my boss complains about me to my parents, my boss doesn’t want me to work while traveling, and more

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

1. My boss complains about me to my parents

I’m a young 23-year-old Australian. I’m employed in a cleaning-based role at a local school. My employer is having a few issues with my work ethic and what not (apparently), and has informed my parents about this, rather than bringing the issue up with me directly. Sadly, this has been going on a lot; more often than not, they will bring up issues about me with them rather than me. (It’s a church-school, and they go up to my parents on Sunday at church and inform them.)

I’m thinking of having a talk with my boss about this, and I was wanting to know what is the best approach. What could I do? Is this a normal practice for businesses to do? I can’t help but feel they don’t respect me as an adult or my maturity/capabilities either. It’s beyond frustrating at this point for me, and I just don’t know what to do.

Whoa, yeah, you should say something. This is definitely not a normal business practice. It’s true that in churches, lines sometimes get blurred, but this is not normal.

You could say something like this: “I’d really like to get feedback about my work from you directly. When you have a concern about my work, could you talk to me about it directly, rather than relaying it to my parents?”

And ask your parents to start redirecting your boss back to you by saying things like “Oh, we shouldn’t be hearing this — you should talk to Fergus directly!” or even (if your parents are awesome) “We don’t feel right hearing about private personnel issues. We’re just here for church.”

2. I work remotely but my boss doesn’t want me to work while traveling

I started a new job last month which is 100% remote. I had three other offers at the time and chose this job because it’s remote and I love to travel.

I have an international trip coming up and assured my manager I would be working at the regular hours, available my usual phone number, and connected to strong wifi. But a week later, he decided I am not allowed to work while traveling and I must take my entire time away as vacation days. His reasoning is I may be too tired to work, non-remote employees may be jealous, and the possibility of weak wifi (despite the fact I have a personal router that works in over 100 countries on top of hotel wifi). I am concerned I may have made a mistake choosing this company. Prior to starting, I asked if working from anywhere was okay as long as there was wifi, and he said yes. This is an important factor for me. How can I prove I will still be a dedicated employee while traveling?

As long as I have strong wifi, my American phone number and work on American hours, why should it matter if I am abroad or not?

I’d bet money that it’s because it’s an international trip. There’s something about that that just makes it feel iffier to people (sometimes). When you checked on this before starting the job, did you specify international travel? I could see him agreeing to it but thinking you’d still be in the country. As long as your hours and your connectivity are the same, it shouldn’t matter — but it often does.

I’d say this to him: “Can I clarify my ability to work remotely when I’m traveling? Before I accepted the job, you had said it would be okay to work from anywhere as long as there was reliable wifi. That was a big factor in my accepting this job over others. Is the issue with this trip that it’s international? Or would you not want me to do this on any trip?”

Depending on his response, you could then say, “I have a lot of experience working regular work days while traveling. Since it’s something we’d talked about as part of my offer, would you be willing to try it this time as an experiment and see how it goes? I think I can show you that there won’t be any impact on my work or productivity.”

3. Saying no to office money collections

I got an email yesterday from a coworker saying she’d like to start a Sunshine Club and we can donate $5/week, which she will hold onto for quarterly outings. Most of the outings are drinking and I’m really not interested in attending. How do I politely say no without looking like a party pooper?

We also contribute $5 for each person’s birthday and the cash is given to the birthday person. There are about 15 people who contribute but I’d like to get out of this too. I’ve been doing this for six years and if I stop before someone’s birthday, it’s going to look like I don’t like that person or they’ll say I gave to her, why didn’t she contribute to mine? Sticky situations.

Y’all give cash for people’s birthdays? That’s fairly unusual for offices. You’re also basically passing the same cash around over the course of the year so is it really a gift? It’s more like “now it’s your turn to hold the cash,” no?

Anyway, for the Sunshine Club, just be matter-of-fact about it: “Oh, no thanks, I’m not a big drinker but it’s nice of you to organize and I hope you all have fun!”

For withdrawing from the birthday cash thing, I’d just email the group and say, “Hey, I’m cutting down on expenses so am withdrawing from the birthday group — wanted to tell everyone now so no one thought it was personal when I’m not among the contributors in the future.”

4. Asking for an office as a condition of accepting a job

Recently I had an interview for a HR manager position with a small organization of approximately 100 employees. I was told that they are tight on space, so the HR person will get a desk but not an office.

In my opinion, that’s not a suitable setup because of confidentiality. The interviewer is a COO and only has a desk even though he deals with confidential financial information. Yet others like the office manager have an office.

If I’m offered a job, I’d like to request that if at all possible an arrangement be made for an office for the HR manager. I’m worried that there will be times when an employee is upset and needs to talk and an empty boardroom may not be available. Or I may be working on something like a termination letter and have to look over my shoulder to ensure no one sees what I’m doing. What are your thoughts on this? At this point I’m considering not accepting the offer if I don’t have a suitable set-up to work from.

I think that’s perfectly reasonable, although I also think that in an organization where they’re so tight on space that the COO doesn’t have an office, they may not be able or willing to say yes. But it’s quite reasonable to ask, and you can point out that HR work in particular often requires confidentiality and see what they say.

5. Should my coworkers be allowed to see payroll data?

I work for a relatively small business, less than 40 employees. Besides field technicians and sales reps, we have, including five people in office at all times, including me. I just learned that our accountant, who is doubling as our entire HR department, is training two other coworkers to process payroll. One of the payroll-trainees is an inside sales rep, the other a service department coordinator. Neither are in supervisory roles, management, or HR. I’m upset that these two coworkers know the pay scale of not only everyone in the company, but mine as well.

I don’t feel like this can be legal. Is it legal? Who within an organization is legally allowed to view employee pay levels and process payroll?

It’s legal! There aren’t any laws governing who’s allowed to view employee pay information or process payroll; it’s up to individual employers. (In fact, some employers go for total pay transparency and publish everyone’s salaries, although that’s not the same as what’s happening here.)

There are always going to be coworkers who know your salary because they’re involved in payroll in some way. I get that it feels weirder because these two people wouldn’t normally be exposed to payroll data, but in a small office, you’re going to get cross-training like this (which is smart, because otherwise no one will be able to handle payroll when your accountant is out).

{ 473 comments… read them below }

  1. Lady Phoenix*

    #3 reminds of an Etiquette Hell story where the OP in THAT story was mad cuz her brother and sil stopped contributing christmas money to her family (which included a husband and kids).

    Giving money is useless if yall give it back eventually.

    1. Jeanne*

      It also is weird to give cash at the office. Buy a card with petty cash, everyone sign it, then once a month get some cupcakes or donuts or whatever to share as a birthday treat. Call it done.

      1. JessaB*

        We used to have a fund that everyone participated in, but what it did was fund most of the lunch for a potlatch, and the cake and all. And we’d have a party. The fund would handle the cake, a card, the party goods, the basic stuff (soda pop and chips,) and we’d all bring food. It was pretty neat. It was like two dollars each a month. It went into a bank account in the agency owned credit union, that had two signatories on it so it was “kept honest” so we got interest on it and all. But it was completely voluntary. If you didn’t want to or couldn’t you just didn’t and you didn’t participate for your birthday.

      2. AfterBurner313*

        The only people I know who do Sunshine clubs at work are olderish women. They the same loons that pimp raffle tickets for their kids’ travel sports , Christmas popcorn tins for band camp and wrapping paper for Washington DC trips. They never leave their fellow coworkers alone.

        I have been in that situation twice. I paid the $60/year to keep that gaggle of harpies off my backside.

        You don’t pay, and you get the target of *not a team player* on your back. The Harpies are a petty lot. I’ve seen people moved out/slowy let go of their jobs for refusing to play sorority sister.

        I’m guessing this is mostly an female crew.

        In a perfect world, yes you could opt out. Yes, the coven should respect that and leave you alone. The two pink color jobs I worked (need a BA/BS for that career) who had a sunshine, were pure nightmare fuel. Petty, petty drama llamas.

        I paid the extortion money. Didn’t go to the “events”, and looked for another job.

        The boss should really drop the hammer on that nonsense. It isn’t second grade where everyone looks forward to birthday cupcakes.

        *bad flash backs*

          1. Afterburner313*

            Welp. I’m a woman, so I guess I am the worst of the worst in the working sisterhood.

            It’s my opinion on Sunshine clubs and the people who run them.

            I never gave anyone trouble. I can work hard, do a good job and keep my opinions to myself. Left both jobs on good terms Received excellent references.

            I will never work another job were “we all have to be besties”. Maybe LW coworkers are sane people, and won’t take a thanks but no thanks as a personal character assassination. Mine were not.

            I have friends still working in that career, and the mean girl nonsense still holds sway.

            I cost me $80/month in 1990 money to keep the peace and still have a job. The place is still like that. I’d rather work fast food with no benefits than to deal with that situation again.

            There are ramifications for saying yay or nay to non work related things at work. In a perfect world, the work you produce should trump buying a raffle ticket or being in a Sunshine club. It didn’t in the places I worked.

            I hope all people who threw out the word misogyny never have to decide, do I cough up the $100 for a baby shower to keep my job or decide to eat ramen for the next few weeks.

            *HR was the aunt of the Sunshine Club person. We had no were to voice an opinion.

            1. Collarbone High*

              You can point out, as others here have done, that being pressured to contributed to office celebrations is a financial burden without demeaning women and invoking the kinds of ugly stereotypes (mean, crazy, overly emotional) that are used to justify holding women back.

            2. Recruit-o-Rama*

              Yes, well bullying, pressure to contribute and other such nonsense are not exclusive to women (or harpies, as you seem to prefer)

              Being a woman does not preclude you from acting in ways that contribute to mysogny and holding women back in the work place.

              I hope you’re right that you are able to keep all this to yourself at the office, but people are generally unable to mask the amount of hostility that you seem to have for your co-workers as well as they think they can.

            3. Jessie the First (or second)*

              You’ve missed the point of our responses.

              It’s the misogyny that we are calling out. You are exhibiting significant amounts of misogyny. I’m not calling you out for not contributing – I am calling you out for using sexist, harmful language (gaggle of harpies and coven) and for stereotyping gender issues (“I’m guessing this is an all-female crew”) – as if men don’t band together and exert pressure or bully. Men bully and pressure too. And resorting to obnoxiously sexist language to describe co-workers is obnoxiously sexist.

              Be annoyed at the specific problem at your office. But don’t make this a “women are petty witches” tirade, which is what you did in your post.

            4. Reba*

              It’s not your opinion on the clubs and ugly office dynamics, it’s the slew of gendered insults you used to describe it.

            5. Airedale*

              I think everyone is being a bit hard on you. Some women (and men) are dramatic and petty, and some are down-to-earth and kind. I don’t think your comment implies otherwise.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  No1curr about your gender, or Afterburner313’s gender, so that’s not the shield you think it is. Women are perfectly capable of using misogynist language and exhibiting misogynist behavior.

                  Turning “office cash for events is not a great idea” into “these EVIL HARPIES and their COVENISH BULLYING WAYS” is misogyny, plain and simple, regardless of your gender. Literally no one would have cared if Afterburner313 had gone on that same tirade about having had bad experiences with these situations in the past, including saying that not participating can get you labeled “not a team player” in particularly cliqueish workplaces, if it had been done in annoyed but gender-neutral language. Afterburner313 is the one who made assumptions about the genders of those involved and used really overtly misogynist language to do so – the only thing missing was “bitches”, really.

                  THAT’S the problem. Not that we really think that Afterburner313 is trying to say that literally every single woman out there is dramatic and petty. Your comment misses the point here by a very wide margin.

            6. Jadelyn*

              Do you…I’m sorry, do you really think that people who call out your misogynist language have never ever dealt with office cash funds like this before? That the only possible reason we might have for saying “Can you maybe not with the “harpies” and gendered assumptions here” is because unlike you, we have never known the suffering of an office that wanted us to cough up cash for stupid stuff?

              Maybe you misunderstood our objections. We’re not saying you’re entirely wrong about the issue at hand and voicing our support for office cash funds. We’re saying the way you’re presenting your opposition to them smacks of virulent misogyny and that’s not okay in this space. There’s a big difference there.

        1. Gaia*

          Wow. That’s some seriously ugly misogyny you have going on there. It is one thing to not like paying for these things, it is another to attack this as a “women” thing and use really sexist language to describe women.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          I’m going to go out on a limb and venture that “not a team player” here would not have anything to do with whether you paid $60 or not, but about your attitude towards your co-workers, and apparently towards women, especially older women, in general.

        3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          And apparently 39 is an older woman. My kids have all of that crap. I hate selling and don’t do it at work, but I know lots of people do. If you had any idea the pressure that those organizations put on you to do “your part” of the fundraising (after paying high registration fees, plus buying all the equipment, plus a uniform, plus funding all the travel yourself including hotels), perhaps you’d cut them some slack. Or maybe you’d just continue being a misogynist.

          1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

            Personally as a child-free woman whose friends are all either child-free or too young to be in scouts, I consider my coworkers who hawk their kids’ Girl Scout cookies to be performing a public service. It’s always been very unobtrusive though. When I worked at a university, there was a prof who would just post the order form on his door and send out a single email announcing that the form was up and anyone could stop by. At my current workplace there’s a guy who also just sends a single email with a PDF of the selections attached and you can email back if you want to place an order. In either case there was no pressure to buy.

            1. Dankar*

              I wish someone did that here! I’ve been using the Cookie Locator app whenever the season rolls around. Haha

              I also have no issues with the people selling wrapping paper come Christmas time. It’s way higher quality than the stuff I buy in the dollar bin, usually last-minute when I’m desperate.

              1. Marillenbaum*

                I would like to take this time to shoutout to the Girl Scout (and her mother) who sell on the quad of my campus. Because they’ve realized that students 1) love cookies, 2) rarely carry cash, 3) never carry a checkbook, they take Venmo! I can buy Girl Scout cookies on my phone!

                1. Midge*

                  How entrepreneurial! Which, as I understand it, was part of the original point of having Girl Scouts sell cookies.

                  Also, as relates to coworkers being unobtrusive about selling their daughters’ cookies: I had a coworker who would have her kid draw a picture every year to be photocopied and put in each department’s mailbox advertising that it was cookie season. I thought it was obnoxious and inappropriate, but I bought a few boxes from her because Thin Mints are delicious. However, the next year I heard through word of mouth that another coworker’s daughter was also selling cookies. She didn’t distribute flyers or send out a company-wide email. She was low-key about it, which I really appreciated. I made sure to buy all my cookies from her, and made sure the rest of my department knew that she was selling cookies, too.

            2. Kyrielle*

              That’s the way to handle those sales, assuming the company allows that much. And for that matter, other collections too. Let people know the option is there, say it once, and take no mind of who does or doesn’t take part.

              I’m still glad my sons’ Cub Scout pack does the Christmas tree pickup as their big fundraiser, though. I like what that teaches more than what selling popcorn to people walking in/out of the grocery store would.

            3. TootsNYC*

              I kept boxes of fund-raiser candy bars on my desk because it seemed to be a public service. I just left my door open and ended up with dollar bills stuffed in the envelope. (I was about $40 up by the end of the year, actually, because some people put more in, and I don’t think anybody actually stole. Some people came by with a buck and said, “this is for last night–I didn’t have any change.”)

              1. Lady Phoenix*

                Waaaaaayyyyy back in middle school, my French teacher would sell us the fundraise candy bars at the beginning of class. There was a sucky rule where we could not sell the candy on school grounds or on buses (which was where the real money was at).

            4. Artemesia*

              There is a big difference between ‘the cookie sheet is in the breakroom’ and standing your kid or yourself by my desk and assuming I will buy whatever crap she is selling. Any office that has this kind of pushy selling, should just outlaw this at work.

            5. Kelsi*

              It broke my heart when all the office folks’ daughters aged out of GS. WHERE AM I GONNA GET MY COOKIES NOW? My best friend’s daughters are still a couple of years away from scouting.

          2. Former Employee*

            Exactly! The “olderish women” whose kids are selling stuff are probably in their 30’s or maybe 40’s. I guess if you are in your early to mid 20’s you might see them that way. However, I would not use a term like that for women who are younger than 50+. While there are thirty something women who are grandmothers, I really think that “older women” should not be used to describe people who aren’t yet of an age where being a grandmother would be seen as pretty standard.

        4. Anonymous because work*

          Wow, you just referred to your coworker as loons, “harpies”, “the coven” (i.e. witches), and “drama llamas”. It’s almost impressive how many insults you managed to fit into such a small comment. I’m astounded at the level of rancor you have toward the people you work with, and it’s pretty clear you are not a team player. That job is lucky (and probably glad) to be rid of you. You are a mean sexist bully.

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            So much this. I dunno if the workplace culture made her this way, but I would hate to be near someone who refers to 30+ women as “harpies”

        5. MashaKasha*

          Not to play devil’s advocate, but AfterBurner313’s ex-coworkers sound to me a lot like the team from the “are we too exclusive” letter from last week. Honestly, if they’d kept their jobs, grew older, moved to the suburbs, and had kids, that is what they’d have ended up being like.

          I will of course say that guys do that too. Being gossipy, cliquish, and exclusive is not a special character trait that only women have. I’ve worked in some cliquish all-male groups. It’s just as ridiculous.

          1. Lady Phoenix*

            Yup. Guys have their cliques and runors, they just do it differently. Their way can be as harmful [if not MORE so because PATRIARCHY] than female gossipers.

          2. Desdemona*

            I’ll +1 this. I get the impression AfterBurner hasn’t had a lot of jobs that weren’t pink collar, where the majority of workers are women. She’s identified a pitfall of working in a badly run office and overgeneralized her data. I’ve worked with women like she describes; I’ve also worked with women who functioned well as a unit, who liked and respected each other. Frankly, the key difference wasn’t in the people, it was in how management handled (or didn’t) issues that affected the way the team members related to one another.

            Of course, guys do it, too. Since I’ve switched to a tech career, I’ve worked in an all-male team (except me), managed by two different people, and have watched the dynamic change with the new manager. It’s a little more lord of the flies now than with the manager who hired me. A couple of genuinely nice people who don’t even notice the fray, a couple of super nasty bullies who kiss up to the nice guys and beat up everyone else, and those of us who are affected by it, but know the bullies are protected by the new boss.

        6. AJ*

          Haha! I think you touched a few (many) raw nerves from people on the ‘other side’ with your post. LOL

    2. TheOtherJennifer*

      IMO a “sunshine club” is for things like flowers for a colleague who has a death in the family, or a birth, or a life event. Not for drinking parties. and cash on birthdays – that’s very irregular. I’d opt out.

      1. Lehigh*

        Yep. We have a $2/mo sunshine fund in my department. It buys little cheering-up gifts for coworkers who have extended illnesses or deaths in the family, as well as supplying the office gift for coworkers who get married, retire, etc.

        In fact, for the past 2 years it has been put on hold as there was plenty of $ accrued in the fund for foreseeable needs.

    3. Katniss*

      We do the birthday club thing at my office, and yeah, as nice as it is to get a wad of cash in your birthday, you always remember it’s just all the money you already gave coming back to you.

      I’m looking for a new job for unrelated reasons and am going to be kind of bummed if I start before my birthday, as then I’ll just be out $170.

      1. who?*

        You contribute $170 to your work’s birthday fund?? Did I read that correctly? (Please say no)

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I’m guessing that’s the cumulative birthday pot. So they probably give that over the course of a year.

        2. Purplesaurus*

          I assume she means it’s a cost of $170/year or however long the contributions run.

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          If there are 35 employees including her, so about 3 birthdays/month, that’s $5/birthday.

    4. always in email jail*

      I loved Alison’s point that they’re just passing the same pot of money around

      1. Audiophile*

        I’m seriously laughing out loud at the sentence.

        It’s more like “now it’s your turn to hold the cash,” no?

        1. Infinity anon*

          I wonder if that might be a good way out of doing it. Point out how it doesn’t really make sense and that you will not be participating anymore. If you feel like a coworker will take it personally if you opt out right before their birthday, you could try to time the announcement before your birthday. Let them know that you will no longer contribute to the pot and that you do not expect them to give you money on your birthday either.

          1. Sandy*

            I do like this idea but that means waiting several months until my birthday. I did think of getting a stack of Birthday cards and putting $5 in with a note that I didn’t want to miss anyone’s birthday but I am opting out this year and giving everyone a card now? Thoughts?
            Also I hadn’t responded to the email about the sunshine club and neither did my co worker next to me when the email writer approached us and said “are you 2 going to contribute or be party poopers?” I said I’m a party pooper, she huffed and walked away and I said see that’s why I didn’t want to respond! It’s calmer now and she got over it, she did say she only heard from 3 people interested. Oh well.

    5. Graciosa*

      The tactful thing to do in this case – assuming it’s possible – is for the OP to opt out at a time that is noticeably in front of their own birthday.

      Sending the message and adding a line disclaiming any recognition of their own upcoming birthday now that they have withdrawn should help reinforce the message that the withdrawal is not directed personally at any other employee.

