back the relocation costs? I’m commitment phobic for things like this as well (reasonable as they may be), so perhaps framing it as something you are willing and able to do if necessary for a once in a lifetime opportunity would help. So rather than “if I get this opportunity I get screwed on this other thing,” it can be “if I get this opportunity I will do this for the chance to take it.”

      You also might consider keeping the move to a budget anyway just for the peace of mind. When my partner got a relocation package (also with a one year 100% repayment agreement) we just did it about as frugally as we would have moved otherwise, not so much out of fear of having to pay it back but just because getting very expensive moving services wasn’t super important to us. I can pack my own boxes and all that. This also gave us the comfort of knowing that if we’d had to repay it, it would have been a burden, but entirely possible.

    2. tango*

      I’d go for it. Move to Michigan. I would not let what Company B might do in the future affect what you do NOW considering you need a job and paycheck.

    3. Triangle Pose*

      I totally get this. Given your situation is that you’re between jobs, I’d say you can take Company A in Michigan in good faith. If Company B is the Harvard of your industry and they come through with an offer, great, take it! In this case, your present option is Company A and you intend on staying absent better opportunities – this is perfectly okay and pretty always the case with any normal employer/employee relationship. It sounds to me like Company B is something you would jump for at any time! If it comes, jump at it and see if you can negotiate getting Company B to cover the clawback of the relo. Companies can do this, I’ve seen companies pay the penalty under non-compete agreements to get the employee they want to hire and start right away. Good luck!

      1. Dan*

        Company B is only going to cover the cost of the relo from Company A if they *really* want the OP.

        One thing OP needs to consider is whether they are willing to repay the relo penalty AND cover their own moving costs to Company B.

        Maybe a different way to look at it is that repaying the relo cost would be part of the negotiation over compensation. They might get relo paid but a lower salary or something like that.

        1. Triangle Pose*

          Sure, they’d have to really want her. But it’s been done and she can reasonably raise it if she gets an offer from Company B. It really depends on her seniority and the scarcity of candidates with her skillset.

          In my industry/role relocation packages are totally the norm so if you want me to move at all, you’re definitely covering the cost. If you want me enough, you’ll pay to get my out of any contractual obligations so you can hire me. That second part you have to raise in negotiations, but the initial relocation is pretty much always part of the package.

    4. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Should Company B come through with an offer, it’s always possible to ask them to cover the clawback provision.

    5. animaniactoo*

      I think your best bet is to hold off for a day, e-mail Company B and ask what the status is and when they might be ready to make an offer. Let them know you have another offer you need to decide about, but they’re your preference if it’s a real possibility.

      But I think that if you do go to Michigan, you need to stay in Michigan for the year, even if Company B comes back to you. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen with Company B – they could hire you and then lay you off 3 months later. Or it turns out The Golden Unicorn isn’t quite as awesome once you’re working there. Or… Sometimes, Harvard isn’t really the great option for a specific person and their circumstances, despite its reputation. So you really need to look at what happens if you go to all the trouble to move back for Company B, and it turns out to be a less-than-optimal move for you. Are you willing to take that risk, based on where you are and what you can handle job rep-wise and financially?

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Good points to consider, OP. You’re in a crap position right now, but I’d think very carefully through every possible scenario here before taking this job in Michigan. And definitely contact Company B for status.

    6. MissDisplaced*

      I’m kind of with you on Michigan not being the ideal place to live (the COLD the COLD!).
      However, as all have said there is nothing weird about this hiring process, background check or relocation package. In fact, the company must really want you based on even trying to see if you could stay in the CA office.

      1 year is not long. The time will fly, IF you really like what you do and don’t mind the move all that much.
      But be sure. I’ve seen people who’s heart/mind wasn’t in it and/or missed family and friends so much they just couldn’t do it. So I guess you just have to decide if this is a true deal breaker or not?

    7. insert pun here*

      Since you are without income, I would say take the Michigan job and call it an adventure! There is no perfect solution here, but there is a solution that allows you to have money coming in, so…

    8. H.C.*

      Ditto with the above comments to take the Company A job, with a few additional questions about the relo:
      1. Is there an estimate of how much the package is (so you’ll at least know how much to save up in case you do leave within a year)?
      2. Is the repayment pro-rated, or all-or-nothing with the year benchmark?
      3. Is the repayment doable in installments, or do they expect a lump payment in X days?
      (Since you already told your recruiter/hiring manager this is your first relo package, you can frame these questions as just being anxious and wanting more clarity, so they don’t misconstrue it as you not being fully committed to the job & withdrawing the offer.)

      Also, if you do get accepted by Company B, any possibility of negotiating a later start date (along with your salary,as you should) just so you don’t get hit with the relo repayment?

    9. Erin*

      Okay, after reading this…

      It might be worth burning that bridge with Michigan Company if you end up getting that offer from California Company. But. Looking at logistics and financing – can you afford to pay back the relocation expenses? And possibly pay for relocating again, as you mentioned in your original letter? If you pass on Michigan – can you afford to wait for California, which is of course not guaranteed?

      From what you’ve said I don’t think you can afford to wait. The fact that you’re young and single and otherwise have no issues with relocating other than this one possibility…

      I say, go with the new job, move, and IF the other company reaches out to you you can reevaluate your situation and finances at that time.

