employer wants us to help with loan fraud, offering to talk about salaries with coworkers, and more

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

1. Employer wants us to help with loan fraud

I thankfully work in a field that hasn’t been impacted by COVID, at least not yet. Some of our clients have, but this hasn’t been an issue regarding money coming into our business (yet). My boss went ahead and applied for the PPP loan and was granted the money. In order to have the loan forgiven, he has to spend X amount of dollars on the payroll. So in order to hit that amount, he decided to fabricate our hours so it looked like we were/are working overtime but we are really working our normal 40 hours a week. So the last couple of paychecks have been larger than they normally are, and my boss has told us that we need to save that money because once the loan runs out we will need to “pay back” the overtime amounts. Today he informed us that the way we are paying back the overtime money is that we will continue to work our normal 40 hours a week/ eight-hour days but we will only be paid for six hours/day until the overtime amounts are “paid back.”

This doesn’t seem legal or ethical to me. Frankly, we didn’t need the loan at all because we are still pulling in the same funds we were pre-COVID, and he didn’t use all the loan funds on the payroll but used us so he is getting free money.

Whoa, this is wildly illegal. It’s fraudulent, and it’s a violation of the terms of the loan. (It might also be a violation of your state’s wage and hour laws, but you’d need a lawyer to tell you for sure.)

You should not be involved in this fraud, and you and your coworkers should refuse to be part of it and strongly urge your boss to straighten this out so he’s not breaking the law. (Since he’s already paid you the fake overtime, he could either let you keep it or have you work fewer hours for a while to even it out.) Or you could just report him since he’s, you know, defrauding the government.

I’d also seriously reconsider if you want to continue working for someone who would do something so deliberately unethical. This isn’t “oh, I misunderstood the law.” This is “I am deliberately looking for a way to deceive the government in order to get money I am not entitled to, and I’m taking it from another business with a genuine and probably dire need for it, and I want you to participate in committing fraud with me.”

2. My manager and I get caught in conversational feedback loops

I’m a graduate student, so my “work” is writing a dissertation for my supervisor, “Ann.” We have a great relationship, but when we discuss something, say the structure of my next chapter, we both go on and on repeating the same idea to each other, as if to confirm we both get it. For example:

Ann: So if you structure the next chapter thematically rather than chronologically, it’ll allow you to bring out these really interesting resonances between book A and book B that you’ve been talking about.
Me: Yes, I’ve really wanted to dig into the relationship between book A and book B and I think that a thematic structure will allow me to do that.
Ann: Yeah, I think a thematic structure will be much stronger than a chronological structure.
Me: I definitely want to structure the chapter thematically–I’m excited about the themes of loneliness and connection that link book A and book B.

(Except more at length, and full of way more humanities jargon on both sides.)

I know that it’s my instinct to give a summary to make sure we’re on the same page, show that I understand what we’ve discussed, and indicate that we’re ready to move on. But apparently that’s her instinct too, and we get trapped in an endless loop of summary!

It’s harder right now because we’re on Zoom, so the sort of “nodding along” conversational feedback that I usually give is much harder. It’s also complicated because half the time I get a brand-new idea in the middle of the summary anyway.

I’d like to use our limited meeting time more efficiently, so do you have any suggestions for other ways I could signal “we’re clearly on the same page, what’s our next talking point?” — and hopefully actually confirm that we are on the same page — without creating an endless loop? Or is this just an inevitable artifact of a meeting between two talkative people who think out loud?

No, it’s not inevitable! You need to have phrases ready that signal “we agree, so we’re done with this piece” and will let you move things along. For example:

* “Okay, sounds good. And then I also wanted to ask you about…”
* “That makes sense. Can I also get your thoughts on…”
* “Great, I’ll move forward that way. Can I also get your thoughts on…”
* “It sounds like we’re on the same page then! Another thing I was thinking about was…”
* “Okay, that’s helpful, thank you! Can we also talk about…”

Right now the problem is that you’re not wrapping up the topic or moving to the next. Being more deliberate and explicit about both those things should solve it.

Read an update to this letter here

3. How can I offer to discuss my salary with coworkers?

I’m a New Zealand European man, and the murder of George Floyd has made me realize I need to do more to combat systemic racism and discrimination of all sorts.

I’m three years into my current role, but I have reason to suspect that my starting salary was significantly higher than some of the other people I started with. I did have more workplace experience that was indirectly relevant to the job, and I bargained for higher pay but if my suspicions are correct, those things wouldn’t sufficiently explain the difference.

I want to share my salary with colleagues so that everyone has a better understanding of how fairly they’re being compensated, and to help identify any problematic patterns that are likely to exist. I also don’t want to put anyone off — the New Zealand culture is particularly uncomfortable with money talk. Do you have any suggestions?

I can’t speak to New Zealand culture or norms and my answer will be heavily influenced by my own cultural norms (as all my answers are) but if you were asking me this question from here, I’d tell you this: Discomfort with talking about money always advantages the employer and disadvantages everyone else. Being willing to push past that discomfort and sharing salary info with your coworkers can help hugely in uncovering and addressing salary inequities.

You could say, “I have the sense we might have some salary inequities here, potentially along race or gender lines. Would it be useful to you to hear what I’m earning and where I started, as a way of seeing if there are disparities we should try to address?”

That might be way too direct (or otherwise off-base) for your culture! Adapt accordingly.

4. How can I see what I’ll have to sign as a new employee before I accept an offer?

Is there a tactful way to request contract terms prior to accepting a job offer and ideally prior to settling on a salary? Previously I have accepted roles on the basis of a offer letter and then on my first day (after I had left my previous job) I have been presented with a number of contracts as “new hire paperwork.” Sometimes these contracts have contained conditions like non-competes or other terms that would have been points for me to negotiate on, sometimes the terms are even things I would not have accepted otherwise. These terms are not optional; if I don’t sign them, I will be without a job. However, in the past I have gotten push-back to the question, “Before I accept an offer of employment, would it be possible to see any contracts, employee handbooks, etc. I would have to sign on my first day?” Frequently I hear, “We don’t share our employee handbook” even though I will be required to sign it and agree to the terms in it. Do you have a better way of obtaining the full picture about a job offer prior to accepting it?

Yeah, this is really frustrating. You absolutely should be able to see all the terms of your employment before you accept a job.

It’s true that a lot of employers won’t hand over their handbooks until you work there, claiming they’re confidential (which is ridiculous in this context). One option is to ask about specific policies that are important to you when you’e negotiating the offer — like, “Can you tell me whether you have a non-compete policy or XYZ?” A direct question like that will usually get you an answer on those specific things. But of course, you won’t always know what you might find objectionable until you see it, so that’s not a comprehensive solution.

Another option is to push back and see how they handle it. For example: “I’m really excited about this job and, from what I know so far, would love to come on board. Before I accept, I want to make sure that I understand the policies I’d be working under so nothing is a surprise later. I’d be glad to sign an agreement to keep it all confidential, of course.” If they balk, try, “It’s tough to accept an offer without knowing the full terms of the job — and it will give me a better understanding of the culture and how the organization operates.” (Try to say this to the manager, not HR, since managers often are less deferential to bureaucracy than HR is.)

If they won’t budge, you’ll have to decide what to do from there — but it’s a very reasonable request and more people should make it.

5. Should I follow up again?

I’m currently employed and am looking for new opportunities. Through job prospecting / research, I was able to get in touch with a sales director at a company I was interested in after I requested a case study on their website from my work email address.

The sales director reached out to find out more about me and the company I work for but I told him i was really just interested in learning more about his company, the work they do, etc., He thanked me for my transparency and sent the case study over for review.

A day or two later, I reached out from my personal email address explaining who I was, thanked him for sending the case study, and told him I was aware of an open position on the website and wanted to learn more. I sent him my resume and a little about myself but haven’t heard back.

Did I overstep my boundaries by reaching out to him directly? It’s a sales job so I was hoping my initiative and persistence might help my case. Should I follow up or just leave it alone? The job is still open on the website. Do I risk submitting my resume through there as well, or just chalk this whole thing up to a fail?

Don’t contact him again. You used a channel they’ve set up to find sales prospects, and tried to hijack it for job-hunting. It’s possible they don’t really care, but it’s also possible they found it annoying. Either way, you gave it a shot, they didn’t respond, and that’s your answer. Trying again would be overly pushy.

But you can certainly apply the way they ask you to — via the application process on their website.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 338 comments… read them below }

  1. ...*

    I can only speak for my company for #5 but doing that will get your resume automatically rejected, if they even see it. We get so many people who obtain our e-mail address by guessing trying to sell us stuff or get jobs most people just mass delete all this stuff.

    1. PNW Dweller*

      The other thing that is very likely happening is you are reaching someone who has no hiring authority. They set up a system for hiring, using it is your best bet. Circumventing it can be burdensome and/or annoying.

      1. ...*

        Exactly! And often if people were to respond to this email they would say “please follow the application on our site”

    2. AGD*

      There is so much bad advice out there about the supposed need for demonstrating things like “initiative and persistence,” via gimmicks and/or baffling circuitous paths. Especially unfortunate given that the best way of getting a job is to apply the way the company wants, but write the materials really really really well.

      1. T2*

        Initiative and persistence are vastly overrated. They can quickly morph into “doesn’t follow procedures and annoying.”

      2. Paulina*

        “Follows basic instructions” is a less talked-about but nevertheless critical job requirement.

    3. RussianInTexas*

      Partner’s company (a giant corporation) does this by default. You cannot reach out (by guessing/finding out) someone’s work e-mail. I mean you can, but it’s a huge no-no. The best result is that person will say “please apply via ******”. They are literally not allowed to accept resumes.

  2. nnn*

    #3: Do they have Glassdoor or something similar in New Zealand?

    If you’re struggling to start an in-person conversation (or even in addition to an in-person conversation) you could leave a Glassdoor review that includes your salary. Since you suspect your salary is significantly higher, this would normalize your higher salary in the eyes of your colleagues and future candidates, perhaps putting pressure on the employer to pay people more equitably.

    1. PX*

      Glassdoor really depends on if the company is big enough to have had other people report as well. Im pretty sure it requires a certain number of salaries for a given position before it will list it without a band so wide as to be unhelpful.

      1. ian*

        The other issue is that depending on your company, role, and salary, it might be pretty easy for management to trace back to you. That’s not necessarily a huge problem, but if you’re worried about management finding out that you’re discussing salary, that’s not necessarily the solution.

  3. charlotte*

    OP 3 , could you create some kind of google doc or shared document and send it around inviting people to share/look at it? Depending on how big/diverse your company is you could just ask that people share demographic info with their salary semi-anonymously. And you could start it off with yours to make people feel more comfortable.

    Obviously you’d have to think this through more, but the general idea of a written format might get around some of the awkwardness?

    1. Red lines with wine*

      There’s nothing anonymous about Google docs. It tracks all edits made by whom and when. So everyone would be able to see everyone’s inputs anyway.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        If you’re not logged in to google/gmail when you fill it out, it’d keep track of different people editing but they’d be labeled things like “anonymous aardvark” or “anonymous lion” etc. I don’t think there’d be an easy way to track back who was who if they didn’t identify themselves to each other.
        Depending on the size of the staff, listing the salary with title might be too personally identifying or listing the salary with demographic info but not title might make it not useful, but if you’re not logged in (and the doc’s security is set to “if you have the link you can access it and otherwise you can’t”) it should be relatively anonymous?

        1. Alice*

          Google docs default settings are not anonymous. Unless OP3 has time to go through an inservice to all staff interested in being a part of the conversation on logging out of the numerous Google accounts that one may have, knowing where to verify whether you are leaving traces, etc., this becomes a lot to ask for everyone involved. Imagine everyone figuring out to how to anonymize their data, and seeing that Sansa Jackson at X salary is the only one who’s name is listed for all to see on the document. Just horrible.

          Use something like Survey Monkey or Google/Microsoft forms. These platforms are not perfect, but their default settings are not trying to compromise your coworkers anonymity. It will help get the conversation started safely.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        Not if you’re not logged into a Google Account. If a Google doc has anonymous editing by link-sharing, you can edit the Google doc anonymously.

        However, I’d actually recommend doing this by Google Form or Microsoft Form instead. On both you can set it up you ask questions with the fields you want people to respond to. The data automatically goes into a spreadsheet anyway, and then you can lock the sheet so people can’t edit the content but *can* view it. Then you also won’t have issues wit people being accidentally logged into their Google account and adding data non-anonymously.

      3. J!*

        You could create a google form for submissions, though, which would route to a google sheet without having to be logged in to edit the sheet directly.

    2. Amy Sly*

      The issue with salary comparisons is making sure you’re also included relevant factors like prior experience, length of time in the job, and work duties.

      To take an extreme example, if all the lawyers are Caucasian and all the staff are Maori, then the pay disparity between the two isn’t based on salary discrimination. It’s based on who gets hired for what job, not how much they’re getting paid to do the same job. Both problems are based in racism, but sharing salary information between all the people doing the same work will not help the people who never get hired to do the work or the people doing less skilled work to make more money. Moreover, sharing salary information between people who do dramatically different kinds of work is unlikely to be useful, because the disparity is based on job function, not employee.

      I still think it’s a good idea to make this information public, because sunshine is a great disinfectant. Just keep in mind that “X makes $” information is only one dot in the larger pointillism painting.

      1. Nesprin*

        Mhrmm if all the staff are Maori and all the lawyers are caucasian you definitely have a racism problem.

          1. pancakes*

            “Can be” doesn’t mean “always are.” Seems weird to argue about whether a hypothetical example of racism is indeed about racism.

            1. Amy Sly*

              The point of my hypothetical was to show that a business having equal salaries for equal work with could still be racist if who got to do that work was divided on racist lines. Thus, one can’t rely on salary data without other data points to make determinations about racism or how to solve it. e.g. The solution to the racial pay disparity in a case of all Caucasian lawyers and all Maori staff, to continue with my previous example, isn’t to pay the lawyers below market wage and the staff above market wage, but to hire Maori lawyers and Caucasian staff.

              1. JustaTech*

                Yeah, we’ve got that problem at one of my company’s sites – the vast majority of senior staff and managers are white, and the vast majority of associates are Black. Anyone with eyeballs can see the promotion disparity.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  Yeah. Granted, linking job descriptions to exterior characteristics is easier than linking salaries to them, so bigotry in hiring and promotions is often easier to spot than bigotry in salary. But disparities in hiring can be due to disparities in the applicant pool; granted, the help wanted ads in a newspaper are hardly the way things are done anymore, but different newspapers would attract different responses.

                  Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country, and the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
                  Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
                  Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

              2. Cercis*

                Or along gender lines. In my industry, it’s common for women to be shunted to lower paying jobs (with the promise that if they work hard, they can get commission that will end up paying them more than the jobs they applied for, but it rarely works out that they get the high commission paying work). But they say “well, this is what the job pays” and express utter shock that maybe women would prefer to be in production rather than sales (“but, they can make so much more in sales than production if they just get a few good commissions …”) or say “well, she is better at sales than our other employees, so this is where we need her” and ignore that she’s making less than the other employees (because, you know, “commission”).

              3. TardyTardis*

                Yes to this. In my old company, all the top people were white males, the middle people were half and half white male vs. women/POC , and almost all the bottom people were women/POC in the office section. Production people were almost all white men, though with some POC men and the occasional woman in certain plants.

      2. pancakes*

        The ones I’ve seen, e.g. the Condé Nast one, do track several other important data points besides salary.

    3. Matilda Jefferies*

      The Google doc is a great idea once the idea has been introduced, but it sounds like OP3 is looking for a way to open the conversation – what should he say *before* sending the doc around?

      I think with individuals, you could probably lead with something like what you’ve said here – you’ve become aware that there might be some salary disparities, and you’re open to sharing your salary if the other person thinks it would be helpful. Then leave the ball in their court, if they want to continue the conversation further.

      You could also connect with people outside your organization, through LinkedIn, professional associations, and so on. Again, make the offer and leave it out there, without putting pressure on anyone to respond.

    4. pancakes*

      I was going to suggest that he look on social media to see whether there’s already one circulating for his industry or his employer.