      1. Tyche*

        I don’t know when it is OP birthday. I think the best option is to withdraw at the end of the year, if it is feasible: starting 2018 she’ll stop, so no one can accuse her of being against a specific colleague.

  2. Free Meerkats*

    Can everyone please get off the “salary is confidential” soapbox? That’s one of the reasons we end up with gender discrepancies. Absolutely, your deductions, whether for Flexible Spending Account or garnishments are nobody’s business, but your gross pay shouldn’t be secret.

    I’ve worked in government since I got out of high school. Want to know my pay? Just ask. It’s public information.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Maybe the letter writer feels weird about the other stuff, like deductions, which payroll employees presumably see.

      I agree otherwise. But then I work for a non-profit where the salary scales are all on the intranet and in the charity’s accounts for anyone to see.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        I also work in a nonprofit where our base salary and longevity raises are part of our union contract. It’s refreshing to not have to worry about salary issues as far as gender disparity and things like that go.

        (They can give merit raises but will do everything in their power not to. People have been turned down for those using the excuse that they were required to pay only what the union contract says.)

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          I’m not really down with the idea of merit raises being given on a whim. Not least because it makes it easy to end up with a gender pay gap. I have an annual raise written into my contract.

          1. Mookie*

            (Or a racialized gap.) Yes to this. Sometimes the mundane, non-spontaneous, highly regulated, overtly transparent route is the best.

          2. LBK*

            I get that discretionary raises can be highly subjective, but that’s also why they can be good – because it allows management to adequately recognize truly good work instead of being locked into a schedule of raises. I’ve made my biggest advances in salary from off-cycle merit raises, so you can pry them from my cold dead hands :)

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              I’m with you. We don’t do formal reviews or yearly merit raises here. We give raises for taking on significant new responsibilities.
              I’ve got one department in particular that’s always whining to me about not getting raises, and they’ve managed to not learn a single f’ing thing I’ve tought them that would significantly expand their skills. They’re paid way above market standard for what they do and are pretty much capped out unless they actually develop some new skills and take on more or different responsibility.

          3. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

            But then that’s not really a merit raise, no? It’s a COL increase or a seniority raise.

            At my workplace we get both, at the same time. Everyone in the company gets a COL increase guaranteed, and then you get an additional merit raise which is tied to/based on your performance review.

            The way we guard against bias is by having pay scales established by HR. They read the job description, and make two determinations: 1) what job band this is, which corresponds to the level of benefits available (and each job band has very clearly specified attributes in terms of how much autonomous decision-making, budget responsibility, supervisory authority, etc the job description must entail to be classed at that band), 2) what the median pay rate + local area adjustment is for that type of work (based on national salary information that they purchase from vendors who specialize in those sorts of things). An employee cannot be paid less than 15% below the median rate or more than 15% above it, and the expectation is that below-median salaries are offered to newer employees coming in with less experience, and above-median salaries are for employees who either have been with the company a while or came in with a great deal of experience. If an employee hits the top of their pay range, the only way to give them further raises beyond COL increases is to create a new job description to promote them into, with increased responsibilities that justify a higher job band and a correspondingly higher pay scale.

            When I was first hired too many years ago for me to even remember, I had very little experience and was hired in the below-median range for my work. But because I did such a fantastic job in my first year, they bumped me up to slightly over the median at my first review, which was a 20% increase. A number of years later after a few small merit raises (~5%) I was promoted-in-place to a higher job band and got another 18% bump. I’m very grateful that my company’s structures allow for generous raises to be given to people who deserve them, or I probably wouldn’t still be working here, and I feel very protected by the HR policies around salary such that I don’t worry anyone at my company is being underpaid or paid unfairly.

            1. AMPG*

              My old job did something similar – everyone got an increase that was 1/3 COL, 1/3 based on where you were in your salary band (people lower than the median got more), and 1/3 was merit based (you got percentage points added to your increase according to your numerical review score). The only frustrating thing was that someone in a high-ish salary band could end up being disqualified from the merit portion of the increase and still end up with a pretty substantial raise in actual dollars, because even a low percentage increase on a high salary will still add up. But in general I thought it was pretty fair, and even though we didn’t get to see the final math, the process was transparent enough that I think most people felt OK about it.

        2. MacAilbert*

          That sounds like retail. Working harder will never get you a salary increase (you get ten to twenty cents per hour every year, and nothing more), and it rarely results in promotion (there are few openings, and most promotions come with a mandatory transfer to another store, so bosses are afraid to promote their best people and lose them). If you do get promoted, you just get more responsibility, a TON of pressure and downright attacking behavior from Corporate, and all of fifty cents extra per hour. And if you work harder, expectations just form that you ALWAYS perform at that new level (regardless of how much you had to overextend yourself to hit that level in an emergency situation), or you just get more thrown on you. Then Corporate screams that the store is failing and nobody is performing no matter how hard you’re working, because labor got cut again and you cannot physically cope with all assigned work and the customers. And when annual reviews come, Corporate dictates everyone receive a 2 in specific categories because the whole store “isn’t performing acceptably”, which makes those reviews a joke.

          This is why I prefer bartending. Yea, there aren’t really raises in this job, but we’re tipped employees, and in California, where tipped employees must be paid the full minimum wage before tips. Since minimum is $14 and we get tips like hella, I’m making bank compared to retail while working less hours, and no Corporate crap or unrealistic goals. It’s harder work, sure, but I’m a lot more appreciated and a whole lot better compensated, and that counts for everything.

          On sharing salaries, I don’t get the aversion. Everyone knows what I make here. It’s $14 plus tips, and we pool our tips, so everybody’s making the same hourly rate, even though that varies night by night. Hell, I used to be a checkout clerk in a community college library, and if I Google my name, that wage info is the only thing that really comes up. Doesn’t bug me too much.

          1. Indoor Cat*

            *sudden urge to work in California*

            Like, dude, I know that where I live in the midwest is more affordable than California, but currently minimum wage here is $8.12 / hr, and for tipped employees, employers are allowed to take a “tip credit,” meaning they can pay as low as $2.00/hr as long as the difference is made up in tips.

            Salary information being public doesn’t bother me, but it seems to vary widely among cultures or even subcultures / families. It seems like talking about money is akin to talking about sex. Some people are professional Sexologists and speak publically and frankly about their own sexual experiences as well as medical things, and some people are Amish and sex talk in even the most generic sense is considered a private conversation. The majority of people are somewhere in the middle with both conversation topics, but exactly where in the middle can sometimes be a boundary only discovered by tripping over it.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Exactly. It’s not just knowing what people make, but all the other stuff that goes with it.

      3. Rainy, PI*

        I did payroll for my office for a year before I was promoted to run a 60m grant, and even though I worked on my director’s salary spreadsheet quarterly, I assure you, I have no idea what my coworkers make, and wouldn’t have the day after I was handling spreadsheets.

        When you’re doing stuff like that, the numbers that don’t matter never make it to long term memory.

    2. a nony mouse*

      I’m a librarian and as a public employee, my salary is public information in that it’s literally Google-able.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think people conflate the general laws/rules regarding the confidential nature of personnel files with salary information. The former is often protected by policy and sometimes by law, but the latter is not.

      1. Saviour Self*

        Very little in a personnel file is actually protected by law and typically the parts that are protected by law should be in a separate folder and not part of a personnel file. Common sense dictates that much of it stay confidential or need to know, but there aren’t really laws around most of it.

      2. zora*

        Hm, yeah, now that I think about it, maybe the OP is really concerned about multiple coworkers having access to her bank account info/SSN, etc?

        Honestly, I kind of get that. I wonder if it would help if they made it clear they have a ‘privacy policy’ for the people being crosstrained and that they are signing a document agreeing that they will not misuse the information they have access to, or something like that? Or just make sure all employees are aware what level of supervision the backup people will have?

    4. SusanIvanova*

      My first Silicon Valley company only found out they were underpaying three of us (all in our first jobs out here, all from places with *radically* cheaper costs of living) because one British manager didn’t have the cultural aversion to checking such things. No gender bias involved, just a hiring manager with a house he’d bought in the 70s not knowing what rents were like and taking our word for our salary requirements, and Google searches being still over a decade in the future.

    5. MommyMD*

      My pay is between my employer and me. It is no one else’s business. Government pay scales are public because they are required to be.

      1. MK*

        Coming from a jurisdiction where “equal pay for equal work” is actual law (and justifications like “person X negotiated better” will get you laughed out of court with a hefty fine) this mindset is bewildering to me. There is a vested interest for society at large to have this issue be not-taboo, and the lack of transparency favors only employers with unfair compesation practises and executives who get paid disproportionately large salaries. That is not to say that you are obligated to disclose your salary to any nozy person that asks, but having the question be considered absolutely inappropriate under any circumstances is part of a culture that perpetuates pay inequality.

        1. Rhodofera*

          Adam Ruins Everything did an entire segment on this, about how it allows for racial and sexual income disparities and that people being open about their respective salaries is ultimately better for the proletariat.

        1. Brandy*

          my take home check is alot leess then most of my co-workers because of extra withholding i have and i have alot going to 401k. so its about $200 less then them, but they dont need to know this, nor do i need to know that mayse one is having liens placed on the pay, etc…

            1. kittymommy*

              Exactly, in every place I’ve worked that had salary open, it was always gross, not net.

      2. sssssssssss*

        My father’s advice was: Never discuss salary with your coworkers.

        In private sector, this was good advice because the one time I accidentally shared that Person A was likely making more than Person B (because Person A was complaining her annual raises were getting too “small” since she was at the top of her pay scale so she was planning on getting herself reclassified) , Person B got this strange look in her eye…and no one said it, but Person A didn’t deserve the higher salary.

        Years later, I was accidentally sent the salary for four analysts I was supporting by an HR clerk instead of to my manager. One was clearly making a lot less than the others and he had a lot more experience. I found out later that this was by that analyst’s choice. I never asked why as this was none of my business; imagine if I tried to start a convo, but Person C, you deserve more!

        And then a bit later, I found out that someone with the same title and responsibilities as me (we each had two identical teams to support with different clients) made 5K more than I and was hired at 8K more than I (I had since earned a raise). I was very happy with my salary in a job I loved until then. I was really quite upset as I was the one cleaning up her mistakes while she flitted around being scatterbrained. I made discreet inquiries and eventually I was given a raise but not equal to hers.

        Now I work in a union and of course, every single salary is public knowledge to everyone who works there…and knowing, while it relieves the stress of keeping salaries confidential, now gives me the occasional feeling of “Why the hell am I making the same as a 22-yr-old starting her career while I have nearly 20 years experience?” or “Why am I making the same as Heloise who still doesn’t know how to use Word correctly?”

        Knowing, not knowing, confidential or not…one isn’t better than another.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          My husband’s law firm shares all compensation and billing rates firm-wide. Coincidentally or not, they’re also considered one of the best law firms for gender parity in the country. I think that if you are clear about pay scale and the reason for merit bonuses and the like, transparency is a good thing.

          1. CMDRBNA*

            I frankly think it’s bizarre that in America, what you make is considered this dirty secret topic. In other countries it’s not an unusual question. And making salaries public or viewable by all employees keeps the company honest!

            Case in point, I recently left an organization that had hired someone in a step-up-from entry level job who had barely any experience and a BA in an unrelated field. They gave her a starting salary higher than another woman who had worked for us for over a year, had related experience, and a higher degree in a related field.

            The difference? The new hire was white, the other employee was black. You bet I told her about the salary discrepancy as soon as I knew I was going to leave. The rationale I was told was that the new hire had asked for more money and the other employee hadn’t. I’m sorry, that’s pure-D bullshit. It was discrimination and taking advantage of keeping salaries secret, pure and simple.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              The rationale I was told was that the new hire had asked for more money and the other employee hadn’t. I’m sorry, that’s pure-D bullshit.

              Salary transparency is a great thing, but I also think culturally there’s still this norm that “If you don’t negotiate, you left money on the table,” instead of “If you don’t pay your employees a fair amount, you will lose good people.” In the current climate, you do have to negotiate, because everyone negotiates, but it means the system rewards monetarily those who are best at negotiating and not necessarily those who are best at their jobs (which may or may not involve negotiating contracts).

              1. Alastair*

                It also contributes to sexism and racism. I will look for the link but I believe a university said a study where men and women said the same lines for negotiation and the women were seen as abrasive and pushy by the students.

        2. LBK*

          This…seems to make no sense to me. In almost all of these examples including your current situation, this is exactly why you should talk about salary: so that discrepancies become apparent and you can talk to management about them. It’s weird that your takeaway from finding out this information was “I wish I’d never known” rather than “Wow, this should be fixed”.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Yes, it’s an argument for allowing problems to continue because knowing about disparities is worse, somehow.

            1. Brogrammer*

              It’s a mindset I’ve seen in multiple contexts, that calling attention to a problem is somehow worse than the problem itself, and that if we don’t ever talk about problems they’ll just somehow magically go away. I don’t get it.

              1. OhNo*

                I think it’s the mindset is that it isn’t a problem, and that the complainer is the one turning it into a problem, rather than just “the way things are done”. As in, if it’s not a problem for that person directly, then it’s not a problem. They won’t even see it until someone makes it a problem for them (by making them listen to complaints, or making them feel uncomfortable by pointing it out, or something).

                I’ve had to have the conversation before where someone says, “Why are you making such a big deal out of this? It was never a problem before.” My response is usually along the lines of, “You mean it was never a problem for you before.”

              2. Indoor Cat*

                I wonder if it’s sort of a defeatist attitude.

                Like, okay, remember the letter about the people who worked at some non-profit, and one employee was more wealthy than the others because of her family? And when she wore nice clothes and drove a more expensive car, it made the other employees jealous. In the comments, while everyone mostly agreed that the envious employees were needlessly causing trouble, many commenters also admitted that being around wealthier people made them feel envy, even if they try not to let that affect their relationships. And there have been many circumstances, not just in this column but across the board, where previously good friendships became strained or even broke up when one friend started making more money than the other. Whether it was envy from the one who made less or sudden snobbery and cluelessness from the one who made more, the discrepancy messed up a valuable friendship.

                The thing is, in those situations, there isn’t a way to make the two peoples’ money equal, because they aren’t working for the same person, and they’re not paid differently due to discrimination (generally); they might be in entirely different fields.

                So people take this lesson from those situations– “If I am envious of someone who makes more money than me, resulting social conflict is my fault; but, since it’s challenging to not be envious when I know someone makes more money, I’d rather we didn’t talk about it”–and doesn’t realize it doesn’t need to apply here. If someone is envious because a co-worker makes more money, there’s a solution other than “deal with your emotions on your own time.” In this case, the solution is, use that information to better ask for a raise and fair pay.

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          You have a story in there about getting a raise because you found out a coworker was being paid more than you–that seems like a very solid argument that knowing is in fact demonstrably better than not knowing.

        4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          The challenge with pay transparency is that it requires good management. Pay transparency puts the onus on management to be able to clearly articulate to you why person A is making more than person B. A lot of managers aren’t willing to do that (or are badly trained at it, etc). Ultimately, it’s something that all managers should be doing anyway, but transparency really makes it essential.

        5. Lindsay J*

          But those are all good reasons to know, because then person B can go to their boss and say, “Person A makes more than me, but I do A B and C better than they do and they don’t even do X Y and Z at all, what the hell?”

          Or you can go to your boss and go “Coworker and I have the same job title, same responsibility, and lead equal teams, and my job performance is better than hers. Why do I make $5k less?

          The inequity would be there whether you knew about it or not, but if you know about it at least you have a starting point to address it. And knowing the salaries of themselves and others also helps to shed light on possible pay gaps due to gender, race, etc.

          And honestly, I avoid union jobs because of the strictness with job bands. I don’t want to be stuck at the lowest paygrade just because I’m new, even though I can outperform people who have been there for years. Nor do I want to see my coworker get raises every year just for managing to not get fired even though they do the bare minimum.

      3. Observer*

        Aside from all of the other arguments – it is 100% the prerogative of your employer to designate as many people as it needs or wants to use that data as it sees fit (as long as that purpose is otherwise legal.)

      4. Stop That Goat*

        I feel the same way although my pay is already public knowledge since I’m in government. My finances are my business and this does include my wages. If I choose to share them, then so be it. In my current job, I chose to make that public by knowingly accepting the job. Folks who have access to that information because they need it for payroll, benefits, etc. is a different story. I’m not interested in what someone else makes largely because I agreed to do a particular job for a particular rate. I’ll move on if it’s not enough for me.

        1. Mike C.*

          I’ll move on if it’s not enough for me.

          So you would be totally cool if the pay rate was fine for you, but you later found out that you were being paid less than your similarly qualified coworkers on the basis of race or gender?

          1. Maya Elena*

            Even if that is uncool, the appropriate way to deal with it to bring it up with your boss, HR, the law – and first make sure there isn’t a good reason for the disparity.

            It doesn’t gicd you standing to demand every employer be policed preemptively.

          2. Stop That Goat*

            I have zero interest in someone else’s pay. I made an agreement with a company to perform a particular job at a particular rate. If that agreement isn’t working out for one reason or another, both of us are free to terminate it and move on. Even if I found out that a coworker was making more money than I was, I wouldn’t assume it was for nefarious reasons and shrug it off. If it was for nefarious reasons and I knew it, I’d be moving on anyways. Both end with the same result.

            1. Kj*

              Yes, you are free to move on if your pay is not enough. But you would have no questions if a peer was making much more than you for the same work You’d really just shrug it off? I respect your level of not caring, but I’m going to have some questions. One will be about if peer makes more because of certain skills, how do I get those skills? One would also be how did that peer negotiate for his/her salary and can I learn from that? And, if I can’t get a handle on why my peer makes more than me, I will question if I am being treated fairly. I wouldn’t know to ask those questions if I didn’t know peer’s pay.

              I fall on the side of “all salary data should be public within the company in some way.” Maybe not the salary of specific people, but a range for each job title, broken down my race/sex as well. Now, this is uncomfortable for many people to think about a company doing. But how will we raise awareness and let people know what is possible in their profession if they don’t know salary ranges? It also encourages companies to look at if their are disparities and ask the question “why is this going on?”

              1. Stop That Goat*

                You don’t need to know your coworkers’ pay to better your skills though and make yourself more valuable. You just need to know what skills can make that happen. In my field, that’s relatively easy with basic research so maybe I’m lucky in that regard.

                I care about whether the job meets my needs. I know my finances and my budget and it either fits or it doesn’t. If I’m content with my job, then why does it matter that John or Joan make more than I do? I absolutely advocate placing salary ranges in job postings but that’s about it.

                1. Kj*

                  Your field is unusual then. Most fields are more opaque and it is pretty frustrating to not know what skills would earn me more. And sometimes pay inequality is not about skills- it is about previous salary (which tends to have been lower for women and people of color). Negotiating is also something women are considered to be b-words for doing. I don’t even try because the penalty for trying is harsh in my field.

                  Not knowing what John or Jane makes can perpetuate inequality in pay based on race and gender- I think that matters. Yes, my job pays me enough since I accepted it. But why is the company paying Jim 20% more to do the same job and why do I get penalized for asking about the difference? Those are valid questions. If you aren’t interested in knowing your co-workers pay, good for you, but I think others have the right to know. That is the price of a more equal society.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              At a FormerJob, I and a co-worker did IT support for payroll, so we knew what everyone earned. He earned a bit more than me, and that was ok, because he’d been there longer. We didn’t look at pay. However, when new management came in, and he suddenly was earning a LOT more than me – there’s no way I was going to shrug that off. Our jobs hadn’t changed, and if we didn’t discuss and know pay, we would not have known of those very apparent nefarious reasons. We both left. Knowing pay saved us from doing good work for someone who didn’t deserve our good work.

              1. Stop That Goat*

                Each of you chose to have that conversation and share your salary. That was a personal decision that you made on your own. I’m against expecting that others should feel the same or feel obligated to share that information with you.

                I’ll admit that some of this likely comes from growing up in poverty and dealing with ‘classism’ as a result. Revealing financial information just feels intrusive to me and since I’m not really gaining anything from it that I can’t gain through other ways, I’m just not interested.

                1. Indoor Cat*

                  I think I get it, at least in a way. There is so much tied up culturally in, “if you make more money, you’re a better / more valuable person,” which is so hard to tune out if you make very little money. People finding out how much money you make makes them look down on you as a person, and no matter how much I know intellectually that, like, “That’s a wrong way to think, and it’s on them if they judge me for such a stupid thing.” But, why give someone a stick to beat me with?

      5. Bigglesworth*

        Out of curiosity, why do you think that? I’m pretty open about my salary, because it doesn’t bother me that people know how much or little I make. I’m not trying to be snarky. I just don’t understand that mentality and hope you can explain it to me.