      Also, things change and you might be surprised. You might love Michigan more than you thought, meet the love of your life there, stay there for a year only to get a great job offer in a completely different, not-thought-of-before state. Who knows? Like you said, it would be an adventure. :)

  26. weasel007*

    I agree that the clawback clause is pretty standard. However for anyone faced with this, you need to find out how they report this (if you take it). Is it salary? Will it be reported as reloc expenses? That makes a huge difference in the end of the year taxes, and whether or not they take taxes out at first or not. Also, I’d seriously side eye any claw back agreement that says you have to pay it back if you are laid off. Usually it is only for being fired with cause.

  27. LadyCop*

    This was a nail on the head answer. The OP doesn’t seem committed enough to the move in the first place…and the clause itself is normal and reasonable. If the OP is looking for an “excuse” to back out, then they probably shouldn’t do this in the first place.

  28. Noah*

    “Take this job if you’re excited about everything that comes with the offer”

    If that were the standard, nobody I know would have a job. Everything???? The problem with this job isn’t that she doesn’t like everything, it’s that she doesn’t like one thing that is particularly critical — where the job is located.

    1. Kate M*

      I think this applied moreso when it seemed like the OP was still employed, not laid off like they indicated above. If you’re already in a fine role, don’t take a job you have major reservations about. Excited is probably too strong a word (I think a lot of times we forget that a majority of the jobs in the world aren’t great or exciting, but people do them because they have to make a living), but I think being “reasonably into the most important aspects of a job (pay, benefits, location) relative to what you have now” is important. Making $15/hour might not be “exciting” necessarily, but if you’re making $12/hour now, it could end up being exciting.

      1. Noah*

        To me, the bigger problem was “everything,” not “excited.” I will never have a job I like “everything” about. I don’t know anybody with that kind of job, because I don’t think those jobs exist.

    1. Laura*

      Yes, me too! All these comments about how weird her industry is have made me very curious.

  29. VictoriaHR*

    My company has a really really tough time recruiting people from California to Iowa. It’s just not typically something that ever works out. I agree with Alison’s advice.

    1. the gold digger*

      My friend used to be an HR director at Kraft in Chicago. They gave up on recruiting at East Coast schools because they could not get people to move to tiny, boring, provincial Chicago.

      BTW – I worked in Cedar Rapids for six months. I would go back in a heartbeat. I loved that place.

  30. k*

    i think people might be making some assumptions and reading into tone where that’s really hard to express in an email. OP, do you absolutely not want to move to michigan at all, or are you more in the camp of “for the right salary/experience/whatever, i can live anywhere for x amount of time”? if it’s the later, everything else about this job sounds great, and the salary or experience you’ll get will have a significant impact in improving your life long-term even if you only stay for a year, i’d go for it. would you really consider leaving a job in under a year? i think most people try to stick it out longer at jobs they don’t like because it looks bad not to. it sounds like it might be worth it to improve your career and quality of life. tuck away some savings during that year in case you decide to move back after a year, but maybe you’ll end up liking it enough to stay for a few years and have enough savings to put down on a home in CA when you move back!

    ~ might be worth noting that i moved cross-country and back twice in the span of 2 years. (LA/boston)

  31. Jerry Blank*

    Oh, OP, if you’d like to move to a red state where it’s freezing most of the year and there are ten churches for every person, take the job. In all seriousness, if you like winter sports and outdoor activities like hunting and fishing you may enjoy it, or if you’re moving to a place like Ann Arbor that has a bit more to do. I’m a country girl, so I like that aspect of it, but it proved too difficult to be out of the closet there (both as a lesbian and an atheist).

    1. Rena*

      Hah, I grew up evangelical Christian and very conservative and always felt like an outsider in both religion and politics. The metro-Detroit area was pretty blue :)

  32. Vicki*

    OP – I worried when I read this “the higher standard of living meant I could command a larger salary when I eventually returned to California, and Michigan could be an interesting change of pace in the meantime.”

    First, you said “when” and “an interesting change of pace in the meantime”. A relocation to another state is not “an interesting change of pace. Its a life upheaval.

    Also, California is an Expensive place to live. When you come back. CA employers won’t see Michigan as having been a “higher standard of living” and they won’t offer you a higher salary to return. That’s not how things work. They’ll offer a reasonable CA salary and it will seem like a reduction because CA is expensive and you’re coming from Michigan.

    Say no thank you. These are not the second thoughts to be having before a major relocation.

  33. Kenneth*

    Only 12 months? That’s short in my experience. My last employer gave me a relocation allowance that I would’ve been required to pay back if I resigned or was terminated within 2 years — with reasonable exceptions for uncontrollable circumstances. I learned from a couple coworkers that the same stipulation was made for signing bonuses.

  34. Sr. Technical Recruiter*

    I’m a Sr. Technical Recruiter, and I relocated from Michigan to Atlanta at the beginning of the recession. Michigan was in a severe recession years before the rest of the nation. I have run into enough Michiganders living in Georgia to know that I was not the only one to flee as soon as I got my degree. My family still lives there, and I have explored moving back several times. Wages are depressed in Michigan and, for many, its not worth moving back. It’s a wonderful state that I miss everyday, but a combination of terrible governors and poor decisions has left it in a bad way.

    As a recruiter, I would be very upset if you were offered relocation, took it, and then left three months later. Wait for your dream company, and don’t rush off to Michigan.

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