    5. JSPA*

      There are apps and programs for truly anonymous data sharing, but for this purpose, slips of paper in a jar also does what you need it to do (collect the range of salaries for the position).

      If the band turns out to be problematically wide, and OP is at the top edge as an outlier, it’s worth taking the conversation further (awkward or not).

      If the band is much narrower than OP fears, then the place to focus attention may be on the assigning of plumb projects, advancement opportunities, etc.

  4. Lilyp*

    #3 oh I know the feeling! I think at a certain point you just have to swallow the discomfort, screw your courage to the sticking point and get it out there. Things that may make it easier — starting with one or two people you already have a friendly relationship with in a casual context, naming a specific thing you saw or heard that made you suspicious there could be a salary differential at your company, giving a caveat that you know talking about money can be awkward. Also, in general people will follow emotional cues from others so if you can treat it like a normal thing to talk about and share that can set the tone of the conversation.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think this is a good idea. I also think that you can say to someone that you don’t expect them to tell you about their salary, if they are not comfortable doing so, but are happy to share information about yours if they feel it might be helpful – I think some people may be embarrassed or uncomfortable sharing their info, but still benefit from knowing what you are paid so they can take it into account.

      I think Lily is absolutely right that people will take their cue from you, so if you approach it in a very matter-of-fact way, they are much less likely to find it awkward than if you approach as if you expect to be deeply embarrassed!

    2. Dasein9*

      Lilyp and Bagpuss have really good advice. When a bunch of colleagues and I were in a position to negotiate for raises, we did speak with one another and we are all happy with what we got. One strategy I found helpful is to say outright that I was willing to share information with people whether they felt comfortable sharing information or not. This avoids any appearance of quid pro quo or clique building.

    3. Bookworm (also a librarian) (also a Canadian)*

      at my employer they consider salary to be confidential information and disclosing it is a terminatable offence.

      1. IL JimP*

        @Bookworm in the US that’s illegal, I would think Canada would have even higher standards than us have you checked?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          It appears to be illegal in Canada as of Jan 1 2019.

          You can read details if you google ‘pay transparency act passes’ and check out the Canada Employment Human Rights Law article, link in next comment.

        2. SK*

          I’m in Canada too and was also under the false assumption that this was illegal. Ontario only recently passed the Pay Transparency Act which make reprisals for sharing salary illegal… in 2019! (!!) And the Ontario government website says it is the first province to do so, though that may be referring to other parts of the Act (you now have to list salary range in job ads & cannot ask about pay history). So it looks like this is perfectly legal in probably most of the country, which is very surprising.

      2. Erika with a K*

        Ditto. Everyone I have worked for in Canada has had me sign something to that effect too. Plus, for a lot of jobs they give a pretty broad salary scale for each position/level, so you could easily have a 15k difference between two people sitting next to one another doing the same job…

        1. Essess*

          They can’t make you stick to a signed document if the agreement is for something that is illegal. So if you live in a province with the Pay Transparency Act, then the document you signed is null and void.

  5. Smith*

    New Zealand woman here. Yes, sharing would be great and not at all awkward if it’s framed as suggested here. Just be clear that you are offering the information without requiring to know your co-workers’ salaries.

    1. TL -*

      I lived in NZ for two years and my only suggestion would be maybe offering up in more sideways context, as in, “Yeah, I was talking to a mate in Wellington and she said she was making $30k/year; I’m making $50k so she was thinking she might want to move here to get paid more.”

    2. KimberlyR*

      American here but could you use what’s going on in America as the jumping off point? Would that work as a conversational opener? “The stuff going on in America regarding equality made me think of how I can be more cognizant of that in my life. I’ve suspected that I may be paid more than some of my peers and I am happy to share that information if anyone is interested, in the interest of transparency and equality.” Obviously, adjust the script to cultural norms and your own “voice” (I wouldn’t sound that formal in a conversation with my coworkers either) but it’s one way of introducing the conversation.

      1. Soyabean*

        I think there’s too much chance that could backfire into kneejerk anti-Americanism, or the belief that racism is a problem there but not here in NZ (which, it totally is, but the myth of egalitarianism holds strong). Also there’s a fatigue over US-centric news. But there are definitely NZ-relevant issues that could be picked up, like the recent armed police trial, and lots of good writing on the subject that can be used as a similar jumping-off point (“I was reading this article on The Spinoff…” etc).

        1. 2QS*

          Canadian here. We have the same problem, i.e. denying the racism that (undeniably) occurs here out of a smug conviction that unlike the U.S., we have managed a multicultural society that gets along. (Inaccurate. This is also a European colonial setup. So Canada has almost all the same problems and then some, and needs to learn to listen better to our BIPOC. Fortunately, the white folks are starting to realize that Indigenous perspectives are worth seeking out and reflecting on. It’s a beginning.)

      2. Lilyp*

        This is well-intentioned but I personally would find it a little off-putting. It would make me feel like a charity case somehow. I think the more you can treat it like sharing salary info is a normal nice-idea fairness practice and not a Heroic Response to Solving Racism in These Troubled Times the more comfortable it’ll be.

        1. Lilyp*

          To be clear, I think it’s good that current events are prompting you to take a look at ways you personally can act in your immediate social circle and inspiring you to change how you do business! But I think putting all that emotional context out there might just make things more awkward.

    3. KNZ*

      Another NZ woman chiming in. Please definitely do this. I know I appreciated it so much when my male colleagues did this, and yes, turns out I was the lowest paid of the 5 other people (all males) doing my work.

  6. fhqwhgads*

    #4, after reading A LOT of this website, when I was negotiating for my current job I asked for all of that stuff up front. I had a ton of anxiety about it worried they’d be unreasonable or I’d have to push, but I pushed through my angst and asked plainly and matter of factly and they just…sent it to me. NBD. Obviously not necessarily the case with all employers, but it can and does happen.

    1. Original Sally*

      In the past, when I have tried to find out information about benefits (which seems like an obvious thing you need to know about) before accepting a job offer, some employers were oddly reluctant. I had to really push them to get the information. I hope asking for the type of information the OP is requesting becomes more and more NBD. I just accepted a job and was filling out the new hire paperwork today, and I was thinking, “I hope there’s nothing in here that I object to because I have to agree to everything in order to keep the job.” I didn’t find anything objectionable, thank goodness.

  7. Rocky*

    LW 3, I’m also a New Zealand European woman. I think it might depend slightly on if you’re in the government or private sector? Government roles are very transparent about our salaries so it’s in no way a tapu subject. I agree with you that NZers tend to be very soft/indirect communicators…I have been here 19 years now so I think I’ve mastered it. I’m really glad you’re thinking about this. Although NZ is pretty progressive we certainly aren’t immune to racism and preferential hiring.

    1. MK*

      Not to derail, but what does “New Zealand European” mean? A born NewZealander who is descended from European immigrants or someone who comes from Eyrope and themsleves immigrated to New Zealand?

      1. Marmalade*

        The former, but Rocky says that they’re an immigrant (“I’ve been here 19 years”), so we can assume they come from a European country

      2. Not today*

        We have a variety of names with the same meaning.
        New Zealand European
        Pakeha ( Maori for Caucasian)
        New Zealander of primarily European descent

        It really depends on who is asking!!!

    2. Not today*

      Except that even in government, when I was working in positions with a collective agreement, many of my male colleagues were started on bands that were higher in the first place than those of my female colleagues. Women progress more slowly through “merit” bands than men, so in the end, men who have been working in the same position for 9 years are being paid substantially more than women who have been working in the same position for 9 years.

      The salaries paid out are openly available, but still not necessarily equal.

    3. Scarletb*

      Sooort of transparent, though I agree there is at least an indication :) I’m looking at an NZ Govt renumeration table right now and for the lowest salary band (for the unfamiliar: the thing which would be openly advertised with the role) as an example, there’s about a 10k difference between the lowest step and the highest step. And the top two steps in that lowest band are a higher salary than the bottom two steps in the next band up, so someone in band “1” MIGHT be paid more than someone in band “2”, in a role theoretically sized higher. The gap between lowest to highest step increases as the bands get higher.

      I would say that I don’t know what my colleagues are paid – I just know the band for their role. I think the very active union in the Govt sector might also make it easier to talk about salary, though.

      LW3, talking about it with your colleagues sounds a useful idea! Frankly, speaking as a born-here-NZ Pākehā, we’re uncomfortable talking about ALL kinds of things about which we should be better at talking, including the legacy of our own racist colonial past (and how the ongoing effects of that are still VERY much the present). There was also a Stuff column just today from Glenn McConnell talking about pay differences right at the end, so that might be a conversation starter.

    4. KNZ*

      The bands can be so wide though. I work in local government and the bands are a minimum 10k apart, which is not only a wide range but has a knock on effect over the years as typically pay rises are percentage increases.

  8. Gaia*

    OP 1, as a taxpayer helping to fund that program and as a relative of someone that desperately needed a loan for their business but didn’t get one and subsequently lost their business: screw your boss. He’s an unethical jerk and you are under zero obligation to help him be a terrible person (and criminal).

    I strongly suggest you set aside that unearned overtime pay and report him.

    1. Courtney*

      This was going to be my suggestion but it raises other issues – this boss might (rightfully!) lose the business. The boss shouldn’t have a business if this is how he operates, no questions. But I have concerns about an entire workplace losing their jobs during a pandemic with mass unemployment? I don’t know how it works in the US, and I don’t know if this is a realistic outcome, but it might be something which causes the OP some hesitation.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        I think it’s highly likely that if the authorities get wind of this fraud, the business will go under from the fines, if nothing else.

        The boss may well be in prison, too.

        1. Courtney*

          I know the Australian Taxation Office (our version of the IRS) is going to be doing some rather strict audits of companies to find out if this kind of fraud has been committed with our own COVID aids. So there is a chance this may come out no matter what. OP might be best off job hunting now, to try get ahead of it.

          1. Chinook*

            Ditto in Canada. The aid was set up quickoy knowing that there will be opportunity for fraud but erring on getting the money out and circulating. They are already pushing through laws for fines and jail time fo those who behaved fraudulently and do not doubt that audits will be done to help recoup the costs (as they should) with leewy for honest confusion and mistakes. Report your boss to a tip line.

            On another note, if someone is willing to commit this type of fraud so blatantly, who is to say that other funny business isn’t going on? I would be double checking my own pay slips and paperwork to make sure he hasn’t done this to me in the past as well as any regulatory, safety or compliance documents to see if he hasn’t done this elsewhere.

            Oh, and look for another job. Even if the company survives, do you want to work for someone who knowingly rips off the government, helping to increase your own taxes?

        2. MK*

          No idea about U.S. peonal law, but this sounds to me not like “you are getting in trouble with the IRS/whatever goverment department and fined”, but like “you are getting charged with a felony” situation, probably on top of fines, licenses revoked etc.

          1. Anononon*

            Often (always?) in the US, getting in trouble with the IRS is getting charged with a crime (for which the punishment includes fines and/or jail time). It can be a super serious crime. In fact, it’s how many mobsters ultimately got convicted – by tax fraud.

            1. Vina*

              Not my area of law, but, off the cuff, I’d say that what the boss has done is put the LW and coworkers in a position where they would be committing a conspiracy to commit fraud against the federal government, potentially multiple types of fraud.

              Even if it’s the boss who is 100% active partner on this and they aren’t a co-conspirator, they might still be an accomplice before and after the fact. The difference to me is whether the boss asks the to sign any PPW or take any actions.

              There are multiple ways this can go down. Make no mistake, the boss is asking LW to commit a federal crime.

              The feds do not play. The consequences in federal court are always more severe than in state.

              In LW’s situation, I’d be talking to an attorney and having that attorney accompany me to the local US Attorney’s office.

              This is deadly serious.

              I might, might, give the boss a one-time talk that this is criminal and could result in jail time. Even then, if he his judgment is bad enough to even suggest this, then it’s likely that a talk won’t help.

              LW – Do not do this. Do not ignore it. Don’t think “I know he’s planning it, but I’m not doing anything” is going to save you as a defense in federal court. It may, it may not. Depends on the crime and the prosecution.

              1. Triumphant Fox*

                Also, if you submitted this question from any account or machine associated with work…there is a trail that you knew about this ahead of time that can be easily traced if your work computer and all your accounts get searched during a federal investigation. It’s pretty easy to find unless you did a burner account on a separate machine.

              2. Wintermute*

                Given that what is very likely to happen is that there’s a change in presidential administration, and the incoming one is going to be forced by a combination of public outrage and personal moral outrage to order the DoJ to both go over every dime looking for the people who the administration was using this entire situation to funnel money to unethically, and instruct them to be ruthless in prosecution, you’re going to see a lot of highly motivated federal prosecutors who are going to make it hurt.

                I would hope, in the interests of justice, that they decline to prosecute people given a “play ball or be unemployed just as the economy tanks and your ability to be re-employed elsewhere plummets” ultimatum by a corrupt boss.

                But never, ever, bet your life and your freedom on what any given government bureaucrat may or may not do. The wheels of justice are called that for a reason, they grind along, and a lot of people who are not-really-that-guilty-but-did-a-bad-thing get ground up as they go.

                1. pancakes*

                  Mnuchin is not likely going to be able to keep $500 billion in spending secret regardless whether there’s a change in administration or not. For starters, the SBA loan applications are perfectly clear about applicant names and loan amounts being released via FOIA requests.

              3. leapingLemur*

                “they might still be an accomplice before and after the fact. ” This is what worries me.

            2. nona*

              Eh…you have to be in pretty big trouble (and fraud will usually do it) to have it reach criminal level. Messing up on the calculation of your taxes (which can also be called “in trouble with the IRS”) isn’t going to get you charged with a crime, but you can end up with late fees and penalties.

              Yes, the IRS has a criminal investigation division, so jail time is a possibility. But my guess is they’d fine him into the ground first before taking the time/money to charge him and take him to court. Depends what the penalties associated with the grant of funds was set as.

              1. Vina*

                This isn’t messing up on your taxes. It’s purposefully defrauding the government.

                You are correct, that tax fraud has to be major for it to be criminal and result in jail time. Defrauding the government on it’s programs isn’t the same. People go to jail for a lot less when it’s defrauding a program. 18 USC 371 is taken seriously.

                Also, it’s not just an IRS issue. There could be a US attorney investigation, depending on the terms of the loan, PPW, etc.

                This is potentially more serious than you realize.

                As I’m not an expert, and no one here has said they are, I really think all we can tell LW is find a lawyer and ask what to do.


                Hass, 216 U.S. at 479-480. In Hammerschmidt, Chief Justice Taft, defined “defraud” as follows:

                To conspire to defraud the United States means primarily to cheat the Government out of property or money, but it also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. It is not necessary that the Government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation, chicane or the overreaching of those charged with carrying out the governmental intention.
                Hammerschmidt, 265 U.S. at 188.

                The general purpose of this part of the statute is to protect governmental functions from frustration and distortion through deceptive practices. Section 371 reaches “any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful function of any department of Government.” Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107, 128 (1987); see Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855 (1966). The “defraud part of section 371 criminalizes any willful impairment of a legitimate function of government, whether or not the improper acts or objective are criminal under another statute.” United States v. Tuohey, 867 F.2d 534, 537 (9th Cir. 1989).

                The word “defraud” in Section 371 not only reaches financial or property loss through use of a scheme or artifice to defraud but also is designed and intended to protect the integrity of the United States and its agencies, programs and policies.

                1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

                  Aw, Chief Justice Taft. So much happier on the bench than in the Oval Office. I hadn’t realized he’d written the definition of “conspiracy to defraud the United States.” As a Gilded Age politician, he outta know it when he saw it! /nerdtalk

                2. Vina*

                  I’ve bookmarked this to go read.

                  Not at all my area of law, but I’m utterly fascinated by the court on how the Justices view things on the court v. Off.

                  A lot of irony in decisions by SCOTUS. He wrote this. Earl Warren became the great SJW.

                  I’d love to spend a decade researching and writing a book on Justices taking unexpected action once on the court and “safe” from political repercussions.

