our boss’s lack of self-esteem drives us crazy, interviewing when you can be very picky, and more

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

1. Our boss’s lack of self-esteem is driving us crazy

My supervisor has the self-esteem of a 90’s emo kid, and it is driving our team crazy. To compensate for his issues, he is constantly saying bad things about himself but then follows this up with inappropriate comparisons of himself to other colleagues, designed to put them down so he looks better at their expense. There is then an unspoken expectation/pressure put on us to affirm to him what a great person and supervisor he is. I don’t buy into that game but some of my teammates have done so occasionally because they feel sorry for the guy and want him to just be quiet, go away, and let us get back to work. We have enough to worry about without feeling like we are responsible for managing his self -worth.

The problem is, he’s gotten worse and started trying to drag us further into this sick dynamic by putting down his other teams as a way to “praise” us. We are all very uncomfortable with this, and we made an agreement recently to directly ask him to stop as a team the next time this happened. So the time came this past week, and we made it explicitly clear to him that we don’t want him saying bad things about our colleagues on different teams to us, and we don’t want to hear about our performance as a comparison ever. We told him to directly tell us what he likes and leave other people/teams out of it. In response, he kept trying to talk trash another team, and I had to become very assertive to make him stop. He then said that this is how our director thinks so we needed to get used to it. I told him I didn’t care if the director did that or not, that this was a boundary we were setting and he was to respect it.

He sat there like a whipped puppy for a bit and then walked over to a young female member of our team and told her, “Well, at least you don’t look tired today like you did yesterday.” Another team member and I questioned why he would say this to her and got him to leave – but there it was, yet again him having to put someone down to make himself feel better.

I’d report him, but there’s too much risk. I’m working on a plan to get out, which sucks because I otherwise love my job and my teammates. I can’t leave immediately though. Any advice on how to deal with this guy until I can get out?

It sounds like you’re all doing incredibly well at dealing with him — you’ve clearly and firmly stated your boundaries, and then when he tried a new way of violating them, you called him on it again. A lot of teams wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that (sometimes for good reason, given the power dynamics) but you and your coworkers did it successfully.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the message sticks and how he responds to it over the long-term: does he actually stop the trash-talk and move forward, or fall back into it, or — importantly — does he become a worse manager to you in new and different ways (possibly driven by resentment over being called out)? Right now though, you and your team mates are in a position of power — you’ve come together as a group to draw a clear and reasonable boundary and you’ve shown you will be assertive when your manager crosses lines. Unless something changes significantly (like if he becomes vindictive or hostile in ways that matter), keep doing that! If he starts putting people down again, say, “Fred, you know we don’t want to hear that.” Say it breezily and immediately change the subject. And if you have any mechanism for giving feedback to the management above him and trust them to manage it well, consider doing it — this guy sounds like a drag on your team in the exact opposite way of what he’s meant to do.

2. My employees half-assed the hiring process for promotions

In November I was promoted to supervisor of my department after my previous supervisor retired. Several weeks ago, we learned that he had put in for promotions for a couple of staff working in our lowest titles and that the titles were posted. However, for reasons unknown (government agency) they posted the titles outside of our site as well, meaning I now had seven applicants for the two spots. My two staff are young men in their twenties who have struggled in their positions but whom my previous supervisor was mentoring, hence the promotions.

Here’s where my problem is: these two guys filled out their paperwork as if they expected the job to be handed to them. One did not do an application at all. One did, but barely filled it out, he didn’t even check if he was a U.S. citizen! And the interviews — barely answering questions. The outside people applying are obviously so much better I have to hire them. But then what do I do with my staff? (Government job, remember.)

Use it as an opportunity to coach them on what’s expected when they’re applying for promotions! Talk to them about why they weren’t competitive with other candidates so that they know why they weren’t selected and are better prepared next time.

One caveat: Is there any chance their previous manager told them this process was just to rubber-stamp promotions for them? That wouldn’t excuse barely answering questions in the interviews, but you’d want to account for it in your messaging if so. (And you might point out that even if you’re told you can half-ass a hiring process, it’s a good idea to put some effort into being impressive anyway; you never know who you might end up competing against.)

3. How to set expectations in an interview process where I can be very picky

I left the workforce/my industry in June of 2020 because my husband’s business was growing rapidly and our household gained much more financially with me helping him than staying at my job. When I left, a few clients followed me and I set up a small LLC so I could continue to service them on the side (there was no non-compete clause with my employer, I left amicably and they knew the clients were following me).

Since then, I’ve added a few clients by word of mouth, but I haven’t done anything to market myself or solicit new work. I have, however, received several inquiries and invites from recruiters and HR reps looking to hire. Nothing has really caught my eye until recently. A unique and somewhat niche position has been created at a local company and they have been struggling to fill it. Someone at the company located my profile via LinkedIn and reached out to chat. The call went well, was very introductory, and a follow-up call with another individual is in the works.

As I progress through this process, how do I set clear expectations without sounding demanding or naive? With my current situation, I can commit to no more than 30 hours per week and need schedule flexibility and mostly remote work. I also am making a very good hourly rate with my own client base, even though the work is not high in volume at all, and it wouldn’t make sense for me to accept a position at lower compensation levels. I am fully aware this arrangement will not work for most employers and that I’m essentially wanting the best of all options, but it’s all I can offer at this time. I am blessed that my husband’s business and my own client base has created the opportunity where me working is a choice and not a necessity. However, I don’t want to communicate anything in a way that sounds unreasonable or selfish. I definitely think it’s in everyone’s best interest to not accept a position where I overpromise and under-deliver. It’s either a good fit or it’s not, and I’m completely okay either way. I just worry it’s going to come off like I’m in fairytale land.

Good companies are used to dealing with candidates who have options! If they think the idea of an applicant who has other appealing options is a fairytale, they’re telling you something very valuable about the kind of power they want to be able to exercise over employees.

So you can be pretty matter-of-fact about it. I’d say it this way: “I’m really interested in this role! I want to be up-front that I’m limited to 30 hours a week right now and would need some flexibility with my schedule (fill in with specifics here) and the ability to work remotely. Is that prohibitive for this position or does it make sense to keep talking?” If that seems workable, you could then say, “Could we touch base on salary as well? I’d be looking for around $X to make a move like this — is that in line with your range?”

Read an update to this letter here

4. Employer badly messed up tax withholding

My friend Jane just discovered that, despite taking zero allowances, her employer hasn’t actually been deducting federal taxes from her paychecks since 2020. She didn’t notice because, well, 2020, and now she owes thousands of dollars all at once. The company has punted responsibility, saying it’s the payroll company’s fault and they’re “looking into it.” Other than that, the only solution they offered was to give Jane a loan (!) to be repaid within three paychecks(!!!). I don’t know Jane’s financials, but it feels safe to assume loan repayment for two full years of taxes would require most if not all of those three paychecks, and that seems like a bizarre solution anyway. She’s a salaried employee getting W2s so it’s not an accidental independent contractor issue. Is there anything Jane can do?

She can push back! She does legally owe those taxes and it’s unlikely that her employer will just pay them for her, but they can certainly offer her much longer than three weeks to repay it. She should decide what timeframe is doable for her and then ask for that amount of time. If she encounters resistance, she should try to escalate it higher in the company, and if her manager isn’t already involved she should ask them to advocate for her.

If you’re thinking it’s the company’s fault and they should cover what’s now owed … rightly or wrongly, that doesn’t usually happen with paycheck errors (and while they’re responsible for making the error, they’re likely to say that Jane is also responsible for looking at her checks). But they should recognize that this is a huge and horrible thing for her and should work with her to minimize the burden as much as possible.

{ 503 comments… read them below }

  1. Amaranth*

    Don’t most states have laws limiting the amount that can be garnished per paycheck or would it not apply to this situation?

    1. Cj*

      That would only apply if the IRS started garnishing her wages. She would be way better off making payment arrangements with the IRS before it ever gets to that point.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, I would think that she would be able to make payments with the IRS, no problem. I had a similar issue, and they did end up garnishing my pay, but it was over a reasonable amount of time, so I could afford the hit. But either case, I think the IRS would be accommodating to that rather than being forced to pay within 3 paychecks.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yes, she may be better off negotiating a payback schedule with the IRS herself. In Canada, our federal tax agency (CRA) will negotiate a repayment plan based on your income and other financial factors. They can be very reasonable to work with, especially in the current pandemic economy.

      3. Beth*

        The IRS can be downright reasonable, including waiving penalties, reducing interest rates, and setting up a payment plan. It’s a surprisingly easy process if you are proactive.

        1. Jaydee*

          Seconding this. They get a bad rap, but the IRS is a surprisingly customer-friendly agency, and they are generally quite reasonable about working out payment plans.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Thirding this. Back when I did some 1099 contract work, I miscalculated my quarterly taxes by a lot, and the IRS was very accommodating and kind. I was a first-time contractor, and they waived the penalties because I was so ‘new’ to the 1099 process. Also, I called them instead of hoping they wouldn’t notice, which definitely helped.

            However, my state Department of Revenue was not so accommodating. My IRS contact told me to pay off the state first because they probably wouldn’t waive the hefty penalties and interest I’d already incurred, and a payment plan wouldn’t stop the interest (at the time). He was right.

            1. Texan In Exile*

              I worked at the IRS for a while and I just wanted to help people do what they needed to do without drama! My job was to check 1040Xs to make sure they were correct and to call the taxpayer with questions. The worst call I had to make was when I discovered someone had taken a deduction for two foster children (something like that – this was a long time ago) and it turned out they weren’t allowed to do that. :( I had to call them and ask them to re-submit a corrected form without the deduction, which of course meant they were not getting the refund they had anticipated.

            2. Beth*

              I’ve had some truly wonderful experiences when I had to ask the IRS for help. Be polite and courteous and honest, and if possible try to call when they’re less likely to be slammed. I called in the early afternoon midweek the last time I needed help.