        1. a Gen X manager*

          I think that many people (myself included) are sensitive about salary information because we have an internalized sense of self-worth that is at least somewhat intertwined with our wages / earning power. I really struggle with this. I don’t want to feel good or bad about myself based on what I earn, but with each promotion it has become increasingly difficult. I am aware of this trap, but it doesn’t stop me from falling into it sometimes.

      6. TG*

        Your budget people and the folks who process your time have a legitimate need to know what you cost.

      7. Artemesia*

        This attitude is what organizations rely on when they are underpaying women, overpaying favorites etc. Knowledge is power.

      8. Jadelyn*

        Here’s what a lot of the “how dare you tell anyone else what I make?” crowd seems to be missing: that information belongs not just to you, but to the organization paying you. That’s their data, too, and just as you have the right to share it with someone if you choose, so too do they have that right with their half of it.

        If it helps, you can think of it as two separate but connected data points – “What I make” and “What we pay [employee]”. You can share or not share “What I make” as you please, but you have no control over the company choosing to share “What we pay [employee]”, because that data belongs to them.

        So yes, your pay is between your employer and you – but that doesn’t make it solely yours and give you complete control over whether it’s shared with anyone.

    6. JessaB*

      Yeh, it’s not the compensation, it’s the social security number, the fact that maybe x person is being garnished, the deduction for charity x vs charity y. The child support. It’s the other facets of payroll that are private. If someone wants to know what I make they can ask me and I’ll tell them. But there are a lot of confidential things that are in payroll. If someone is being paid medical leave, FMLA, whatever. These are things that shoudn’t just be left around.

      And yes cross training is good, but it needs to not be everybody, and confidentiality of things beyond “Jo’s base pay is x.” needs to be assured.

      1. nonymous*

        But how does OP know what training the backups are getting regarding privacy and data security?

        I’m sure that there are more than 3 people who have to ability to handle my payroll. But I work in a large org so 3 is a very small % and it’s likely those staff are exclusively in HR/payroll. The optics are different because OP’s org is so small, but ultimately it’s still just 3 people.

      2. Saviour Self*

        If they are *only* processing payroll, they may never see any of that information, depending on the system. In many payroll systems, you are only checking a box to say “pay salary” or entering a number of hours for hourly folk. Unless the person is also making changes, they wouldn’t need to see that information and it would be reviewed separately after the fact. Most deductions and withholdings stay the same for the majority of the year and SSN would likely only show the last four digits unless you’re entering a new person in the system.

        1. ZK*

          Yeah, I did payroll as assistant manager for my old retail job for a while. I knew everyone’s hourly pay, but that was it. All I really did was plug in the number of hours worked according to the time clock and the payroll program did the rest. I had no idea what, if anything, was coming out of each employee’s paycheck. I’m sure there were people higher up the food chain in HR and finance that knew details, but certainly not anyone I actually knew or worked with.

        2. a Gen X manager*

          You’re right – it totally depends on the payroll system! Some are basically checking a box to pay the person and other systems include *everything* from pay raise history, specific deductions details, benefit elections, wage garnishments, and all non-public employee information.

        3. zora*

          I think it would be helpful for the company to be a little more transparent about this process, then.

          After I thought about it for a minute, I realized it would be weird to find out that multiple people were going to have access to my bank account numbers, SSN, etc, without at least some acknowledgement that these people were also being trained in the privacy policy. If the people being crosstrained are not privy to all of this sensitive information, that is also good to tell everyone.

          I feel like those specific questions would be reasonable to ask of management, “How much of my info do these people have access to now, and what security policies are in place?” In one place I worked, we were really clear with all of our staff that any documents with their SSN were in a locked file cabinet and only certain people had access to that key. These are the kinds of things people worry about.

          (Although I agree with the general sentiment that gross pay info should be transparent, not private)

        4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I did payroll at an old job and at our (small) org, part of the job was double-checking every salary, every deduction, everything. In a bigger org, you can probably separate out permissions so some people can’t see everything, but if you’re training 2 other people as backup to run payroll, it doesn’t make sense for them to not have access to that information. Mistakes happen, and lots of people don’t check their paystubs (so, a mistake that Person A made 3 months ago is caught by Person B and corrected).

    7. Colette*

      Well, this is one way transparency. The OP doesn’t know what any of the people doing payroll make.

      I mean, I like the idea of transparency about salaries as long as everyone’s salary is shared. I’d be uncomfortable if it was just my salary.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        But the point here is that there’s always going to be someone doing payroll. The OP’s company is cross training a couple of people to cover payroll – presumably they’ll be trained in the appropriate handling of confidential information as well.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This. If the accountant is hit by a bus–or just declares that they ARE taking a two-week vacation and are not interested in how the office can’t function if they actually use their vacation time, ever–I suspect the office is going to have very strong feelings about whether they should still get paid. On time. That means having people who know how to run payroll. You can’t ask that the people managing your take-home pay and various deductions not have access to that information.

          1. Collarbone High*

            This literally happened during my brief stint doing accounting work — it was a two-person department and one Sunday, I had emergency surgery and my co-worker was in a serious car accident. Both of us were out for a week and paychecks had to be delayed because no one else could process payroll.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Mr. Shackelford worked for a small business where the accounting/payroll person just said “I’m taking a vacation” and their checks were late because no one else did payroll. You don’t want to work in a place where that’s considered okay.

              1. Lindsay J*

                One of my previous jobs was a family owned business. One of the owners’ wives did payroll. When things got bad between them and they separated, all of our checks were late because nobody else knew how to do it.

        2. Colette*

          Sure, but what I was responding to was the idea that there’s no reason to ever be concerned that coworkers know your salary. In this cases there’s a good reason for it, but there isn’t always.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        If you want to actually get paid, then there has to be people who know how much to pay you…

    8. The IT Manger*

      Amen. I also worked for the government my whole life and find the idea that my salary is super secret is be silly. IMO salary transparency can only help fair pay across the board – gender, races, ages.

      I recall something a commenter wrote here about her feelings on salary – she equated it with her value and didn’t want her value advertised; although, she knew that was not entirely sensible. Our salaries should be the value of our work, it isn’t a referendum of an individual’s value as a human being. There’s no need for it to be a shameful secret. In fact salaries not being a secret benefit society has a whole because it would help may pay fairer.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        In fact salaries not being a secret benefit society has a whole because it would help may pay fairer.

        Yes, and it’s not just discrepancies within a company, which people have already addressed quite a bit, but discrepancies within an industry. Your own company is likely to give fairer wages if they know not only are your salaries public but the salaries of the employees at competing companies are also public. If the average worker at your company is making $40K, and the average worker at your competitors is making $60K, wouldn’t you want to know that? And if you did know that, wouldn’t your company likely be paying more than an average of $40K?

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Precisely! The market can only work to determine an equilibrium price for labor if all participants have enough information–the current system disadvantages workers who have less ability to make choices about the wage they can command/are willing to accept.

    9. Tuckerman*

      I think we do a huge disservice to teens/young adults by not talking more about salary/expenses/cost of living. And then we blame them (“damn millennials!”) when they’re confused that they can’t make ends meet in an expensive city on an entry level salary.

      1. Dankar*

        I completely agree! When I took on my current job (first one out of grad school), I had to trust the employer’s assertions that the salary was sufficient for the COL here, since there was no way for me to know. Of course I did research, but seeing what others made would have been a much better measure.

        Luckily, they were being honest with me about this city’s relative COL, but I still think I’m slightly underpaid for the position I took. (I also later found out that there’s a large disparity in pay between the same positions in different departments. My department is somewhat anomalous, so that disparity doesn’t really apply to us, but I think some coworkers would really benefit from knowing each other’s salaries!)

    10. The Cosmic Avenger*

      While people are entitled to feel how they feel, I think that private employers perpetuate this mystique that salary is something private in order to keep pay low, and sometimes unequal, and it’s frustrating to think that people can be convinced to keep themselves ignorant of information that could help them due to a false sense of shame. But then, I like to joke that I was born without the gland that allows people to feel shame — I abide by many societal conventions mostly because I have learned that violating them makes others uncomfortable. And the behaviorist in me finds them fascinating. :)

      1. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

        I abide by many societal conventions mostly because I have learned that violating them makes others uncomfortable.

        That’s pretty much the definition of social norms though, isn’t it? We are all observing them as part of the unspoken contract to not be unpleasant to those who have to live around us. It’s not like we spontaneously adopt most of those behaviors; they’re learned.

        As regards salary transparency, unions and contractual versus discretionary increases: In my current (government) job, employees who receive at least a “Meets Expectations” or equivalent on evaluations are eligible for the annual increase, which is called a merit increase. So it’s still tied to performance, but in order not to give someone that increase, you’d have to be able to document that their performance was substandard. I think this is a fairly decent method.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          No, most societal norms are effective because people internalize them and feel shame at violating them; most people don’t first consider the impact on others, but have an immediate reaction of shame or disgust.

          I personally don’t think it’s unpleasant to talk about salary, assets, to see someone chew with their mouth open, to talk to someone or to be talked to while urinating, or to walk around naked or to see others doing so, but I know most people do, so I refrain from all of those not because they bother me, but because I know that they greatly bother most random strangers or acquaintances that might be nearby. That’s the difference between consideration of others and internalizing shame.

          1. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

            I don’t think I agree that internalized shame is not learned, but I’ll leave it at that since this would be a derailing of the real topic.

      2. Manders*

        Yes! Talking with other employees in my last job made me realize that most of us were underpaid. I started interviewing to explore my options and jumped ship for $13k more. The management at my old place didn’t explicitly forbid talking about wages but they had a lot of tricks they used to make staff believe discussing money was distasteful.

    11. Maya Elena*

      I think not wanting others to know what you make is perfectly reasonable, becauae they tend to reaent you if you make too much. If you demanded to ask what I make directly, is that OK? Do I owe you an answer? Why is it ok if you depersonalize it and make HR tell you instead?

      Just because pay is transparent in union or government settings doen’t mean it is desirable economy-wide. If you choose to work in such a setting, good for you – but it is far from a perfect model, doesn’t work for every company, and shouldn’t be forced.

      Yes, transparency may equalize pay, but it may also make it more rigid, harder to give large raises or bonuses, and open the employer up to litigation if the raise happens to go to the wrong gender or race.

      It’s not some patently obvious good thing.

      1. Angelinha*

        Raises don’t just “happen” to go to white people over people of color, or men over women. Systematic racist and sexist biases – often implicit – cause these patterns. Transparency can help get these patterns caught and corrected. If, as you say, the raise goes to the “wrong” person, litigation and exposure are good outcomes!

        1. Maya Elena*

          Perfect equality is not the supreme value. Privacy, autonomy, minding your own business, are also valuable to society and you have to acknowledge the tradeoffs. I don’t think people who demand trnasparency give a thought to the consequences or care about thr costs to society, and yet these costs exist and are not insubstabtial.

          Thus, you can’t blithely demand others do a lot of major changes “because biases”. While biases exist, you have to actually quantify the harm due to said biases in a rigorous, situation-specific way, and then weigh the consequences of your proposed remedy. Just citing some high level statistic and demanding sweeping reform is not sound.

          1. Alice Ulf*

            But…what are those not-insubstantial consequences and costs to society? I’m asking honestly, because I’m not certain how salary transparency is damaging autonomy. I think the the harm done by biases against women and minorities have been rigorously quantified, especially in financial terms, so I don’t quite understand how correcting those discrepancies can somehow harm society rather than improving it.

            1. Maya Elena*

              Here are a few:
              -a new regulatory requirement imposes documentation costs (minor for giant corporations, bursensome for small business).
              -There is going to be somebody waiting to police payrolls and getting litigious if they’re not the demographic they want to see. “Prove to me you weren’t being sexist when you gave him that raise” – either in court or to a regulator – I don’t think that’s reasonable.
              -to the extent that transparency drives pay to equalize ands standardize, you lose the ability to ofder incentives for good employees and to retain top talent – or you offer weird perks that become mandatory in a generation (e.g., employer-funded health insurance).
              -if transparency DOESN’T cause a broad atandardization to avoid complaints, you didn’t really accomplish much, just created a new hurdle of doing business

              1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

                “Prove to me you weren’t being sexist when you gave him that raise”

                This is the same argument that employers often use against posting salary range with a job ad. Because they don’t want to have to explain to a candidate why they didn’t get the very top of the range.

                If there are valid reasons behind your pay decisions – which there should be – it’s not hard to share them. If you can’t justify the salary offer or the raise you gave someone beyond, “It just felt like the right number,” then you’re Doing It Wrong and probably perpetuating discriminatory pay practices.

              2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

                And the same rebuttal to your point about how this would either prohibit merit raises or accomplish nothing. That’s simply not true. What it does is require defensible reasons for merit raises. “Why did John get a big raise and I didn’t?” “Well, John exceeded all of his performance goals for 2016 and also took on new responsibility when he became lead on the Coffee Pot Launch and hired a direct report. You met your goals but didn’t exceed them, and your job didn’t significantly change from last year to this year.”

                Easy. John gets his merit raise but it’s transparent and equitable.

              3. Kate 2*

                First, it reallllly isn’t hard or costly to document that you gave Sheila a raise because she increased profits by 10% with the 5 clients she brought in, or that Anthony lowered costs by 5% with cost cutting measures he found, so he gets a raise. That’s really you would really need to do to prove you aren’t discriminating, give real, concrete, verifiable reasons why each person is getting their raise.

                Second, it’s a lot harder and more expensive to go to court than you seem to think it is and virtually no one actually wants to do it. They don’t want the bad press (even if they have a good reason, like McDonalds lady, the press tends to take the company’s side) and they don’t want to spend months, if not years in court.

              4. Lindsay J*

                -to the extent that transparency drives pay to equalize ands standardize, you lose the ability to ofder incentives for good employees and to retain top talent – or you offer weird perks that become mandatory in a generation (e.g., employer-funded health insurance).

                But why would it drive pay to equalize and standardize? If you want top talent, you pay top dollar for it. You don’t need to resort to offering weird perks. And then either your competition raises their wages to lure top talent back, or they let you keep all the top people. Either way, it’s good for the employees because they get higher wages, and it’s good for the employers because they know what they have to pay to hire and retain top people.

                I don’t know where you’re getting “avoiding complaints” from, because I don’t think anyone has stated that as a goal.

                Also, any case of “prove to me that you weren’t being sexist when you gave him that raise” would be frivolous. When we talk about sexism, we’re talking about patterns, not individual situations. There will always be cases where a man is a more qualified candidate than a woman for a raise, promotion, etc. When it becomes a red flag is when all throughout the company men are paid more than women for performing the same role – at that point it’s not an individual case of merits or a coincidence, but indicative of company-wide issues. Knowing one man got a raise tells us nothing about sexism. Knowing that all the men got raises that averaged 10% higher than all the women in an equivalent position does.

          2. The IT Manager*

            Actually, I just disagree with your opinion that these “costs” are actual disadvantages. IMO pay transparency would benefit society.

            It’s mind my own business about how people spend their money, while still benefitting from understanding what my co-workers make realize if I’m being paid unfairly or what salary I might expect in the future.

            I suspect we’re going to have to agree to disagree, but while you think I’m blithely demanding sweeping reform, I suspect you personally benefit from the current system and want to remain on top.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              The reform also doesn’t have to be legislative. Many times people ask Alison “Is this legal?” and her response is “It isn’t illegal, but it’s horrible and not the norm.” There are many workplace norms that are not the law. If people have a general consensus around salary transparency being a good idea, it’s more likely to happen than not.

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              “You personally benefit from the current system and want to remain on top” is the usual reason for opposition to common-sense equity reforms. Or “you (often delusionally) believe that you WILL benefit from the current system in the future” (see the “temporarily embarrassed millionaire” phenomenon).

              1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

                Yes! “… becauae they tend to reaent you if you make too much.” The assumption that if salaries were public knowledge people would resent you because you ‘make too much’ implies that you make more than your coworkers. Or, at least you think you do. And maybe you know that you make more than your coworkers, in which case it would be pretty hypocritical to not want anyone else to know what you know (unless you are in fact in HR/payroll and knowing is literally part of your job.) But, have you considered that you just **think** you make more than your coworkers? You don’t want salary public so no one finds out how much you make and resents you, but what if you were to find out that’s just silly because all your coworkers actually make 20% more than you?

                If you don’t know other salaries, and you don’t want to know other salaries, you really aren’t informed enough to know if you’re making a reasonable salary yourself for you position in your company.

          3. Statler von Waldorf*

            I’m unsure how your autonomy is affected by your co-workers knowing your gross salary. Minding your own business and privacy are very close to the same thing, so in effect you are arguing that your privacy is more important than the wide spread racial and sexual inequality that is enabled by this idea that salary is a taboo subject. You are certainly entitled to that opinion, but I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of agreement with it. It has the distinct taint of “screw you, got mine.”

        2. Mike C.*

          Back at a previous job when I was trying to organize a union, I was told that the first thing they do is look at all the salaries for blatant patterns of gender or race.

      2. Gaia*

        So here’s the thing, people will only resent you for making more money if it is not justified that you should make more money. One of my coworkers makes more than I do. A lot more. We do the same exact job and she makes around $30k a year more than I do. I do not resent her because we didn’t come in to the jobs as equals. She has 7 more years of experience and has done multiple large scale, long term projects outside of her normal scope.

        People resent those making more money when they have the same experience, background, performance and one is making more than the other. And it only benefits the company to keep that quiet.

          1. Roscoe*

            Do you really think everyone is that mature? We see letters here all the time how petty people are. People get mad over the most random stuff. You really think when money is involved people all of a sudden become rational?

            1. Kate 2*

              If you are working with people who would resent you for *fairly* making more than they do, then I am certain there is other toxic stuff going on at your job. And I highly doubt pay transparency is going to make much of a difference to that. Toxic people will always find stuff to fight over, like who has the better stapler. : )

              1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

                So… are you saying it’s not worth burning the building to the ground over stapler issues? Asking for a friend.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              I agree with Kate 2. If you treat us like adults, we are more likely to act like adults. Why advocate we find the lowest common element? Yes, people are petty – and this rewards their pettiness.

        1. Lora*

          Agree. Where I work now, they have a cool thing where when they announce promotions, it’s done publicly and the C-level who is announcing it also says a nice little thing about why you, in particular, were chosen to be promoted. And then the HR lady ceremoniously presents you with your new business cards. “Fergus worked very hard on the Spout project which passed Breakage Testing and he is now the in-house expert on Spout and Handle Damage. His new title is Mad Hatter, and his work has led to a 20% reduction in pouring failures.”

      3. Maya Elena*

        I have zero trust in people’s ability to not be resentful. There’s enough evidence of petty resentment in the letters Alison has published to make it a very naive view.

        And also, whose measure of what is “justified” do you use? Will you think that every guy making more than any girl is unjustified for the mere fact of it, because unconscious bias ans patriarchy? I’ve met people who feel that way. Will you feel resentful if you don’t make more by seniority? Is some amount of money just objectively too much for anyone?

        “Be happy with what you have and advocate for yourself” seems a pretty workable solution.

        1. Roscoe*

          That is exactly my concern. People are petty and bitter. We see it almost daily on this site. But we are supposed to just assume they will be fine when they find out that someone who they perceive is a worse employee than them makes more money? And that they wouldn’t have any bitterness to that person? Come on, that just isn’t going to fly.

          Also, I agree with your second point, who decides what is justified. Sure there are some jobs where there are direct metrics to see who is doing a better job. But in other jobs its a lot more grey as to what doing a “good job” is. People with the same title may not really be doing the same tasks, so its up to someone to decide who deserves what. Also, frankly I do think that 2 people could be doing the same job and someone just deserves more money because of the intangibles they bring that may not show up on the outside. I’m fully behind equal pay for equal work, but as we know, everyone’s job isn’t always equal, so its not always an apples to apples comparison

          1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

            I totally agree that you’d have to manage people emotional responses around salary transparency, but I’ve never really felt like, “We can’t give you a nice benefit that you deserve because it will make other people jealous,” was good management, and I don’t feel like this is, either. Do the hard work of managing. Don’t shortchange people or keep people in the dark because you don’t want to do the hard work of managing their responses to information.

            If the pay is defensible, you tell Fergus that Sally got a raise because she did X, Y, and Z, and if he wants to get a similar raise he needs to do A, B, and C, and he also needs to have a good attitude when he comes to work. If Fergus can’t stop himself from being petty and vindictive towards Sally or management after being given a reasonable explanation for her raise, then Fergus’s attitude is the problem, not Fergus’s knowledge of Sally’s raise. And if you can’t defend to Fergus why Sally got the raise, then your pay practices are the problem…not the fact that Fergus found out Sally’s salary.

            1. AMPG*

              And the “gray areas” that help make one employee more valuable than another SHOULD be defined, and a well-managed company will be able to define them. Sometimes, it turns out that these “undefinable” qualities are actually about giving more value to employees based on race and gender, but it comes out as “he just seems like a go-getter,” or “she’s too ambitious.” Forcing companies to quantify what makes a good employee can have the effect of unearthing some of these biases.