                  Why did Taft do this? Why did Warren change his spots on race (ok, spackle over his spots)?

              2. Observer*

                The IRS is going to be under tremendous pressure to go after stuff like this with EVERY SINGLE tool in their tool box. And that’s going to include fraud prosecutions. And in this case – that is EXACTLY the right response, because this IS fraud.

        3. EPLawyer*

          Yeah. I don’t think the boss is as smart as he thinks he is. There is going to be A LOT of paperwork to verify how the money was spent (for your average company and you know what I mean there). He’s going to get tripped up when it comes time to submit the forgiveness paperwork.

          Unfortunately, the IRS is not known to be forgiving. The employees might have some explaining to do too. I know they had no choice but to accept the checks or not get paid at all, but I doubt the IRS sees it that way. They will expect the employees to have insisted on having correct checks.

          Another matter has all taxes been taken out correctly?

          This is just a hot mess. The only thing OP1 can do is report it. You are saving yourself and your fellow employees a lot of trouble later. You migth be out of a job when your boss goes to jail — but you won’t be in the next cell.

          1. SweetestCin*

            The taxes being taken out of the pay was something that just registered (just obtained sufficient caffeination level). This whole thing is a holy hot mess, and I guess we need to keep our eyes peeled for updates on this one because we might see it in the news?

            1. EPLawyer*

              We won’t know if its this company or another. I imagine this isn’t the only company playing games with the “free” money. This is just the one that wrote in about this particular game.

              1. leapingLemur*

                It makes me mad that companies are willing to cheat like this, knowing that other companies will go under because they aren’t getting the money.

                And to force the employees to help cheat the government is so wrong.

                1. Gumby*

                  It was within weeks, if not days, of the first PPP program starting that we heard of large companies with multiple locations applying for multiple loans and getting millions of dollars meant for small businesses. While it is true that the rules were confusing at the start, the intent was not. “Oh look, it’s a crisis, there’s a loophole, let’s get it!” is entirely the wrong approach. And yet, predictable.

          2. Anon Accountant*

            “Might be out of a job but won’t be in the next cell”

            Those are words to live by! I like it.

          3. Vina*

            Accepting and keeping the money knowing it was the result of fraud is criminal. It may even make her an accomplice after the fact. Not my area of law, but my law prof was an expert on the whole conspirator v. Accomplice and what absolves each point of law, so we did a lot of hypos. There are many situations where people think they aren’t either a conspirator or an accomplice, but they are in the eyes of the law.

            I don’t the the IRS will be their only problem. They may end up with the feds breathing down their neck. They may end up in a federal court.

            I’d be talking to an attorney with experience in the federal courts and tax matters ASAP.

            LW doesn’t want to end up having to cut a deal with a US Attorney looking to make a name for themselves. Because no one, I do mean no one, will have any sympathy for a company that misused these funds.

            1. Vina*

              To repeat, this isn’t just an IRS tax issue, it’s defrauding the government by cheating on a program with certain rules. Yes, you’d have to do a lot more for the IRS to pursue you criminally, but you don’t have to do that much to be considered part of a conspiracy to defraud on a program. One overt act is enough. What’s overt? I don’t know. That’s up to the court to decide.

              It’s entirely posssible that LW wouldn’t be viewed as doing anything wrong. But this isn’t my area of law and I personally would not risk getting it wrong.

              We’re it me, I’d be hightailing it to an attorney who knows this area of law and asking if keeping that illegally-gotten pay is a problem, if not reporting the boss after they tried to get the employees to help is a problem, and what else might be a problem.

              Unless someone on here is an expert in that area of law, we are all just speculating.

            2. Pomona Sprout*

              “There are many situations where people think they aren’t either a conspirator or an accomplice, but they are in the eyes of the law.”

              I think this needs to be stressed. We laypersons can very easily fall into the trap of assuming that our personal intuitive take on a situation is correct, when in fact, the letter of the law says something completely different.

              Don’t fall into that trap, LW. Get legal advice asap. As Alison said, this is “I am deliberately looking for a way to deceive the government in order to get money I am not entitled to, and I’m taking it from another business with a genuine and probably dire need for it, and I want you to participate in committing fraud with me.”

              Please don’t let this crooked boss drag you into his wrongdoings. There’s way too much at stake here.

          4. Abogado Avocado*

            OP 1: I’m sorry you’re having to live this nightmare. You’ve been placed in a bad situation and you now must work to get yourself out of it.

            I’ve worked 30 years as a criminal defense lawyer in both state and federal court. This is fraud and because it involves federal money, it is a federal criminal matter. If you knowingly participate in this scheme, the law says you are a co-conspirator. Under federal law and the federal Sentencing Guidelines, co-conspirators can be held responsible at sentencing for repaying the total amount of the fraud. Trust me: you really, really, really do not want to be in this position.

            Were I your lawyer (I’m not), I would urge you to tell your employer you are not participating in his fraud and I would counsel you to return by check any overpayments he’s made to you for hours not worked. I do urge you to hire a lawyer (your local bar association’s referral service should be able to refer you to a criminal lawyer who practices in federal court and who will do a low-cost consultation) and tell that lawyer you want to advise the feds of this fraud on the condition that you get immunity.

            This is serious. The feds do not take fraud lightly. If you doubt this, do a search for federal prosecutions of those who defrauded FEMA following hurricanes. You’ll be shocked at the small amounts of money that it takes to get the federal prosecutorial machinery going.

            Again, I’m sorry. But you need to protect yourself. Your employer is not thinking of you or your future. You need to do both.

            1. Beanie Counter*

              Very well written.

              OP, you’d be doing a service to your colleagues if you invite them along.

              UGH, this is a super tough spot. Good luck.

      2. Mookie*

        By the same token, an employer that is this entitled, brazen, and stupid would probably have no problem, has never had a problem, abusing staff in a hundred other ways and terminating people for terrible reasons (like they won’t cooperate with your fraud and labor abuses). So, as you say, it’s not like desperate people like the LW and her colleagues are at all better off with no employment than lousy employment, but that their job security is already incredibly fragile.

        If possible, I’d band together with trustworthy colleagues, nominally “agree” (not in writing) to this dipshit’s scheme, launch an individual job search, and report him when you get employment elsewhere. But the job market may not make that feasible.

        I suppose it’d be possible to collectively threaten to quit, thereby scuttling his plans for falsifying payroll records for employees who now no longer exist, but that’s a risk I don’t think I’d take.

        1. MK*

          The last plan, even if it works, will likely make the employer-employee relationship unsustainable in the long term.

        2. Vina*

          A man with this level of impaired judgment will likely try and claims he employees were responsible or take them down with him.

          I wouldn’t trust him to take all the blame and be honest about the employee’s lack of approval or knowledge.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            Yeah, I would have no loyalty to an employer like this. Protect yourself, OP. Get out in front of this and get out.

        3. Not Me*

          Going along with this scheme is terrible advice. You’re advising LW to commit a federal crime.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I don’t know the law, but if I were the OP I’d be concerned with getting into legal hot water because I knowingly accepted money that was for time I didn’t work. Yes if I report the boss the business could go under and I’d lose my job. But I’d rather be out of work than in jail.

          1. Rock and hard place*

            I don’t know about OP #1 but I have direct deposit for my paychecks, it’s not like I’m actively “accepting” the money in the same way as it would be to cash a check. (And even then, what are you going to do, not cash your paycheck? Ask the bank for 75% of the value of the check but not the shady bits, please?)

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              I really really really don’t think the feds take this into account. You’re either getting fraudulent money, or you’re not. For sure it’s a terrible position for LW to be in – she didn’t ask for this crap. But once the money goes to her account, she’s involved.

              1. Original Sally*

                The OP can write a check for the overage & send it back to the company – as advised by Abogado Avocado above in this thread. The advice Abogado Avocado gave sounds like the sanest & safest in this situation.

            2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

              Again, I don’t know the law, but I’m pretty sure “I didn’t know it was illegal” isn’t a valid defense.

        1. Vina*


          If this weren’t pay, but were instead a car gotten illegally by defrauding a program, it would be clear.

          It’s money LW hasn’t earned.

      4. Anonymity*

        If employees go along with it it is fraud. Better to look for another job than face criminal charges.

        1. pancakes*

          It’s already fraud whether they go along or not. Per the letter, the boss falsified payroll and received the money as a result.

      5. Tax Princess, Sower of Chaos*

        I had a client who received PPP funds call last week asking if he could “fire” himself, collect unemployment, & then use the PPP funds to pay himself. Yeah, no. I expect there’s going to be a lot of game-playing here, with lots of unscrupulous people trying to take funds & benefits they’re not entitled to. I’m not all that surprised to see this letter.

      6. Quill*

        OP needs to be ready to bail regardless of what they, personally, do about the situation.

        The ship is sinking, flee with the rats instead of going down with the band.

      7. Observer*

        The thing is that the OP is at risk anyway. And if an investigation happens and it is uncovered that the OP and coworkers “colluded” with the Boss, that could be a lot worse that “just” losing their jobs.

    2. Pennyworth*

      In some jurisdictions you can be commiting an offense if you don’t report a felony.

      1. Dancing Otter*

        Officials could make a strong case that you were all accomplices, since you are knowingly profiting from the fraud.
        My question is where you should report it, though.

        1. Lady Heather*

          Google advised the Small Business Administration’s fraud hotline.
          I don’t know if that is also for large business (or if large businesses receive PPP) but they can probably point you in the right direction even if they’re not the right agency.

          Disclaimer: not from the US

          1. snowglobe*

            The Small Business Administration is administering the PPP loan program, so that would be the entity to contact, regardless of the business’s size.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I agree. And if for some reason OP can’t get through to the SBA, they could contact the bank from where the boss got the loan, assuming OP knows which bank. The bank could then contact the SBA.

            2. Clorinda*

              And keep records of the contact, so hat if/when it all goes bad, OP has evidence that they tried to do the right thing.

        2. AdAgencyChick*

          I hope that “not losing your livelihood” is not treated as legally equivalent to “profiting from the fraud,” although I can see that a zealous prosecutor might think it is.

          In OP’s shoes, I think I would job hunt as hard as I could, document and save all documentation, and report the boss AFTER getting the new job.

          1. Colette*

            In this case, they actually got more money than they should have because of the fraud (since they were paid for overtime they didn’t work). That’s profiting from the fraud.

            1. Anonymity*

              It’s a total scheme and won’t be seen any other way. I’d straight up tell Boss NO.

          2. Anon Accountant*

            It depends on the situation. Not to detail from LW but I consulted a lawyer years ago because of a shady boss. He threatened to fire me if I didn’t comply with something illegal (would’ve cost my CPA license, brought jail time, and fines). Attorney said it didn’t matter IF I participated and feared losing my livelihood, etc. And his business partners would’ve been brought down too.

            LW should contact Small Business Admin or if there’s a hotline to report fraud and turn in boss. Plus look for a new job. But I wouldn’t wait on reporting him!

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Especially if anyone is licensed, there is extra penalties involved.

              “I was just taking orders and feared for myself” isn’t an acceptable option when crime is involved.

            2. Hey Nonnie*

              Yeah, it would be nice if this were a “job hunt first” type of situation… but the fraud is happening right now, and a job hunt might take a couple years at this point, given the poor job market. This is definitely “contact a lawyer first” kind of situation, because you need to know how to protect yourself when it all blows up. The longer you wait, the more legally complicit you become.

          3. Vina*

            No. If there’s a legal duty, the clock is ticking. Waiting until he/she is safe from a job perspective may dig them in deeper legally.

            LW needs to talk to a lawyer. This is not something to get wrong. It’s not something where “I thought X was ok” will absolve them.

        3. Works in IT*

          While true… how, exactly, do you… stop someone from direct depositing you money? If you get a paper check, is it possible to say “oh, the check says amount x, but it should only be for amount y, only give me amount y” when you take it to cash it?

          They might be knowingly profiting from it, but up until they saw that they were given more money than they earned, they had no way of knowing their boss was serious, and now they know, because he actually started doing it.

          1. Vina*

            There’s an affirmative duty if you receive funds that you know you don’t deserve to report/return. The LW had a duty to go to the boss and report overpayment.

            A federal prosecutor could, and likely will, view keeping the funds as being an accomplice after the fact.

            The LW can’t wait till they have a new job. They can’t wait for the boss to see the light.

            They have to deal with this now.

            Given that this is federal and would be an IRS and federal prosecutor matter, they need to talk to an attorney who knows how to handle IRS issues and knows how the local federal courts operate.

            US Attorneys do have leeway in charging. How much they take is a personal choice. Some are lenient, some are hard. We cannot possible give her the advice she needs here.

            In my current US district, our US Attorney’s office does try and work with people who are ensnared by people like the boss. In the one I used to live in, LW would be investigated if not charged.

            Even if no legal consequences come of it, you do not want to be the subject of a federal investigation.

            1. Vina*

              *To clarify, this isn’t the same as walking down the street and finding a $20 someone lost. It isn’t the same as finding gold coins in your drywall or buried treasure. She knows the money isn’t hers. She knows it has terms under the federal government loan.

              There is zero question that she knows she shouldn’t be paid those funds unless she actually worked the hours.

              Boss is trying to manage his cash-flow problems by manipulating his employees and defrauding a program.

              LW knows this. There’s no question of knowledge, only level of culpability. Also, how she gets out of any culpability. Is that to return the money? To report? IDK. She needs a lawyer who does.

              It’s entirely possible that she can return the unearned pay and be off the hook. It’s possible she’ll have to report it to someone. No idea.

            2. RecoveringSWO*

              Random legal ethics questions: Would LW be able to transfer the overpayments into a completely separate account in anticipation of giving it to the government? If the escrow account was handled by their attorney would that attorney violate ethical standards by participating in a crime?

              Since boss is shady, I feel like justice is best served by keeping the money away from him (not returning it) where the government can recover it. But I dunno if that crosses into unethical/criminal territory…

        4. leapingLemur*

          I think going to a lawyer is the first step. The OP needs to talk to someone who knows the law and is an expert in this type of thing, someone who can tell the OP what the options are and what the consequences could be. For example, the OP might get in much more legal trouble if they don’t report it ASAP. Or maybe the OP can wait until they another job (but I wouldn’t bet on it).

    3. BirdLaw*

      I also recommend the COVID fraud hotline, which is 866-720-5721, and reporting to your state AG’s office (as to the potential wage and hour issues). Another option is to talk to a lawyer with experience in qui tam lawsuits under the False Claims Act – they can tell you whether you might be able to bring a lawsuit that gets you a sort of fraud finders’ fee.

      1. leapingLemur*

        I’d talk to a lawyer first. The OP might already be implicated, and a lawyer might be able to help with that.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      I am very concerned about #1 and that these funds are being misused this way. I understand it was fine for these businesses to APPLY for the loans if they thought they would need them, with the idea they could decline and/or return the funds if not needed.

      But your boss is blatantly taking funding it doesn’t need and defrauding the government about it!
      And falsely reporting payroll to do so.

      Honestly, I would report this. Disregard of these well intentioned programs is what makes future help fail because the government becomes disinclined to run it again. Not to mention the other businesses who closed who didn’t get the funding that DID qualify and needed it.

    5. T2*

      As a matter of personal policy I would respond In writing, “I am sorry, but what you are suggesting is highly illegal. I will not participate in this and I will reveal all the relevant details to the proper authorities when asked.”

      I also start making copies of my email and documents for reference.

      Then whistleblower protections also kick in. And when the Feds come I simply show them my documentation.

      Seriously. Don’t do illegal stuff. Even if your boss tell you too.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I would not notify the boss you are reporting it to the authorities. it just gives him time to hide the evidence.

        Notify the authorities, period. Let the boss deal with the mess of his own making. Do not involve yourself further by sending emails letting the boss know its illegal.

        1. leapingLemur*

          “I would not notify the boss you are reporting it to the authorities. it just gives him time to hide the evidence.” This! I’m sure the boss knows it’s illegal.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Keep copies and make notes of what Boss says / tells you but don’t reply warning him that you will report it / won’t comply.