              When you think about it — the IRS gets a lot of anger and hostility and desperation and abuse. Asking for help politely and being appeciative are not only good ideas in general, but it will make you the Good Caller for that day.

            3. Ary*

              I have had exactly one bad experience with the IRS and like 3 or 4 good experiences. And the bad one was completely someone on a power trip. I’m finishing up my payment plan for my oops. Not only did they get me a payment plan, but they were also willing to lower the amount per month for a year with the warning that it would make the next year higher. I was able to land on my feet by then so it wasn’t an issue, but other than that one guy, all of the interactions have been great.

            4. CoveredinBees*

              Same! I didn’t know I had to declare my Americorps education award as income, since it could only be used for education and sent directly to my school. None of the participants in my program knew either. I got slammed with a surprising tax bill from the state and IRS. The IRS was so much easier to deal with.

          2. Princex Of Hyrule*

            Fourthing— When I was 19 I screwed up my taxes (I thought “Florida doesn’t pay income tax” meant I didn’t have to file with the feds for what I made in Florida either; sounds dumb and yes, I was!) and when I was 21 and started trying to get my financial life in order they were so helpful and lovely about making sure that I amended my returns correctly and that we squared away the money issue in the way that was easiest for me.

          3. Autumnheart*

            Chiming in with another positive experience with the IRS. If you have tax stuff to sort out, they should be the first stop. Extremely helpful and understanding.

          4. NotAnotherManager!*

            The IRS has a bad rap because in the 80s and 90s, they pulled some really awful stuff, culminating in raids of personal homes and training weapons on children based on poorly-investigated information. (Google The Jewish Mother, Virginia Beach, IRS raid) Their current willingness to be nice to everyone and work things out is largely based on blowback and bad PR from that very unfortunate part of their history.

          5. JessaB*

            You can also ask them to waive penalties, oh and your company will owe for their share too. They might not have paid it if they didn’t deduct.

            OP also might wanna talk to accounting/HR because it’s possible that someone read 0 deductions (as in no dependents etc. take out more tax) as 0 deductions = set deduction amount to zero. Other’s might be in a similar situation.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          This is what I’ve heard. I have at least two friends who discovered during divorces that their spouses hadn’t been paying taxes and the friends ended up stuck with the bill (I don’t know the particulars). Both of them said the IRS was much, much, less scary to work with than they expected.

        3. Cj*

          They might wave penalties for 2020 for reasonable cause. But it’s not reasonable to have happened two years in a row and her not to have caught it, because she should have discovered it when she did her 2020 taxes or filed an extension for them in May of 2021.

          However, as a tax preparer, I know that if you mention Covid in your letter, you can pretty much get out of any penalties.

          Technically, by law, the IRS cannot waive interest charges. But nine times out of ten when I get them to waive the penalty they also waive the interest. I’m not sure if the IRS agents aren’t aware that this is the law or what, but I’m sure not going to point it out to them.

            1. The OTHER Other*

              Yeah, this was a bizarre detail that was just covered over with a “because Covid” handwave. Everyone has been dealing with Covid, most of us are still filing taxes and looking at W-2’s. Seeing a paycheck, let alone a W-2, with zero tax withheld should have been a huge alarm bell. And this went on for multiple tax years?

              Friend should contact the IRS and work out a payment plan, spreading it out over more than just a few paychecks, which is the company’s solution.

              If she claimed zero exemptions (and it’s possible she instead requested zero withholding—someone who doesn’t notice no tax withholding for years can’t claim to be savvy) then the payroll company was terrible, but the bottom line is it’s no one else’s responsibility to pay your taxes.

              1. Kell*

                My assumption while reading was that maybe the friend was laid off for a significant portion of 2020 due to Covid, so didn’t take in a lot of income from this job that year. I still think it’s weird if a portion of what she owes now is from 2020, since theoretically it should have come up when she was filing that year that she either owed more then, or those taxes just resulted in her getting a smaller refund in 2020. But with all the weird tax situations in 2020 (fed unemployment taxes being waived, stimulus checks, etc etc) I do think it’s really plausible to have filed taxes and still not realize that your pay wasn’t being properly withheld.

              2. JKateM*

                The new w-4 no longer has the system where you claim yourself or yourself+x dependents and write it as a number. (Like I could claim 1 as a single person, but if I’m head of household I could put 2, and then if I had 3 dependents I could add it all up and claim 5 total). It no longer works like that at all. When the last tax reform bill was passed they changed a lot of things and this was one of them. So a lot of people are very confused when filling it out and end up withholding less than they need to. I have had part time employees with nothing withheld because the threshhold for withholding is almost $250/week. If they only pick up a couple shifts each week they aren’t meeting that. Sometimes they get upset because their total income (if they have multiple jobs or are filing jointly) is too much and now they have to pay. There are also other ways for the employee to mess it up with the new w-4 and accidentally not have income withheld.

            2. Two Dog Night*

              LW says taxes haven’t been deducted “since 2020”, so it’s possible the deductions stopped in January 2021, and the friend is just now filling out their 2021 taxes.

            3. This is a name, I guess*

              Maybe it was only a partial year of missed tax payments in 2020 (the letter mentioned the problem starting in 2020, which doesn’t assume the whole year). If she had paid taxes for part of the year, then she could have had no refund or owed a bit of money without fully noticing what was going on.

            4. Ary*

              I hate to say it, but I can see it. My friend’s boss has been doing this with ALL employees for years. My friend just finished up his first year, saw it and was like “What is this?” Others have been there longer and NEVER said anything or understood there was a problem. They were told it was handled, so they thought it was handled. The newer employees are trying to call the IRS and see if they can get payment plans and how to handle it for next year’s taxes. It’s been a huge mess. But the point is, she could have just taken the form and not thought about checking it over at all.

              1. Kay*

                What!!?? Has an entire company worth of employees not been filing their taxes?? I’m so baffled by all of this – but I’m the type to keep track of my tax liability throughout the year so I can anticipate any April surprises.

          1. DataSci*

            Yeah, I was wondering about that too. I can see missing it for a year and then being shocked when her W2 had a withholding of zero, but certainly “Jane” would have noticed when she filed her 2020 taxes. Unless “since 2020” means something like “since December 2020”, so that the first filing year significantly affected was 2021?

          2. Beth*

            IIRC, the interest is calculated on the taxes owed plus the penalties — so if the penalties are waived, most of the interest will disappear from the total. Maybe they’re able to waive smaller amounts of interest when there’s a plan in place?

      4. BigHairNoHeart*

        And along with the IRS, OP should also check in with her state revenue agency. If nothing was withheld at the federal level, same is probably true at the state level. Most states are like the IRS though, they offer decent payment plans and are willing to work with taxpayers on liabilities/interest in cases like these.

      5. Silence Will Fall*

        When I was in college, I had one year with over a dozen W2s and 1099s. Unfortunately, I missed one and about two years later got a devastatingly large bill from the IRS. I called and the very helpful rep I spoke to “negotiated” a payment plan with me. I was able to pay off the bill over several months and they waived the interest and penalties. It’s definitely worth making the call!

        1. Prairie*

          When I worked at a nonprofit our office manager found an error that our tax person had been making. It added up over the years we had been making this error, and the penalties would have been almost $100k. But since the office manager contacted the IRS about the mistake and wanted to square up they waived the penalties.

      6. ZK*

        Yep, OP#4’s friend needs to call the IRS and get on a payment plan pronto. Somehow when filing taxes one year, my husband left off a temporary employer. For some reason he never got a W-2 at tax time, and he honestly forgot them. Of course the IRS didn’t forget! So we got a whopping tax bill and a heaping helping of stress! But they were very helpful on the phone. We worked out an Offer in Compromise, where we didn’t have to pay the full amount owed, and made affordable monthly payments.

      7. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, she should definitely talk to someone at the IRS and see if they can work out a payment plan. Then go back to the company and try to set up a better timeline with them as well.

      8. maya pantalla*

        unless i’m badly mistaken, state garnishment laws wouldn’t have any effect on what the IRS can do.

    2. BigHairNoHeart*

      YES! OP 4, please tell your friend to reach out to the IRS, explain the situation and ask to be put on a payment plan. Unfortunately, while the company (or the payroll provider they worked with?) fucked up here, she is the one ultimately responsible for paying that withholding. But revenue agencies are used to these kinds of situations and very happy to work with taxpayers on penalties and whatnot, and are doubtless going to have much better payment plan options that what the company is offering. At least, that’s how my state’s revenue agency works (I should know, I work there!).

    3. Ivy*

      And depending on your state, your state department of revenue can be very reasonable and taxpayer oriented as well! I moved states for contracts every 6-9 months early in my career, and made tax errors twice. Both Massachusetts and Maryland (especially Mass) were really great about helping me refile paperwork to reduce the total tax load and setting up a payment plan.
      Also in Md, when I was offered a promotion to a full time job that got me off the constantly moving contractor life, my company forgot to change my withholding and the promotion bumped me up a whole tax bracket. Luckily it happened in the second half of the year, so it wasn’t terrible, but it was still several hundred dollars more than I had expected to owe. Our payroll personal called me the week before W-2s went out and was SO apologetic and proactive about offering to help me with a payment plan or a loan. Three pay periods is not reasonable!

      1. preciuuuus*

        Exactly! Taxes are about 50% of my pay. how the heck do you not notice this for over a year? This to me sounds fishy. Like she just expected it to continue and then blame someone else or say it’s not her fault.

          1. BigHairNoHeart*

            They are not legally responsible for doing so. In a perfect world, maybe they would, but I’m not sure that’s what will happen unfortunately.

          2. EPLawyer*

            The responsibility for payment of taxes is on the individual. Yes the company should have done their part. But ultimately it is the employee’s job to be checking their pay statement for accuracy.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Right. This is Jane’s mistake as much as it is the company’s. She’s responsible for managing her own taxes.