              1. CrazyEngineerGirl*

                Also, transparency might force the raise-givers to think carefully about those “gray areas” and “undefinable” qualities if they know they have to be defensible. Sometimes those “he just seems like a go-getter” qualities are things like physical appearance or affability. And sure, those things may very well play some role in their job. But they can also mean that someone doesn’t get as much or a raise because they are overweight, or their fashion sense isn’t as on point, or they’re quiet, or introverted, or any other number of things that don’t lend to those gray-area-undefinable qualities.

            2. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

              I just want to say that I agree with everything Koko has said in this thread, for all the reasons they’ve given. Can’t we at least strive toward being a sensible society? Must we always settle for accommodating the worst in human nature?

        2. Anonymous Educator*

          But people’s resentment is exactly why there should be salary transparency. When managers and CFOs know that the salary will be transparent, they will make better decisions around equity, because they know anything that looks super skewed will build resentment.

      4. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

        Elle magazine had a really great piece on all these social nuances a couple of years ago:

        “I think people are generally afraid that if they reveal they make less than one of their friends they’ll be regarded with pity, while if they reveal they make more they’ll be treated with resentment,” said Jennifer Wright, a friend of mine who is set to make her first six-figure salary this year after publishing her first book. Jenna Sauers, a friend who is currently completing her MFA in Iowa, earning “much less” than she did working as a full-time writer, agrees that money is hard to talk about because “so many other things are wrapped up with it: notions of personal value, power, success, prestige, intelligence.”

        I struggle with this exact thing myself. I make a comfortable living but I am vaguely aware that most of my friends make do with some amount less. As much as I’m a big advocate for just dropping the taboo around money, at the same time I do hesitate to blurt out a hard number. I think there’s a part of me that feels it would come across as bragging rather than a matter-of-fact disclosure.

        I think there’s also a concern that what I make is enough more than what they make that they’d perceive me as having a virtually unlimited supply of money, and wouldn’t believe me when I told them that doing X thing they invited me to do wouldn’t work for my budget, or would judge me for not spending enough on a gift, etc., because they might not understand that I have a bigger salary but also bigger expenses (as just one example, I own my own home, most of them have roommates to afford rent), or they might feel like I chose to take on all those expenses so why can’t I choose to spend my money on X thing they think I should be spending it on. They obviously know that I make more than them because they see that I’ve bought a house or a new TV when they know they can’t afford one, but it feels like keeping my exact salary confidential protects me from having to justify my expenses or budget.

        At the same time I wish I could overcome these fears and just blurt the number out, because I think it would help all of them have a better sense of what their own worth is and what they could ask for if they had a better sense of what people in general are worth and what they ask for.

        1. DDJ*

          I have started to very delicately talk about my salary with people I’m really close with, when it comes up organically in a conversation. I was talking to two people who are very dear to me, and they were lamenting their jobs/bosses/companies/pay. And they’re both relatively new to the world world. So I told them what I make for the job that I do. But it was part of a broader conversation about other jobs they might want to look into that would be a good fit for their current skills (with opportunities for growth).

          So far, I’ve only talked salary with people who are in my tiny, close circle of friends and family. It’s not something I’d talk about at work. We do have a policy in place not to discuss anything related to pay, not that it would (ultimately) be enforceable, I wouldn’t think.

    12. SCORM Hacker*

      At OldJob, if we even asked what a co-workers salary was, we could be fired, so I kinda understand where OP is coming from in being concerned, they might be coming from a similar background. Though it is nice to know that it isn’t illegal to know that info (OldJob made it out that it was illegal in the private sector). My husband is a federal employee and I totally agree it makes it so much better to have a level playing field of everyone knowing what salary is what.

        1. SCORM Hacker*

          I am in the US, and OldJob definitely did it, someone in my department was fired b/c of it. I think it was so ingrained in the corporate culture that it was illegal to ask or know that information that no one questioned whether it actually WAS, sad to say.

    13. Roscoe*

      Here is the thing, I know that legally its not confidential, but that doesn’t mean everyone is ok with their salary being public. You are in government, so you knew going in that your info would be public. Everyone in the private sector isn’t that open, nor should they have to be. Its their choice. Its frankly rude to ask that question as well. Just as I can probably get a good idea what someone paid for their house on Zillow, its rude for me to ask them how much they paid.

      I’m all for transparancy, but that should be up to the individual.

      Now in the case of this letter, I agree, OP is getting upset about something that frankly she shouldn’t be upset about. Someone needs to do payroll, and as Alison said, in a small office, more than one person should know how to do it.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I’m all for transparancy, but that should be up to the individual.

        I think the opposite—it doesn’t make sense to ask an individual “Hey, what’s your salary?” It makes a lot more sense to ask an organization, “Hey what are all of your salaries?” There’s no real transparency if only a handful of people reveal their salaries.

        1. Roscoe*

          I kind of agree. I’m fine with a salary range. So if a new employee asks, and management says “salaries in this role range from X to Y”, that is one thing. However, I don’t think an organization should give out Jane’s particular salary because someone asked.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yeah, I don’t think they necessarily need to have identifying data with it. If it’s something like a union job with salary bands then

            Level 1 tech (1-3 years) – $40,000
            Level 4 tech (4-5 years) – $45,000

            is enough.

            Otherwise something like:
            Techs 0-3 years:

            Techs 3-5 years:

            Techs 5-10 years

            Then if you’re the tech whose been there 8 years and are making $42,250 you can look and see “well that doesn’t seem right” but you don’t necessarily know which of your coworkers is making $48k vs $47k.

    14. Anon for former coworkers' sake*

      I used to be really freaked out about this and think salaries should be private. You know who that benefits? Not me…I’m okay with them being public now. (Although at my company, only the pay bands are, not the salaries. And I’m okay with that too; it gives me enough transparency for what I want, in this case.)

      I can see why companies want to keep it private, though, and it’s usually not a good sign. Often it means that they just don’t want to deal with the hassle of people getting upset about who is making more – at its worst, that can play into pay imbalances between the genders. But even when it doesn’t result in an illegal situation, it makes not-seeing an unfair one more likely.

      It was so not fun when I took on a low-level manager position at a previous company and, in handling reviews and raises, discovered that (a) the guy who was hired as a senior contributor but was not fulfilling that level, and was less productive than some junior employees, was making _more than I was_ as well as more than any other team member; (b) two guys who had been there about the same amount of time (one year less for one of them) and were contributing equally, had a $10k difference in pay.

      I didn’t really have a solution for (a) – he was fulfilling the job description as written, they just hired him on a higher salary expecting he’d contribute more because of his prior experience. (Actually, being stuck in prior ways of doing things is what was holding him back, IMO.) There was no fair resolution to that. But I did manage to advocate to my boss for closing the gap between what we were paying the two guys in (b), so the one who had been there longer and was making less got a nice surprise with his raise.

      Of course, that’s money he hadn’t been getting for a while at that point…sigh.

      If the team had known for sure about (a) instead of just suspecting, I think many of them might have gone job-searching. (And it’s not that they were underpaid – just that he was overpaid for what he was contributing. We should have hired him into a new job position with a description commensurate with what they expected from him, but instead he came into the standard job description at higher pay.)

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, that’s the unfortunate part. Around here, it’s caused a lot of drama. I mean, how do you tell someone their coworker makes more because they’re more skilled? That would be demeaning.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Skill sets are a primary reason why people get paid more! Get the skill set and get more money.
          That isn’t demeaning at all. It is a fair discriminator between people.

    15. pomme de terre*

      Amen! Salary transparency is the best. If there are gaps and people ask why, management should be able to explain them (Fergus sees he makes $2K less than Sansa and $5K less than Wakeen. HR should be able to explain that Sansa has 3 years more experience and official chocolate certification, and that Wakeen negotiated while Fergus accepted the first offer.)

      And if management can’t explain them, then they should fix them.

    16. Elizabeth West*

      What bugs me about it isn’t keeping my salary secret (if it weren’t secret, then maybe people would see how typically underpaid people are) but the whole thing of basing your new salary on your old one.

      But just try to avoid telling a potential employer what you made at your last job. I was paid very well at Exjob for what I did, and it’s hurting me now, because nobody else wants to come close to that. At least not in this market.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        The two are tangentially related, though. If your hiring employer had salary transparency, it would be harder for them to lowball you based on your salary history. “Oh, I know everyone here makes at least $65K, as you can see, but we’re going to offer you $50K instead, because you made only $45K at your last job.”

  3. Aphrodite*

    OP #5, I know this is unlikely to relate to your company but if you work in education or government (at least in California) anyone can learn your salary + total compensation. It’s all public information. I’ve worked in higher ed for so long that it stopped phasing me many years ago and I actually like it. It’s far less likely that you have problems where women are paid less than men for the same work when it’s available for viewing at any time.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It also makes it so much easier to get the issue corrected. I remember a slew of female professors being hired and paid $50K less than a male professor who entered during the same year. The difference was that he apparently was the only one who negotiated his salary. But the fact that the information was public, and the sheer optics of paying a junior male who immediately took 4 years’ leave and shirked all teaching responsibilities, made it harder for the university to justify the pay inequality.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        $50k less? FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS less?

        *flips tables*

        (Also, it blows my mind that someone could actually negotiate for a $50k bump. If I were hiring and someone was so arrogant as to ask for that much, I’d make it clear I was shocked, if not actually laugh aloud.)

        1. Sally*

          Yeah, $50K less makes it seem to me like it probably wasn’t *all* negotiation, and that his first offer was probably higher. If not, were the other salaries in the six-figure range where that comes off as smaller percentage? I just. *boggles*

          1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

            Or perhaps the tactic employers love where they make the candidate name a number, and the women just named significantly lower numbers. Which is why it’s not reasonable to expect candidates to name their own number without giving them a range.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It was (unfortunately) entirely negotiation. The starting salary was $175K for entry-level, tenure-track law professors, and he negotiated $225K.

            The “leverage” that he had had a lot to do with misperceptions about the difficulty of hiring business/corporate law faculty vs. “public law” faculty. Despite being a public law person, his specialty is technically a bridge between public and business law. The conventional wisdom in law is that faculty who study corporate law are harder to recruit because they must be coming from BigLaw jobs where they could make much more (in fact, their backgrounds are mixed, including this guy, who never worked at a law firm ever). Of course, all of the female profs were either from BigLaw, the exact same program as the male entering-prof, or from higher-paid/more-competitive fields than the male prof.

            The school was called on it by the campus administration, but before they corrected those salaries, the State’s public salary information was released. Students, donors, and alumni found out and were absolutely livid, as were several legislators. Suddenly everyone received a “correction” (no backpay for the prior 1.75 years, though).

      2. AfterBurner313*

        If you don’t ask, you don’t get. My professor negotiated for a bigger lab space, less undergraduate class teaching time and (knowing him) more money. He got it all. This guy could sell BBQ grills in Hades.

        My childfree friend negotiated more money because he had no childcare obligations. He got it.

        If you have the gift of Blarney, why not use it?

        1. Gaia*

          And if you’re a woman or a person of color and you do ask you run the risk of having an offer pulled far more often than if you are a man.

          1. Kate 2*

            YESSSS! This! Lots and lots of studies have shown that all things being equal, we view women and POC worse than white men. Women are quieter and speak up less in meetings, but are perceived as being louder and talking more. Because we have *all* subconsciously inhaled the stereotype/drugs.

            I know people don’t like to admit or think about how easily they can be tricked and influenced, I don’t like it either, but it is true.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Because it’s rude, presumptuous, and unfair to people who are in demographics that get penalized for negotiating – or who just plain have manners?

          Seriously, after reading this kind of thing over and over I’m starting to think: if I’m on a hiring committee and some white male applicant aggressively negotiates, I am going to pull the offer.

          People always try to shove the burden of “speaking up” and “asking for more” on women and POC. We’re always being told we should act more like white men. But why should white men always be the model? Maybe arrogant white men need to be more like US – that is, sit down and shut up.

          1. PlainJane*

            Or maybe employers need to set a salary range, publish it in the ad, and say no when a candidate asks for something out of the norm. A person’s starting salary should be based on the market and the value the candidate is expected to deliver on the job–not the person’s negotiating ability.

      3. In the provinces*

        Were they in the same fields? Professors’ salaries differ immensely, depending on their scholarly specialization. Professors of law, medicine, accountancy, molecular biology or electrical engineering, for instance, can easily make $50K more than professors of English, history or philosophy. Taking four years leave, makes it sound like the higher paid individual was in some area, typically science or technology, where he could bring in big grants.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          They were in the same field, and the prof was not bringing in any grants (whereas the female faculty were).

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Also, the leave was to take a (paid) position in the Obama administration. He had to forego his law school salary during the period he was appointed by the feds (it’s a state gov’t rule), but the school let him pause his tenure clock for that entire four-year period. There’s a similar pause mechanism for parental leave, but given that tenure review occurs at year five, a four-year stop-clock was unprecedented and left a major hole in the curricular offerings. Ultimately the school paid quite a lot to hire him, and it continued to pay a great deal more than expected to try to hire lecturers to fill the gap in the curriculum.

    2. Julianne*

      I think public school teacher salaries are public information in most (all?) US states. Many districts in my state also have their current collective bargaining agreements available online as well, although I don’t know if that’s with transparency or ease of reference in mind. I found it helpful when I was looking for jobs, though – and I agree, I like the transparency aspect overall. I also really like not having to worry about negotiating!

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        That’s probably related to them being government employees, not teachers specifically. Taxpayer dollars and all.

        1. Dankar*

          Yes, though I just learned that there are sites dedicated specifically to teachers’ salaries in addition to the government employee index. This is to ensure that teachers receive equitable pay when they’re hired by the school (standard tier rate based on qualifications and experience) and so that they can compare pay by district, since there are considerable variations within even small states.

          I actually talked about all this with several of my friends teaching high school over the weekend–it was really fascinating stuff.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            I’m not all all surprised that teacher salaries get specifically aggregated. You can find similar sites for legislators and their staff.

  4. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 So I’m all for remote working, but my first reaction, which may also be your boss’s reaction, was to wonder what you mean when you say you like travelling, as it sounds like you’re saying that you’re basically happy to pay to stay in a hotel in a different country but spend all day in the hotel working instead of out sightseeing or otherwise enjoying the place you’re in.

    Maybe that’s the part your boss is getting stuck on. Most people who go on vacation (and I get that that’s not how you described it, but it’s evidently your boss’s read) are not realistically going to want to do that. You seem to be saying you love to travel but don’t mind doing nothing but work during work hours, but I can see why your boss might have a hard time believing that.

    Maybe it would help if you stopped describing it as travelling or a trip, and stopped referring to hotels, but instead talked about how you’re going to be living somewhere else?

    Also, your boss may be wondering what will happen if, say, your flight is delayed.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      NB I hasten to add I believe you – but am trying to shed light on potentials for why your boss is unconvinced.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        That’s the crux of the matter. The boss does not believe the employee is working full day while on vacation. Being in a foreign country simply increases the skepticism that a full days work is being done.

    2. Jeanne*

      I read the letter a few times. To me, it appears she took the job because it was 100% remote. It doesn’t say boss ever agreed she could work while traveling, in or out of the US. If boss assumed that meant work from home and OP assumed it meant work from anywhere, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding. It is pretty common that when you’re on vacation you won’t be able to give your full attention to your job. I’m not surprised boss is not happy. You potentially get months and months of vacation while everyone else gets 3 weeks. Bosses don’t have to be fair but many want to be fairer than this.

      1. Al Lo*

        I mean… yes and no to the “months and months of vacation” concept. If a person is working regular hours, just from a different location, it’s quite different from an unplug-and-unwind vacation. If “vacation” is defined as “time off work,” the OP presumably gets no more or less time than anyone else in a comparable position.

        I’ve lived in cities that are popular vacation destinations, and I think that the quality of my leisure time was higher while I lived there, but life still goes on. I had good days and bad ones, I had to do tasks that were annoying, I had to deal with irritating colleagues, I had great friends and great memories… it’s just real life, no matter where you are. It’s not exactly the same, since the OP isn’t moving somewhere “cool”, but I think there’s a lot that’s comparable here.

        In the OP’s case, I don’t actually see it as being “on vacation,” since they’ll be working regular hours and there’s no expectation of disrupting the (work) routine. They’re just spending their off-time differently. If they were travelling and checking in for a couple of hours each day, that would be different, but that doesn’t sound like the case. This sounds like it’s just life, happening in a different space, and it’s possible to get quite a bit out of evenings and weekends, even if the day-to-day 8 hours are still spent the same as at home.

        1. doreen*

          Working regular hours is indeed different from a vacation, but it would really never occur to me that someone who “loves to travel” would take an international trip and work a regular, full week while traveling. Now, I’m not saying I don’t believe the letter writer , but it just doesn’t make any sense to non-frequent traveler me to travel to a foreign country , pay for hotels and spend 40 hours a week working while confining sightseeing ,etc to evenings and weekends – unless there are special circumstances such as you are going to visit family/friends who are presumably going to be working while you’re there or you are accompanying someone who is traveling to that destination on business or you travel so much that you have no fixed residence and therefore no rent, etc. I’m not sure those circumstances ( or any similar ones) would occur to me unless I was told.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            There’s an argument to be made that the more timezones you cross, the easier it is to work a full day and still enjoy your location. If your 9-5 work day becomes 2-10p, or 6a-2p, you have a big chunk of the day to do other things in. Assuming your sleep schedule works with that!

            1. Gaia*

              And this is where I see the issue.

              You normally work 9 – 5 but now you have to work 2 – 10p due to time zones. Am I to really believe you are going to only sightsee until 2pm, come back to the hotel and work and then go to bed to start over the next day? No. I’m going to assume that either your sleep or your work will suffer. I would need a plan spelled out for me so that I know you’ve thought about it clearly.

              1. Mela*

                I don’t get this attitude at all. Why would it matter if the time zone was different if performance remained unchanged? If an employee working in the office had a second job and kids and decided to go to night school, would you really have those same concerns? Maybe but you can’t do much about it until you see a difference *at work*

                To add another anecdote of successful international remote work, my husband has been working remotely for 5+ years at a small tech firm. He’s been promoted twice and is now a director. He started working remotely domestically and got “approval” (hey boss, is this cool? Yea) to work from a different country for an extended period of time.

                This was in the context of another unreliable internationally remote employee, but my husband had a great track record and was trusted. He’s since lived in 3 different countries in 2 time zones. In between moves, we often go to a new country for 1-3 months and sightsee on his free time/weekends. He works Friday nights. If there’s an event that he just needs to show up for a few hours, he can flex the time bc there are no meetings on Fridays. If he wants to drink, he uses a vacation day or flexes the entire day. The ability to flex is the same for everyone.

                He uses a shared office space and gets faster internet than at home in the US, even in developing countries. We’re not on “vacation,” we’re traveling. We’re experiencing the culture of a new place, meeting locals, grocery shopping, practicing our language skills, etc. This is all highly valued and if permission were rescinded, he would most likely seek a different job.

                Do mishaps happen? Sure. But they happen at a much lower rate than his other coworkers who have kid/pet/house emergencies. And it’s not really an employer’s place to judge what qualifies as an acceptable reason for occasional hiccups.

              2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

                I mean, you should believe what the employee tells you unless they’ve given you reason not to believe them. The plan was already spelled out – OP said she will have fast WiFi and work regular hours and answer her normal phone number, all as usual. What more needs to be spelled out? Maybe boss asks, “Are you sure you’ll be able to work regular US hours?” and OP says, “Yes, I’m sure.” What’s the issue here?

                I have a friend who freelances and works this way. He likes to travel, but travel doesn’t mean sight-seeing for him. He goes to Indonesia for a few weeks so he can work on the beach, then go to Hawaii for a week or two and work from a yoga center. He just likes to work in beautiful, calming locations. He’s not visiting tourist destinations or seeing the sights. He’s just taking advantage of the fact that he can work from anywhere by working from locations he finds pleasant.

              3. LadyKelvin*

                Actually, this is what my husband does full time. We live in Hawaii, and he “works” in DC, so he works every day from 4am-noon and then takes the rest of the day off to do other stuff just like anyone else would do in the evening. Then he goes to bed around 8pm and does it all over again the next day. Full time. I can definitely see how this would work.

              4. Lily Rowan*

                Like others have said, this person is not intending to be on vacation, so it’s a very different kind of trip.

          2. Kiki*

            > or you travel so much that you have no fixed residence and therefore no rent, etc.

            I have a friend who does this. For the past three years she has lived in Europe, spending about 2 months in each city she visits. She rents a short-term apartment, works a regular week remotely, and spends her off time exploring the city she’s living in (whereas you and I might be at home watching Netflix, meeting friends at a local bar, etc). At the end of her stay in that city, she moves onto a new one in a different country. Perhaps OP is a fan of a similar lifestyle, and kudos to them if they can make it work.