        You don’t want to tip him off about a potential investigation and you don’t want to get fired for standing up to him. Report, provide any notes or documentation you have to the authorities when you report or once they start investigating, and meantime, start job hunting, and set the overtime pay to one side so that you can repay it if necessary

        1. T2*

          My advice is contingent on this being something that is being discussed and not an active fraud.

          If it is already in place, then yeah screw him and report immediately.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            It sounds like employees were already paid for falsified “overtime,” so it’s already active fraud.

    6. Annie Nonymous*

      Yikes, I’m really sorry you are in this situation. It’s probably risky to go along with this plan and not push back – even if you don’t face actual legal consequences in the event your boss gets caught, is there a chance it could be bad for your professional reputation to be involved with this scheme or this company? I get what others have posted about endangering the company if you report fraud…but your boss is endangering the company right now. And I can’t imagine that this is the only time he’s ever made a decision like this. Plan on not being able to keep the extra money, pretend it doesn’t exist in your account, start job searching, and decide for yourself if you want to report this fraud. Good luck OP.

    7. Zanele Ngwenya*

      I would also report him for fraud. I work for a small business that did not receive PPP despite their best efforts with the bank the day the program was announced, and hearing that someone got it and intended to commit fraud (not to mention- they could apparently afford to keep paying you anyways and the money was just “pretend” for overtime) pisses me off to no end. There are so many people with no income right now whose employers did not get the loan. This is wrong morally and legally, and he needs to be forced to repay it so another business can actually keep their employees paid. Please don’t be wishy-washy here. Report him.

      1. Mama Bear*

        Agreed, and if you have likeminded coworkers, report him together. I’d also keep only what you know you should be paid so that if/when it needs to be paid back, you have it. Keep very careful records of your time somewhere other than at work. Cover your back.

    8. Nancy P*

      OP 1, look for a lawyer who specializes in qui tam / whistleblower cases. A google search should turn up someone.
      You may be entitled to compensation for reporting this fraud.

      1. Altair*

        I was just about to ask what keywords the LW should look for when finding a lawyer. Thank you for posting them.

        1. Vina*

          I get the urge of the commentariat to help. Sometimes, however, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer is really the only answer.

          When the lawyers on the site are telling you to lawyer up, that’s not nothing.

    9. Lady Meyneth*

      The whole situation in #1 makes my blood boil. When Alison said this would be rage week, she really wasn’t kidding!

      OP, this could get you in serious legal trouble, as an accessory after the fact in federal fraud. Don’t mess with that, please report this sh*tty business. Even if it means it goes under due to the fines, even if you’re out of a job for a while, you’ll still be much better off than if you end up charged over this!

      1. Observer*

        Yeah. When she said “it gets worse” my first thought was “How much worse could it get?”

        Well, lesson learned. No smiley.

        1. Vina*

          I think this is “you thought THAT boss was bad……hold my beer.”

          I just got off a Zoom meeting with one of my public service clubs. Politics. Politics. Politics. Some jerk trying to claim here are no protests, only riots.

          Ugh. I think I’m going to need a stiff bourbon tonight.

  9. TL -*

    LW #2: I work in academia and I was just talking to my boss about that today! It’s what I like to call the “engagement as reward” function – in academia, good ideas and findings are rewarded with engagement on the idea, so lots of talking and back and forths and validation/brainstorming. Here are my (academic) suggestions.

    1) use your agreement as a jumping point. “Ooh, I’m really excited about how that arrangement will let me better link A and B – thank you! Speaking of, can we look at Chapter 4? I’m struggling to link concepts C & D there and could use your help.”

    2) enthusiastically affirm and then move on: “I definitely want to structure the chapter thematically – thank you! I’m so sorry, but can we move on to Next Point? I really want to get your insight on Blah.” or ” – thank you! I really want to get your insight on Blah; do you mind if we move on to Next Point?”

    3) If it’s a long back and forth, “I completely agree! Before we run out of time, I really want to get your input on Next Point. Can we continue discussing Current Topic next time?”
    Bonus on this one: it might make your advisor realize no further discussion is needed, and if it doesn’t, you can just summarize what you agreed on in the next meeting and move on quickly, no response needed.

    These let you engage and validate in ways other than talking in circles around the topic at hand. Instead, you shift validation and engagement to specifically asking for input on the next topic and/or by indicating you would continue with the discussion if only you were not so short on time.

    1. Reliquary*

      I’m also an academic, and I think your scripts are fine except for the “I’m so sorry.” That phrase is especially problematic if the OP is a woman, but it’s still a bit too self-abasing in a discussion with a mentor. A mentor (especially a thesis advisor) wants to see the grad student develop a strong voice and some self-assurance. This phrase doesn’t help achieve that goal.

      1. MentalEngineer*

        Nitpick: A good mentor/thesis advisor wants to see their grad students develop a strong individual voice. Many advisors are horrible. One of the ways many advisors are horrible is their poorly-hidden – or completely open – desire for their grad students to agree with them at all costs.

        1. MentalEngineer*

          Forgot there’s no edit function! “I’m so sorry” is definitely a level of self-abasement that should be avoided unless you know that you have an advisor that actually demands that level of grovelling, and the gendered dimension is definitely important here – don’t mean to diminish that either. Pre-grovelling because you’re worried they might want you to grovel is a bad move. Learned that the hard way…just saying sometimes it really is called for as a self-preservation strategy.

          1. TL -*

            I also tend to say it in a really cheerful tone, so it’s usually read as a softener, rather than an actual apology. But it’s definitely dependant on dynamics!

    2. Grey Coder*

      The business-speak version of this is “take an action”. “Okay, I’ll take an action to rework that chapter in line with our discussion. I also wanted your opinion on…” For academia, “make a note” might be better wording. In any case you are signalling that you’ve reached agreement and you know what to do next.

      1. Birch*

        Yep, came here to say this. Also an academic and have learned from working with people who manage and communicate in different styles (everything from total independence, discussing high level concepts to “you must cc me on every email and are not allowed to have an opinion of your own”). All these mini-scripts become verbal tics that are actually really useful. I use “that makes sense” and “that sounds good” a LOT. But THEN, outline your action point before moving on to the next topic. To use your example,

        Ann: Yeah, I think a thematic structure will be much stronger than a chronological structure.
        Me: I definitely want to structure the chapter thematically–I’m excited about the themes of loneliness and connection that link book A and book B.
        You: That sounds great! I’ll make a note to restructure the chapters in the draft. I also wanted to go over XYZ.

        You don’t need to repeat the actual content of what you’re agreeing with, because that sounds like you’re adding new or different information when you’re only rephrasing. So instead, just use these little “yes, I agree” indicators and then change the topic. Adding the action point at the summary of a topic (and documenting it!) is also a good habit to avoid long meetings that you leave feeling like nothing has been done or decided, and it also serves to CYA for both your own sake and the sake of your supervisor who will not remember every minute of every meeting with you. And it helps for those days when you feel like you have no idea how to proceed. Best of wishes to you and early congrats on your dissertation!

      2. T2*

        You know, if someone said “I’ll take an action to perform x” I would probably write that down. When someone says something weird, I write it down in my notebook. I have reams of weird ways of speaking.

        But now that I think of that, it is not that dissimilar to me saying “I owe you a deliverable”. Funny how different strokes for different folks. Lol

        1. Grey Coder*

          I dislike “take an action” myself but at my current workplace that’s the jargon. It comes from having (too many) formal meeting minutes and actions, where the actions are the list of things people will do as a result of the meeting. The idea is then used in less formal meetings. Somehow it conveys an air of “we’ve agreed and we’re done talking about this” more than just saying “I’ll do that”.

    3. T2*

      This can be easily short circuited by a counter.

      You have the cycle once and then say, ok got it.

      My go to is “we are in agreement. What’s next”. I learned the “what’s next” bit from The West Wing. After 25 years, “what’s next” has become famous among my co workers as meaning “we are done with this.”

      1. Grey Coder*

        I used to use the West Wing “what’s next” but that would be considered too abrupt for my current work environment. I had a lot of sympathy for the letter the other day about adjusting to a different communication style.

    4. BetsyTacy*

      LW 2: One tool that might be useful to you is jotting down an agenda or ‘outline’ of points you want to/need to cover. It doesn’t have to be formal or extensive, but it serves as a tangible, visual reminder that there are other items that need our time.

      I work for this person… even after I’ve agreed with their decision, they want to explain to me 10 times why they made this decision. Some of it is just style, some of it is that they truly love teaching/mentoring me (which is AWESOME), some of it is just them being slightly indecisive. Bringing an agenda/emailing a few quick bullet points improved the efficacy of our meetings immensely. I also framed it as ‘I don’t want to forget anything because your time is valuable to me!’ which was very well received.

    5. Emilia Bedelia*

      A tactic I use often is having a list and referencing that. “I have a list of 5 questions that I wanted to get input from you on” “Okay, sounds like we are set on the structure – I am going to check that one off my list” “Let me move on to question #3”. “That was all the questions I had – is there anything else that we should cover?
      That really helps to both define my thoughts going into a meeting and get everything that I need out of the conversation, as opposed to looking at a document and just going around in circles “discussing”.
      One of my biggest pet peeves is people that go into meetings with no thought at all as to what the topic is – a 30 minute meeting with a focused agenda and attendees who have done 15 minutes of prep/thinking will be more productive than a 1 hour “discussion” with no focus at all. I might be fighting a losing battle here against the prevalence of back-to-back meeting scheduling, but I think it is really helpful to have an agenda and some kind of organization for your thoughts going into any meeting. Having time to switch gears and think between meetings is key to having more productive meetings in my opinion.

    6. Rock Prof*

      Sometimes it feels like, particularly in some meetings and even at conferences, some people just want to make sure their voice is heard, even if it is literally repeated what another said. I have been to many faculty meetings where it’s just people going around the room agreeing with each other in different phrases (though this is preferable to ones with all disagreement).
      As someone who can also get into these loops, these are great scripts. As an academic and a woman, I also agree that I’d try to leave out the ‘I’m sorry,’ though I say it ALL THE TIME.

  10. Lilipoune*

    LW1 and what about people wil will resign just before they need to start paying back?

    1. Dancing Otter*

      Yes, how exactly is he going to explain why he wants to claw back part of their final check?

    2. Trek*

      In some states you can only collect if the employee signs a form allowing you to collect over payment from their pay check. And others add that it can only be collected over a few pay periods once discovered. It sounds like repaying overtime would take several payrolls to recover. Also by collecting the overtime he will reduce his payroll dollars for a period of time. This may cause issues with the PPP loan.
      If he tries to keep final checks employees can go to the labor board and demand payment. What is he going to say? ‘I intentionally overpaid them to commit fraud and I want that money back while I continue to commit fraud?’ The employee would have to be willing to claim that they worked all of the overtime they were paid and are not liable to pay it back and I know not everyone will do that but I do think some employees may take the money and quit rather than let him recover it or participate in on going shuffling of money.

  11. RebeccaNoraBunch*

    LW #5, as someone with years in sales and sales enablement, and who works closely with sales directors: this was not the way to do it. If you’re interested in a job, apply via the job posting. That’s it. If you have any (legitimate) contacts there it’s perfectly fine to ask for a reference, but beyond that, no. It’s incredibly annoying to get questions about job openings via the incoming chat for prospects, and I say that as someone who has manned that chat line myself AND trained the sales reps who are doing it. It looks clueless at best and pompous at worst: it’s pretty much a guaranteed way to NOT get an interview, because you seem to think yourself above professional norms. You don’t get to circumvent the system by reaching out to a sales director under the guise of being a prospect.

    1. ...*

      Oh I love the people who use the Live Chat for customers function to ask about jobs! I once had a woman call me an “unhelpful b*tch” because I wouldn’t give her the overview and salary of a marketing manager position. (why she thought a sales rep would have that??) Ok, thats not at all on the level of what OP did, its just funny. Applying through the site is always your Best Bet! Sales managers are going to tell their reports to disconnect from you to get real leads in.

    2. mystery bookworm*

      Yes. Imagine if you applied to a job posting and then the response was: “well, we’re not actually hiring for this, but we’d love the opportunity to sell you X product.”

      You would be annoyed. You were looking for an income stream and they’re trying to take money. That’s literally the opposite of what you were hoping to accomplish.

      1. Captain Raymond Holt*

        That happened to me once! A year ago, I was looking at a vendor called LlamaStack and had some conversations with them under my old name and company email (Captain Holt @ 99th Precinct). Six months later I applied to a job at LlamaStack under my new name (C. Raymond Holt) and heard nothing about the job … but did miraculously hear from the Sales department wanting to know if “this was a good time to reevaluate a relationship between the 99th Precinct and LlamaStack.”

        It was not. I was very annoyed.

        1. mystery bookworm*

          That is annoying!

          As an aside, I am watching you on TV right now! What are the odds?

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        This happens pretty frequently. Post a job opening and it’s actually sales.

        1. Quill*

          I mean, I’ve seen a lot that are MLM’s, but I’ve never seen one that was unashamedly trying to sell you something, rather than recruit you as a ‘salesperson’

    3. Emmie*

      That’s a good point. This raises larger questions about the applicant’s judgement. How will he prospect for sales? Will he use the appropriate channels to solicit business?

      1. Observer*

        It also raises questions about their ethics, to be honest.

        You asked for a case study to get someone’s email so you could bypass their system, NOT because you actually were interested in the company. That’s shady.

        The fact that they thanked you for your transparency should have been a signal that they would not take it well if you then go ahead and use that address to bypass their system.

        1. LW5*

          OP here. I think there are lots of great points being made. I understand the error of my ways and will take the feedback I’ve received here to heart and apply it to my continued job search.

          That said, what “Observer” commented is completely false and needs to be addressed.

          I in no way, shape or form expected to get contacted by the Director in the department. I’ve followed this particular company for a while; I read their blog as often as I can and follow market trends in their field.

          I requested their case study and read through it carefully with a sincere interest in seeing how their platform works.

          To say “I had no interest in their company” is just plain wrong and offensive; my eagerness to apply to the company clouded my judgement.

          1. Observer*

            The company staff are not mind readers. They are going to see that you asked for the study then used the information you got to bypass their hiring process. If they don’t see it the way I suggested, it’s still highly likely that they are going to be wondering if getting someone’s address was the real reason for requesting the case study rather than interest in the company as a whole.

            Remember, they don’t know you. They don’t know your history. Even if you tell them, they don’t really KNOW that you have been following them for a while. All they know is that you bypassed their process after asking for a case study because of your interest in the company.

            I doubt that someone is going to definitively decide that you are ethically challenged. But, unless this is a company that is REALLY “cool” in your field, it’s likely that they will wonder.

          2. RebeccaNoraBunch*

            The point that Observer was trying to make is that you were interested in their company from the perspective of wanting to work there, not possibly be a paying customer of theirs. That’s the difference. They send case studies to prospects/customers. That’s what case studies are for. You still tried to circumvent the hiring process under false pretenses, regardless of how interested you are in the company’s product. It shows lack of character and ethics at worst; lack of professional norms at best. (Because you wrote to Alison asking about it, it seems like it may have been the latter. Take this as a learning experience!)

            I would not consider your application any further if I were the sales director or hiring manager based on that alone, unless the area is starved for good sales reps which is rarely the case in major cities where companies like this tend to be. Go through the approved channels next time, and you’ll have a better chance.

  12. Anon today*

    For letter #1, I’m interested in the details of why this is fraud. Is it specifically because the employer is submitting fraudulent timesheets or is it that he is advancing the employees pay. Is it legal under the terms of these loans to advance pay to employees as a way to satisfy the terms that $X or Y% of dollars be spent on payroll?

    I work for a company that has received a loan and while I do not know the details, they have shifted around some payroll to ensure that they meet the terms of maximum forgiveness. (we have more than one company under our umbrella, and so it meant that some employees got their payroll through more than one brand, etc). It seems that the requirements of these programs has been incredibly complicated to fulfill, not that that is an excuse to commit fraud, but I can understand an employer feeling as though they’re just trying to jump through all the hoops to gain maximum loan forgiveness.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In order to have the loan forgiven, you have to spend a 60% of it on payroll (formerly 75% but they lowered it). He’s not doing that, and instead he’s engaging in a fraud to make it look like he is: He paid a bunch of overtime that people didn’t really earn, and he’s having them secretly pay it back to him. That’s very deliberate and underhanded fraud — he hatched this scheme with premeditation to hide where the money is actually going.