              1. MCMonkeyBean*

                It’s Jane’s mistake too, and ultimately she holds final responsibility… but I don’t agree that it is her mistake “as much as it is the company’s.” It is her responsibility as a US citizen to check that her taxes are paid correctly, but it is the company’s payroll’s *job* to make sure her taxes are withheld correctly. I think rather a lot of people in Jane’s shoes would have trusted it was being taken care of properly (I know I certainly don’t download my pay statements and check, though I would hope I would have noticed while preparing my tax return).

                Their mistake is bigger and they should be much more apologetic and willing to do whatever they can to help make this sudden tax hit easier for her.

                1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  I’m beginning to wonder if the company is paying their share of the FICA taxes at this point. That will hurt their employees’ Social Security further down the line. I think someone needs to find out if that payroll company is withholding *anything*.

            2. Mystik Spiral*

              As a payroll professional it drives me absolutely nuts when people don’t look at their pay stubs. People make mistakes, payroll errors happen. Things can be fixed, usually pretty easily, if we know about it within a pay period or two. But this kind of mistake for TWO YEARS should have been caught by the employee.

              1. Kay*

                This is my thought – how do you not notice you are receiving the entirety of your salary in your paycheck? It is a pretty significant difference no matter what tax bracket you are in. I can understand if you don’t look at every paystub – but I would expect at least every once in a while! Even if you did decide to blow off filing your taxes one year (which is horribly irresponsible), wouldn’t you have at least looked at the W2? Oye..

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                Yeah, we have a very good payroll department, and even they goofed up a couple of years ago. In their case, they caught their own mistake within two checks, contacted the affected parties, and worked with them on how to fix each individual issue in a non-impactful way for each person. Definitely not ideal, but also not the worst payroll screwup I’ve heard of.

                My spouse works for the federal government, and OPM randomly changed their duty station (and hence their state tax withholding) for no reason that we or their boss was ever able to figure out. I caught the error because the amount of their paycheck changed unexpectedly. When OPM “fixed” it, the started taxing based on the state of the office building, not our state of residence. It was a nightmare to get straightened out, and we’re still not 100% positive we got the money paid in error to the two other states back.

                I check everything now.

                1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  I was in the military and paying nonresident taxes to my home state. Then I got a letter saying I owed more money. I did some digging, and discovered I shouldn’t have had to pay any state tax at all. My, that was a nice check! All because someone in the state got greedy. Oops.

              3. EBay seller*

                Not reviewing a paycheck is a level of faith in humanity that I can’t comprehend. My husband makes the money but I still look over his pay stub at least twice a year (generally when I’m pressing to up his retirement contributions, doing our taxes, or figuring out next year’s budget – which are all on me). Putting in a bid for a single-person government contract once taught me even more about FICA and self-employment taxes whenyou’re actually making enough money. Yikes!

          3. somanyquestions*

            It could also be argued that she chose not to file her taxes last year, which would have brought this to light a year sooner and may have prevented the fines. She likely thought that she was owed money so no big deal skipping a year, but there is an actual deadline for that which she missed.

            I’m not trying to say this was OK, at all, and I think her employer should work with her. I think they likely won’t see the fines as their fault, though.

            1. MsClaw*

              Yeah, I am so confused by this because wouldn’t you notice when you filed your taxes that no taxes were withheld on your W2s and that the math was leading you to owing the govt money? I didn’t know just not filing was a thing. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where that was remotely legal.

              1. Michelle*

                I’m wondering if the business calculated the amount they should withhold, listed that amount on documentation, but never got around to sending the money to the IRS.

                1. Clisby*

                  But that would be a completely different problem.

                  If the company didn’t withhold federal income tax at all, then of course they didn’t send the money to the IRS. This becomes the problem of the OP’s friend.

                  If they did withhold, but didn’t send the money to the IRS, this wouldn’t be the OP’s friend’s problem, except to the extent that she might not get any tax refund coming to her until the whole mess is cleared up.

            2. The OTHER Other*

              Well then, that’s on her.

              My Mom was like this. She would not file taxes for a few years and then complain about all the hassle and cost of ordering copies of old bank statements, etc and the penalties she was facing. Then do the same thing a few years later. I was all out of sympathy by that point.

              The past couple years have been a strain for everyone yet most people are fulfilling their responsibilities, including paying their taxes.

      1. Hazel*

        Yes, the company can be penalized. But the employee still owes their taxes unfortunately.

        I learned this the hard way. Back in the day, a new employer screwed up and didn’t take taxes out, but fortunately I had started in October, so I only owed for three months when I discovered it. Thank goodness I started working on my taxes early the next year! I called the IRS for help, and I remember the awful feeling when they told me that, yes, the company was wrong, but I still had to pay the taxes on time.

        I’m going to go check my pay stub online right now (not kidding)!

        1. Kay*

          This. Even if you aren’t a contractor, according to my accountant you as an individual still need to be paying approximately what you owe the IRS on a quarterly basis aka payroll deductions (I think it was a 10% variance but I don’t recall). So, if you haven’t had any taxes taken out over the course of a year you could be held liable for the interest for paying all at the year end, is my understanding.

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, but it’s not like that money disappeared into the ether. Jane, presumably, was being paid it. So, while the company is going to potentially be fined, the obligation to pay taxes on that income is Jane’s.

      1. Cj*

        I’m curious to know where all that extra money went that ended up in her net pay. She must have spent it, since she doesn’t have the money now to pay the IRS.

        If she spent it on supposed necessities, how is she going to pay for those now that they are taking out the withholding? And if they had been withholding federal tax prior to 2020, why did she think she had all this extra money to spend all of a sudden?

        1. FridayFriyay*

          This is a weird take. Plenty of people aren’t paid enough to cover the necessities they need to live and any extra money that rightly or wrongly made it into their bank account would be used on such. That is where the term “living wage” comes from. I agree that the LW could have done more to help herself here but casting aspersions on her budget like this is mean spirited and unnecessary.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            Sorry but there is nothing weird about this take at all. Jane was receiving a larger net paycheck than she should have. Now she is going to have to figure out how to live on a smaller net paycheck. Unfortunately, much smaller, because she also has to pay the IRS the money that she should have been paying the last two years. It sucks, it’s going to be a rough adjustment, no doubt, but that’s just the facts of the situation.

            1. Michelle*

              Honestly, how can you be certain she got too huge of a check? Could it be she wasn’t paid the gross amount, the money from her check was set aside and the failure of the business was paying the IRS?

              I’m thinking that’s what happened. That it wasn’t Jane who ignored the money, it was the employer doing what many, many businesses have done by never getting around to paying the taxes. Too many businesses have done it, and it easily explains not seeing the problem for over a year. If there is no problem with the employee end, it may take the IRS a year to notice the problem and contact the employee.

              1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

                I can’t be 100% sure but I am taking the letter writer’s word for it that “her employer hasn’t actually been deducting federal taxes from her paychecks since 2020”. I assume that if Jane’s employer was withholding taxes but not remitting the money to the government, the letter writer would have mentioned that.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          The point of a problem like this is that the amount *per paycheck* may be a difference that could be easily go unnoticed, but if it has been two full years (I’m not sure on the exact timeline but that’s my takeaway from the letter) that would be 52 paycheck’s worth of tax *all at once.*

          Example: Let’s say you earn $1,250 every paycheck and the company was supposed to withhold 20%. A person might not notice much difference between getting the full $1,250 instead of the $1,000 they were supposed to get (especially if it was a new job and she didn’t have previous deposits to go on, and/or if there are other things withheld from the check like 401k contributions).

          But now, two years later, you suddenly owe $13,000. Plenty of people wouldn’t just have that lying around.

          The OP seems to think it is unreasonable for the company to expect her to pay back the “loan” at all, which is probably not a reasonable take. But they should definitely let her spread it out over a much longer time then they are offering.

          Also though, Jane can likely get the IRS to let her pay it over time which is probably her best option. I’m not sure exactly how much they will let her spread it out though.

    2. ArtK*

      Yes. I recently found out that a previous employer was taking the tax out of our paychecks but not paying the IRS (so not the same as the OP’s situation.) Last I heard, the CEO was facing possible prison time and had to pay the $5M plus penalties.

      1. Accountant*

        That’s an *enormously* different situation. Like, the difference between leaving something in your cart at the self check out versus armed robbery of the store and everyone in it.

        1. Ary*

          Takes longer than you think. We found out that my former employment had taken the social security out of out checks, but hadn’t actually paid it. We found out AFTER the business went under and one of my former coworkers tried for social security and saw the time missing the payments. We had been working with a union to try to get better rights for others in our industry and they had ALL of us look into it. Sure enough, it was missing for everyone for at least a year. We think that they realized they were having trouble with money and thought that would be easy to pocket.

  2. Loulou*

    The situation described in #2 is pretty confusing to me, but my reading was certainly that the OP’s predecessor had told the employees he’d be promoting them and they just needed to submit an application. If that’s the case, I think Alison’s caveat doesn’t go nearly far enough. It’s a huge deal to be told you’re getting a promotion and then not get one, and I’d be very unhappy if this happened to me and then my new manager turned it into a “learning opportunity” about how to apply as an internal candidate next time. This isn’t really something messaging can fix.

    1. Mparntwe*

      I work non Federal HR, and my wife is Federal, seniorish level, decision maker in promotions.

      They set the expectation that even if you think the job is a slam dunk, you take the application seriously.

      Her Agency came to her and asked her if she would take a new role overseas. They asked her. She still spent a LOT of time on the application process.

      1. Fran Fine*

        She still spent a LOT of time on the application process.

        And I imagine the reason why is because the Feds keep the applications on file to review for compliance and so if she half assed it and the agency she works for received applications that were stronger, yet gave her the job anyway, somebody somewhere would be in trouble.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          The failure to check the “I am a U.S. citizen” box could create some major, major headaches during future compliance checks!