              1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

                I think she means her friend works “a [indefinite article referring to ongoing] regular week” throughout her travels as opposed to “an irregular schedule,” not that her friend works “a [single] regular week” per destination as opposed to “8 regular weeks.”

              2. Grey Duck*

                Pretty sure the comment was not that the person was working 1 out of every 8 weeks but was working regularly for 8 weeks, then moving. Thus “off-time” would mean non-working time, just like outside a normal 9-5. So the person is working full time, not sporadically.

        2. Collarbone High*

          I work remotely and I’ve done this a couple of times after a trip when it was much cheaper to fly on Monday than Sunday, so I just stayed an extra day and worked from my hotel room on Monday, then flew back that night.

          1. Infinity anon*

            It is easier to see how working one or two days on vacation is doable that working the entire time. It is unusual to go to another country (probably in another time zone) and work normal hours the entire time without work suffering or feeling cheated out of your vacation.

            1. Mela*

              It’s really not all that unusual. You just don’t see it because these people are off traveling instead of working in your city/town.

              The people who do this don’t think of it as a vacation, in fact, the times we’ve been on “vacation” for a full work week in the past 3 years was a two-week honeymoon, a weeklong vacation we took with family, and a week in the rainforest. That’s it. The rest of our travels have either been long weekends or sightseeing while we’re staying somewhere new.

              1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

                Exactly. This isn’t someone promising to work “while on vacation.” They are planning to work “while traveling.”

        3. Sarah*

          I agree with this. Since my 20s I have always lived in cities that are “destinations” with a lot of tourists and tourist-type activities available. Sure, it’s fun to do those things on the weekends or even sometimes in the evenings, but it’s not like I’m skipping out on work to do them. I just may have more lunch options than when I lived in a tiny rural town. :)

          But I like Alison’s advice to ask your boss about trying this as an experiment and see how it goes — once you can prove that you really are just as available/responsive/productive as when you’re remotely working from your regular home location, I think you will have a better case, whereas right now it’s just hypothetical.

      2. JKP*

        I had friends who traveled through Europe for a year while working remotely. They put all their things in storage so they had no living expenses back home, thus their normal monthly budget went to hotels and travel expenses. They moved to a different city every few weeks. Yes, they still worked the full workweek, just in a hotel room. They went sightseeing in their free time and on the weekends.

        The OP is not actually on vacation if they are still working their normal workload during the week. The only difference is really in how they spend their free time outside of work.

        1. (Different) Rebecca*

          Quite frankly, I would ADORE doing this. It would make me so stinkin’ happy.

        2. krysb*

          There’s even a name for people who work remotely in order to travel. They call themselves “Location Independent” and I want to be like them some day.

          1. Savannnah*

            A lot of my friends do this and they refer to themselves as digital nomads- and I’m surprised by a lot of the comments here that seem to be unfamiliar with this type of work and its conditions- I have friends who work for big NYC based banks who are on a 3 month trip to Bolivia right now, a friend who is in Bali for 2 months who works for a startup website based in LA and 2 others who are backpacking through Europe and work with a Groupon-like company. I think the main concept to get is that most of the work done is remote work that one can do in any 24 hr period and is not reliant on keeping est office hours etc. although some do stay up late/get up early for some meetings here and there. Another thing to keep in mind is that nomads usually rent a house to live and work in, rather than a hotel and there is shared work space to rent in most major cites now so my friend in Bali really goes to work every day for 8 hrs and then heads out to explore after shes done. It’s just another way to think about how people work.

            1. LBK*

              I think jobs that allow for that are pretty rare and it might be a kind of confirmation bias that it seems to be common among your friends. It’s definitely not common in the world at large – I only know of one friend who has the latitude to do this at his job and he works for a company that makes teleconferencing software so remote work is kind of built into their whole ethos.

              1. Savannnah*

                Sure- the friends I have seek out these types of jobs. I did give the examples above however to show that there are large mainstream institutions , small startups and large established website companies who all allow this type of work.

            2. AvonLady Barksdale*

              That’s what I was picturing until I re-read and saw what the OP said about “American hours”. As you point out, most of the 100% remote jobs that allow people to travel are project-based and pretty independent, therefore they don’t require people to be available at a specific time (i.e., you can work your 8 hours between 11am-7pm, 12m-8am, 9am-11am/2pm-8pm, whatever you like). If OP #2 has an hours-specific job, then working-while-travelling is do-able but can be more logistically complicated.

              1. Savannnah*

                Agreed and I will say it would be important to be 100% transparent about this type of arrangement.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think that optics problem can be easily nipped in the bud by the fact that OP is working and is remote (this also addresses the “months of vacation” because working while traveling is not a vacation). I have globe-trotting friends, and they’re not on perma-vacay when they work while traveling. When I worked abroad and had to travel, I was not on vacation. Anyone who works and travels knows this, but OP’s boss may be less familiar since OP is the first 100% remote employee.

      4. Kate*

        I had the same interpretation as you, Jeanne. I work remotely probably about 90% of the time I’d say, and my boss has also made it clear that I’m not confined to work from my apartment, but he means I can feel free to work from coffee shops or the library or my parents home if I’m visiting for holidays. I don’t think it would be well received if I said, “Hey, I’ll be working from London next week.” It’s unclear to me from the letter whether OP had discussed with her boss the possibility of traveling while working, since “anywhere with wifi” can be interpreted more rigidly like my boss or more broadly like OP. So I definitely think it’s work having a frank discussion about what your expectations for working remotely were and hearing out your boss on what his expectations were. I especially liked Alison’s script of suggesting this as a trial run, since maybe you’re boss will be more receptive to trying it out rather than having to say yea or nay right now.

      5. Kyrielle*

        OP writes, “Prior to starting, I asked if working from anywhere was okay as long as there was wifi, and he said yes.”

        He may have assumed domestic or something else, but that does sound like OP tried to confirm that traveling and working would be okay. And I can see putting in a 40-hour week (or whatever’s standard for the OP’s job) from another place being a great time. When your weekend and evening hours roll around, instead of being at home, you’re in Awesome Place you want to explore.

        I wonder whether the boss considered the possible impact on taxes and the like, though – I thought that working from other states/countries complicated payroll taxes.

        1. Sarah*

          I’m pretty sure that if you maintain residence in wherever it is that you pay your state/local taxes, you’re not going to be differently taxed based on doing some work while travelling. I have a job where I travel a fair amount for both research and conferences, and I have never had to report those things to the IRS in any way.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            If you do it on a large scale, you will have to pay taxes in the locations where you are actually working each particular day. This comes up a lot for consultants who travel to remote locations for work. They usually fill out their time cards and include the state where the work was done, so their employer can pay taxes in each of the individual states they also means that the employees need to fill out that paperwork for each of those it also means that the employees need to fill out that paperwork for each of those dates. states.

            On the positive side, there is usually a minimum threshold for the number of days before this comes into play. For one employer I had, the threshold was 10 days. If I worked for less than 10 days in a year in another state, they would not impose tax withholding for that state.

    3. Daisy*

      You work your 8 (or however many) hours and have the rest of the day and weekends to see the place you’re in. I know plenty of people who work and travel like this constantly. Unless there’s some practical objection that the boss hasn’t communicated, I really can’t imagine why it would be a problem.

      1. Engineer Woman*

        Will this international travel cross time zones? If so, there’s an argument to be made that OP would not function as usual if he/she were not traveling. In theory, remote work should work anywhere with strong wifi and the same accessibility. Practically, however, it may be another story. I’ve travelled for work, being put up in relatively high-end hotels, where their wifi just didn’t work or was at the speed of dial-up and the cost for making phone calls with my company issued cell phone was astronomical. Granted, I’m not talking about major cosmopolitan cities, so it does depend on the location of travel.

        I like Alison’s suggestion to let the boss know the ability to travel was considered in accepting this job and after this trip, he may realize his concerns are a non-issue and that your working while traveling poses no problems whatsoever.

        1. Katelyn*

          cell phones can be forwarded to a google phone number (or other VoIP service) and would be covered in whatever is being paid for internet. Since the OP said they were working a full day it’s not like you need the cell phone while moving between meetings or in a cab, so VoIP would be the way to go there.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          This. You still need cellular data if you bring your own wifi. Coverage is spotty or slow in several places, even in the US. There may also be issues in mountainous areas or areas of high humidity. The only way to guarantee coverage is a satellite phone and data plan. That kind of data is S-L-O-W.
          This brings up other issues, such as slow connection speeds at your wifi location. It becomes worse if you have a VPN or are encrypting. There are lots of dropouts.
          In short, there are a lot of connectivity issues unless the OP is staying in urban areas. And even then there are issues.
          Many digital nomads can do their work because most of it is off-line with only occasional connectivity required.

          1. Mela*

            But with proper research and planning, it can be done. Like I said above, coworking spaces offer super high-speed internet, and they usually have redundant connections so outages are non-existant barrring natural disaster. And yes, you do have to be in urban places but s that even parts of the US has bad service is a bit misleading. The US is notorious for being laughably behind on tech and internet connectivity, especially compared to a lot of Asian countries. Sure, you can get high speed internet, but in lots of other places you can get double, triple the highest available US speeds for a fraction of the cost.

            My husband regularly uses VPNs and Skype (a massive wifi hog) and rarely has issues. This is in developing countries, countries where consumers regularly choose capped data packages (he doesn’t). It’s all been fine. We do a lot of research before choosing a place, but that’s just part of being a responsible adult.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              It has to do with population density. Dense population means better connectivity. You really need to be in a densely populated area for high connection speeds. A good chunk of the world doesn’t fit into that category.

            2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

              I want to cry sometimes when my friend in Korea tells me what she pays for faster internet than I can even comprehend.

    4. MissGirl*

      That was my first thought as well. Also how long will you be in one area versus traveling?

    5. kittymommy*

      My first thought was maybe the boss had concerns about security (computer and/or phone wise) iv the international travel. Depending on where she goes this might be an issue.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        One other issue is that employers have to comply with laws where the employee is working. This can include having workers comp insurance. Many employers will turn a blind eye to this requirement but legally, they shouldn’t.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I may be wrong, but I believe this refers to the employee’s place of residence, broadly defined as the place they intend to remain.

          1. Zinnia*

            I’m not sure…when an acquaintance went from the US to Canada on a business trip, he was grilled by the Canadian border agents about whether it was truly just a couple meetings, or whether he would be “productively working” while in Canada. Apparently he passed muster – the meetings were for the purpose of meeting a new employee – but it was clear working several full days in the Canadian office would have been an issue. I’m not sure exactly what sort of issue it would have been (visa? income tax?) but the border agents questioned them for more than 15 minutes about it.

            1. Mela*

              It’s the visa. Has nothing to do with the employer’s responsibility to the employee. And a lot of countries (Thailand, Vietnam, etc.) openly welcome digital nomads because they know it’s revenue being spent in their country. You won’t see it written up as a formal statute/visa, but they turn a blind eye at the border.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                Yeah, this sounds like a visa issue to me, too (although to be clear I am not an immigration lawyer). The rule that employers must follow the employments laws where the employee lives is going to vary by country – I’m primarily familiar with it as a US state jurisdictional issue.

        2. LQ*

          These were the two things that jumped to my mind. Security and laws of doing what that company requires. It would be different if the OP were a contractor, but the OP is an employee. I do not want to suddenly be required to research and comply with new laws of a new country every 3-6 weeks or whatever. That’s a huge burden on the employer.

      2. Cheese Sticks and Pretzels*

        +1. I know someone who actually gained permission to work remotely from somewhere in Europe and was doing so until the client found out and was not happy at all due to security risk.

      3. Nan*

        Yup. I was thinking about security. Our international security protocols are much different than our stateside. And “assume you’re being monitored and don’t send any private or proprietary info” pretty much sums it up.

    6. rubyrose*

      I have worked remote for 9 years, in a group that is also largely remote. Yes, people at times ask permission to work somewhere other than their residence and it is granted probably 100% of the time. I myself have done it, to be available at family celebrations.

      To me the flag was on international travel. I worked with two people said the same thing as LW – will work normal hours, will be available through the normal phone. The problem was that they did not work normal hours and were not available via phone. When questioned about this, they both said they did not correctly calculate the time difference! The places I know now that will approve the international setup are for countries where there is minimal to no time zone change.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        But still, this to me would be an argument for the boss evaluating how it works this first time. If it doesn’t, then the argument going forward is “You said you would have phone and internet but that fell through. Good intentions about calculating time zones don’t matter.” But if she didn’t even notice OP was in Italy, then there’s no reason to raise a fuss about how Vietnam is bad but Kansas is fine.

        1. Sarah*

          I think this is right. If they try it out and it really doesn’t work for whatever reason (data/wifi connections aren’t as good as OP thought, they end up calculating the hours wrong, productivity drops because of lost sleep, etc.) then the employer has a real case to say “Hey, we tried this, it really didn’t work out for X reason, so we can’t allow it going forward.” But if it’s really impossible to tell the difference between remote work from home vs. remote work while travelling, that case kind of goes away.

    7. Triplestep*

      The research on the high engagement and productivity of “remote work” has been widely poo-poo’d my many in management until recently, so it is not surprising that this manager does not know that some workers choose to travel to different cities just to experience them while working. (I didn’t realize how common it was until reading the comments here, and as a Workplace Designer, I am constantly touting the research on remote working to convince managers.) I am guessing when he said “Yes, you can work from anywhere” this manager meant “If you can get your work done in coffee shops, library or home, it makes no difference to me.”

      I’m also guessing it’s likely that when he hears “travel”, he thinks of the vacations he’s taken and not the lifestyle of the “Location Independent” as they’ve been called here. Not knocking the lifestyle, but it’s not common enough for the OP to have assumed it didn’t need to be spelled out during the offer conversations.

    8. Typhon Worker Bee*

      I was approached a couple of years ago for a 100% remote work job that was really interesting, and the pay (a 50% increase!) was definitely tempting. I withdrew from the process after the first phone interview though, mostly because I learned that remote workers all get the same benefits as people in the US main office, which meant only getting 10 days paid vacation and 2 paid sick days per year (I currently get 25 days paid vacation and 10 paid sick days). I gave them the name of someone I know who has a very similar background to mine, and who I knew was looking for a new position, and she ended up taking the job. When I asked her about the vacation thing, she said that they’d OKed remote working from literally anywhere as long as she took any calls in a private space, and that she would be perfectly happy to go to a resort and work normal business hours from her hotel room (with a quick swim at lunchtime), then go out and explore in the evenings. That really, really wouldn’t work for me, but she seems genuinely happy with the set-up.

  5. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 I think this will depend on whether an office actually exists because it sounds like it might not be physically there at all.

    1. Jeanne*

      I guess but I think it’s worth asking. She has to decide if she wants the job and it’s important to her. I used to ask if they had a permanent desk for me because I had gotten screwed on that one. I had assumed for a paperwork job that I would have my own desk. Big mistake.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Offices and meeting rooms are in short supply at my company, however HR is one of the departments which does get an office. There are cupboards containing personnel files (I assume) which would have to be kept confidential.

    2. kittymommy*

      I’m going to hazard a guess that if the COO doesn’t have an office, then the OP probably isn’t getting one. Though on the other hand, the office manager has one, which is even weirder…

      1. Triplestep*

        Workplace Designer, here. I’ve seen this before – Office Managers with offices are typically people who have been with the company so long, no one wants to wrestle them out of their office once the company starts to outgrow its space. Think about it – its not even a title you see in anything but small companies anymore; that person would be in “Operations” now. So I’m guessing that’s what at play here. I’ve had to create offices for people who don’t qualify for one during an office move just because a.) they report to someone important and b.) they are a dinosaur who has always had an office, so …

  6. Tuxedo Cat*

    OP #2, not knowing the nature of your work, your boss might have reasonable concerns. I worked with someone who often traveled internationally and worked remotely. Depending on the country, she did have wifi issues even though she claimed it wouldn’t be an issue. If there weren’t connectivity issues, there were issues with noise and such because wifi was in a noisy area. There were also issues with her getting time zones confused for meetings, not to mention scheduling meetings; she was mostly flexible, but sometimes, we just couldn’t meet with her because folks on our end didn’t want to meet outside the 9-5 and there would be 12+ hour travel for her. These may not apply to you, but I can understand your boss might be concerned if they do.

    I think Alison’s advice was good regarding proving yourself on this.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      There are also security issues with international travel. Anytime you cross a border the government has a right to look at your computer and anything on it. In some countries encryption is illegal.
      If there is any proprietary information then the manager has a right to be concerned.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Also, some countries won’t let you in on the same kind of visa if you plan to work while you’re there. As any journalist who’s ever applied for an i-visa will know.

        1. Alison Read \'red\*

          Exactly! This has been covered at AAM – for example; a US citizen planning to work remotely for a US company while in the U.K. on a tourist visa is definitely not allowed and a cause for at the very least – immediate deportation. The U.K. spells it out very directly to this particular situation that while reponding to the occasional emails and phone calls whilst in the U.K., working remotely constitutes a violation of a tourist visa.

          1. Foreign Octopus*

            Wasn’t there also a letter about the difficulties of remote working in a different state to where the company was located? Something to do with state laws.

            1. INTP*

              In the US, in most states your company owes payroll taxes to the state where you physically work in. I’m not sure if this applies or is enforced for a week or two a year situations, but it’s definitely complicated if someone wants to work full-time from a state where the company is not set up to do business or pay taxes at all. I nearly got fired when I moved without telling HR because my boss had the wrong information about what was required, and thought all I had to do was give HR my new address and set up my state income tax myself – if the company didn’t already have a high-level person working remotely from my state, they would not have set it up for me.

              1. Lora*

                I did have to fire someone for this. She had been working for the company two years as a fairly well paid consultant and renting various places but never stayed in one longer than a few months (she had a year of temporary housing paid for by the company to support her relocation) and still owned the house where her parents lived in another state. She figured she could evade the higher income tax in the state where she worked if she listed her parents’ house as her official residence. We had given her a lump sum for the relo, which she basically pocketed, found the cheapest apartment in the crummiest part of town, and then despite much nagging wouldn’t give us an address in the state where she worked. The taxes + penalties for both her and us came to six figures.

              2. D.W.*

                My fiancé is going through this. He is moving from his coast to my coast after we’re married and will be working remotely. Sorting out the tax stuff with HR has been a task to say the least.

              3. NW Mossy*

                Yup – I personally had to nix someone’s request to work remotely from another state precisely because we had no other employees there. Her role was a half-step up from entry level, so it didn’t make sense for the company to take on the logistics just for her.

                1. De Minimis*

                  I wish I had that type of veto power here. I had to put someone on payroll [they are normally a contractor] for two months, and it was a new state. The various state agencies were pretty easy to work with, but it was still a headache especially when it was just a temporary position.

                  We work with a lot of teachers, and sometimes we’ll work out an agreement with their school district where we’ll have them work for us full-time during the summer months.

              4. bridget*

                Yes, I’m guessing this is a tax issue. I bill my time as a lawyer and travel a lot for work, and every hour logged needs to be paired with a jurisdiction code so my firm can pay the appropriate payroll taxes. There are a few countries (India is one, I think) where it’s such a pain to deal with that I need to get special permission from on high before doing any work there. (I could obviously vacation without special permission, but if I even did 1/10th of an hour of work answering an email and billed it to a client, I’d need to work it out with the tax people).

              5. De Minimis*

                It depends on the state. Some states give no leeway at all, any work performed in the state will create tax liability. Others are okay with a small amount of work being done [like while at a training session, if someone works on stuff during the evening.]

                It could also create sales tax nexus, depending….

                This is an ultra complicated area of taxation, even when it’s just within the US.

                1. Tax Nerd*

                  This is very true. Most state laws want their share of taxes on the first day you work there. Most companies, however, don’t have the capacity or inclination to track to that degree, so they pick a number of days that they’ll kind of ignore. It’s not the correct thing to do, but it can be a practical thing to do.

          2. MacAilbert*

            Yea. The tourist visa that was stamped on my passport at Heathrow actually specifically states that employment or access to public funds is prohibited.

      2. DaisyGrrl*

        At my work, we have to get written VP-level approval to take our work phones out of the country for exactly this reason.

      3. michelenyc*

        This happened when I went to Israel for work. You are required to log-in to your computer when leaving the country. On top of that they can confiscate your computer when you enter or leave the country. It never happened to me but I have heard of it happening to other people. I think I was lucky in that I worked for an Israeli company and I was with my Israeli boss so I don’t think they were as hard on me as they are on other people.

    2. INTP*

      Agree, there are many possible valid concerns (and I say this as someone who works remotely and likes to travel). One is security – security concerns related to certain laws have already been mentioned, and we have clients that require all outsourced work for them be completed in the US as a matter of policy. Depending on how long you’re gone, it may also impact what kind of payroll taxes they are supposed to pay on you. And there’s the fact that most people would be overly optimistic to promise the ability to work without interruption to productivity while on vacation – hotel wifi can be slow or unreliable, in parts of the world even electricity might be unreliable (including parts that are not exactly primitive, that have a tourist infrastructure), people can be surprised how difficult it is to be out of sync with the sun or get less sleep than usual (if OP is trying to work at night locally and sightsee during the day). It sounds like the OP knows what they’re doing, but I also think it’s reasonable of the boss to want to play it safe and avoid issues like that.