      1. Anon today*

        I guess what I’m trying to understand is whether this is fraudulent solely because the employer essentially advanced pay to their employees, or is it fraudulent because they messed with overtime hours.

        To put it another way, would it be the same if the employer advanced a salaried employee, let’s say a month of extra pay on their next check, and then did not pay them for a month?
        What about a person that works on commission? Could you advance their pay and then deduct future commissions from that amount (like how a draw frequently works)?

        Are these situations any different or is it all fraud?

        1. MK*

          My (uneducated) guess would be that all these practices are fraudulant. They sound like someone trying to game the system; “trying to jump through all the hoops to gain maximum loan forgiveness” sees like a euphimism for “I am not eligible for maximum loan forgiveness, how do I cook the books to fraudulantly get it?”.

          1. Mongrel*

            Not knowing all the details, not an accountant or lawyer either so just an opinion.

            “Trying to jump through all the hoops to gain maximum loan forgiveness”, may well be legal it just feels sleazy, while actively lying to milk as much as possible then making employees implicit in your fraud is probably illegal.

            It’s much like the difference between Tax avoidance a perfectly legal, albeit sleazy, means that mean rich people\firms make use of every loophole to pay as little tax as possible and Tax Evasion which means someone actively lies on their tax filings to reduce their liability or just outright refuses to pay.

          2. Student*

            He didn’t spend the money on payroll. He laundered it through his employees. He hands them the money in a paycheck and then turns around and demands they hand him back the money to use on something that is not payroll. That’s textbook money laundering.

            Only, he wasn’t even decent enough at money laundering to realize one usually lets the money launderer keep a cut as an incentive to participate in the crime. So his employees will have to pay income taxes on the money that they didn’t really get… meaning they’ll actually be LOSING OUT on money from his scheme… while he keeps the gov money for himself. He has incentivized them to report his crime.

        2. Mookie*

          “Advance pay” is a very generous term of art here. I wonder how this business owner will explain to his accountant and sundry taxcops why his payroll for the same number of staff suddenly took a nosedive a few months from now. Reducing everyone to part-time will not be a satisfactory answer. Unless he’s very well-protected, people like him don’t get away with graft this obvious. He’d have to be using this money to hire heavies to illegally evict low-income renters, or to fund his vaping and video games habit, or to bail out his self-branded line of bottomshelf vodka or something.

          1. Mookie*

            Bonus points for him, though, that he applied for this assistance without even qualifying for the spirit of the thing, which is to keep people employed in struggling industries. According to the LW, he was doing just fine.

            Also note that the law here explicitly forbids pre-payment… to banks and landlords. As I understand it, it’s the lenders themselves that get to decide if prepayment to payroll is allowable and forgivable.

            1. Lucy P*

              To my understanding, he’s going to have a hard time getting forgiveness since companies had to certify that they actually needed the loan. If he gets audited and the profit has stayed the same before and after the loan date…

            2. Ann O'Nemity*

              Some prepayment is allowed, I believe. I heard a webinar that suggested prepayment on 401k discretionary contributions, as long as the policy allowed it.

              The key difference from the OP’s situation is that the employees don’t secretly pay it back!

        3. AcademiaNut*

          I think an employer can legally give an advance on an employee’s salary. I’ve seen this happen when the employee is a newly graduated (and broke) student starting a new job. But that’s the employer doing it with their own money, and doing it explicitly as an advance (ie, not lying about the work done), which is very different than what is happening here.

          1. Annony*

            Giving an advance is legal but I don’t think it would count as money going towards payroll for the PPP loan. My guess would be that they wouldn’t face fines for a payroll advance (that they were honest about) but would also not have that loan money forgiven and would owe it back.

            1. nona*

              He’s also not calling it an advance. He’s calling it overtime. So he’s at least lying about what the funds are being used for.

              1. Annony*

                Yep. In this case it is not legal. The question further up tread was whether advances in general are illegal or if it was the fraudulent time sheets.

        4. Kelly L.*

          People who get advance pay at least get to keep it. IANAL, so I’ll avoid speculating about the legalities about advance pay.

          He’s pretending to pay people a bunch of money so that, on paper, it looks like he had payroll expenses of $xxxx. But then he’s taking it back. So he’s going to get this loan *without* spending money on payroll.

          1. EPLawyer*


            The point of PPP was to continue to cover payroll/expenses during the lockdowns when people might not be working as much/at all. So that businesses don’t go under thereby leading to MORE unemployment and so employees can still pay their bills.

            He didn’t put it towards payroll. Not sure what it was spent on it but it was not spent on paying people. So now he has to cover by suddenly overpaying but not really (wanna bet that the IRS asks for payroll information? They are going to notice the suddenly higher paychecks and wonder why).

            Now if he had spent the payroll money on suppliers or a capital expansion THEN used the PPP money to cover payroll that would have probably worked. It went to payroll. Kinda the tax avoidance v. tax evasion thing mentioned above.

            1. Governmint Condition*

              Actually, it sounds to me like he applied for a larger loan than he was eligible for. If everybody is getting paid their full salary, and that’s not 60% of the loan, he probably asked for too much to begin with.

              1. Ann O'Nemity*

                Or he didn’t have enough in permissible other expenses. Even if you get to 60% on payroll, there’s a short list of what you can spend the remaining funds on.

                1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  You can spend the remaining funds on mortgage or utilities BUT that portion used not on payroll won’t be forgiven!

          2. AnonAnon*

            And then there would be a transaction on the books later down the line when they pay the money back. So how would he explain that to an auditor? Or is he only taking cash or checks made out to him??

            1. Washi*

              They’re not sending him money, they are “agreeing” to be paid for six hours when they’ve worked 8. So my understanding is that he is then lowering everyone’s salaries to 75% of the previous level until he breaks even again.

        5. Colette*

          It’s fraudulent because he is taking money from a program that has to be used in a certain way and then falsifying payroll to make it look like he is complying with the program. If he advanced his employee’s pay or paid them overtime they didn’t work, that would probably be fine if he were using usual business funds to do it; it’s the fact that he’s lying about complying with a specific program that makes it fraud.

        6. CJM*

          CPA here. If you advance pay to an employee, it is a receivable on your balance sheet, not a payroll expense on your income statement until they have earned the money. So yes, this is fraud.

        7. Em*

          You can’t use employee’s payroll as a secret savings account for the business. Payroll exists to compensate employees for time worked, full stop, and must be compliant with taxes. For example, is he paying payroll taxes on the overtime in excess of the amount he needs so that he gets the full amount deposited into their accounts? Like, rounding up? Mega fishy.

        8. D3*

          The way he is doing it artificially inflates the expenses to make it LOOK like he was spending the money in a way that entitles him to loan forgiveness.
          HE DOES NOT QUALIFY FOR LOAN FORGIVENESS and is trying to make it look like he does by asking all his employees to lie for him. I’m trying to understand why you could think this is at all okay in any way, shape, or form.

        9. MCMonkeyBean*

          The fraud part I think is less to do with what the employees get paid, but to do with lying about the timing of the pay to take advantage of the government grant.

          For an example with totally made up numbers: Say they got a loan of $1,000 and they have to spend $600 of that on payroll over 8 weeks in order for it to be forgiven–which turns it from a loan into a grant.

          In this scenario, say he only has $400 of employee payroll expense over the 8 weeks. He wants to pay his employees $200 extra that they aren’t owed, then withhold that over the following 8 weeks. So over the 4 week period the employees are owed $800 and are paid $800. But lying about the timing to keep the grant money makes it fraud.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Sorry that “4 week period” should be “16 week”. I halved when I meant to double :D

    2. Llellayena*

      I’m also curious about the legalities. As I understand the PPP loan (layman’s terms only) a business receives a loan amount based on reported salary costs, so the full loan amount is designed so the business can meet the 60% terms. The loan then has to be fully used by a certain date and with the appropriate percentage to payroll to meet the terms for forgiveness instead of payback. So unless the initial application showed a fraudulent amount for payroll, I’m not seeing how making sure you use the right amount in the right time frame is fraudulent. If the business received the funds late, thus reducing the available time to use the funds, I could see a little number crunching happening to make sure the terms can still be met. (And I’m also not arguing with them applying in the first place. There are additional business expenses that would not have been in the budget even if the company is still running full-steam: work-from-home expenses, cleaning expenses, etc.)

      1. Claudia*

        The term of the PPP loan (i.e., how long you have to spend the funds on approved expenses) was originally 8 weeks from the date you received the funds. A business that received their loan on March 30 has exactly the same amount of time to use it as a business that received their loan on May 30. They have since added an option to use a 24-week period instead to make it easier to satisfy the requirements.

        1. Llellayena*

          Ah, didn’t realize it was “from date received.” In that case it seems like the original application was filled out incorrectly and the company ended up with more money than they could use when distributed with the 60% to payroll terms. In which case, the right thing would be to recalculate and give back the portion that was overpaid. It’s probably not deliberate fraud (as I understand it, the loan application was rather confusing), but it does need to be reported so the right recalculations can be made.

    3. Lucy P*

      Based on articles that I have read on PPP, advanced payment or pre-payment of eligible costs, including payroll, is not allowed.

    4. lost academic*

      His fraud is with the terms of his loan. He is not actually spending a sufficient percentage as required on salaries and he is doing so with the intent to defraud the government of the loan.

  13. Thornus*

    #1 – I would strongly consider whistleblowing. That kind of scheming speaks to an unethical mindset that would not respond well to pushing back as a group. If whistleblowing, there’s a good chance that it’s protected from retaliation (which realistically just means being fired then getting to sue for back wages) AND that it might be subject to the ~20% reward for moneys recovered. I would consult with an employment attorney about this first though. Actually, no matter what, I would consult with an employment attorney regarding this situation – you’re being put in a precarious situation by your boss suborning fraud against the federal government.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      In a perfect (if not entirely moral) world, all his employees would collect the unearned overtime, then, when he announces it’s time to “pay it back” by working 8 hours for 6 hours pay, everybody would quit and keep it.

      It’s not like he could do anything about it.

        1. Zanele Ngwenya*

          This also seems unethical. That money is not appearing out of thin air- taxpayers will be paying it back for decades to come. As someone whose employer applied for PPP as soon as the program was announced and didn’t get it- this has me fuming. We can’t get paid, but at least if that money gets put back in the pot, someone else has a shot. It is extremely unethical and illegal to keep government funds for hours that were not worked. (Don’t even get me started on the idea that this was “pretend” for overtime that wasn’t worked or needed).

          1. Colette*

            The business should be responsible for refunding the PPP program. That’s independent of whether the employees refund the business (which there likely isn’t an easy way for them to do – the boss’s plan was to not pay them for future hours of work).

      1. Not Me*

        He could, he most likely wouldn’t, but the government could when they inevitably find out they’ve all defrauded the US government.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I second the recommendation to talk to an attorney, but, assuming you’re in the U.S., I’d suggest looking for an attorney who specializes in whistleblower cases, not just (or perhaps in addition to) a general employment lawyer. Whistleblower law is different enough from most employment law that you should really talk to someone who works with it regularly. Because federal law allows whistleblowers to get attorneys fees in addition to 15-25% of the money the government gets out of a suit, there’s no shortage of whistleblower lawyers to choose from.

      But, yes, this is highly illegal, and because the government is tetchy about being defrauded, you have options that go well beyond just reporting the fraud, if you want to go there.

      (The key words if you want to do a search on this are “false claims act” and “qui tam.”)

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Also, many states have “lawyer finder” services through the state’s bar association. Mine does (North Carolina) where I can put in my zip code and pick a specialty and it will give me a match. I’ve found our immigration lawyer this way and I know others who have used it for other specialties. And when you go through this service, there is a flat fee ($50 in NC) for your first 30 min appointment. If you are interested, check your state bar association’s website.

      2. Thornus*

        True. I’m used to plaintiff-side employment attorneys including whistleblowing as the types of claims they represent, but OP should definitely try and find one who explicitly mentions that. The nearest major city should have at least a small handful that handle it.

    3. PB*

      I agree. This has me seriously steamed. Many businesses who need PPP were denied because there wasn’t enough money, and this employer is just taking advantage of it.

      1. Zanele Ngwenya*

        Thank you! The idea that the employees should “keep” the illegally gotten funds when they know it’s illegal to falsify time stamps, as suggested by some commenters here, is absolutely also immoral.

    4. Silly Janet*

      I agree. Also, the employees could get in trouble too for being accomplices. The boss very likely could end up in prison for this, and losing the business. This is not the employees’ fault in any way, but unfortunately he has involved you in it.

  14. Tau*

    #3 – no extra input, I just want to thank you for doing this. I’m white but I work in a heavily male-dominated area, and I will always be thankful for the male coworker who went out for lunch with me and shared all the salary information he knew about in the company, his own included. I’d always suspected I was being underpaid, but it can be very hard to act on that if you don’t know for certain and don’t know by how much.

    1. Perfectly Particular*

      What did you do with the information afterward? I’m not sure how, if I found out I was being underpaid as compared to my colleagues, I would turn that into something actionable.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        If nothing else, it allows you to go into a raise negotiation and say “I know that employees here with a similar level of seniority/achievement to me are making Y” if they say that you’re overreaching on your raise request. And if you have reason to believe there’s a broad pay equity issue and want to pursue that, it gives you some data you could report to appropriate authorities.

      2. CircleBack*

        From experience:
        You go to your manager to ask for a raise, with all the info you’d usually have to make that demand (contributions/experience), plus the pay disparity. Manager mumbles about how the coworker’s salary reflects their value to the company even though they have both less experience and less seniority because they have [the one thing they have that you don’t, which definitely isn’t worth >10K/year]. You bring up how bad it looks for the company that the one man in your department makes so much more than all the women, and manager mumbles some more about differences in what each person brings to the table. Manager makes vague “promises” about re-examining your salary during next year’s performance evaluation, which you know he won’t follow through on because he’s never followed through on that carrot before.
        You then keep your coworker’s salary in mind when you negotiate for your next job since you immediately began job hunting after the disastrous response from your manager. You make so much more at the next job that it’s laughable, and you leave a politely scathing review for the old job on Nextdoor.

        1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

          Truth. My last job I was specifically brought into my manager’s office to stop talking about my hourly wage with co-workers. My manager did not react well when I recited the Fair Labor Act and how it let me discuss my wage with co-workers, and fell back on the old Southern-ism “it’s just not polite to talk about money”. I just looked at her and asked “If I’m being compensated fairly and equitably, then there’s no reason to hide what I make from my co-workers.” The conversation stopped there, and out of the blue, I got a $2 an hour raise a month later, that put me in line with co-workers hired after me.

        2. WhatAMaroon*

          Or from my experience: you point out the optics of the pay disparity is not great and make a connection to racial inequity and pay in a band which had not been obvious to a non-POC manager. That year salaries go up for the people on the bottom of the band who deserve to be compensated more because of merit to bring them in line with top achievers at the top of the band. It doesn’t always work out my way but to CircleBlack’s point seeing what action is taken when you point it out is useful in both cases, it helps you decide if you can stay at your current company or if you need to get the hell out of dodge.

        3. Anon Anon*

          This has been my experience in the places where I work as well. I do think the information is helpful to know because as you job hunt you can negotiate knowing more what others are being paid, so that you can negotiate for market wages for the next job. I also think leaving a review on Glassdoor (when in the US) is helpful. I don’t think it even needs to be scathing, just factual.

      3. Tau*

        What I *planned* to do with the information was take it to my next review. I wasn’t going to say outright I knew my colleagues’ salaries (especially as the guy who’d spoken to me had asked me to keep that secret), but I was planning to push for a salary bump based on “market research”. In fact, the main thing I planned to do was push for a _title_ bump – there was an obvious disparity where a coworker doing the exact same tasks as me was senior and I was not, the salary talk with my coworker also included talk about titles where I came away convinced I should be at the senior level, and a title bump would naturally lead to salary discussions.