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Yeah, I’m in government and whenever one of my direct reports is applying for a promotion, I remind them that they need to apply and interview as if the people making hiring decisions have never met them and know nothing about them. We’re only allowed to consider what’s written on the application/resume and what’s said in the interview, both for hiring and compensation. If you leave it out, we can’t factor it in even if we know it’s there.

        1. Candi*

          I know I’ve read on here before, many many MANY times, that even if the government department is committed to hiring an internal candidate, that candidate still has to go through the very same process as ever other candidate, just to cover possible issues.

          There’s also the issue that, even if a previous supervisor told you X, when a new one comes in, you need to find out for yourself if X still applies. Even if that supervisor was promoted from your ranks. The minute the old supervisor retired, they should have started treating the promotion as no longer a done deal, regardless of what OS said.

          1. Former GS*

            Ehh… applications are typically in a 1-3 month window, then collated, different preferences applied, and then the manager gets the stack. I forget how long the process normally takes overall, but 3-6 months was not unheard of. If former boss told them something like, “Job’s posted. Go ahead and apply,” and then left I could give grace that they thought this would be rubber stamp when they applied but then the situation changed. It doesn’t negate their error of quarter-assing everything, but I can give grace to that aspect. :)

    2. supertoasty*

      On the one hand, yes. On the other, these guys didn’t even do the bare minimum of the application and the interviews. If I were their boss, I’d still expect them to spend… at least a modicum of effort? I don’t know if I would still promote them (and my answer will probably change as I gain more workforce experience) but I would at least use this moment to tell them that even though it might be a gimme, they still shouldn’t eighth-ass it.

      1. Starbuck*

        It sounds like they’re also maybe not great employees? Maybe it’s for the best they didn’t get the promotion.

        “My two staff are young men in their twenties who have struggled in their positions but whom my previous supervisor was mentoring, hence the promotions.”

    3. Language Lover*

      They can be unhappy about it but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a learning opportunity for two guys who sound like they’re early in their career.

      Maybe the old supervisor promised to rubber stamp their promotions as long as they went through the process but the fact of the matter is there is a hiring process which included an application and an interview. And the supervisor who may have made that promise is gone.

      Most people are going to realize they need to put their best foot forward to justify the previous supervisor’s belief in them.

        1. ecnaseener*

          What was the breach in trust – to post the positions externally? My understanding is that’s par for the course in government.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            If they were told by their manager that they were getting the promotions, and then the new manager did not give them the promotions — that’s the breach of trust. I’m not saying that they handled the situation well, but I can very easily imagine that this experience would blow up their relationship with their employer.

            1. Lexie*

              The organization didn’t commit a breach of trust, the former manager is the one that committed the breach by letting them think they were guaranteed the promotions.

              1. Salsa Verde*

                Yes, the lesson here is to remember Allison’s advice: the job is not a guarantee until you have an offer in hand!

                The manager who told them it was a given is the one who is at fault here – he should never have told them that. They should have at least made an effort, but this starts with the manager telling them the promotion was theirs.

                1. Rosalind Franklin*

                  I always go back to the quote from Ever After by the magnificent Anjelica Huston –

                  “Darling, nothing is final until you’re dead. And even then I’m sure God negotiates.”

                  Here, it would be “no job is final until the offer is signed, and even then things can still go wrong.”

            2. Lizzianna*

              The former manager is the one who messed up here, if they made that promise. I’m a hiring manager in the federal government, and it is stressed to us over and over that we cannot promise specific outcomes in competitive hiring processes.

              If one of the other applicants filed a complaint and the hiring process were audited, the hiring manager who actually made the selection could face serious consequences.

            3. Annie*

              That’s not a breach of trust by the agency. It’s very bad management by their previous manager, and it’s professional laziness on their own part for not bothering to learn their own agency’s rules regarding careers and promotions.

              It IS a breach of trust from their old manager, because as protégés they reasonably trusted their manager to give them at least a fairly accurate picture of how the promotions are going to work. However, this doesn’t relieve them from individual responsibility to know basic workplace norms.

              1. Observer*

                Assuming that their manager actually made a promise, yes.

                But given what the OP is saying, I could see a real possibility that he put them up for promotion but did not promise them that they would get it.

            4. Candi*

              Thing is, it’s been said over and over and over on this site from many different government workers that government entities have a very specific Process for hiring anybody. You might get private-sector type hiring at the very local level, maybe, but otherwise there’s a Process.

              That the old supervisor either didn’t know or didn’t care about the Process is not the government department or OP’s fault.

              (Heck, that adherence to process is one of the things hurting government right now -their processes often take so long their candidates get snapped up, and they have a much harder time condensing them or making them more flexible like private companies have.)

        2. FisherCat*

          Do you/have you worked in government? At least for federal employees, most positions are posted externally and there are really strong norms (and possibly rules? I don’t work in a hiring capacity) about doing a real application and a legitimate interview for promotions, transfers, many temp assignments.

            1. doreen*

              I’m not sure what conclusion you draw from that, but the one I drew as someone who has worked for non-Federal governments is that most jobs in the IRS are only open to current employees with experience that they only could have gained by working for the IRS – which is not that uncommon in government agencies. For example , in many police departments you cannot become a lieutenant without first being a sergeant and before that a police officer in that department.

              1. Grits McGee*

                I’m a fed (not IRS), and this is the case at our agency as well- once you get above entry-level, almost all of our job postings are for internal candidates only. However, it’s also incredibly common in our agency for positions to be created with a specific employee or employees in mind, only for someone else to actually get the position.

                To be honest, I want to know how these 2 employees made it onto the interview list without completely filling their applications. Normally HR or USAJobs will scuttle the application if everything isn’t perfectly filled out and formatted. Is this a federal agency in the US?

                1. Lizzianna*

                  That’s my thought too. I had a friend who was applying for a job she’d been acting in for almost a year, and didn’t make the certification list because she accidentally uploaded a resume with several missing pages and it didn’t include her education. Her application didn’t make it past HR.

                2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  I had a volunteer “apply” for a paid position a few years back, and I couldn’t interview her because the only part of the application she filled out was her name and address and she didn’t include a resume. HR had absolutely zero information about her education or work history so they couldn’t let the application through.

                3. Momma Bear*

                  I know people who have tried to switch agencies but at a certain GS level it’s really hard to overcome not having 10 years’ experience in launching llamas into space.

                  I was also wondering how their applications got through to an interview with subpar responses. Did they just post keywords over and over?

                  The bottom line is that they didn’t fulfil the requirements of the application process, other candidates were identified, and they can either learn or move on. I wonder also if this was somewhat self-sabotage and they truthfully like their lower level government job with steady pay and fewer expectations?

                4. Candi*

                  I’m wondering if there was a workaround or a bug the old supervisor exploited to push their applications through. Hopefully I’m wrong, but IT should check and close it off if there is one.

          1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            Yep. I’ve applied for Canadian federal jobs and it’s a process. And I have friends who are already working for the feds and the application and testing process for promotions or changing branches is a slog but it’s what expected of them and they do it.

          2. APS*

            Australian federal employee here. The expectation in the Australian Public Service is that any permanent position would be posted externally unless some special circumstances apply (e.g. need for secrecy, some extremely specialised roles where only internal candidates are likely to be suitable). Hiring/promoting somebody is a substantial commitment of public money and we need to be getting the best value for it, not giving out favours to people we happen to know.

            Same reason we don’t just get to award expensive contracts to our friends, no matter how qualified they might be.

        3. Boss’s Fave*

          Which might be a lesson they need to learn. Not to say that the federal government is untrustworthy, but it’s definitely not a workplace where you can rely on winks and nods and verbal promises from your manager.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            And really, you could argue it’s not a good idea to rely on those things in any workplace.

        4. anonymous73*

          That’s what someone who puts very little effort into their job and expects things handed to them would think. They were being mentored because they weren’t doing a good job. We don’t know all of the details because it’s not the old manager writing in for advice, but it sounds like he was using promotions to motivate these guys and made it sound like the application and interview were formalities. And even if they were formalities, it doesn’t mean you can phone it in. Sounds like they need additional mentoring.

          1. The OTHER Other*

            It would be interesting to get the former manager’s perspective, because he sounds terrible. By LW’s account, the 2 employees in question were struggling, and his response is to… promote them? One didn’t bother filling out an application, the other didn’t even bother to check the citizenship box. They barely answered questions in interviews. I’ve certainly worked in places that seemed to reward mediocrity, but in this case it seems like these two need to step up their game just to be mediocre.

            These two might well take this poorly, but bottom line is they were terrible candidates and lost out to much better ones. They can improve and do better next time, or continue to do poorly and get PIP’s or whatever corrective action the employer has.

          2. Observer*

            but it sounds like he was using promotions to motivate these guys and made it sound like the application and interview were formalities. And even if they were formalities, it doesn’t mean you can phone it in. Sounds like they need additional mentoring.

            I think you are completely correct here.

          3. Starbuck*

            Yeah I think you’re right, based on this it sounds like a good thing that better qualified people were hired!

            “My two staff are young men in their twenties who have struggled in their positions but whom my previous supervisor was mentoring, hence the promotions.”

        5. Venus*

          The employees are mediocre “struggled in their position” and they are losing out on promotions to people who have shown in the paperwork that they are much more competent. Someone who gets upset because they didn’t try for a promotion and then lost it should look at themselves before blaming the organization.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Right. If it damages their trust or relationship with their employer, that relationship was built on sand to begin with and probably should be re-evaluated. The whole point is the LW wants them to rethink their relationship to the org and entitlement in their position. That’s not a bad outcome.

        6. pancakes*

          Most things that seem too good to be true — getting promoted from a position you’re struggling in without having to make any effort or compete with anyone, for example — don’t deserve your trust.

          1. Former GS*

            But there is such a practice in the fed as promoting dead weight out of the office so you can get someone competent in their place…. one reason staff jobs in the military can get bloated with civil servants. Bwa ha ha.