      OP, if he said “work from anywhere” rather than specifically travel, he might have meant that you don’t have to be based in a particular city or have a particular home office setup. It’s an annoying misunderstanding but doesn’t sound like a bait and switch to me.

    3. Jen*

      My spouse and I both work in jobs with sensitive data and neither of us are allowed to even take our work computers out of the country. I would never have understood “work from anywhere” to include internationally without clarifying, so I do not think boss was being unreasonable or unfairly misledOP. For data security I know our servers treat any attempt at access to private systems from abroad as a potential attack.

    4. Princess Carolyn*

      Yeah, I suspect this boils down to “The boss doesn’t believe OP when she says her work won’t be affected.” That’s why I like Alison’s suggestion to ask if she can try it out once and see how it goes. It sounds like OP has this all figured out and the boss is basing his doubt on past situations with other employees. Given that technology continues to improve and employees are individuals, it makes sense to try this out instead of forbidding it because of a bad experience.

      Really, it’s not hard to see why the boss might be concerned, but I don’t think “concerned” is a good enough reason to tell an employee she can’t have the flexibility you agreed on at hiring. Certainly not without some discussion.

    5. Triplestep*

      These examples of the tax and legal ramifications of working internationally are interesting, but I don’t think they are pertinent here based on the OP’s description. I think her boss can’t wrap his mind around someone staying in other places for short periods of time just to work and experience life there. That is what the OP seems to mean by “travel”, but I think her manager has a different definition of that term, and also the term “work anywhere”.

      1. Mela*

        Seriously. There’s nothing about security or tax concerns in the letter. Sure, some workplaces will care about these but many won’t.

        I wouldn’t call it a bait and switch either, but “work from anywhere” would absolutely mean international locations to me. I would never leave it at that and get further clarification but that’s absolutely what I would interpret it as.

  7. Melody Pond*

    #5 – it’s also an important fraud/theft prevention control, to have other people cross-trained to take over an accounting-related function. It’s important for the accounting person to take vacations, and for other sets of eyes to be reviewing the work product that the accountant oversees – that’s often how fraud or theft is discovered.

    With payroll the risk is that, if they have enough access, the person in charge of payroll might create fake employees and then issue paychecks to that fake person, while actually pocketing the extra money themselves. One of the commonly recommended internal controls to detect this, is to have mandatory one-to-two week vacations for employees in these roles, and have other people take over the duties for that time.

      1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

        I work at an investment bank and the traders are all required to take a 2 consecutive weeks off (this is in addition to their vacation) in order to prevent/ catch fraud.

        1. Katelyn*

          I’ve worked in a financial institution where that requirement caught a multi-million dollar scheme. Mostly through a new technology implemented to detect if people were calling in on their vacations and re-routing the call to HR. One guy was going on vacation, but calling in trades that kept the scheme running. Once he had no access (and people were getting suspicious because he tried going around HR once he knew that’s where the calls would go) the whole thing fell apart. It led to years of law suits from the injured parties against the company because people said it should have been caught sooner by the big bosses (they thought he was a great top performer… right up until it all fell apart).

      2. the gold digger*

        Years ago, there were some HR folks – in collusion with the insurance agent from my company and a local physician- who were creating not only fake employees (to add them as insureds under the group health insurance) but also creating fake health insurance claims. (Because that’s where the money is.)

        The poor agent I worked with in that area couldn’t sell a thing because the company’s name was mud. (And the fraudsters were all in prison. Where they belonged.)

    1. Lars the Real Girl*

      2nd this. #1 tool in fraud prevention within your accounting department is to force vacation time and make someone else step in and do the work. And sometimes it’s not stealing money so much as mismanagement of funds or accounting practices.

      1. De Minimis*

        Also, having weak controls can result in more expensive and time consuming audits, even if nothing shady is going on.

    2. London Calling*

      That certainly used to be the case when I was working in UK banks. The thinking is that a fraud or bad practice will go unnoticed for a week but if there’s anything hinky, the perpetrator can’t keep it hidden for two. Someone might take a compromising phone call or go through paperwork/spreadsheets etc while they are covering or looking for something else. A lot of fraud comes to light that way.

    3. Boy oh boy*

      When I first started at a law firm/accounting role I thought my employer was being thoughtful and ensuring we all got a proper, long de-stress holiday by making us take two weeks!

      Not quite!

      Similarly my husband thought that he had to take a colleague to deposit cash so there were two of them to fight off any thieves… no, you’re watching each other.

      1. the gold digger*

        I had a boyfriend who was a gate agent for an airline back when the flight attendants would drop off cash at the end of the day for the agents to take to the bank. The airline had a safe at the gate. My boyfriend’s boss wanted my boyfriend to have both keys to the safe, an idea my boyfriend strenuously protested.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      I remember the vacations from the “weird things that are normal at your work” thread, for people at a certain level in banking. Fascinating practical approach to the problem.

    5. AwkwardKaterpillar*

      This is the norm for banks (in the U.S.) at least. We are required to take 5 consecutive days off, so that when someone else is doing the process presumably any wrong doing would be flagged by the backup.

      Of course, when you only start with 10 vacation days this can be a burden to new employees, but that is a whole separate issue.

    6. Statler von Waldorf*

      This is a very legitimate concern, which I bring up whenever my employers want to get salty about me taking a vacation. It’s not just for my mental health, it’s also to protect my reputation. Never trust a bookkeeper who refuses to take a vacation because they insist the business will fall apart without them there. This is especially true in smaller companies where one person will generally handle all the accounting jobs.

  8. Knitting Cat Lady*


    I have no idea what type of work you do, but there is one huge concern that could explain why your boss doesn’t want you to work outside the US:

    Export law!

    Depending where you go and what you do even taking the files with you could be illegal.

    And the fines for that can be huge. And those would apply to you personally and your employer.

    Ask if this is applicable!

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Okay, now I’m fascinated. Does this only apply if you physically transport files in a storage device such as a laptop hard drive or flash drive? What if you instead email them, upload them using an FTP server, save them into the cloud, or are accessing your company’s document folders remotely through a remote desktop program?

      1. Eliza*

        Even if you just access data from another country that’s stored online in its country of origin, that can legally be considered importation under some circumstances, since the relevant 1s and 0s still ultimately end up on your computer even if only in a temporary form. It’s a complicated area of law, and it’s a very good idea to seek legal advice if there’s any chance that it’ll be an issue.

        1. President Porpoise*

          Eliza is 100% correct on this. Viewing, accessing, or even talking about controlled information in a foreign country (or to a foreign national within the US) is considered an export under the ITAR. It requires registration with government agencies and licenses or similar, and can land you with massive fines or potentially jail time if you do it.

          I’m not a lawyer, but I am a licensed customs broker (not your licensed customs broker) with a specialization in the import and export of ITAR controlled goods, so I’m pretty familiar with the US Regs on this.

      2. Knitting Cat Lady*

        As soon as the data is visible on the screen in another country it counts as exported. Even if it is read only!

        My industry is extremely strict about the whole issue, and with good reason!

        And if you’re US based you need to extra careful as US export law is extremely strict.

      3. Paul*

        My BIL used to work for General Dynamics and occasionally traveled abroad for vacation (he loves Australia; I’m jealous). He said he had to be careful not to check anything relating to some of his work projects on any device when he was abroad due to ITAR.

      4. GermanGirl*

        Yes, data protection concerns where one of my first ideas for reasons to forbid international travel with a work computer.

        That said, if you’re allowed to put the data in a cloud, it’s probably not sensitive enough to fall under export restrictions in the first place, because there is no cloud, it’s just other people’s computers, which are located who knows where in the world. As soon as you put something in the cloud, you don’t really have control over it anymore. You better have up to date copies on your own servers in case the cloud owner deletes their copy.
        You could encrypt your data before pushing it to the cloud but how long is that encryption going to protect the data? The cloud owner can just make a copy and decrypt it at leisure when a backdoor becomes available.

        1. President Porpoise*

          Eh, it’s possible to data protect a shared server so that it can only be accessed by specific individuals with confirmed nationalities.

          1. GermanGirl*

            Of course it is. But a shared server isn’t the same as “the cloud”, because (hopefully) your company has the physical control of that server and then if they cryptographically protect the remote access to the server, that’s a pretty good scheme.

            In “the cloud” the difference is that your company doesn’t own those servers, you just rent them, and even if you use cryptographically protected access to the server, the owner of the server can just go take out the disks and give them to whoever is interested, or he can use his root password to give anyone access or to delete the files or do whatever else hits his fancy.

            See rule #3 of the 10 immutable laws of computer security:
            If a bad guy has unrestricted physical access to your computer, it’s not your computer anymore!

            This article from the Microsoft archives has all 10 rules plus explanations:

    2. Marketing Lady PA*

      Yes, that was my thought as well. In my company we deal with some ITAR business and can’t even share many things with our international branches of the same company.

  9. Jeanne*

    #1, I’m thinking your boss knew you for years growing up at the church. He still sees you as a child. You’re going to have to be the one to have the conversation. Tell him you appreciate how long your families have known each other. But at work you would really like your relationship to be business. Say you are open to hearing feedback directly when it is needed and want to leave your parents out of the loop. In the best of cases, your boss just didn’t realize he was treating you like a kid and it’s easily fixed. Good luck.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      I had a job like this once, where I’d gotten it because they were family friends. I remember my dad coming home after I’d been working there about two months telling me to get ready for work because he’d agreed for me to work a shift without talking to me first. Ten years later, it still annoys me.

      1. Knitty*

        My mom used to do this too. Drove me bat crap crazy one summer because I was one of three maybe four babysitters in our area and so evenings would fill up for us fast. She was famous for accepting jobs for me that I would then have to cancel because I was already booked. Still makes me crazy when I think about it to long.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I worked for my parents a little bit in high school and after (they had a retail business) and I’m so glad now that I don’t. One parent does this to me with arranging personal stuff, like carpooling with a relative when I don’t want to travel with anyone. I would be really upset if it were done with my work.

          1. Foreign Octopus*

            I’m upset when they arrange things in my personal life. The amount of conversations I’ve had to have with both of them about the fact that I can handle things myself is ridiculous. One afternoon with my parents was really soured when my dad spoke to my landlord (I was having banking issues and my rent hadn’t gone through as planned but I was handling it) specifically after I’d rejected his offer of help. I was furious with him. He’s been better since then but they also “suggest” travel arrangements to me, or dinner arrangements, and I just want to scream because I hate travelling with other people, even if they’re good friends.

    2. Purplesaurus*

      I think the best thing to do (not an actual suggestion) is to call boss’s parents and tell them you’d like boss to stop talking to your parents about your work.

    3. Anonygoose*

      Yes! When I was 17 I had a job (also cleaning, actually) where the high-up manager was friends with my dad, which is how I got the job, but he didn’t supervise me directly. My actual supervisor noticed I was moving a bit too slowly and trying too hard to make everything perfect, told the high-up manager, who told my dad, who told me. It took a week for the message to get to me, but both my supervisor and the manager didn’t want to ‘hurt my feelings’ since I was so young. I worked there a couple more summers because the money was really good, but I wouldn’t take any jobs I got through family connections after that.

      1. Brogrammer*

        Wow. If the supervisor wasn’t much older than you at the time, I could see them making that mistake from inexperience. But the higher-up manager should have been able to understand that a quick “I appreciate your attention to detail but efficiency is more important than perfection for this work” wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

  10. TootsNYC*


    At church. In front of everybody, I’m betting.

    I too think your parents need to help you with this; get them to help, if you at all can.

    I agree with Jeanne that I bet your boss sees you as a child (though really–23!). It’s possible that if you are having work-ethic problems, that’s exacerbating it, so step up and act as mature as you can.
    Use any stage-dressing things you can (show up in a jacket and tie, then change, or something).

    And get your parents on board with that message too: “Fergus is an adult now–you need to talk to him.”

    I bet your folks aren’t enjoying this either–to come for worship and fellowship, and have someone buttonhole them to complain about their child.
    I love Alison’s “we’re here for church” wording!

    (Plus, they’re supposed to be done raising you–they’re “retired” from that gig.)

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I’m wondering who ‘the employer’ actually refers to – are we talking a head of facilities or head of the janitor team or someone else from the school’s administration like the head teacher? Is there anyone else you feel able to mention this to?

      See, my concern is that if they think this is okay, they might not just be doing it to you. What else are they sharing and with whom? About their staff, about their students… just how big is the discretion fail here?

    2. TootsNYC*

      As the parent of a 23yo living with me still, I wonder if something like that is making it easier for the boss to think of our OP as a child.

  11. M*

    Op3 – depending on when your birthday is this may or may not work – but maybe to stop, you could say right before your birthday “hey, my birthday is coming up and this is the perfect time for me to say I’m not able to continue contributing to this birthday thing, so please don’t worry about getting me anything! All id like is a high five from everyone! Thanks!”

    1. Jekhar*

      Either that, or you wait for the turn of the year. No one should feel left out then, as you contributed to everyones birthdays in the past year.

      1. Adama*

        I really like this. Over the years, I’ve known several people who withdrew from various commitments because they’d made a New Year’s Resolution to change their lives in some way.

  12. MommyMD*

    If someone is working in payroll, of course they are privy to salary information. They most likely know better than to broadcast it.

    1. music*

      that seems to presume information not in the letter. She’s concerned specifically because non-HR and non-payroll people are being trained to process it, but you don’t know anything about that training or whether they’d also be trained on the specifics of privacy.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        The company has no actual HR and payroll. The way small companies get HR and payroll people is to train current employees in HR and payroll. This is a normal thing. Large companies have HR and payroll departments, and small companies generally just train employees to handle things. It’s not a good business practice to have just one person doing payroll, and it is unreasonable to get angry or upset that a company is cross-training employees on basic functions.

        1. music*

          i’m not disagreeing with that. What i’m saying is she’s presuming the cross-trained employees ‘most likely know better’ and that’s a really big assumption.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Hmm, but see, I would say that it is a pretty big assumption that training does not involve basic professional duties of keeping any info confidential that is supposed to be confidential. Unless you have specific concerns about the specific ethics of the accountant, or the business owner, or the people chosen for the cross-training, it just seems like unnecessary speculation to add “but what if they aren’t training properly” onto an otherwise normal situation.

  13. Steve*

    I used to work for a company that left paychecks in a safe in the boss’s office. We could get our own check out of it. I walked in one time to a co-worker holding someone else’s pay envelope up to the light to read it. I laughed at him and said, “I didn’t know you were that nosy”. He just laughed back. Lots of people know what others get paid.

    1. (Different) Rebecca*

      Your paycheck contains more information than just what you’re getting paid. I don’t mind someone knowing my salary (which was union negotiated and is immutable, so whatevs) but I’d be pissed if any random coworker either filling in, like the LW’s, or nosy like yours, was walking around with my SSN in their pocket/memory.

  14. Sarah*

    LW2: I would lean towards the LW’s side. If it’s a remote job, the boss has no business knowing where she’s working from. All that matters is that the work be allowed to continue as normal.

    As for his arguments–
    1) may be too tired to work
    -None of his business. Also, any employee can be tired for any reason– kids, socializing, etc. Does that mean he can forbid his employees from having kids or going out the night before? Nope. You’re an adult and can handle your own energy levels.
    2) non-remote employees may be jealous
    -Non-remote employees, by definition, have a different contract and probably different role in the company. So they could just as well be jealous of you working from home. They had an equal opportunity to get as remote job (by getting the proper education to fill the role, or to negotiate that into their contract, or apply for that job). Just because one employee may act childish doesn’t mean others should be punished for it.
    3) the possibility of weak wifi
    -I think that’s up to you to figure out. It isn’t his job to figure this out. By accepting a remote job, you also took on the responsibility of ensuring that you have a proper connection.

    In sum, I personally think your boss is being unreasonable.

    1. Jeanne*

      Everything for work is your boss’s business. To say it’s not his business where you are or what you do is ridiculous.

    2. Paul*

      4: Legal issues that aren’t worth the headache from the boss’s perspective. We’ve seen letters here about people working as remote employees in one state for a company in a different state and *that* having some legal implications. I can only imagine it’s worse when you’re talking international borders.

      1. The Supreme Troll*

        I just learned a lot about this from several of the other commenters. And, yes, unfortunately, a lot of the points that Sarah is making above are indeed the concerns of the boss.

    3. Purplesaurus*

      I agree with your second point, but the others are valid concerns that I think OP needs to think through and talk about with her boss.

    4. Liane*

      Actually, a lot of things about how/where you do remote work are your employer’s business.
      Childcare: You still have to hire someone, and will lose WFH if you don’t
      Home office: many companies have rules about internet service, private office space, lock on doors, etc. And may have to send pictures to prove it
      Computer: I couldn’t use my company provided desktop for anything else and had to be available on IM
      Residency: in the US, companies have to follow your home state’s employment laws for WFH employees, so often only hire people who live in a handful of states.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      The last condition does give us the modern problem of the person occupying a table in a coffee shop for 9 hours because “I need high-speed wifi to work! Don’t you people get that?!!!” like this is a concern of the people running the coffee shop, or the customer who just want to sit down to eat their muffin.

    6. I'll say it*

      THIS IS A PERFECT RESPONSE!! I’m a remote worker and you’re spot on. I’m not responsible for anyone being jealous of my job for any reason, and I don’t have a leg to stand on if I’m jealous of someone else. Remote employees always are seen to have it great – it’s not all sunshine and roses. No one cleans our offices. There’s no stocked fridge. I can’t just say “printer’s not working” to an office manager and have it be taken care of.

      I was so stoked to see this reply after so many “I mean, I’m not saying I don’t believe the OP, but…” – because that seems awfully incongruous to many other issues where we’d all give the worker the benefit of the doubt.

      1. the gold digger*

        When I work in the office, there is no stocked fridge and I don’t think much cleaning ever happens. :)

        Working at home today – ten feet from the fully-stocked fridge and two feet from Cat 1.

        1. I'll say it*

          Which brings us to our next point: clearly, not all jobs are the same, not all offices are the same, and not all remote workers are the same. Everyone’s making quite a bit of assumptions here. If my boss tried to tell me any of the things that OP said…well…I’m not sure what I would do because it would never, ever happen.

        2. Sarianna*

          I’m in the office and two feet from Cat6… but then I never could resist the purrfect opportunity for a pun. ;)

    7. Allison*

      Have a baby, can confirm that the 3-5 broken hours of sleep I’m getting are probably much worse for my job than OPs time zone change.

    8. Engineer Girl*

      Your response shows a lack of understanding of how business law works. If you work for yourself then it’s all on you. If you work for another then they too can be fined and lose business if they unknowingly violate tax and security issues. All because you failed to disclose your work location.
      In short there are Visa issues, tax issues, security issues, export control issues that must all be negotiated PRIOR to international travel.
      It is very much the business of the company and boss.

      1. Mela*

        That may be all well and true, but the point we’re trying to make is that there are many, many companies which don’t care about these kinds of things, or they don’t apply.
        -Visa issues are never the responsibility of the company (no liability, it’s all on the worker)
        -Tax issues can only be the responsibility of the employer if it’s domestic/state-to-state (Australia can’t force a US company to pay the taxes for an employee working there)
        -Security/export issues may be completely not applicable within the company or entire field, or only applicable to the countries the worker chooses to be in

        The boss in this letter was asked what the problems were. He *specifically* cites potential tiredness, coworker jealousy, and concerns with wifi. Some commenters are explaining why that’s BS, and others are explaining to the OP that she is Unreasonable and should just give up because Reasons, none of which were even mentioned in the letter.

        Why are we all jumping to assume there must be these super complicated legal and security issues? If I were the boss, why on earth would I cite jealousy (?!) but not mention security or taxes? I thought we took letter writers at their word here…

        1. YRH*

          In the US, companies can get in big trouble and face hefty fines if they hire employees without proper work authorization.

          Working internationally without a work visa for the country in which you are working can also be a big problem depending on the laws of that country. I have no idea if that is what the employer this thinking about here, but that is something to consider.

        2. Tax Nerd*

          Visa issues can very much be the company’s problem. I’ve had clients who were more or less locked out of certain countries in South America after too many employees bopped into the country too many times on a tourist visa when they were actually working and got caught. The company wasn’t allowed to get work visas to there, and were frozen out of bidding for government contracts there.

  15. Evans*

    OP 1 if you are working at a school it is most likely covered by the Privacy Act and what they are doing by talking to your parents would be in breach of that. As a school they should know that. If asking them up front to stop doesn’t work you could make a complaint to the commissioner (it’s free) More info

    Hopefully a quiet word to your boss should help (you can check the info at the privacy commissioner’s website above first). it might also be worth speaking to your parents and asking them to shut down any church conversations with the boss and ask them to direct him back to you.