        What actually ended up happening is that my job ended up changing significantly for the worse as the project I was working on sort of dissolved into thin air and all my teammates left. The salary problem actually solved itself when the big boss gave me a 20% (!) raise out of nowhere in a clear attempt to get me to stay, but at that point more money wasn’t enough to keep me on. I took my knowledge about what market rate was into my job search, and am now earning almost the same as after that 20% increase at my new job. I’m not sure I’d have asked for quite as much without talking to that guy.

      4. boop the first*

        Yeah, same. I already knew I was being paid $1/hr less than the guy I’d replaced, even though I’d been there longer and was way more versatile (I covered multiple roles whenever needed, including manager tasks), and all I could do about it was feel bad. And then later I found out I was being paid $2/hr than EVERYONE else, and all I could do about it was feel worse. The next month, I accepted a new job elsewhere that paid me even less than that one did just to get out. Salary negotiation is not available to everyone. Some people can only take what employers feel like giving us.

  15. Kiitemso*

    #2 I had this issue with my Master’s thesis instructor sometimes. Great researcher, good teacher, very thoughtful to a fault, so often when I was asking for confirmation on some idea I had was a good way to proceed, he would answer in a circuitous fashion. In the end I learned how to communicate pretty ‘plainly’ without any nuanced flourishes, if that makes any sense. Eg. “I’m thinking about limiting the scope of my study to problem X so thesis doesn’t get overly long or too complicated for me to go in-depth on. Do you agree with this approach?” And he would usually answer, “Yes” or “no” and then explain his thinking at length, but at least I got an answer in that first word. Even if he says, “Yes, but..” then I would consider the elaboration after ‘but’ but weigh that against his initial “yes” if that makes sense.

    Both in work and in academia I use a lot of “Sounds good” or “Glad we agree” or just “I agree” when I want to quickly wrap up agreement on a matter and move onto the next with “My other concern is ..” or “The other thing I was wanting your take on is..” or whatever. In academia there is a lot of explaining one’s approach because so much of qualitative research can depend on approach so I understand why some people get into this loop, but if there isn’t any actual disagreement, then a change of subject is really all that is needed.

    In my current work, where a lot of things work fast, I’m even more curt and can sometimes respond to a manager like, “Ok, will handle the red iceflakes tomorrow morning. What about the blue slushie problem we discussed last week?”.

    1. Student*

      This is the part of thesis writing wherein the grad student is supposed to learn to trust themselves instead of asking their advisor for validation of every decision.

      A grad student is only ready to graduate when they’re ready to tell their advisor: “This is what I think is best for my research. I hear your opinion otherwise but I disagree. I’ve given this thought on my own, and this is the best way to go because of X and Y consideration. I’m going to do it my way.” It usually manifests in the more succinct version: “Advisor, you are WRONG and I am RIGHT because….”

  16. Coverage Associate*

    Re #4: Could I have gotten my firm’s restricted securities list before I had access to non public information, and liquidated my holdings in the interim? As it was, I was unfamiliar with restricted securities lists when I started my job and am now holding stocks. It’s not a financial hardship, just an annoyance.

    To me it seems ethical to tell people that they won’t be able to transact in certain stocks once they start their jobs, without giving them any information about the stocks, but I am obviously not an expert in the issue.

    1. MK*

      I don’t think it’s an ethics issue; but why is this information confidential in the first place? If there are stocks that people working certain jobs shouldn’t own, why don’t they want people to know about it? Same with non-competes, why are you keeping it under wraps that you are requiring your employees to sign them? I get not having the information publicly available (though even that shouldn’t be a big deal), but they should be made available to the candidate that gets an offer, if not all the finalists. They are basically trying to back the new employee into a corner: sign or be unemployed; and it can backfire if they get someone who can afford to walk away, leaving them to start hiring all over again.

      1. Noncompeteguy*

        I’m the person who wrote the letter about terms. I’m a software engineer and a big part of my employability is my portfolio, non-competes often make doing that work difficult or impossible. If I knew about them going in I’d either reject the job or ask for more money. My guess is they know that and that’s why they don’t want me to know the terms.

        1. MK*

          I think that’s an argument for walking away from a job offer that comes without disclosing this infromation (unless it’s such a fantastic offer that you would accept regardless, I suppose). No sense in allowing yourself to be put in that position.

        2. Irishgal*

          I was asked to sign a non compete that would essentially make it impossible to do my job anywhere in the country I live in for a year as my job is relatively specialised. I got legal advice (to confirm my understanding) and refused to sign unless they removed the geographical restrictions or they added a clause that they would pay me in full for the year. Suddenly I didn’t have to sign.

        3. Sort of HR*

          Hi OP! My company is also primarily software engineers so this has come up for us a few times. Depending on where you live they may not be able to ask you to sign a non-compete (CA has some laws around this) or may need to provide it to you in advance so it’s worth confirming what the laws are where you live and if they’ve had any recent changes.

          In MA, where I am, the law changed in October 2018 and these sorts of agreements must be presented in advance to be enforceable. Specifically, our lawyer told us the new hire must be presented with the agreement at least 14 days before their start date, it must be included with the offer letter, and the offer letter must contain language calling out the agreement and your right to consult an attorney before signing.

          Depending on how accommodating the new company is, you might try doing a named competitors clause for your noncompete, where they specifically call out 4-5 (or whatever number is reasonable) companies you cannot go to after leaving employment. The idea being this is only slightly limiting in your future career prospects and you’ll know ahead of time where you can’t go work. In the event one of the named competitors is someplace very large, like Google, see if you can get them to narrow this down to specific divisions of the company and not just a blanket moratorium on anything they own.

        4. Minocho*

          Like Irishgal mentioned, there can be room to change or amend the agreement.

          I came in the first day of a new job, and was given the usual stack of papers to sign. The HR person was a little annoyed that I was reading everything rather than just signing, but after a few minutes watching me, she left the meeting room to go do something else for a bit.

          While she was gone I found one paper that required a signature that I couldn’t sign. It declared that I had received and read a document that I hadn’t received or read. I set it aside and searched through the stack of stuff for said document and couldn’t find it. I continued wading through everything else until the HR person came back.

          When they came back, I asked for the documentation the unsigned document I’d set aside mentioned. She was very confused. She’d never seen or heard of the document, and didn’t believe it existed. I said that unfortunately I couldn’t sign that document, then. She insisted I had to, or I would lose my new job. After a second to think, I asked if it would be acceptable that I inserted a hand written comment that I had not received the document, and crossed out the statement saying I had. She agreed I could do that, and so I crossed out pretty much the whole document, wrote new text explaining I had not received or read the document, then signed and dated that statement.

          There are ways to push back gently, and more often than not people are willing to be reasonable. Not always, of course. But even when people are unreasonable and back you into a corner with no care for how that affects you or your relationship with them…well…that’s useful information too, isn’t it?

        5. Glenn*

          My suggestion, in your position: “Sorry, my lawyer has told me I’m not allowed to agree to anything I haven’t had a chance to read, so I can’t accept the job without that information. You understand, of course.”

          I see no ethical problem with lying about the existence of the lawyer, and I’m not aware of any legal problem with it, but if you like you could contact a lawyer before saying this. (Believe me, they will tell you the same thing.)

          (Note: I have not used this strategy myself yet, since I have not been put in this position again since about 15 years ago, when I didn’t know any better. Also of course, this only works for jobs where the idea that you have a lawyer would not get you laughed out of the room. But I see that you, like me, are a software engineer, so it’s not unreasonable.)

      2. Coverage Associate*

        That my firm has a restricted securities list isn’t confidential. Were I familiar with working for firms of its size, I could have anticipated that there was a list.

        And the list isn’t confidential like client information. I have to give it to my financial advisor.

        But the point of the list is that now that I am working for the firm, I have access to non public information about those corporations, so I can’t transact in those stocks, which of course makes sense. But there’s a difference between having access to all of a corporation’s litigation strategy, for example, which is confidential attorney-client information, and just knowing employees of a certain firm can’t buy or sell its stock. But maybe the law doesn’t see it that way.

        And if I had the job for a long time, I would have arranged to not inherit my stocks in kind and stuck with mutual funds. (I inherited the restricted securities a few months before I started the job.)

        1. Sharon*

          For companies that routinely access inside information (e.g. investment managers that are buying and selling large blocks of securities), the restricted list changes all the time, so even if they gave it to you beforehand, a stock you hold could appear on (or be deleted from) the restricted list the next day.

          A longer-term restriction might be in place if you work with mergers & acquisitions, or if your company prohibits you from transacting in its own securities. But check with your compliance person to see if you can get permission to divest a stock you already own. The restrictions are there to prevent conflicts of interests, and sometimes there are processes by which they can check for conflicts and approve your transaction if none exist.

      3. Jeffrey Deutsch*


        Years ago, I showed up to my first day of work…as a media researcher. Basically calling media organizations on the phone and asking for contact information for their on-air talent, producers, etc., so our clients could then pitch them. Told for the first time that as conditions of employment (due to the confidential nature of the media contact database), I needed to sign (1) an authorization to check my credit and (2) a non-compete policy: For the entire time I worked for them + 1 year afterward, I could not work in any capacity whatsoever for any of their clients.

        Yes, I signed.

        Those things need to be spelled out in full in the offer letter at the very latest. Preferably during the interview. No, the candidate shouldn’t even have to ask — in part because we don’t know everything to ask about.

    2. Dancing Otter*

      Without knowing the details or what business you’re in, when I had to report my investments for annual conflict of interest disclosures, they really preferred me to divest of anything problematic. So the opposite of being stuck owning stocks when it made sense to sell.
      But yeah, would have been nice to know before I bought.

  17. Vauxhall Prefect*

    LW #3: I’m in New Zealand as well and while I’m usually pretty terrible about taking the lead on such things my experience is that peers here are usually very receptive to talking salary if it does come up. And I think generally are understanding that it’s the only way staff can really hold employer’s to account properly.

    The need to do that hits pretty close to home right now, as I’ve recently been promoted. While that would normally be a great thing, the extra responsibility has coincided with clear information that I’m underpaid by at least 30% even for the role I was in before the promotion. So while it’s not a race/gender thing with me I’m left really feeling why staff need to talk to each other to understand what fair pay looks like.

  18. Bob*

    Lw1: you are in way over your head.
    You need to speak to lawyer. Finding one who will know what to do here may be challenge, thats how far over your head you are.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      YES. Advising OP to whistleblow or talk to boss is all good and well-meaning, but OP needs to protect themselves first. If the boss is being that open about flouting the law and defrauding the government, that means that you and other employees cannot claim that you didn’t know about it. First step is to speak with a lawyer BEFORE you call the Small Business Administration or Coronavirus Fraud Line. You need to protect yourself first because this isn’t going to end well for your boss or your company.

  19. PX*

    OP3: Good on you for doing this! As others have said, you could use current world circumstances as a way to bring it up.

    If you want to go the full on route, you could also approach it at a company level: I’ve had several experiences of getting a salary increase because the company does a review every year to make sure salaries are keeping up with market values. But I’ve also heard stories where the company does reviews specifically due to suspicions of unequal payment. So you could also go to your HR (if you think they would help rather than hinder this) and suggest this as an idea.

    Additionally implementing pay transparency measures (eg clear pay bands for specific roles, clear promotion criteria, clear raise criteria) could also help make this a more long term fix, so thats also something you could suggest if you thought it would help.

  20. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP 1:

    This is something I’ve got a lot of painful experience with, I.e. realising your boss is committing illegal financial fraud (in my case he was running a Ponzi scheme). Also I did report him to the authorities and dealt with the fallout from that.

    I advise you first to make sure you’ve got copies of your payslips and any and all email communications from your boss that allude to this. Store them offsite (I backed mine up onto 2 hard drives at home). Even if you’re not going to report them it can be useful.

    Then, take some time to weigh your own stress levels and mental state before doing anything. I want to say that despite the company going under, having to give evidence in the high court and having the press hound me I don’t regret informing the authorities as to what my boss was doing. It can get very very stressful but the knowledge that I was in the right, morally, got me through it. (Okay that and my husband and my GP prescribing a few anti anxiety meds).

    It doesn’t make you a bad person if you decide you can’t deal with the stress of blowing the whistle. Really, it doesn’t. Look after yourself first, know your limits. I for one don’t blame any of my former coworkers for not raising the alarm, for whatever reason.

    But definitely start job hunting.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I totally get what you’re saying, but as the OP I’d be afraid of getting into legal trouble if I didn’t report the boss because I was compliant in the fraud. So while the consequences may result in losing your job and/or being heavily involved in a legal case, to me that’s better than a jail sentence.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m just saying from the perspective of someone who suffered horribly (I’ve been unemployed since this went down..trying to get my head back together) from stress during my experience, that it’s something to keep in mind.

        Of course, I have no knowledge of the US legal or tax system (I’m in the UK) so everything I relate could be totally irrelevant! And frankly I’m cool with that. I just want everyone to stay as mentally stable as possible during these harrowing times.

    2. Bella*

      This reminds me of my close friend, who reported his former employer for what was essentially wage theft or something (after he had moved to the next job).

      He was trying to do the right thing but it blew up horribly in his face – the employer turned around and accused HIM of theft & it became very difficult to prove that hadn’t happened. And regardless, simply *because* he was arrested for that he was immediately let go from his next job.

      I guess in this case it’s a little different but I’d be very careful about making sure OP has proof to substantiate the claim so that the employer can’t attempt to retaliate and muddy the waters

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        This happened to a family friend. There were two partners in the company and he testified against the one who won the day, who then turned around and accused him of theft, etc. He spent years in prison because the argument “everyone did this” “you told me to do this” “this is systemic” didn’t really work once that partner had won his case. He wasn’t a single whistleblower, though.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Always get evidence first. I had lots of access to company emails, data etc. I didn’t start looking for evidence until a very angry client had turned up one day when only I was there and threatened to do…unpleasant stuff…if the CEO didn’t explain where his money had gone NOW.

        Terrified, I realised that something at this firm was going horribly wrong. But I made sure I got oodles of proof before I spoke to the authorities.

    3. Observer*

      Yeah, the issue here is not moral obligation but legal risk.

      Right now, the OP is truly at risk of getting caught in a fraud prosecution. That’s NOT a good place to be.

  21. ResuMAYDAY*

    For LW1: On April 10, 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced its effort to root out fraud associated with the billions of dollars in payments promised under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Congressional watchdog is encouraging individuals – private citizens, government workers, contractors, etc. – to anonymously and confidentially report any allegations of fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement through FraudNet (the GAO’s fraud-reporting website), via e-mail or by calling 1-800-424-5454 (the GAO’s automated phone answering system).
    (Copied from http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=1b3fae19-8369-4888-9a99-a4411a6b538b)

    1. Observer*

      OP 1 – PLEASE talk to a lawyer before you do ANYTHING else – except for making off site copies of every single communication to or from your boss about this.

  22. JM60*

    1 I’m guessing this would force employees to pay more payroll taxes because they probably wouldn’t get payroll tax refunds for the money they give back to their criminal boss. For this reason, I would hope this would be a violation of every state’s wage and hour laws.

    1. Emma*

      This was my thought – one way of getting this dealt with unofficially might be for LW to contact the tax office, explain the situation and ask what they need to do to avoid overpaying on tax. You’d do this as if you have no idea that what the boss is doing is illegal – you just have an honest question about tax, and have no reason to assume that everything isn’t above board, right? Any tax officer worth their salt will twig the situation right away and escalate it without needing any prompting from LW.

      Obviously this probably won’t fool anyone if LW has already objected to the situation, and from comments above it sounds like you get protection and compensation from going through official whistleblowing channels which would make that the better option. But if LW is in a position to deal with the consequences without help, and wants to keep things low-key, this could be a possibility.

  23. Brainjacker*

    LW #1 – I would hate working for this boss/org as well, and probably wouldn’t hesitate to report this scheme, but can’t help noting the irony that the USG just spent trillions of public dollars clandestinely and without transparency. This boss sucks but it’s a broken system that punishes HIM for defrauding the government whole the folks at the top are stealing from the American purse without consequence.