        7. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          It’s not untrustworthy for a federal agency to follow its usual procedures in hiring. It’s a shame if these guys didn’t know that, but they did not educate themselves, and apparently didn’t even read the posting. It’s not a secret how federal hiring works, they would have to really be resistant to learning. And I don’t understand the idea that an organization that hires based on actual merit rather than the buddy system is untrustworthy.

          1. AD*

            Exactly, some very odd ideas are being propagated here.

            This *will be* a learning lesson to these two guys, however it unfolds. And they can be angry at the previous supervisor or at the agency, but they are going to learn how government hiring works the hard way apparently.

        8. KRM*

          But the organization didn’t promise the promotions. The previous supervisor, who is gone, did. They didn’t even say to the new supervisor “X promised that this will happen, can we talk about timelines and process?”. They just assumed they’d still get it, and half-assed (or less) the process. I wouldn’t be promoting them either!

          1. Gan Ainm*

            Agree. And even IF (and that’s a big if) they were told something like “it’s just a formality,” by the former supervisor, at no point did they realize that they were in fact being asked to participate in a very formal application and interview process??? When they were sitting in a structured interview with their new manager looking expectantly at them and taking notes, did it not dawn on them, huh wow this really seems an awful lot like a real selection process, maybe I should at least attempt answering these questions?

            And, given that they are already in the office doing the job, you’d think that their experience would have meant they could at least manage a creditable interview. If I had to interview for an internal promo today with no prep I could at least do well enough to not embarrass myself. Sounds like they barely even answered, which actually seems harder!

            Ultimately, whether they were promised something or not, they are showing that they are entitled, not too bright, and given even the slightest opportunity to slack off or not put in effort, will do less than the bare minimum.

        9. Nick*

          Assuming the previous manager did in fact promise the promotions. I doubt that story very much. Given the effort they put into their applications, their history of needing intense mentorship, and my 15 years in Fed Gov’t, the story doesn’t add up. No manager at all would EVER promise a promotion. We simply cannot do that. It is completely outside our power to do so. We can follow direct appointment processes and see if HR will qualify a person for direct appointment, but if that is not possible then the vacancies get announced. Internal or external, the process becomes competitive and we must follow the hiring rules established by federal law, enforced through the Office of Personnel Management, and overseen by our servicing HR organization. Our actions and decisions are reviewed at multiple levels by multiple people and all managers know this. I have seen this many times in my career, people feel like they deserve a promotion, ask about it, a manger encourages them to apply, and they for some reason take that as a guarantee of a promotion.

          1. Observer*

            Assuming the previous manager did in fact promise the promotions. I doubt that story very much. Given the effort they put into their applications, their history of needing intense mentorship, and my 15 years in Fed Gov’t, the story doesn’t add up.

            I haven’t worked in the Federal Government. But I agree with you. I’ve seen enough to know that a promise makes very little sense.

    4. MK*

      Honestly I can’t feel much sympathy for these employees. They are undeperforming and were promised promotions they apparently don’t deserve by their “mentor”. Sounds like key corruption to me, that was foiled by their own incompetence and arrogance. There is a certain justice to it.

      1. Fran Fine*

        That part. Would the departing supervisor have made this promise to two women who were underperforming? I highly doubt it.

      2. JRG*

        Government agencies already have a reputation for promoting incompetent people. If the recruitment process produced highly qualified and impressive external applicants and they still hired these internal people who half-assed their applications and interviews, what would that say about the organization? I’d be more irritated at a government agency not hiring highly skilled talent than taking away a promised promotion to current employees who showed themselves.

      3. merpaderp*

        Yeah, the identities and intersections of those identities are pretty important here. Without knowing that info I could just as easily interpret the facts of this case as either entitled arogance or I could put it down to a lack of familiarity with professional norms.

    5. AnotherLibrarian*

      I think OP does have to be prepared for both of them to leave over this, which they may very well do. That’s a risk that I assume OP has assessed and is comfortable with. It is a big deal to be told you’ll be promoted and then not get promoted. It’s also a big deal to barely bother to attempt to do an interview well. I would think there does need to be a real conversation with these folks about expectations. Clearly, something was lost in translation or not made clear to them before they applied. Messy situation all around.

      1. Green great dragon*

        It sounds like old supervisor may have made promises he wasn’t entitled to make, and OP may have to be quite clear that they don’t have the power within the rules to do what the employees would like. It’s not badmouthing previous supervisor to give factual info about what is and isn’t possible.

        1. MelissaH1982*

          The whole situation sounds really unprofessional. I had been fighting to get a promotion for years (very long story) but my last manager was getting ready to leave…I can’t remember if this happened in my annual review (which would have been last February) or if it was a ‘goodbye’ meeting…either way Manager told me she put in for me to get a promotion. she said ‘it was time’. Problem was that she was not sure if they would accept it with her leaving. That though she put in for it, they may wait until the new manager was settled and it would be up to that person. So I was flattered that the discussion was finally made but I was also aware not to give my hopes up because with a new manager, that might not happen. FF to today, my annual review with the new manager and no mention of a promotion was made. I was not disappointed, I knew it would pretty much have to start over from scratch to prove my worth to the manager. It’s all fine because I was made aware of this from the very beginning. Something similar should have been told to these employees. Old manager should not have promised promotions when he was out the door.

          I DO feel bad for these employees and would not blame them for leaving though. Because the other problem I have with this story is they WERE told they were getting these promotions and now they are going to be told that, after the years and work they did put in, someone new and outside the company were getting their jobs. I always take stories online with a grain of salt because I don’t know if the workers were as bad as OP says they are or if he/she is exaggerating to justify choosing other people. Yea, you could say the one employee was told that they had to fill out a form to apply and he didn’t do it so he was disqualified. But I just think that stuff sounds a little too convenient for me.

          anyway, this is the choice OP made so now they will have to deal with the consequences either way. Workers got screwed over and now they have no reason to stay. Hopefully the new hires will be able to cover the loss.

          1. Alice*

            If one of them didn’t even bother to fill the form properly, I can’t really think they were putting a lot of effort into their work. This is assuming that LW is being truthful, but commenting rules ask us to take letters at their word for a reason, it’s not helpful to start speculating on various hypothetical scenarios. As it is, if you have internal candidates who don’t do even the bare minimum, I doubt it will be a great tragedy if they leave over this. But it will be helpful for them if LW explains why the promotion was denied, because there was a clear misunderstanding of expectations here, and it’s a disservice for them to believe the promotion was withheld or can be given out depending on the supervisor’s whims.

            1. Fran Fine*

              As it is, if you have internal candidates who don’t do even the bare minimum, I doubt it will be a great tragedy if they leave over this.

              That part. Every time I’ve interviewed for a position as an internal candidate, I’ve always treated it like a real interview – always. Even when the hiring manager told me I didn’t need to, that the job was mine if I wanted it. I filled out the stupid internal applications in full asking me for information they already knew, submitted a stellar resume, brought extra resumes to my interview with work samples as a supplement, and dressed in interview attire. You just never know what can happen until you get the offer letter in hand (and a couple of times when people told me I was a shoe-in, the job ended up going to someone else, so, yeah).

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                I’d argue I put *more* effort into internal interviews. I don’t have a blank slate, I’m talking to people who know everything about me, the good and the bad. If I’m up against other candidates I need to really evaluate my weaknesses and what hesitations a hiring manager might have about me. I’m also expected to know more about the organization and have some real insight into what I’ll bring to the new position. I can’t imagine phoning it in.

                1. AFac*

                  That’s the catch-22 of internal interviews. Your colleagues know you don’t clip your nails at the desk or use speakerphone, but you still need to talk to them about broader plans and stretch goals and why you were only kidding when you said your boss’ boss was useless.

                  An outside candidate would be forgiven for not knowing how many widgets you made last fall, and therefore give general advice about improvement. An internal candidate would be expected to know exactly how many widgets were made last fall, and give specifics on how to improve.

                2. Tedious Cat*

                  During an interview for a promotion, I straight-up told the panel that I was more nervous than I’d been for my very first interview there, “because if I’d bombed it, I’d have left and never had to see you again.”

          2. WellRed*

            Reading a lot into this letter. “Years and work put in?” OP mentions they were struggling at the current jobs. We also don’t know they were promised the promotion though that seems to be the assumption if many comments.

          3. MK*

            Seriously? My impression was quite the opposite, that the OP was quite willing to play ball and hand over promotions to the incompetent mentees of the previous manager, but they did so badly in the application process she can’t justify it. Why were two underperforming employees up for promotion? Why sound so down about the positions being posted? ( “for reasons unknown” government agency”, you don’t suppose the unknown reason is that there are rules in place to make sure the government hires the best people available instead of internal candidates who have an in with the hiring manager? And for once it worked, as it so rarely happens, because often they manage to give the job to “their” candidate despite the rules).

            The previous manager sucked if they allowed these people to underperform and then promised them promotions. But that is no reason to hire subpar employees with the taxpayers’ money.

            1. Fran Fine*

              All of this. These two guys where barely performing well in the roles they already have so the mentor thought it was a great idea to promise them more responsibility?! Insanity.

            2. EPLawyer*

              I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of guaranteeing promotions to people who can’t do the job they are already supposed to be doing as a way of “mentoring.” Oh hey you suck at your job, let’s promote you, that’ll make you better right? Ain’t I wonderful mentor?

              If these guys are disappointed, well then they are. OP shouldn’t be cruel and point out all their shortcomings as to why they aren’t getting it. But a factual statement of “once the process was opened up, it was clear that other applicants were better qualified. They also took the process seriously which you did not.” If they leave because they didn’t get their promised participation trophy, then I don’t think it will be any great loss.

              1. JimmyJab*

                LOL, most of my colleagues (state gov’t) are great, but there are always a handful of undeserving (white men) who are promised, then given, promotions they didn’t earn in any way. It definitely happens, at least in my state where nepotism gets you into a good, union government job, and promoted to a management position as soon as possible.