  16. The ReFa*

    #2. This might be a tax issue. For some years I lived in Germany and worked in Luxembourg. I had to be very careful when working from home because after a certain number of hours per year (it was not much) the German tax authority considered me a domestic worker and I had to pay income taxes in Germany. The same would have applied for the company which would need to pay social security …

    There was also an issue with some customer data that could not easily leave the country. It was nothing shady but simply expectation by the customers.

    1. The ReFa*

      Sorry, I just noticed that Knitting Cat Lady made the same point (data export) above in more detail

    2. sap*

      The U.S. doesn’t have the same types of customer data protection laws; OP wouldn’t have to worry about anything like, for example, BDSG if their employer is in the U.S., which I think they probably are if this spooked by remote work because being in another country requires an exhausting trip in their mind. But the other stuff for sure.

  17. Frizz*

    Hi 1# OP, I’m not sure if the school you work for also employs their school students to clean (I have worked in Aussie Christian schools who do this and find it bizarre, but it seems to kind of work), but if they do, that might also be part of the problem as the school might be addressing management performance issues with parents of the underaged kids.

    Or, maybe it’s that your leadership team don’t see you often enough to talk about this and can’t be bothered contacting you via phone or email. There have been plenty of nights I haven’t seen the cleaners but I know they’ve been in.

  18. Lars the Real Girl*

    #4 – as someone who’s done both payroll and HR in an open-office setting: locking cabinets and privacy filters on your monitors. Those 2 things really do mitigate most “privacy” issues. Bonus points for a desk that faces out with nothing behind you so people can’t sneak up on you.

    As for employees needing to talk – there are many solutions to that from going to currently empty office or meeting room, to going outside or to your building lobby or somewhere else away from the office. I know it seems like there’s NO WAY HR can sit in an open office, but it really can be worked out.

    1. Immy*

      I would also think that while the office would be ideal with the measures you mentioned some arrangement like priority on conference rooms or one day a week with ‘office hours’ in a conference room for privacy might be an arrangement that could work. Especially as with such a shortage of space described I’d imagine there won’t be a plethora of empty offices OP could just grab if she needed to.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      I sit next to some HR folks at work and I’m constantly overhearing sensitive phone calls with/about our employees who work in other locations. It’s so uncomfortable. I don’t need to know about this person’s wage garnishment!

  19. ZucchiniBikini*

    Yeah, for #2, I would think there might be concerns around data security, tax, export law etc.

    I’m a freelancer in Australia and I work for tertiary education and government clients. All my contracts specify that my work must be performed within Australia and that I am not permitted to take any of their documents offshore. They do not care in the slightest – and nor should they – if I am doing my work in my home office in the city of Melbourne, where I live, or working on it while visiting friends in a beach resort three states away. They very much WOULD care if I took the work with me next year when I’ll be travelling in Japan for six weeks.

    I appreciate the situation isn’t exactly analogous, as I am not an employee and am project-based (and bill for days / time worked, rather than having a default expectation that I am available 5 standard days a week). Nonetheless, AFAIK, the restriction is pretty standard here for employees and freelancers alike. (The exception is where people travel for work purposes, of course, but even there, people are given pretty stringent requirements about how they should handle government documents while away).

    1. Mela*

      But you were told all this in advance, no? Presumably, if there were security issues at play, the OP would have heard about them prior to this too.

  20. Bunny*

    #5: I was an administrative assistant when I first started my job, and one of my duties was assisting with payroll processing – I’d approve the timesheets of all my hourly co-workers with the exception of my supervisor (would was also hourly staff), and a full-time staff member would process mine and my supervisor’s timesheets. I saw everyone’s hourly rate, even my supervisor’s. It was just part of the job.

    1. Zathras*

      I think people may also underestimate how exciting their payroll info is to other people. There are nosy people in every job but I’m guessing most people who do this work don’t actually think about other people’s salaries that much.

      I think it’s similar to how I used to think cashiers were silently judging my purchases all the time. Then I worked as a cashier, and realized that I barely noticed what people were buying, I was busy with the logistics of hangers, security tags, and which size bag it would all fit in.

      1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        Yes, exactly. I do payroll and I couldn’t name the salary for anyone unless I specifically looked it up. Just like I couldn’t tell you who has their wages garnished or how much Jane has taken out for child support. It’s just numbers. As long as things are in balance, then I process and go on to the next task.

        1. tigerlily*

          I can tell you all of those things about each employee I do payroll for, that’s just how my brain works. But yeah, I may KNOW all that information, but I certainly don’t find it interesting.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I imagine it’s like a job where you need to see people physically naked a lot, and it soon becomes just a human-shaped object you need to work around while replenishing the towels at the public baths.

      3. Blue Anne*

        Yeah. I can say, as someone doing a whole lot of payroll and personal taxes, the only time I’ve ever found someone’s information interesting enough to comment on it to another payroll colleague was when I processed stuff for a guy making so much money that at first I mistook his tax withholding for his salary, and still thought he was doing really, really well.

      4. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I work on stock-based compensation and the only time I really “notice” what any specific person is making is the CEO because he gets an absurd amount lol and we have slightly different rules we apply to his information. I really don’t pay any attention to the thousands of other lines of data. It’s just data.

      5. kittymommy*

        Yep, I have found that in most of my jobs dealing with confidential information period vastly overestimate how interesting they are. I remember telling a coworker, who was going on and on about something and how their were conspiracies at work and that meet having knowledge of some private information on him meant that I might be involved. I looked at him and did that as much as I liked him as a coworker and friend he was simply not that relevant enough for me to extend that level of energy.

      6. NW Mossy*

        This, 1000%. I used to be responsible for the administration of one of my employer’s benefit plans and was able to see a lot of confidential pay data. It was interesting for about ten minutes, and after that, it was all just numbers in spreadsheets to me.

  21. AdAgencyChick*

    #4, I think you can ask, but you’re probably not going to get, if office space is that tight. I would also ask, “Given the often confidential nature of HR work, how does that work with an open office?” And ask for specifics, so you don’t just get an “It works just fine!” answer. What do HR employees do when they need to speak to an employee privately? What do they do when they need to process an employee’s termination? etc.

    My office has HR at desks too. They are in a somewhat isolated area of the office, so people in other job functions would have to go looking for them if they wanted to snoop, but it’s possible. They also have one office designated as belonging to HR. I’ve never actually seen a meeting happen in there, but I assume if I ever got a meeting request for a meeting in that room, it would be because I was about to be reprimanded or fired!

    Anyway, in your shoes I’d want to find out whether the HR employees who are already there have devised *effective* workarounds for the lack of enclosed spaces.

  22. AlwhoisthatAl*

    #2 I may have not understood this bit: “he decided I am not allowed to work while travelling and I must take my entire time away as vacation days. ” but you’re still employed by that company and you’re doing the trip for them, isn’t it all paid employment ? Are you really saying this company when say sending you to the UK for a week insist you fly on the Monday so you have to take holiday for that day, work until Friday and fly back Friday which you have to take as holiday ? That’s insane. All the international travel I have done all counts as work, I used to get extra days off if the travel extended over a weekend.

    #5 Why do some people not want other staff to know what they are earning anyway ? The only reasons I can think of is that you feel you earn too much, or feel it will be used against you by co-workers. Do these people when paying for their groceries at a supermarket till ask the cashier not to say how much the bill is because no-one else should know how much they have spent ?
    And the pay inequality and payroll theft issues are surely so much more important.

    1. Jeanne*

      You misunderstood #2. The travel is not for work. OP has a work from home job. What OP wants to do is vacation/travel in another country for fun but do her job remotely while on her vacation.

    2. Colette*

      This isn’t business travel, and the OP doesn’t want to take vacation days, presumably because she wants to be gone longer than she could be if she had to take time off. So her plan is, for example, to travel on Saturday and then stay there, working normally, for a month before moving on to another location.

    3. Brandy*

      Because its my business. I dont tell everyone how much my bills are, nor how much i have in the accounts, nor 401k, etc. Its my privacy right. How would you feel if your co-worker had your stub out, staring at it?

      None of their business. Especially in the private sector.

      1. Soon to be former fed*

        In the public sector, actual pay stubs are private also. They are typically electronic and require logon credentials to access.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Well, there is no actual, legal privacy right when it comes to your salary.
        As for the other info (your tax withholdings, ss#, etc)- in order to get paid, people have to be able to do payroll. So it just seems odd to me to be upset that a couple people are being trained how to do it. It’s how you get paid – you need people in the company to know how it’s done. In the OP’s case, there is one person who knows how to pay people – if he gets sick, then OP won’t get paid. That’s so obviously a poor business practice, and I would have thought OP would be happy to know the company is cross-training, so that her ability to get paid doesn’t depend on whether the single payroll person has the flu or not.

      3. nonymous*

        Brandy – I think you may be confusing payroll privacy (which I advocate) and earnings transparency. In the latter, the only number that is made public is the gross earnings.

        No one sees 401K contributions or sees the stub. And there’s a lot of personal info on a stub that should not be shared beyond $$.

    4. Tyche*

      #2 She is not going on a trip for the company. She works remotely and she likes to travel.

    5. Chocolate lover*

      I don’t think the international travel is assigned by the company, OP chose the travel personally. Not a work trip.

    6. Allie Oops*

      I really don’t see the difference between salary and any other information people want to keep private. I also don’t want my coworkers to know about my medical problems or my sex life.

  23. misspiggy*

    Are some of the comments on OP#2 coming from a culture where it’s normal to work on vacation? Otherwise I can’t understand how OP’s situation could possibly be confused with a holiday.

    I work from all over the world, often doing work for one client while on downtime during a trip for another. This is totally normal in many lines of work, and it was the case for internal clients when I was an employee rather than a freelancer.

    1. Purplesaurus*

      I think if OP were in a situation where this is the norm for her role, then the boss wouldn’t be so put off by it. I think it’s more an issue of different expectations, and possibly OP ended up in the wrong job.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it helps to picture the OP having a spouse who regularly needs to travel to remote locations for their job. If spouse is going to be in Vietnam for a month, and you don’t have kids or pets and can stay in the hotel with them for free, why not go and explore Vietnam on your downtime? You see the country in a very different way on a long stay in one spot, even if you work 40 hr/wk during that time.

      1. Tyche*

        As someone explained in the comments above, it depends: most companies don’t allow working from outside the US for security and privacy motives. Then it depends in what country you are travelling: some countries are very strict about *why* you are visiting. You’ll need a different Visa if you are there for work or for pleasure: if you are already travelling for work it doesn’t matter for who you work, but you can have a lot of problems if you have an holiday visa and then you work.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I think these are two separate families of problems: The “what about the legal aspects” is a strong and potentially clinching argument, but not one her boss is obviously making. The “what if you are not actually available, even though you say you will be?” is the sort of argument that can be strong after one negative experience, but weaker if you haven’t even let it have a trial run and are going back on an earlier agreement to boot.

          (For the first, I freelance, and no one knows where I physically am while I do it. If we didn’t have kids and pets and I accompanied my husband on a trip I would say “tourism” on the visa app and not get into what specific things I might type while on vacation.)

        2. Mela*

          None of these reasons were cited by the boss, who specifically said no because of coworker jealousy, tiredness, and wifi issues. If “most companies don’t allow working from outside the US for security and privacy motives,” was the reason at play, the boss would have just said so.

  24. peppermint*

    #2 –
    At my Fortune 500 company, we just instituted a policy that anybody who wants to telecommute across country borders must check first with a specialized team. That team can determine if there will be problems with work visa authorization, with a tax presence/taxes owed (both for the company and for the individual employee), and other assorted issues. There were some rumblings of dissatisfaction from employees, especially since the company also has a policy of general work flexibility. However, it was explained that keeping the company in legal compliance across countries trumps the general desire to give flexibility. (not all cross-country work is a problem – but you need somebody with specialized knowledge to make that determination based on specific country, duration of work, type of work, citizenship, if the company has a tax entity in the country, etc).

  25. Agnes*

    It’s worth remembering that not talking about salaries is very ingrained in American culture, but it’s not universal. It’s not somehow inherently human that this is not something we talk about. When I lived in Poland, it was common to ask and talk about how much people made (this was shortly after Communism fell, and some of the interest was just that before that there hadn’t really been any variation). As an American, this felt extremely awkward and intrusive and personal, but it simply wasn’t rude there, any more than asking what someone did at their job would be rude.

    1. Myrin*

      I’m glad you said this because what I wanted to say is similar and now I can neatly pair my comment with yours!

      I’m thinking that a lot of the “It’s not anyone’s business how much I make!”-thinking is something people are trained to do culturally. I can’t actually think of any negative outcome to salaries being public but I can think of four or five extremely positive ones from the top of my head. Which is further supported by my observation that people who are vehemently against it are usually very digging-my-heels-in-y about it and just repeat “It’s nobody’s business” over and over again without actually explaining why they feel this way; I would generally guess that the answer to that is “because they learned that that’s the case when they were younger and observed others becoming indignant when talking about money”.

      It’s like how whenever the topic comes to age here on AAM, the majority (= American readers) will usually say that it’s not their employer’s business how old they are; it can become pretty emotional. However, my country’s norm is to list your date of birth on your CV so everyone involved in hiring will know how old you are from the get-go. And that’s completely normal here. It’s not even something where people go “Damn, I sure wish I didn’t have to list my DOB but I’ll do it anyway because it’s the norm”, no, it’s a complete no-brainer. It’s just what you do. Same with attaching a photo to your CV. Completely normal.

      One can certainly argue that both of these things open the door for potential problems (something I agree with) but it’s still a normal part of hiring/working and people don’t generally bat an eye at it whereas this must be an absolute horror show for an American. And I feel like the talking about pay thing works the same way and people can be culturally drilled to either see it as a huge deal or to not even think twice about it at all.

      1. nonymous*

        To address your question of “why keep it a secret?” I wonder if it’s reflective of accepting a status quo where staff aren’t paid fairly across the board? Like if I know that the people who are better negotiators than I (or male, or a specific skin color) will get more pay for the same job, isn’t it easier for me to get through my day by just not talking about it? It’s not fair, it stinks, but at the end of it all I need a paycheck to put a roof over my head.

        And who knows? maybe in my next job *I’ll* be the one who makes extra $$ because of my negotiation skills/gender/skin color. Kind of like how people vote against their interests for the benefit of the wealthy – ’cause one day we’ll be in that club. right?

      2. Katelyn*

        to be fair the not putting on a DoB or photo is about reducing unconscious bias and blatant discrimination (age, gender, race). Which in some countries may not be as big an issue, but in North America is totally something that has been shown to happen, and excluding that information has improved the diversity in individuals being hired. For example, the number of female instrumentalists hired into professional orchestras went up a ridiculous amount as soon as the auditions were “blind”. (all links are long but google “orchestra blind auditions improve diversity” for more info on these studies)

        1. Myrin*

          I know, which is why I said that I agree with the practice opening doors to problems, it was just the first thing that popped into my head as something that is viewed as normal here and absolutely not normal in other places.

    2. Princess Carolyn*

      This taboo also tends to vary from one class to another. In my experience, those who grew up relatively well off are conditioned to avoid talking about money, especially in specifics. Whereas I grew up working class and it was common to talk about how much money you make or how much you paid for something. Even today, it’s my biggest “tell” when I’m trying to blend in with my upper-middle class friends. They think I talk too much and too specifically about money.

      With salary, keeping that a secret only helps the people who are (potentially) underpaying you. Transparency is a powerful tool for fighting pay disparities.

  26. Zathras*

    #5, other people in the company need to know how much you get paid so that the company can pay you. It doesn’t happen all by itself! It needs to be more than one person, because you still need to get paid if the accountant quits without notice, or ends up in the hospital, or whatever.

    (For what it’s worth, I agree with other commenters that salary transparency is a good thing and am happy to share what I make when they ask, but that’s actually a separate discussion.)

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. This is how cross training works. If no one else knows how to run payroll and the accountant isn’t there, then payroll is either late or not run at all and no one gets paid.

      I get that OP is uncomfortable with this, as I used to feel this way, too. But I realized that the people who process payroll are expected to maintain confidentiality. Sure, we can never know if they are truly keeping things confidential, but I think it’s reasonable to trust that they are.

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        And this applies to the regular payroll people too. They are expected to keep the personal information confidential but you can never be 100% certain that they actually do. We just presume it. If new people learn to do payroll stuff then presumably the person training them will tell about the confidentiality just the same way as the regular payroll people have learned it from someone.

  27. always in email jail*

    I’m certainly not an attorney, but I do know that for my agency, we have to fill out a “site assessment form” for anywhere we want to work remotely, outlining if there’s tripping hazards, boxes stacked up, etc. to ensure it’s safe. This is because, at least in my state apparently, if I’m working at home at trip on my computer cord and hit my head, I could submit a workers comp claim (though I’m sure it wouldn’t go through since I’ve filled out a form stating that all cords are safely secured in my alternate work location). If you’re traveling to a potentially unsafe country, would they have to pay out double the life insurance if something happened to you during work hours since you were killed “at work”?

    Outside of legal concerns, I’m honestly torn on this one. I see both sides of the argument. I see why it shouldn’t matter where you’re working as long as you’re getting the work done and are accessible during all work hours, but I would also have some reservations as a manager if I was confronted with this situation, primarily because it would be so far outside of the norm in my agency that I would be concerned about being the manager who “okayed” it without extensive talks with HR and possibly legal.

  28. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    #5 – Trust me that you want someone to be cross trained on payroll. In a small company, it is nearly impossible to afford two people that do payroll all the time and it isn’t something that can be learned overnight. Having people cross-trained and ready to go in the event that something happens to the person that normally does it makes it so everyone can still get a paycheck. You’d be amazed at how often one person knows how to do payroll because of “confidentiality”. I’ve worked for companies with as many as 3000 people where only one person knew how to process payroll. It would have been a nightmare if anything had happened to her before they finally figured out a way for her to have a backup.

    1. JaneB*

      You surely want someone cross-trained! My sister worked for a smallish company where she was the only one who could do payroll, and when her baby arrived very prematurely, she ended up having to go to work just to do payroll even though she was on leave because cover wasn’t in place, and both she and her husband who worked for the company, as well as the other employees, needed to be paid – it caused enough chaos the one payday when she was actually in the hospital wired up to things…

      1. Natalie*

        Yep, I’m the only accounting person at a small company and was anticipating having to time my honeymoon very carefully as my payroll backup was leaving and not being replaced (long story). It turned out okay, but they’re going to have a problem if I die/flee suddenly.

        1. JennyFair*

          I love that ‘fleeing suddenly’ is on your list of possible things to do. I frequently begin giving information to my boss with “in case I get hit by a bus,” but I may have to switch to, “in case I flee suddenly.” (Of course, when I say this, he always thinks I mean I might leave him anyway)

  29. Observer*

    #4 – please point out that when it’s data or paperwork, it’s still possible to keep things confidential even without an office. But when it’s conversations, it’s almost impossible.

  30. Observer*

    #5 – There are two choices here. Either someone other than the accountant sees that data, or you WILL have delayed payrolls. And, even if you are ok with the latter, most people are not – and it’s illegal in the US.

    Also, why would it be illegal for your boss to cross train people to handle payroll? Or to allow who ever to see the data?

  31. Rhodoferax*

    I wouldn’t be surprised if OP1’s boss also thinks it’s ridiculous to call their parents, but does it anyway because of some nonsense about millennials.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Or just small-town nonsense. When I was in college, I worked for part of a summer with a friend of my stepmother’s. Apparently, I wasn’t allowed to use the office wi-fi (which wasn’t password protected, so how was I to know?) Instead of telling me, she told my stepmother, who proceeded to yell at me about how I could have lost my job for messing about like that (on my lunch break, mind) and on and on and on. It was a horrible workplace (they were also birthers) in a horrible town filled with horrible people.

  32. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    #2 – Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but why tell your boss that you are traveling if you are going to keep the same hours? When I worked remotely, it’s not like my boss checked to be sure that I was at my house. As long as I was signed on and working, that was all that mattered.

        1. LizM*

          Other commenters have covered it – there may be visa restrictions, tax implications, privacy and information security concerns, risk to intellectual property, etc.

  33. Sydney*

    $5 a week? I don’t spend that much on my own entertainment let alone contributing to the office. That’s a lot! I would just say you are watching your expenses.

  34. Rusty Shackelford*

    #1 – In addition to what Alison says, I’d be careful not to act on any information passed on through your parents. It’s not going to help your case if your boss’s behavior continues to be fruitful. When he asks why you didn’t do X, you can politely say “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware you wanted me to do X.” (And hopefully you can convince your parents, when he asks why you didn’t do X, to say “We don’t know; why don’t you ask HER?)

  35. Elizabeth West*

    #3–Oh my God STAWWWWP asking your office mates for money. Just. Stop. It.