    1. Rebecca*

      I find it sickening that our government couldn’t find a way to sever health insurance from employment, and offer insurance options to everyone because it would cost too much money, yet they spent many times this amount on business bailouts.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      So because the rich folks are stealing without consequence it’s okay for the boss to defraud the government? Yeah, no. This boss more than sucks.

      1. Observer*

        Worse – keeping money from other firms that need it more than him and enmeshing others in his fraud!

  24. Coverage Associate*

    More re #4: non-competes are unenforceable in California, though I think no-related-side-gigs rules are enforced. (ie, am employer can prohibit you from doing engineering work for them and another business at the same time, but you can quit one engineering firm on Monday and start at a new place Tuesday, and there’s nothing that the first job can do about it.)

    And of course exclusive licenses of software are enforceable. And employment terms where everything you write or design while employed belong to the employer, not employee.

    But our courts have refused to enforce arbitration agreements presented on the first day of work, reasoning that they are very important terms of the employment and the new employee has no bargaining power after quitting a previous job. I have seen them presented at the interview stage instead (in which case they apply to the application stage, too), but I am also curious if the courts will enforce them in industries where they are common.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      The law on non-competes is complicated. Even outside states like California that hold non-compete agreements void, courts will look at several factors when determining whether to enforce a non-compete. One of the most important is consideration: did the person who signed the non-compete get anything in return for it? When an employee first learns they’ll have to sign a non-compete on day one or lose the job, the answer is no: the employee didn’t get anything for signing the agreement that they hadn’t already bargained for. So courts will often hold that “surprise” non-competes are invalid. Other factors that the courts will consider include how important the employee is (i.e., non-competes for executives are more likely to be enforceable than if a company requires everyone to sign a non-compete), and how restrictive the agreement is (is the timeframe reasonable? Is the restriction from work reasonable, or would it basically prevent the employee from working anywhere in his field?).

      But even an obviously non-enforceable non-compete agreement can be a pain for the employee. If an employer wants to press the issue, or just be a jerk out of spite when an employee leaves, they can still go to court. Defending a lawsuit can be expensive, and an employer might be able to get a court order preventing the employee from working while the suit progresses. So it’s still kind of risky to rely on a non-compete being unenforceable, especially if you think the employer is the kind who might abuse the agreement if you leave under less-than-friendly circumstances.

  25. Anon for this*

    For #1, I strongly urge the OP to report this to her local U.S. Attorney’s Office immediately. She would be considered a whistleblower and would be protected. Her employer’s actions almost certainly violate the False Claims Act and would also likely be considered criminal fraud by the government.

    1. SweetestCin*

      Agreed. The boss’ actions feel like money laundering. Can’t pin down why exactly.

      1. boo bot*

        I think it’s because it’s the same principle, just kind of backward. Money laundering is generally to disguise the source of one’s ill-gotten gains; here, the source isn’t a secret, but the boss is using his workers’ pay to disguise where the ill-gotten gains are going.

        *I am not an expert on money laundering, ill-gotten gains, or disguises.

    2. T*

      I’m on a conference call with my firm’s practice group right now and someone giving a presentation on PPP just said “I fully expect to see enforcement actions under the False Claims Act due to people incorrectly certifying to SBA the number of employees,” which sounds like what happened here…

  26. OtterB*

    LW 2, reading your description, it sounded to me like partially a role conflict. Like, who’s running this meeting anyway? Whoever “owns” the discussion takes priority in deciding when to move things along. Which makes this kind of discussion problematic because, since it’s your dissertation, you are the one in charge, but because it’s your advisor there’s a natural tendency to defer to her being in charge. As a result neither of you takes the initiative to move on. So I’d suggest, in addition to the specific words suggested, that you would be helped by a mindset that you are leading a discussion about the current state of your dissertation. This might make it easier to move on when you have what you need on a particular point.

    This advice would be different if you had an advisor who needs their ego pandered to, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

  27. hbc*

    OP2: I would mention you’ve noticed the pattern to Ann and let her know you’re trying not to get into 5 minutes of thoroughly agreeing. That way it doesn’t seem too curt if you switch from “yes, you’re right, thematic is the way to go because of x and y” to “Yep, agreed.”

    A possibility though, which might be a bad extrapolation from how you’ve simplified the conversation: Are you really just summarizing and making sure the other person agrees, or is it more in line with trying to “prove” you understand why it’s the right decision? Because it really sounds like there’s not more to summarize after the first sentence, and you both are kind of…squandering your opportunity to move on by adding another sentence about how there are Even More Reasons why this is a good idea. And unless the things you’re thinking of mid-summary are reasons why you should change your mind, there’s no need to throw them in the mix.

    Or heck, maybe you two are just trying to summarize too early. If you need to go over the whole alphabet of why thematic is a good idea, then go for it, and don’t waste time summarizing each time like “Yes, we need to do thematic because of X and Y.” “Oh, yes, and Z is also a reason.” “X, Y, and Z, you’re so right, and let’s not forget about W and V.” Let yourselves think out loud for a while if that’s what you like doing.

    1. Elsajeni*

      I was also wondering, from the example, whether part of the issue might be that the OP wants to make it clear when Ann’s suggestion is actually something she was already planning on doing, rather than saying something like “oh, great idea!” that feels like she’s crediting Ann with suggesting something she hadn’t thought of — if that’s the case, I think your key script is something like “yes, that’s just what I was thinking! I’m glad we agree,” or “oh, sounds like we’re on the same page! I thought the same thing, because of XYZ.”

  28. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I’m a lawyer, but admittedly, I don’t know all the rules and regulations around the PPP. My understanding was that if the recipient could show that the money was used for payroll that the loan could be forgiven. I don’t see why this would have been so hard to do, even absent this weird fraudulent scheme the employer has cooked up. I don’t think the intention was that a business receiving PPP was prohibited from doing business and earning other money, but that the PPP is/was meant to pay employees. So, if the business gets $100,000 and can show that over the relevant period they used that money to pay employees, they should be fine. If, as a result of the employees working the business also brings in other revenue, that is okay (and probably encouraged) and that money gets used for something else or gets saved or whatever. So, in addition to this being bizarre and probably fraudulent, it also seems unnecessary.

  29. Zett*

    I just had experience with #4 – it’s so tough because there’s so much to think about off the bat. For instance, at the job I just started they have an odd technology policy that if your tech breaks before the accepted repurchase window you have to pay for it yourself (the cost does depreciate each year). To me that just seems like the cost of doing business – things will break. In my previous job I travelled a lot, so we definitely had more wear and tear on our items, which I think also made me more nervous. And of course they purchased the fanciest/most overpriced devices so the cost could be high if it broke in year 1.

    But it was so odd that I had to sign that the first day, and to the LW’s point, you feel like you can’t really argue it at that time (I know I could, but you already left your other job so you feel kind of stuck).

  30. Delta Delta*

    #2 – This would drive me to the point of insanity. I suggest making an agenda and an ending time. It doesn’t have to be pushy, it could be as easy as asking to go over a few things, and then saying you have to leave for whatever reason. “Mind if we catch up on XYZ for 1/2 hour? I have to leave at noon for a dentist appointment” or something like that could re-frame the meeting and keep it on track. And then stick to it.

  31. ProdMgr*

    OP2, the way that I handle this kind of thing (in tech) is to write the agreed-upon thing down where everyone can see it. In person, this is usually bullet points on a whiteboard. On Zoom, it might be a shared doc or something. Once it’s captured where everyone can see it, you can segue to the next thing. If working with one other more senior person, I might write it down and then say “did I capture this accurately?” and when they nod or say yes, that’s the cue to move on.

  32. blackcatlady*

    For OP#1: If I read your letter correctly you are receiving pay for time you did not work. Fraud #1. Your employer wants you to pay that back under the table. Fraud #2. BIG QUESTION: what will your W2 say at the end of the year? Are you going to be paying taxes on those invisible wages? Plus as someone above pointed out you have also had other withholdings taken out. TALK TO AN EMPLOYMENT LAWYER. And maybe a tax professional. You are in a huge dilemma and need professional help to keep yourself from being in legal trouble.

    1. Rebecca*

      I thought the same thing! This means the compensation, tax amounts, etc. reported on the OP’s W2 for Federal, State, and Local taxes are inflated.

      This needs to be reported yesterday.

  33. Goodbye Toby*

    For OP1: I just saw they introduced whistleblower protection for fraud under the CARES act or PPP – basically, you can report gross misuse or fraudulent use of funds and be protected from retaliation. So maybe you could point that out to your boss or gently mention those types of possibilites to coworkers. It’s not law yet, but maybe will nudge them back into reality about the serious consequences for committing fraud.

  34. Christopher Ezold*

    OP#1 – I’m an attorney that has been doing a lot of work advising clients with PPP loans and related issues.

    First – if you assist the employer, you are likely committing a federal felony. I expect significant federal audits to occur just as they did after the 2008 bailouts. Fraudsters like your boss are likely to be caught – especially as he is stupid enough to ask employees to assist him and almost guarantee that someone reports him.

    Second – if this were my client, I’d fire him ASAP. Never, ever get in bed with people like this. If I were you, I’d find another job ASAP. If he can throw you under the bus for anything, you can be sure he will.

    Third – and most importantly – YOU NEED TO PUT IN WRITING TO HIM THAT YOU ARE REFUSING TO HELP HIM. If you have been overpaid wages, speak with an attorney about whether and how to return these (you don’t want fraudulently obtained federal funds in your possession). If he fires you for refusing to participate in fraud, you may have an employment claim in your state. Better yet, you will have written evidence that you are refusing to commit a crime. Like Allison usually says, you should consider banding together with other employees to speak to an attorney in your state to ensure you have the evidence you need to show you are not participating in his crime, and to protect yourselves and your employment rights. Federal prosecutors are going to come down hard on people like your employer.

    1. Observer*

      The thought that comes to me in reference to the money is to put it into an escrow account, so you can prove that YOU were trying to do the correct and legal thing.



      1. Christopher Ezold*

        The employer can use the funds for a wide range of purposes, but what appears clear is that he is trying to get forgiveness for the funds – that is, he wants to use them for non-payroll purposes BUT make it look like there is a payroll use of the funds so he can get forgiveness. There is no other reason I can see for his actions. I think it’s very likely he’ll get caught and charged with one or more felonies (wire fraud, violation of the False Claims Act, etc.). Knowingly helping him will expose you to liability. I urge you to get together with other employees and speak to an attorney ASAP to protect yourselves.

  35. Sunset Maple*

    #4 is so frustrating to me, I’ve seen some really ridiculous stuff. One company required us to take portraits for our security badges, then stated that they owned the right to our likenesses and might be using it in their advertising. Um, no. I had to specifically hash that out with HR, because my husband’s job requires us both to stay off social media. Not only did the HR rep act like I was a nut for caring about it, but she implied that I was neither young enough nor attractive enough to be one of the people they would actually use anyway.

  36. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP3, your intentions are good, and I think talking about salary at an individual level is a good start. But what do you anticipate doing next? Once you know that you make $X and Lucinda in a comparable role makes 75% of X, what are you going to do with that information? What are you thinking Lucinda is going to do about it? Ideally the next steps should be up to you, as the person who initiated the conversation, and also the person who likely has more power and privilege.

    I just did a quick google search, and came up with lots of articles on how women can negotiate higher salaries for themselves. Which again is great but completely beside the point, and it won’t solve the problem of pay equity in general. So I would encourage you to do some research on that – how can you use your relative privilege to advocate for others? At your organization, within your industry or profession, with the government – I’m sure there are lots of things you can do other than just sharing your salary info.

  37. Doctor Prepper*

    re: #4 IANAL but I have seen many posts on other job-related boards where people basically took the non-compete contracts to Legal, and said “I’m not signing this, and you can’t force me too” and Legal just says “You’re right, we can’t” and lets it go.

    I’d love to see the court case where AFTER a job offer has been made and accepted, after all the drug testing, background checking etc. is passed, and you show up on your first day, refuse to sign that and they fire you for it – when many, many courts have determined that these overly broad non-compete’s are unenforceable on their face.

  38. Quill*

    #1. Holy forking shirtballs. Dust the resume and report, if there is any way at all for you to get out of there. If a company is trying to make you an accessory to fraud, also be freaking careful that they haven’t committed fraud against you.

    #4. Unfortunately this seems common enough that it’s not even a sign of a more shady than average workplace. As are places that want you to sign that you won’t talk about your pay… or, as I’ve encountered most of, recruiters who want you to sign that you will not be represented to the whole company by any other agency, sometimes after they’ve submitted your application and will pull it but also leave you unable to “double submit” for the position if you try to apply on your own or via another agency. (Note: I don’t actually know if this spectre of Double Submitting is a thing that disqualifies your application, or if it’s commonly accepted wisdom in the field I’m in, or what. Perhaps I’d better have Alison look into this situation, because in all my dealings with the whole industry, advice I’ve been given has consisted of lies, damned lies, and statistics.)

  39. Employment Lawyer*

    1. Employer wants us to help with loan fraud
    This is concerning, but not necessarily as concerning IMO as Alison thinks.

    First, the fact that they obtained a loan that you don’t think they “need” is OK. To a degree, the loan is both assistance and stimulus mixed into one (which is also why I think it’s likely to be fine if you’re overpaid as discussed below.) Your employee-level idea of “need” may not match theirs and it may not match the PP loan requirements.

    Second, an employer is allowed to pay you for bonus hours; or to voluntarily pay you for more time worked, any time! It isn’t “fabrication” unless they’re trying to pull a fast one on the company: worker protections come in when they TAKE your pay, not when they give you EXTRA pay. And although I haven’t double checked this with the PP loans, I strongly suspect that so long as they are actually paying you the amounts claimed, they’re welcome to do so: Direct payments to workers are a form of stimulus.

    Third, it’s usually fine for people to “game” the system and try to maximize the free government money. You can think that’s unethical, but literally every statute and tax law is gamed by individuals and corporations alike, so it is pretty common and the idea of “the code drives behavior by creating incentives” is relatively universal. So I don’t know if that is what I would call “fraud,” my inclination is no, but I will defer to someone w/ subject matter expertise in PP loans.

    Now, on to the problems.

    The obvious issue is cutting hours and benefits after the PP loan period expires. This one may well violate the PP loan terms: while I think employers are not necessarily PREVENTED from cutting hours due to business necessity, I don’t think they are allowed to proactively PLAN for an arrangement to cut hours in an effort to maximize PP benefits: The fact that they’re planing for it (print and save your emails!!) shows it isn’t a business necessity.

    Also, if you’re hourly–which you presumably are since you mention OT–they are absolutely forbidden from “working 8 hours but paying you for 6.” They simply can’t do it, under any state or federal law of which I am aware. If you work 8 hours, you need to get paid for 8 hours.

    If you’re salaried, things are actually quite a bit more complex and it may be permissible.

    Anyway…. you can raise a fuss if you want. But as always, I remind you that the realities don’t match the ideal behavior.

    If you are actually underpaid (for example, “work 8 hours and get paid for 6”) and you complain after the fact, and get fired, you have an extremely good case. There is no dispute about the actual bad acts, and the evidence is solid.

    If you are perhaps going to be underpaid (in some weeks) and if you complain, before the fact and get fired later, it’s a LOT HARDER to win the case. Why? Because is not illegal to stupidly consider breaking the law, and then (prior to doing anything actually bad) realize that you were making a mistake. So getting fired for reporting underpaymen is heavily protected; getting fired for reporting a bad plan that is not yet happening is much less protected.

    I would not raise it, or refer it to anyone, without consulting local employment counsel.

    1. NRL*

      Multiple lawyers above disagree strongly with this, including some who have been working in this area of law.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        I don’t think a lot of those folks are actually lawyers. And many of them are wrong.

        First of all, the employee is being paid by the employer, not by the PPP program. Employees aren’t a party to the PPP loan agreement.