              2. This is a name, I guess*

                The offending supervisor is a man. These two employees are young men. Sounds like old boys club nonsense to me.

          4. pancakes*

            “I always take stories online with a grain of salt because I don’t know if the workers were as bad as OP says they are or if he/she is exaggerating to justify choosing other people.”

            That’s a nice idea but what you’re actually doing seems to be fully believing, with very little basis for it, that these employees were in fact good at their jobs, and have put in “years of work” (though the letter doesn’t say or suggest that), and that there is some unspecified good reason why the employee who didn’t even bother to fill out the form made that choice.

        2. Ooff*

          I think this is absolutely what happened. The previous supervisor has put OP in a difficult position AND did a disservice to his mentees by not explaining how promotions in a fed agency work.

          In our gov office, at least, all promotions to a new pay band are required to be competitive, at the very least within our org of thousands of people. When we recently “promoted” someone internally, they had to go thru the same initial HR screen as any other applicant. If they hadn’t even checked the box indicating their citizenship it would have been game over. They wouldn’t even have made it past the HR screen and there would have been very little our office could have done to move them forward from there.

          Federal hiring and promotions, like academia, are their own beast.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Agreeing and this general advice works in any arena. As Alison says, you don’t have the job until you actually have the job. I was told as a rule of thumb and I saw first hand that the out-going boss’ promises probably were not solid. Even if these two employees had done everything correctly, I would not believe that there would be automatic promotions.

            It’s just a fact of life that people who are no longer with the company will not be there to ensure their promises are carried out.

            I do think that the most fair thing to do is to explain to these two employees how the system does work so they can choose to participate in an effective manner. If they choose not to follow along then that is their choice.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I was going to note that as well. Govt bureaucracy is different enough that if you don’t submit an application even though you are currently in the position, you may still be disqualified. It’s a policy designed to be fair to everyone.

            1. After 33 years ...*

              It works that way in my university as well. The rules are clearly defined, applications must be completed in full, interviews aren’t formalities, and supervisors cannot promise promotions. The system is strict and (overly?) rigid, but it’s consistent for all candidates.

          3. L.H. Puttgrass*

            That’s why I think this has to be a state agency, not federal. I don’t know of anyone in federal government who thinks that a promotion between grades (except for a career ladder promotion, which doesn’t require a new job posting) is a “gimme” of any sort. If nothing else, the fact that the “promotion” has to go through HR is enough to motivate people to put serious effort into the paperwork, because everyone knows that not ticking the right boxes for HR can completely kill a candidate’s chances no matter what the hiring manager wants. The level of incompetence needed for a manager to convince underperforming employees that a promotion is nearly automatic…well, I have to think that the more logical explanation is a government agency that wasn’t operating under the same rules as feds do.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Better half is a Fed and he even sweated putting in his packages for a GS-11 up to 15 promotions. He’d spend weeks on them

            2. AD*

              I think this is overthinking things and overlooking the fact the letter makes clear these are two younger employees likely unfamiliar with professional norms, let alone the formalities of state or fed government hiring. Not more complicated than that!

          4. Texan In Exile*

            A friend worked for a public university and was hiring a new assistant. The temp who had been working as her assistant applied for the position.

            When it came time to interview the assistant, my friend had to close her office door and interview the assistant – who was sitting just outside her door – on the phone because the process needed to be the same for every applicant.

      2. Khatul Madame*

        They won’t leave. Government teems with people unhappy in their jobs but unwilling to leave the job security and government benefits.

      3. Observer*

        I think OP does have to be prepared for both of them to leave over this, which they may very well do

        Would that be a bad thing?

        We hear a lot about the trials and travails of Government managers who have to do so much work to get rid of incompetent staff. I suspect that the OP would be up against something like that here. I mean we’re talking about people who couldn’t even be bothered to fill out their “promotion” paperwork properly. What else are they not bothering with? I’m betting that most aspects of their job would fall under the list.

        Even if the WERE promised the promotion and even if that promise were actually something the former manager was actually able to make – which is something they should have known is not possible – not filling in the paperwork could be enough to get promotion yanked in any environment with paperwork requirements.

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      OP2, two thoughts:
      First, are you sure they WANT the promotions? Sometimes very happy individual contributors get pushed into supervisoryour roles they dread because it’s the mgmt assumption.
      If yes they want it, would government rules allow a 2nd interview? May you do this for your top 2 external candidates and your internal candidates–and let your internals know they have to compete for this?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I wonder why the one employee did not even apply. Maybe the old boss never even checked to see if this employee wanted the promotion.

        1. Student*

          We should take the OP’s word, but in the federal hiring process, it is possible the one employee did apply but got screened out prior to applications going to the OP. There’s a step in the federal hiring process where applications get screened by automatic scoring. Then there’s another step in many agencies where applications get screened by someone who’s not in the department at all, who’s supposed to boost the scores of people with special attributes – mainly military veterans, but also some other specially designated groups.

          The hiring manager does not see any applications that get screened out by these steps normally. They have to ask about applications that got screened out, and sometimes won’t be allowed to see them at all (you need to provide justification to see them and still can’t hire them).

          This process is supposed to boost the hiring of veterans, but sometimes it backfires. I had a manager who was hiring for a science R&D program manager position. He told me about a round of hiring he did where the automated scoring gave a bunch of (widely varying) applications the same score, and then the score modifier guy boosted all the vets in the process above all the other applicants. In this case, that resulted in all the PhD researchers who applied being screened out in favor of a veteran who was a security guard with no R&D or subject matter experience for the job. He wasn’t allowed to hire the PhD researchers that had been screened out because of the way the scoring system works. He had to abandon the hiring process and restart it again a few months later. He was a vet himself, so he’d have been perfectly happy to get a PhD vet at the top of the pile, but the security guard that the automated process boosted would not have been very happy or effective in this job.

          Federal hiring is pretty broken.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            A friend of Mr Gumption was manually screened out of federal agency’s process for not having a BA/BS. He has a JD. He ended up calling and getting himself appropriately classified, but it was a struggle

            1. Delta Delta*

              I had an issue once because I didn’t send an image of my high school diploma. I was like, FFS, I have a JD, which is, you know, 2 more degrees beyond high school. Was met with blinks when I raised this.

              1. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

                Ticking the boxes to make a job description and qualifies fit to match someone who is already being considered… or because no one has updated the job description in years.

                I had to dig up my high school diploma to apply for a federal job once. They needed a copy. And it’s absurd. At the time I was 40 and high school was 22 years before that and I had been working for years and had a BA…which is hard to earn without a high school diploma (in all of their varieties) first.

                In some respects, I’m glad I never made it into the federal government.

        2. Texan In Exile*

          Thinking of a former (engineer) co-worker who was clearly being groomed for an executive role when I was working with him.

          A few months ago, they asked him to take a VP position.

          He turned it down.

          Nobody had ever asked him if he wanted to climb the ladder.

          (He doesn’t.)

      2. PleasantlyGrumpy*

        Depends on the OP2’s organization’s specific rules, but there’s leeway under OPM regs. A modification to the process is possible, but is it deserved? Doesn’t sound like it to me. Unless the external candidates are so very unqualified as to non-select entirely, running a second stage or second round wastes significant time (mandatory waiting period) while the job doesn’t get done and morale drags lower. Doing it just for these two when there are qualified candidates is a Fraud, Waste, & Abuse claim or hiring grievance waiting to happen.

        I’m a Fed who’s wildly insulted when people don’t take promotion opportunities seriously, because it gives all of us a bad name. Significant modernization efforts have been made for more effective and better hiring. Regardless of stereotypes, it hasn’t been about who “deserves” it or “is up next” for years, maybe decades; it’s about who can best do the job.

        All these two are doing is showing they are not ready. They didn’t care enough to prepare for the promotion. This is on them, regardless of what unfortunate promises were made.

        OP2, stay strong!

      3. Observer*

        If yes they want it, would government rules allow a 2nd interview? May you do this for your top 2 external candidates and your internal candidates–and let your internals know they have to compete for this?

        Why? I think that the OP has a perfect opportunity to allow natural consequences do their job. The two guys were doing poorly but were given a good opportunity to move up nevertheless. They refused to make the minimum effort to make the process move forward in a way that meets basic rules. And now, the results that any reasonable person should expect are happening.

        For the OP to go ahead and shield them from their own misbehavior this way would not be to anyone’s benefit. But even if it were to be beneficial to these young men, the fact that it would become a problem for the OP and would not be a good thing for the agency over-rides that.

    7. Asenath*

      Yes, but if that’s the case, the previous manager got it wrong, and OP is stuck cleaning up the mess. And it might be a little bit on the workers, but very little if they’re young and new to the workplace. I worked somewhere that all jobs were posted and could attract competition even if they were sort of intended for someone being promoted, or for someone in a contact job that was now going permanent etc. I was encouraged by my supervisor to think that I was a shoe-in (and in spite of my terrible nervousness at the interview, I did get the job), but I’d been there long enough to KNOW that you weren’t guaranteed your own job under such circumstances, much less a promotion. And about the only way OP can clean up the mess now is to explain that it was in fact a competition, unfortunate as it is that they lost, but in the future, they should know this and make sure they prepare by doing X, Y and Z. Of course the workers would be furious – if I were them, I might be job hunting elsewhere, I’d be so angry – but there’s no way to fix it (by giving them promotions) and all that can be done is to explain to them honesty what happens, and help them salvage what they can from the situation by learning from it. I could use that horrible phrase “learning opportunity”, which I think it sometimes used as an excuse for problems, but sometimes all you can salvage from a bad situation are lessons for the future.

      1. Anon for This*

        My boss did the opposite when I was applying for my position to go from contractor to employee. He told me he’d have to go with the best candidate, even if it wasn’t me, so many times it gave me anxiety attacks.