    #2–I did this once; on my second trip in less than a year to the UK, I volunteered to work from London so my boss didn’t have to cover me again. I made sure to be online when everybody else was, in case they needed to talk to me. With a six-hour time difference, that meant I was out doing my research and fun stuff and then working from 6 to 11 or 12 at night. It went very well but made for some really looooong days.

    I did not work at all the previous trip (nearly three weeks), and it was GLORIOUS. For the first time in years, I came back from a vacation actually relaxed. I imagine your boss wants you to have some actual time off to rest, OP.

  36. Hiring Mgr*

    As far as salaries being openly discussed or not, it’s true that in the US in most private sector environments it’s just one of those things that’s not talked about. For now anyway it’s just one of those cultural things In other cultures it’s also common to ask about family, kids, etc in interviews and other work related situations…. Don’t know if that’s better or worse or neither, just different.

    1. TootsNYC*

      It’s also heavily social–it’s awkward to have the disparities of income between differing professions being discussed in social settings. And, money in general is considered a crass thing to talk about at a social setting.

      (that’s not the same thing as calling someone up and having a one-on-one conversation about what rents are like in the neighborhood or what a given profession or position generally pays because you’re doing relevant research)

      There’s so much judgmentalism around money (“can you believe he’s paying that much for his mortgage?” “she makes a good salary; she could have gotten you a better wedding present”) that it’s best to just not have it as part of the social conversation.

      And in social settings, I agree with this, mostly.

  37. Electric Hedgehog*

    Traveling OP- do you work with sensitive information that might be EAR or ITAR controlled? Just accessing it in another country might be considered an export.

  38. ANONAnonanon*

    I’d like to second the comment about Non remote workers having a hard time with it. We have someone in our group who “works from home” . She also has two other jobs she works. (she is in sales) I know for a fact that she went out of town last week (FB pics) and did not use vacation time. As long as she is here for our Monday meeting and answers her phone, she could be in Siberia. In the meantime, I need to use PTO if I have a doctor’s appointment. I have many aspects of my job that could be done from home but my boss won’t consider it.

    1. Stop That Goat*

      The difference is that she’s working and available. You aren’t while you are at the doctor’s appointment.

      It’s apples and oranges.

  39. Annoying Girl*

    #2 -A few things to consider I am in HR with a tech company that has over 100 offices globally. The issue with working remotely outside of your standard remote location is that each state/country has different rules regarding benefits,health care , overtime etc. For example what happens if the OP gets injured while working remotely in India on “vacation” is this workers compensation? Is the company obligated to medevac him back home? What if the OPs remote standard location is Utah but starts working in California for say a month to stay with his parents. Is the OP subject the the California overtime laws?

  40. I prefer tea*

    #1 – I work at the church I and my family attend. But if my boss or any of my co-workers – or any church members, for that matter, went to my family instead of me, I wouldn’t be happy. There’s obviously some blurred lines between work & church (I was once interrupted WHILE I WAS TEACHING Sunday School for a work-related reason), but this is a line you can draw. I think Alison’s script is perfect – both for you/your boss & your parents/your boss. If your supervisor knew your parents before you started working there, it’s probable they’re more comfortable talking to them rather than you. But you can help shift that with your conversations.

  41. Lora*

    The real reasons I can think of would be data privacy/security, tax requirements and visa regulations.

    From someone who has traveled quite a bit for work: it’s not nearly as fun as you think it will be, even if you are in a nice area. You really don’t go out during whatever your normal working hours would be, you maybe have time to go out to dinner, and you only get to do any fun stuff if you’re there for a weekend for some reason. I never got to go to Disney when I had conferences in Orlando, I didn’t get to party in New Orleans, I didn’t get to go to Oktoberfest in Germany, etc etc. There were some nice restaurants, and in Austin I went tequila tasting and to First Thursday. I went to a nice winery in Germany, but the rest of my free time was spent frantically searching for a comfortable chair in furniture stores and Ikea, because the conference room chairs we were using were downright sadistic in design and comfort.

    The most fun it really gets is the same amount of fun you have living in a big city, really: there’s nice restaurants and cultural events to do after work and museums and stuff to see on weekends. But that’s living anywhere interesting. I work in a city with lots of cool stuff to do, but I’m still at work all day and weekends are mostly spent doing laundry and vacuuming.

  42. Xay*

    #2 – As mentioned, there are a lot of legal and tax implications involved when someone works remotely from an international location. Aside from concerns about how you are using your time as work vs vacation, the tax problems might be enough for your boss to say no.

    #5 – I’ve worked in public and non-profit organizations most of my career, so I may be desensitized to the problem, but it doesn’t sound like the number of people who have access to payroll and pay scale information is that large or unnecessary. I agree with others that salaries (not paystubs with detailed information) or at least pay ranges/bands should be public for the sake of salary transparency – but I’ve had jobs where my salary was publicly searchable and I currently work for an org where pay scales by job classification are posted on the HR website. I don’t understand the idea that is a fundamental privacy violation to know how much people in a given position make – your salary doesn’t represent you as a person, it represents your role in the company and it is important to understand how the company has assigned a monetary value to specific roles. Frankly, it is also healthier to have a neutral place to find that information than relying on word of mouth or being sneaky.

    1. a Gen X manager*

      ” … your salary doesn’t represent you as a person, it represents your role in the company…”

      THIS ^^^^ is so true and so difficult to grasp (esp as an American)

  43. EA in CA*

    OP #4
    I am responsible for HR and payroll in a company with an open floor plan. Like you, I thought it was imperative that I have a private, secured office to work from. However, using what resources I have available to me, I have found a system that has made it work.

    My L shaped desk is positioned so that my back faces the corner and have angled my screens in such away that anyone walking by cannot view them clearly (tested it out myself to ensure that). Directly beside me is the secured storage room which only 3 people have access to, me, my boss and the accounting manager. We use Skype as our internal messaging system, so if people want to talk to me privately, we can easily coordinate a meeting in one of our conference rooms without bringing much attention to ourselves (I’m also the EA here and attend quite a few meetings). Been doing this system for a year and it has worked out quite well.

    If you get an offer and are not able to get an office, I would ask to tour the facility to see what other options will work.

  44. Princess Carolyn*

    Here’s the thing about all those potentially legitimate concerns OP’s boss may have about traveling: She should bring them up with OP! If there’s a security issue, a legal issue, a tax complication — that’s information OP should probably have! Without additional context, something like “You’re not allowed to work while you’re traveling; you have to use PTO” sounds like one of those declarations bad bosses make because that’s just How Things Should Be. Rules for rules’ sake.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yeah, that’s the issue. There are, as outlined extensively above, lots of really good reasons to not let the OP work internationally. But the reasons the boss chose to give are all pretty weak, which makes me think none of those legitimate reasons are really in play.

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        Well, there are people who don’t like to explain their reasons and just expect people to follow their orders, but this boss DID give reasons. They just weren’t the legal stuff. If there were legal reasons I suppose he would have said it, at least he ought to have said it. Also I don’t know exactly what kind of security issues would be a problem here, but the stuff OP does can’t be that secret as they work remotely all the time, quite possibly also in places where other people can see it. (In my current job my work computer can never leave one specific room where the blinds must be closed all the time. No remote working allowed for data security reasons.)

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yes, the boss gave reasons. But they were bad reasons. Others might get jealous? Does that mean the OP can’t ever get a raise, because others might get jealous.

    2. Jen*

      Although I don’t think boss actually has to have a “good” reason or open it up for debate with OP. She is free to set limits in work at home that she feels are necessary.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        True, but if there was an expectation on the OPs part that it would be a “work from anywhere” role, it’s certainly worth discussing

        1. Mela*

          Right, this would be one thing if OP was asking about this after a year or two working there. But she took the job, thinking this was okay because the boss said it was! This is a lifestyle she values and will probably leave soon if the boss doesn’t allow it or give actual, good reasons for the no.

    3. TootsNYC*

      It does come across a bit like “rules for rules sake,” but I can also see the boss saying, “It’s going to be too complicated to investigate all these tax and security aspects, so I don’t want to bring them up and have them become something we’re suddenly negotiating on.”

  45. Newbie*

    OP4- I had a similar situation to the one you’re describing. I took a position as a HR Admin at a small company only to find out on my first day that I had no office, only a desk in a very public room with six other employees crammed in. I had a single filing cabinet that did not lock and the way my desk was positioned, my computer was fully visible to anyone walking by. Thankfully the situation was temporary because a few months later, the office next to ours went out of business and we were able to expand, resulting in an office for me and locking file cabinets. I have to say that if this situation did not change, I probably would have not stayed in this role. I handle confidential things on the regular that it’s nice to know that there’s nobody glancing over my shoulder at my computer or listening in to my conversations. And it was especially a nice change to have a door that would close so I could meet with employees, other managers, and make confidential phone calls without having to scour the building to find an open space.

  46. nnn*

    A longer-term strategic messaging option for #2: once you have permission to work outside of the country (even if just on a trial basis), don’t call it “travelling”.

    For example, if you were working out of your childhood bedroom in your parents’ home, you wouldn’t say you’re travelling (even if you did have to travel to get there), you’d say “I’m staying with my parents.”

    If you’re working from the cottage, you wouldn’t say you’re travelling, you’d say “I’m at the cottage.”

    Extrapolate from that to whatever you’re doing. The word “travelling” implies movement (and therefore instability) and recreation. So, without actually lying to your employer or breaking policy, remove implications of instability or recreation from any communication about what you’re doing.

    1. Mela*

      Yea it sounds like it’s all about the boss’ perception on what she’ll be doing. We spent 6 weeks in an exciting-sounding country with 4 famous cities and beaches and rainforests…and all we did was stay in one city. Never saw anything else. People kept asking if we had been to City B or Beach C and we had to explain to them (over, and over, and over again) that we weren’t on a 6 week vacation, we were working and stayed put in the same office and apartment the entire time.

  47. Tax Nerd*

    #2: There are Reasons(tm) that your company may not want you working remotely in a foreign country.

    First, there may be immigration concerns because you are presumably going abroad without getting proper business visas, if needed, or even looking into whether you need one. Many countries, including the U.S., care about where a person is physically sitting each day that they work, rather than where the company is headquartered, or where payroll is. Going to a country for a few days for business meetings can be viewed differently than doing the regular/income-producing (to your company) part of your job. I got the inquisition when I left the UK, asking if I’d done any work, met with anyone for business purposes, etc. I’d just been there for a week sight-seeing, but I’d brought my laptop. Companies don’t like ending up in the newspaper because an employee was bopping across a border and working improperly.

    Second, if there isn’t a tax treaty with the country you’re visiting, or even if there is, you could be liable for income taxes in the country you’re visiting. It partly depends on who is ultimately bearing the costs for your salary, as well as how many days you are in the country, but some places (where there is no tax treaty, usually) will assert that you’re taxable from Day 1.

    Third, some countries will latch on to an employee in their country creating a “permanent establishment” for their company in that country, and thus subjecting the company to corporate income taxes in that country. This can get really bad, very quickly.

    Is checking your work email on your phone while in London for a few days going to be fatal? Maybe not. But conducting sales meetings while in Rio for a month? Maybe.

    I know that most people say “But I’m so low level/not paid THAT much”, and cross their fingers. But these laws were written with bigger fish in mind, and often without drawing any kind of line to exclude the smaller fish. If you were the CEO, and/or made $10 million a year – would the country you’re visiting care? Likely. Did they write a law that anyone below senior manager, or making less than $150K would be ignored? Probably not. You may be fine with taking those chances, but your company may not be fine with those risks.

    The excuses your boss gave you are kinda lame, but there are very good reasons that companies prohibit employees from just casually working abroad.

  48. Agile Phalanges*

    I was “only” in Accounts Payable when I was first tagged to be Payroll’s backup. At the time, there was only one payroll person, so she couldn’t take a vacation of even an entire week, and usually couldn’t take more than a day off in a row due to various reporting tasks that needed to get done, etc. (There’s more to payroll than just processing the checks each cycle!) My boss pulled me into his office, asked if I was willing to help with that, and then reminded me how important confidentiality was, and that there were other implications to seeing the sorts of information you see when processing payroll, not just salaries–things like who’s paying child support or other garnishments, who has a domestic partner vs. a spouse (at the time–this was before gay marriage was legal, and domestic partner benefits were taxed differently), etc. Hopefully OP’s company, and the people covering for the actual payroll person, take all of this as seriously as my company and I did.

    Also, keep in mind, it’s not just the people who process payroll who know salary information. Anyone who dives deep enough into budgeting (at either a department level or the whole company) sees it at various levels (some might just know the overall department budget/spending, but even then, if a person leaves or enters the company, the difference in salary from month to month will be obvious). Anyone with sufficient access to the ERP system, such as people from IT who help maintain it, will have access, and possibly have to use it to help run custom reports occasionally, etc. It’s not as hush-hush as you think it is, and most people with access aren’t surprised at the rough amounts most people make. You probably have a decent idea of who makes more and who makes less than you, after all, even if you don’t know the exact figures.

  49. Dankar*

    I do wonder how much of the aversion to sharing salary comes from age/seniority. In my experience, people who are younger (my age) and in entry-level positions have no issues sharing how much they make when asked, or talking over their salary/raises/cost of living/etc. Before I moved, I asked my server at lunch how much he paid in rent in the area and he was happy to oblige, as I would be to anyone who asked.

    For instance, my group of friends have 0 issues sharing our student loan balances or utility costs. I wonder if it’s because we were raised after the idea of “keeping family business private” became less important in US families, or if it’s because we came of age during such a depressed economy, or any number of other things. My partner’s father wouldn’t even share his salary with his children, which made filing a FAFSA difficult. It boggled my mind at the time.

    1. Dankar*

      I do want to mention that I’m sure there are some people my age that aren’t as open about these things, but it seems to me that they’re the exception now, rather than the norm.

    2. Statler von Waldorf*

      In my experience, it has less to do with age/senority and more to do with your social class. The lower the class the more acceptable it is to talk about money, whereas the higher you go in the upper classes the more talking about money is terrible gauche.

      1. Dankar*

        I suspect that’s part of it, but the few members of my social group who are in that multi-million tax bracket were willing to share that info anyway. Granted, their parents were the ones who earned that money (the children essentially work part-time jobs for the company or are stay-at-home) and the families weren’t “old money.”

        My partner’s family never quite attained middle class when he was young, and his parents’ aversion was the strongest I’ve ever encountered.

  50. Sarah*

    For OP3:

    For the drinking club, I love Alison’s advice to say you won’t be attending these events and thus won’t be contributing. Among other things, the amount of money involved is crazy ($260/person/year! What happens when this person loses track of the envelope with that much cash! Or heck, dies as in the case of a previous letter where someone was collecting funds for a coworker with a sick baby and then passed away — that was complicated enough, and it wasn’t for something as trivial as going out for drinks!)

    For the birthday thing, personally I would not choose to rock the boat on all of this at once. I would take the money when my birthday came, and then lock it in a desk drawer and dole out the cash in $5 increments each time another birthday came around. That way you’re not out any money, and you also get to look like a team player with fairly minimal fuss. I am assuming the money comes to you in $5 bills since that’s what others would be paying, but if not, you can always get it exchanged for a stack of fives at the bank — and since you’re only going to have to do that once a year, it seems like a small price to pay to stay involved in this weird office tradition. I agree it is totally dumb, but sometimes doing dumb stuff to placate our coworkers can make sense, and since this particular tradition is literally costing you zero money and minimal time, it seems like it does make sense to participate.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Right? I can’t get over the $260/year, too. What on earth. Whatever happened to just going out for a happy hour, everyone buying their own drinks, and everyone who doesn’t want to go out for drinks opting out? Why do people need a weekly collection for that?

      1. Sarah*

        I know! And if this is for quarterly outings, apparently they’re spending $65/person on these drinking events. That is a LOT of fancy cocktails — even at a really fancy cocktail bar, you’d have to be drinking multiple fancy drinks or taking shots of super-expensive alcohol to wrack up a bill like that on happy hour.

  51. Sometime Trailing Spouse*

    Re Letter #2
    My wife works in a job where she is posted abroad for 2-4 years at a stretch. Since I like my job, I asked my employer if I could work remotely from the abroad location, seven hours ahead of Eastern Time. We executed a remote working agreement for this case. I agreed to be accessible for certain hours, corresponding to morning and early afternoon back home. I would work the same number of hours per week. I had access to Wifi, a good cellphone plan for calling the office, as well as an unlimited Skype package to call my home country. I even managed to negotiate three return trips per year paid by my employer, of 2-4 weeks duration, so I wouldn’t lose touch with colleagues. I don’t know if I could have negotiated this agreement for a short period of time, like 3 weeks; that would have been considered vacation.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      I assume that you paid income taxes in the other country on the wages paid by your employer? Did your employer have any trouble setting up their side of the payroll taxes in the new country?

  52. a Gen X manager*

    OP5 – I feel your pain – I’m sensitive about this topic, too! I’d argue though that the two people selected for cross-training being “Neither are in supervisory roles, management, or HR” might be a GOOD sign. I suspect they may have been chosen for their character/integrity, rather than their official role. I hope this is the case – having the RIGHT PEOPLE handling personal information is far more important than to assign it to the someone just because their position might be the logical back-up. Payroll systems have so much non-public personal information that you should be just as concerned about identity theft, as you are about wages being exposed. Just something to consider –

  53. Nacho*

    Letter #1 reminds me of my kid brother. Apparently he was doing an incredibly poor job at his first job, helping out at the small vet we go to. He would pretty much skip half his duties because he didn’t think they were important, and they just had no clue how to handle him. Because he only really got the job because we’re friendly with the owners, they ended up calling my mother and asking for advice on how to deal with him.

    Iirc, he resigned after about two months.

  54. LizM*

    Although I’m sensitive to OP5’s concern (even though my salary is public information, payroll may include a lot of private info, including deductions and benefits), I don’t understand what the alternative is. Surely it’s unsustainable for one person to know how to pay everyone. What if, god forbid, she’s hit by a bus on the way to work? Or wins the lottery and quits on the spot?

  55. LizM*

    One thought to consider, depending on what type of work OP2 does, information loses some of it’s privacy protections at border crossings. Border Patrol may have the ability to search phones and laptops that would otherwise be considered confidential and private when they’re being brought back into the country. This has been an issue in some legal circles recently as attorneys look for ways to protect client information and attorney work product when coming into the United States (even if they are citizens or legal permanent residents). OP2 should ensure that confidential information taken overseas would be protected.

  56. Zip Zap*

    #1 – I’m just curious, is this legal? If it were in the US, would it be legal? What if it were a place of business unaffiliated with the rest of the family?

    I’m asking because similar things have happened to me. A boss gave feedback to my boyfriend instead of speaking to me directly. I didn’t like it. But it was in a small town where things like that seemed to be the norm.

  57. LizBee*

    Hey, OP1! I’m Australian, and I used to work as a cleaner!

    Alison’s script is great, but I also recommend checking out your local branch of the Australian Services Union. They can give advice even to non-members, and give you an outline of reasonable and appropriate behaviour to expect from an employer.

  58. Youngcleaner*

    Hi alison,

    Thanks for the response for #1. Really appreciate the answer and will approach my employer about this.

  59. curmudgeon*

    oh so true!
    I suck at negotiations, I don’t do them in my job & find them unbearable. My boss is an MBA trained CEO who negotiates all the time.
    Everything I asked for (pay bump, extra vaca days, comp time) was turned down because “it wouldn’t be fair” to the other staff (meanwhile she makes 4- 5 times what any other staffer makes!).
    I may not have been the best candidate, I was just the one desperate enough to still take the job.

    (and sure, I could move on, I was only unemployed for 10 months before I got this job, and have been job hunting since the day I took it, but seriously, it’s not like I have any money oto live on if I don’t have a nwe job to go to…)

  60. OP to #2*

    I am the OP of #2. I am a visual designer, meaning I “make websites pretty”. I do not deal with sensitive information.

    I worked a couple days while abroad and attended meetings. Even though I was working, I was still forced to take those days as vacation days, however I wanted to prove I could do it. I used to travel internationally often for work, where I would work a full day in the US office, get on a plane, land in London in the morning and go straight into the London office for a full day of wor and sightsee at night/on weekends.

    I have further spoken with my manager who said this is a company wide thing that working remotely is defined as working from a dedicated space, or as he put it, my house. He said nobody, so this does not apply to just me, is allowed to work anywhere except that “dedicated space”, meaning coffee shops, other family member’s homes, and domestic travel is also off limits. I explained in the hotel I still had a desk, excellent wifi, and quiet space as I was in my own room. But he said it’s not my “dedicated space”. He mentioned if I were to move abroad and set up an office, then it would be okay.

    This is crazy to me. The company is a Fortune 500 and many people are remote. I have been working hard for the month I have been with the company and have received a lot of praise and no criticisms, so I don’t assume this is related to my performance.

    I had confirmed prior to accepting the position it would be okay to work “in places like coffeeshops or a cabin in the woods” and was told it was. Now I’m being told it’s not, and I feel cheated.

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