        Second, the problem as described concerns forgiveness or underpayments. Forgiveness hasn’t been applied for much less granted and, again, the person making sworn statements w/r/t forgiveness will not be the employee. And the PPP *does not* prevent overpayments; you can pay your employees as much as you want.

        Third, almost all states make it the employer’s sole job to file things correctly, whether it’s a W-2 or anything else. As a rule, if the employer messes up things like taxes it’s on them: While an employee might have to adjust a filing, they don’t generally get busted for relying on employer-provided information.

        Fourth, people are really confusing the ethics and the law. Unethical behavior is that which is slimy; this is definitely unethical. Illegal behavior is that which is barred by statute, it’s usually a much smaller subset of illegality. Don’t assume that slimy behavior is illegal, it often isn’t. I don’t know if this is illegal or not but the assumptions that it is illegal (much less CRIMINAL on the part of the employee for failing to report) seem like they may be a stretch.

        Fifth, there is not always an applicable reporting statute (it varies by state) but more to the point there is also probably not a crime yet. Overpayment is not a crime; working is not a crime; you have no evidence that they obtained the initial PPP loan under false pretenses; and nothing else, including the purportedly-fraudulent forgiveness, has happened. If the money has so far been used entirely for paychecks and if it is eventually paid back when due, I doubt there will be any crime at all. I suppose it’s possible someone can make a “get in trouble for failing to proactively flag the possibility that a future non-violent non-personal crime which may constitute a felony may be committed down the road” argument but come on: in reality and in practice, that seems like a huge stretch.

        Definitely talk to a state lawyer, I always recommend this. But the lack of nuanced detail in some of those “lawyer” posts may explain why I’m not hugely convinced.

  40. Employment Lawyer*

    2. My manager and I get caught in conversational feedback loops
    “Glad we can agree on that. Let’s check it off and move on.”

    3. How can I offer to discuss my salary with coworkers?
    AAM advice is great. But first, check w/ a NZ lawyer and make sure you can’t be fired for doing so (or at least that you know the risk.)

    1. KNZ*

      I’m a NZer and no, you can’t be fired for doing so. Or if you were, you’d have a lovely case to take to the ERA.

  41. RussianInTexas*

    Not allowed to accept resumes story from partner:
    He had an intern. Now, their interns are in at least master’s programs, so not 19 years old college kids. They hire about 90% of the interns full time. And they pay the interns well. But the only hire the ones who “exceed expectations” – they are very selective from the start.
    So this intern – fine, but by partner’s opinion, not a developer. Would be fine in other groups, but not his. So that was his verdict (one of 3 people who sign off on an intern). He even recommended groups he could do well at, but they didn’t need anyone. So the intern was not hired.
    He started sending his resume to the partner anyway, and then when he get a canned “I am sorry, please apply via **** web-site”, he started sending his resume directly to the HR person, and then started sending e-mails about “how dare you not hire me I am so talented”.
    The strategy weirdly didn’t work.

  42. memyselfandi*

    Letter #2, I am not in the humanities, but I had few of this type of conversation with my dissertation advisor or with the dissertations I supervised. He gave me some suggestions on how to organize my materials (i.e. set up a folder for each chapter), but I planned and wrote each chapter and gave it to my advisors for feedback. That feedback was sometimes verbal and sometimes written. One thing I learned very early on in my relationship with my advisor was that it was up to me to direct the conversation. He was willing to sit and shoot the breeze for the time we had scheduled. It was an important part of my education, and taught me to be an independent researcher and thinker. My work is interdisciplinary between biology and the social sciences, so not physics, but it involves mathematical modeling. Maybe there is a difference, but your description of these detailed conversations about the content of chapters concerns me.

    1. JSPA*

      #2: Go meta. If the back-and-forth is long enough that it could hide some minor point of disagreement, it’s time to discuss the discussion, instead of discussing the topic.

      “I’m hearing that we’re 100% in agreement on this aspect, which is great. If that’s so, can I get your feedback on X?”


      Do NOT name / restate / recap what “this aspect” is. Why? Well, if you’re actually talking past each other in the details, and you restate your details, you’ll just go another round, as they also restate theirs. Which is fruitless.

      You are prompting for any sign of disagreement; if the comback is, “mostly,” or if they circle back to detail, it’s time to say, “are we talking about the details again because there’s a disagreement either in approach or in terminology? If so, could you make that difference explicit, instead of modeling it for me? If not, can we move along?”

      Because this is a thing that happens:

      Student: uses the wrong word or misnames the theory, but the ideas and intent are good
      Advisor: responds positively to the ideas and intent, while using the correct terms, with the intent of modeling the right information
      Student: sails right past the correction
      Advisor: it has now become even more embarrassing to say, “micturate does not mean what you think it means” or “I thought you were joking when you ascribed Kurt Vonnegut’s words to Kant, but if you’re not…that’s not Kant.” They mirror back the information again, with more emphasis on specific words; student, not knowing that they’re listening to a correction, again sails on through.

      Academics are not taught very well (or at all) to give corrections, and often default (at best) to the rules for pleasant interaction at a social event, rather than, y’know, making a correction. (Still better than the other options, which include mockery and shaming and whispering behind people’s backs.)

  43. Genny*

    LW2, is this your meeting (i.e. are you the one setting the agenda)? If so, your advisor is probably expecting you to run the meeting, which mean transitioning from agenda item to agenda item. From your letter, it sounds like you think she’s the running the meeting and should be responsible for making the transition. Other commentors have given you great suggestions for how to transition between topics, so I’ll just encourage you to take ownership of the meeting. It’s your meeting, you get to run it (which includes managing how much time is spent on each topic), and you’re the one who needs to get something out of it; it’s not rude to push through your agenda…in fact, learning how to short circuit loquaciousness and get a meeting back on track is a very valuable soft skill.

  44. nellie*

    LW3: It’s often uncomfortable for people to talk salary either in the building or over employer Slack/Emails, so I strongly recommend having these conversations on a “walk and talk” if you can.

    Like anything that’s awkward to start, it will get easier as you do it. My husband worked on a team once where they practically had it down to a science – any time there was a new team member in their sphere, a handful of them would go on a group walk and have an honest discussion about their salaries. Once it became just (unofficially) part of the process of on-boarding, a lot of the awkwardness melted away.

    If you’re on indefinite WFH, a phone call probably makes the most sense.

    1. Pathfinder Ryder*

      Here in New Zealand we reopened (except borders) last week, as we eliminated community transmission of covid and were on 23 days of no new cases until two new cases popped up this week from international travel, so while offices are certainly exploring letting more people work from home more often, LW3 is unlikely to be on indefinite WFH.

  45. Claudia*

    Re #1 – my confusion is because this employer’s “scheme” is completely unnecessary.

    The loan amount is 2.5 months (or ~10 weeks) of payroll costs. Originally, you had 8 weeks to spend at least 75% on payroll, which mathematically should be about right, and the other 25% on rent, utilities, and other approved costs. To be clear, they can technically spend the funds on anything. Anything not spent within the requirements is just a normal low-interest SBA loan instead of a grant.

    However, in the last round of legislation, they lessened these requirements to make it even easier. You only have to spend 60% on payroll, AND you can opt to use a 24-week forgiveness period instead of 8 weeks. If an employer can’t spend 10 weeks of payroll costs in 24 weeks, there are other problems.

    In response to other people –
    Yes, the employer could have lied about their payroll costs on the loan application, but any lender I have worked with (I applied through a few for my business) required a copy of the payroll report and/or a tax return to verify.

    The supporting documents to accompany the forgiveness application are up to the lender to some degree, but nearly everyone has said you should be prepared to provide at least your federal 941 and payroll report, so again, this will be verified.

    Yes, you are supposed to check a box affirming that your business needs the loan due to the crisis. Congress has said that they will be auditing businesses that took out loans over $2 million; smaller amounts may very likely just be assumed to have been needed, or not worth the investigation to prove otherwise. Especially since the loans were first available in March, when this was all starting — no one knew how long this situation would last. Maybe a business had funds in March to get by for a 1-2 months without help, but not longer? All the advice at the time was to apply for the loan ASAP before the funds ran out in case you needed it.

    It seems to me that the employer has made things more difficult for himself and pissed off his employees for no reason. With the changes to the legislation, this could all end with no fraudulent reporting on the loan documents. It probably depends on your state, but it seems to me the fraud comes in with the employer asking you to pay back wages that you had been taxed on, and that will probably show up on your W2. That needs to be addressed, regardless of the loan status.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, it sounds like the employer doesn’t understand the process, which makes sense because even though it’s worded pretty easily, people still have problems interpreting things.

      Unless he went to the extreme of falsifying documents to get a bigger loan amount, it’s not impossible but it’s highly unlikely unless there’s more to this story that the OP didn’t share.

    2. goducks*

      I agree with all this.

      The PPP allows wages to be paid in excess of hours worked, for example having people work PT but paying FT or simply paying people to stay home and stay safe. It also covers things like hazard bonuses, if a company chooses to do so. So paying excess wages isn’t really an issue. Even calling it OT isn’t really an issue, if the EE is working 40 hours, for the purposes of PPP the EE is a FTE, the extra hours don’t offset another EE’s PT hours.

      The loan fraud comes in when the employer asks the employee to repay the wages after the loan is forgiven, because it never really intended for the employee to receive the money.

      And a scheme to recoup overpaid wages that’s phrased as “you work 8 hours, we’ll pay 6” is not legal. Legit wage overpayments can generally be required to be repaid, and some states have tighter regulations about how much can be pulled from checks and how frequently, but the employer would still have to show pay for 8 hours, with a deduction of an amount from that pay in whatever formula is legally allowed.

      There are so many free online seminars out there about how to manage PPP funds and (legally, ethically) maximize forgiveness run by reputable law firms and accounting firms, there’s really no need for these schemes and no excuse for the employer to be trying to pull them.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        For me, all of the points that are being raised just underline the importance of talking to a lawyer. The more of these comments I read, the more it becomes clear how many different levels of factors are involved, nuances on top of nuances.

        At the risk of being repetitious, LW, I really think your main takeaway from all this should be:
        1. You’re in over your head, so talk to a lawyer.
        2. It’s not safe to guess or assume anything here, so talk to a lawyer.
        3. Whatever else you do, before deciding on any course of action, please talk to a GD lawyer!

        And finally (although it probably goes without saying), please update AAM on any and all developments. :-D

  46. Ladylike*

    Isn’t LW#3 going to open a massive can of worms, create tension among his colleagues who will blame him for the wage disparities (right or wrong), and eventually be viewed as a troublemaker by management? And if the company can’t or won’t level the playing field, he’ll have demoralized his coworkers as well, at a time that they might not be able to run out and find a new job. His intent is noble, but I think he should carefully weigh all possible outcomes before sharing his income with his coworkers.

    1. Not Me*

      One of the very real possible outcomes is that people will be paid fairly, whether at their current employer or when they find a better employer willing to treat people equitably.

      Suggesting it’s a bad idea to discuss wage disparities because it could demoralize people who aren’t being paid fairly is absolutely ridiculous and somewhat offensive.

  47. mgguy*

    With regard to wage discussion, it’s always seemed weird to me that it’s a taboo topic in so many work places. I’ve never had a “real job”(by that I mean not something that wasn’t a part time job while I was in school or things like that) that wasn’t in some round-a-bout way government connected. Every place I’ve worked, salary talk is normal since quite literally anyone who cares can find it out. The newspapers use to publish salary lists every year, and now there are searchable databases(albeit that are sometimes a year or two behind) often compiled by the same resources. If I’m not mistaken, you could probably call/email the relevant person at HR(or somewhere in that foodchain) and ask them what I’m making, and they have to answer you.

    While it can lead to SOME jealousy(what on earth does so-and-so do that’s worth $x when I only make $y?) it’s also handy information when asking for a raise(my duties include Jane’s primary duties of A, B, and C and in addition to those I also do X, Y, and Z, so I think Jane’s salary is a reasonable request). IMO, wage transparency is overall a good thing, and if it stands out that, for example, a POC and/or woman is making less than a white man in the same role, there had better be a REALLY good explanation.

  48. Observer*

    #5 – If this is a company that cares about its reputation for ethical practices and respect for customers, your application may be toast. Because the Sales Director might be looking at this and thinking that if this is how you try to get a job, you’ll use the same tactics to drum up sales. And this is a good way to get yourself put on someones email block list. Not just YOUR INDIVIDUAL email, but the company’s whole domain.

  49. Tidewater 4-1009*

    #3 – Here in America employers often have a rule against discussing salary with colleagues. This is obviously to give them an advantage in underpaying people. But it’s still a rule, and they can fire people for doing it.
    Before you start discussing with your colleagues check to see if your employer has such a rule, so you’re prepared for any consequences.
    Good luck! What you’re doing is awesome! :)

    1. Not Me*

      That’s illegal in the US, employers cannot have such a rule and they certainly cannot act on it by firing people.

    2. Observer*

      But it’s still a rule, and they can fire people for doing it.

      Nope. They actually can NOT. Totally and flatly illegal.

      No idea about where the OP is, though.

  50. Ladylike*

    LW#4 – I was referred by a friend to my current job, and he gave me a casual tour of the facility before I accepted the job, but HR didn’t have a formal process for plant tours, etc. On my first day of work, I learned that I could not wear skirts/dresses (long pants only in the entire facility), I could not wear jewelry or perfume, only light make-up, zero nail polish (even clear) or artificial nails. I had to find a salon that same night to get my acrylic nails removed. I learned that because of where my desk was located, I couldn’t even carry a purse to my desk, and I had to don steel toed shoes, a hairnet, safety glasses, and earplugs just to walk to my desk every day. This was a salaried role, one step below management! There was no way for me to know it would be any different from the other office jobs I’d had my entire career, and for a litany of personal reasons, I was completely freaked out to have all of these restrictions sprung on me when it was too late to change my mind.

    Fortunately, we’ve managed to loosen a lot of these restrictions (I’ve had a large part in that), and I have lobbied hard with our management team to give prospective hires a much more detailed explanation of our unique requirements in the offer stage. If I had known all of these restrictions prior to accepting the job, it would have given me serious pause and I might not have accepted it.

  51. RB*

    #1 – I just came here to say this has been a really depressing week on the AAM front, and it’s only Wednesday. What is wrong with employers these days?

  52. Alex*


    Good job on wanting to have this convo! I think there’s been some good discussion on ways to raise it in individual or casual situations, but if you’re in a role where it’d be possible, it might also be worth seeing if your organisation would consider a more formal evaluation.

    Stats NZ and the Ministry for Women put out some guidance to do that in house: https://www.stats.govt.nz/methods/organisational-gender-pay-gaps-measurement-and-analysis-guidelines

    Alternatively, consulting firms like Deloitte’s could help, as they did with Westpac last year:

    Either way, coming at this as an organisation, with a plan to reduce the gaps through targeted out-of-cycle pay increases to match like-for-like roles, or mentoring/recruiting plans to reduce occupational segregation is way more helpful than putting the burden on individuals to push for equity, and it really reflects well on a business when they can articulate these plans, so win-win!

  53. Belly jelly*

    Lw3 I am an NZ employer and I would be sooo hacked off if you did that without at least giving me a heads up. We pay as much as we can afford, and have a couple of stand out performers who have negotiated higher rates which we pay because we don’t want to lose them. Not everyone has that type of value to the company. I think you would have a hard time proving discrepancies are race related and culturally speaking I think doing this would put a number on your days at that company. I would suggest raising it directly with HR or your manager and see how that goes. In my experience NZ companies tend to want to do the right thing once made aware of an issue. If one of my staff did come to me with an issue like this we would 100% investigate and act if necessary.

    1. yesimanewzealander*

      I keep thinking how to reply to this. All I’ll say is that you seem to be out of touch and I’m glad my employer doesn’t get “sooo hacked off” when their staff discuss normal things like remuneration, benefits, etc.

  54. Jeffrey Deutsch*


    Mmmm…First the employer fattened up everyone’s paychecks.

    Now that everyone will need to pay the ill-gotten money back, OP sees an ethical problem.

    There sure is one…broader and deeper than OP seems to think.

Comments are closed.