      2. Observer*

        >And it might be a little bit on the workers, but very little if they’re young and new to the workplace.

        They didn’t start working these yesterday. I don’t care how new you are to the workplace. If you are paying attention, you FILL IN THE PAPERWORK properly! And you DEFINITELY don’t act like a sullen teenager in the interview.

        Of course the workers would be furious – if I were them, I might be job hunting elsewhere, I’d be so angry

        That’s not a terrible outcome here. On the contrary, that sounds like the best outcome for the OP, to be honest. These are people who are not good at their jobs and cannot even bother to do the bare minimum to enable a promotion. Why SHOULD the OP want to try to keep them?

        1. Tedious Cat*

          Exactly. Lose these two chuckleheads, or promote them and start losing your good employees to different jobs or phoning it in. Very few things would make me check out of a workplace faster than seeing incompetent employees promoted. Former supervisor made a mess here and cleaning it up now will be less uncomfortable in the long run than going along with it.

    8. anonymous73*

      Quite honestly, my first thought was that the mentoring that old boss was providing wasn’t really doing it for the 2 applicants if they thought they could just phone it in when they applied. And just because you were promised something by someone who isn’t there anymore, doesn’t mean you automatically deserve it. In this case it sounds like they don’t.

    9. Need More Sunshine*

      It sounds like it’s too late for this to happen, but if OP knew that these employees were expecting to be allowed half-ass their applications because the former manager told them, I feel like she could have gone to them and said “Hey, you need to strengthen these and resubmit them.” Then it’s both a learning opportunity AND they still get a chance. It feels punitive and setting them up for failure to just shrug and think “Oh well, they weren’t trying,” especially if there’s evidence that they were told to expect not to try.

      1. Threeve*

        Totally agree–she should have given them a heads-up. “I need you to understand: I’m obligated to hire for these positions based on candidates’ applications and qualifications. Please consider submitting applications that reflect your best effort.”

        It would also have been appropriate to address this in the interview, the moment they started acting like they didn’t need to put in any effort. “I think Old Boss may have told you that this was just going to be a formality, but I really can’t operate that way and he shouldn’t have led you to believe that your applications and interviews wouldn’t matter.”

        They shouldn’t have half-assed it, but it isn’t their fault they were led to believe they could. And if the relationship can be preserved at all, it needs to be clear that this isn’t the OP sneering at them or the system being against them–Old Boss made a bad mistake and it can’t be upheld.

        1. OP#2*

          So I did call them out a little and as an update, one of them stepped up & gave me his application and updated resume and was able to give better, well thought out answers. Now he’s in the running. Just one of them. Which is almost worse.

          1. Need More Sunshine*

            Instead of thinking of it as you “calling them out,” think of it as reframing the expectations of what’s needed to move them forward. That’s a good thing to do! It sounds like one of them understood and recalibrated his effort level, while the other didn’t bother. There’s not much you can do about the latter beyond not choosing him and then being clear why. You’re on the right track!

      2. OP#2*

        The position posted on a website without any heads up. Someone in my department stumbled upon it on a day I wasn’t at work and encouraged the guys to apply as the closing date was the next day. I don’t know why the third gentleman, who is older by two decades than the other two, did not apply, whether he was not informed of the posting, I’m not sure since I was off for a couple days when this happened. Both of the applicants were given encouragement and guidance by my mid-level supervisors since it felt inappropriate for me to assist them with the process. I did inform them when I was told by HR I had five of eight people respond for interviews and they were not amongst them. I made them stop what they were doing and contact HR to schedule their interviews. So they knew how many people were in the mix. They knew it wasn’t a shoo-in. But it was their positions to lose. Despite my reservations about them, the promotion would only be slightly more responsibility and I was willing to give them the chance. I didn’t know how badly they did until I got the paperwork the day before the interviews and one of the two was the first interview. Only one of them redeemed himself.

        1. Amy*

          But it’s also like… why are you wasting *their* time by expecting them to re-verify information like their citizenship? You and likely several different branches of the government have this multiple times over.

          1. Observer*

            Seriously? It’s such a big imposition to ask them to check off a box? SOOOO much that it makes more sense for the people doing the screening to have to go check other systems to see if they are able to pass the first stage?

            In real life, it sometimes makes sense to ask people for information that you COULD access if you really needed to. And anyone who is so on their high horse that they can’t even be bothered to check a box or ~~gasp~~~ write the whole word Yes, is not someone that anyone should be expected to make any real efforts for.

          2. Elsajeni*

            I mean, that one specific detail of the requirements is a little silly, sure. But it’s not like the situation described is “one guy filled out the application pretty thoroughly and performed well in the interview, but didn’t check the citizenship box, so I had to eliminate him,” you know? It’s just a particularly “seriously, this would have taken less than a second” example of one of the many things he didn’t bother doing.

          3. Lizianna*

            Welcome to Federal hiring.

            In the grand scheme of things, is it likely this person meets the citizenship requirement, given they’ve already been through the federal hiring process? Of course. On the other hand, is it unreasonable to ask someone to pay attention to details when applying for a job? The hiring manager doesn’t control what goes onto the application, every single applicant has to answer the same questions.

            We internally joke that our hiring process is a screening system in and of itself, because only people who are willing to put up with a certain level of bureaucracy will make it through. We also joke that if you don’t like bureaucracy, you probably shouldn’t work for a literal Bureau.

    10. Rachel in NYC*

      I work at a private university but similarly all of our jobs have to be posted. When I was shifting from temp to perm, I had to apply for “my” job, wait out the job posting window, etc.

      I kept “joking” that if they got some amazing revenue from someone who had actually done this niche job before that they’d totally consider them. But reality is there was never a guarantee.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Same thing happened to my brother when he was applying for a permanent position as a civilian on a military base. They prioritize active duty or retired service over civilians. It didn’t matter that he had been there several years at that point. He actually lost his position, but was rehired when someone else strategically retired (so he could get their job). They joked that he got a nice two-week (unpaid) vacation, but it was really stressful for him.

    11. OP#2*

      So, government job means everything is weird and SOMETIMES you can just bump somebody’s title up without any other process. Or, they would just post it in-house where basically only there guys would apply, and I have no idea why they didn’t do that here since I was not involved at all in this process and HR is being very unhelpful.

      1. Omnivalent*

        Your old boss was helping these young men fail upward and calling it “mentoring”. Seen it way too many times, some old man in s position of power identifies with a much younger employee, and helps them up regardless of their ability or whether other employees (usually women) would be a better fit.

      2. Sharon*

        Are you authorized to hire an extra person, or was this just supposed to be a bump in level for the existing people? You don’t have to hire anybody – you could just decide to leave everything the same for now.

    12. Sparkles McFadden*

      Departing managers (especially bad managers) try to pass out promotions and/or raises as lovely parting gifts all of the time. Those things hardly ever get finalized because of exactly what the LW is describing. The departing manager is trying to take care of “his people” and, if the effort fails, he gets to leave two surly time bombs in his wake.

      You cannot promote people who won’t put the effort in to fill out the application properly. “But I was promised this!” isn’t really a good argument for promoting someone who won’t put in any effort at the beginning of the process. Those are the people who just refuse to do work because they’ve already been rewarded for doing a bad job.

    13. Nick*

      The thing is that the federal government takes fairness in the hiring process very seriously and strive to be the gold standard in hiring practices. They go to great lengths to prevent any kind of “good old boy” club where people are granted promotions. If these two candidates were not direct appointment eligible then the only alternative was to announce a competitive vacancy. At that point, the process must be fair and legal for ALL applicants.

      I am in a similar situation right now. I have two employees that are qualified for a vacancy that would be a promotion for both of them. One is direct appointment eligible. To give everyone a fair shot, I made a competitive announcement. I made clear to both of them that this is competitive and they need to do their best. Well, the guy who I could have just appointed to the position did a great job his package review scored 2 times higher than any other candidate. The other guy didn’t do much at all, did not even answer the KSAs. He acted this whole time like this was a really important opportunity for him and he barely even phoned it in. I am so disappointed and honestly it feels like a slap in the face. I am currently trying to find out if I can still do a direct appointment, why should I waste my time when no one is putting in any effort except one guy? Would I ever want to hire someone who needed me to do all the heavy lifting?

    14. emm*

      Yes, I think the commentators who think they understand federal hiring and are saying they have no sympathy for the employees are really ignorant of how things can be in some agencies. Halfway competent bosses can fudge the hiring process or keep re-flying the job until they get the internal candidate they want. The hand-off as he left was terrible but I can completely understand them being told they had it in the bag and not to worry to hard about the application. Yes, those employees should have tried harder, but I’ve seen this happen many times before and turn out as expected. This manager’s relationship is going to be completely ruined with them, and while it’s not her fault and she walked into a bad situation, trying to turn this into a learning experience will come off as completely tone-deaf and just create more resentment.

      1. Observer*

        . The hand-off as he left was terrible but I can completely understand them being told they had it in the bag and not to worry to hard about the application. Yes, those employees should have tried harder

        That’s the thing here. It’s not that they didn’t try HARD. They didn’t try AT ALL. That’s just a bridge too far. I would hope that even their old boss would have said to them “Guys, I need you to work with me. Give me SOMETHING!”

    15. Clisby*

      If that were the case, though, these 2 employees didn’t even do that. According to the LW, one didn’t even fill out the application and one did it so poorly they didn’t even check the “I am a US citizen” box. As far as I’m concerned, neither of them applied.

    16. Former GS*

      I’m actually surprised OP CAN think to hire externally. Between GS hiring freezes, mandatory reshuffling from an overseas or military reservist returning to a filled job and needing a similar one, internal candidates from other federal sectors, veterans’ preference, military spouse preference…. it is HARD to get through all the wickets to be able to look at someone outside of all the federal circles! (One reason I was actively discouraged from resigning from a GS position – once I was out it was so much harder to get back in.)

      That being said, former manager did current kids no favors, and they will very rightly be very angry at being passed over. I would not be surprised for a minute if they get the union involved. Before actually hiring the other more qualified person, can you see what the former manager actually promised? Do they have email traffic from former boss promising it or encouraging them to apply? Or did they take the words out of context as a guarantee when all the former boss said is, “Yeah, you qualify. Put in an application.”?

  3. xl*

    Might be worth it for Jane to contact the IRS and explain the situation as well. She will very likely be facing a penalty for this amount of underwithholding, but the IRS might be willing to work out a payment plan. There will still be interest once the tax deadline passes and the money is late, but having a payment plan in place and being on the same page as the IRS could be the most beneficial outcome given the situation.

    1. Risha*

      Yes, the IRS absolutely does payment plans. Almost certainly interest and penalties will continue to accrue on the balance as she pays, so she may be better off getting a loan elsewhere depending on her credit, but it doesn’t hurt to ask what the best way to handle this is. In general, the IRS is way more interested in simply collecting the money you owe them then being assholes about it or driving you into poverty, especially in a situation like this where it’s because of an honest payroll issue (as opposed to them catching you hiding income).

      1. xl*

        Yep. I’m a tax preparer and I can attest that the IRS is much more human than most people envision.

        If there’s an issue and you’re trying to fix it, they will work with you. They recognize that they can’t get blood from a stone and an earnest plan to work out a reasonable solution within one’s means is an obtainable goal for both sides. It’s only when you ignore their letters, give the appearance of trying to act in a knowingly fraudulent manner, and otherwise try to avoid them that they start getting heavy-handed.

      2. Cj*

        The interest and penalties that the IRS would charge on a payment plan will probably be less than what she would pay in interest on an unsecured loan from a bank.

        I’m wondering if she filed her 2020 return late, since it sounds like she’s just discovering now that they didn’t withhold for that year. If that’s the case, the late filing penalties are what’s really going to hurt. They are way, way worse than late payment penalties

        1. Clisby*

          I was confused by the timing also – how did she not notice when she filed her 2020 tax return? Although the LW says the mistake was made in 2020, not that it covered the entire year 2020. If, say, the payroll screwup somehow happened in September 2020, It’s more understandable than if she went all of 2020 with no tax being deducted.

          1. Been There (but not actually, this time)*

            This letter could have been written by my husband who just told me yesterday this one of his coworkers recently discovered that her first few checks were correct (the fed tax money was taken out), but then she was moved offices and somehow her w2 was changed so that none of the fed tax was removed. She didn’t authorize the change and has no idea how it happened.
            She also discovered at the same time that even though she lives and works in one state, her state taxes was for another state where the main office is located (but she’s never worked there).

            And honestly, I’m a little appalled at the anger directed at Jane for “not checking her pay stubs”. Hubs can only check his while at work (He doesn’t have access to the portal at home) and doesn’t often have the time or privacy to do so. I check mine maybe once a year.

      3. Ruth*

        Yeah my husband and I got hit with the marriage penalty and underwithheld one year. It was easy to set up a payment plan to fix it. Didn’t even have to talk to a person, we did it all online.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, my few experiences with the IRS have been that they are generally reasonable. They have a lot of payment plan options and are flexible with working with people, as long as folks seem to be acting in good faith with them.

    3. BBB the cabinet builder*

      Definitely have Jane contact the IRS – on a phone with a speaker and with plenty of time. I remember several calls with a 1 hour plus hold time. They worked with us on a large tax debt and let us repay over three years. Yes, there are interest and penalties, but they’re not terrible and they’ll let her set a monthly payment she can afford. Tell her good luck!

    4. mreasy*

      Seconded. I had a tax error leave me owing the IRS $7K one year, and they set me up with a payment plan that ended up being around $100/month – and the interest rates are quite low.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      The IRS will definitely work with people who want to pay but need a to pay installments to be able to pay their rent at the same time. The ones that they don’t take kindly to are the ones who avoid contact and refuse to speak to or or work with them. They want their money and are going to be much better able to get it through payment plans rather than going after people for lump sums they don’t have or going through the cost and hassle of garnishment.

  4. Cmdrshpard*

    While the company did make an error, at the end of the day “Jane is also responsible for looking at her checks” this is right. I think everyone should be checking their stubs at least quarterly. I can’t say I look at every paystub, but I will say I look at most.

    Anytime there is a change in the amount you should analyse the paystub and calculate to make sure everything is okay.

    I once caught a slight mistake where the retirement match was not being shown on the paystubs. Luckily it was being properly deducted and credited in the account, but it just was not shown on the paper stub.

    Did Jane not file taxes for 2020 yet? If the company had not deducted any taxes in 2020 Jane would have owed money (likely thousands) when she filed her 2020 taxes in april/may 2021. If she did owe and it did not seem out of the ordinary, they likely deducted most taxes for 2020.

    Maybe they don’t use a traditional paystub, but most make it very clear how much is being taken out for federal/state/ medicare/social security.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah…I don’t understand any of the American tax stuff but at the very least I’m surprised that Jane wasn’t checking her pay. Ours has been online for years now so you get an email the day before pay day with your ‘pay slip’ and that shows gross salary, deductions (we have tax and National Insurance, student loan, company pension that all go out at source), net salary and also your tax and NI contributions for the tax year to date. It takes two minutes once a month to check that everything looks right – I know the amount I’m meant to be being paid and if that suddenly went up or down for no good reason then I’d be on to HR straight away.

      1. Venus*

        I don’t check my pay, because it’s on a complicated online system. I have a good idea of what to expect, and would check if it was unusually high or low one month, but now that I have a consistent pay I only worry about the details at tax time. When I next change jobs, I will check the first few pays to confirm they are right, and then ignore them until the end of the year.

        I am a bit surprised she didn’t check at all at the start, although maybe it was her first ever job and she didn’t know what to expect? It’s also hard because she is a year late with filing taxes, and that is where she would have also noticed the problem. I agree with the suggestions that the IRS would be her best option, as they have long payment plans and she has a good argument to ask not to pay interest on the taxes she owes (I doubt she’ll avoid all interest and extra fees, but it is worth asking to reduce them). The late filing fees are more on her, unfortunately.

        1. Orange You Glad*

          Yea mine is also locked up in a complicated online system, but I make the effort any time my pay changes. After I’ve checked how the deductions are calculated, I mostly forget about it as long as the same amount is deposited each pay period. If the amount deposited is ever different, I will go back into the system to figure out why.

    2. Dutchie*

      I mean, there can be numerous reasons people might not check. For one, 52% of Americans cannot read and/or write at a level that is sufficient enough for our complex and advanced society. A perfect example of that would be reading a pay slip.

      And that does not even consider the fact that you also need to have a basic understanding of taxes to understand your pay slip. Which is a whole other beast.

      The sentence “Anytime there is a change in the amount you should analyse the paystub and calculate to make sure everything is okay.” really presumes A Lot of knowledge basically 80-90% (or more) of the population doesn’t have.

      1. Ayla*

        And if she’s paid hourly, the amount will be constantly going up and down a bit. Most of my companies have provided paystubs only in the company’s weird and hard-to-navigate employee portals, and I did not generally have an expected amount per check. Honestly, I didn’t go through and check my withholdings on a regular basis. It never occurred to me to do so.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          If she is paid hourly with hours that vary then she should 100% be checking EVERY single pay stub to make sure the hours worked are the hours she got paid. Yes the total taxes withheld will vary, but she would be able to see if $0 income taxes were withheld for that period. When I was an hourly employee with hours that varied I checked my stub everytime. I didn’t calculate withholding everytime, but I did calculate hours worked compared to hours paid.

          I am now technically an hourly non-exempt employee. But in practice i am more like a salaried employee. I always work 40 hours, or use PTO to get paid for 40 hours, so most of the time my pay is the same with maybe 1 or 2 paycheck a year with overtime. But anytime I get a raise in hourly pay, work overtime, get a bonus, or if I ever worked less than 40 hrs and didn’t use PTO I would look at my paystub.

          Checking on the online portal might be a pain. But employees not keeping track/checking paystubs is how bad companies (not just honest mistakes) get away with wage theft.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          I don’t actually calculate my federal/state income withholding, but I do check that some amount is being deducted and compare it to the YTD total deduction compared to my same paystub (24th out of 26 paystub) of the previous year.

          But I do calculate things that are flat rate deductions. Social security 6.2%, medicare 1.45%, elected retirement contributions and employer match contribution, flex spending accounts.

          1. Boss’s Fave*

            Not sure if this is a nesting error or if you misunderstood my comment. I was referring to Dutchie’s claims that “52% of Americans” have insufficient reading/writing skills to engage in society and “80-90% (or more) of the population” don’t have the appropriate skills to understand their paycheck.

            1. Petty Patty*

              Yes, those numbers seem unlikely to be accurate. A quick google search tells me the percentage of US population that are illiterate or functionally illiterate is 21%, not 52%.

            2. Cmdrshpard*

              I did misunderstand, I thought you were asking me for tax figure sources, my mistake.

              I didn’t post it, but did find a stat saying “54% of adults have a literacy below 6th grade level.” If a literacy level below 6th grade to equal “For one, 52% of Americans cannot read and/or write at a level that is sufficient enough for our complex and advanced society” I think is open to debate.

              I didn’t find anything about paycheck literacy.

              Link coming.

      2. WellRed*

        If your salaried paycheck amount changes, you should check it out. There is nothing to suggest Jane is illiterate.

      3. BigHairNoHeart*

        I mean, sure, there are several reasons people might not check, and financial literacy is a huge issue. But it’s still her responsibility to check on it, and since she didn’t, it’s her responsibility to now pay what’s owed. I agree most people wouldn’t be able to “analyse the paystub and calculate to make sure everything is okay” but they should be able to look at it, see that it seems…off, and then do some digging to figure out what’s wrong. This is a common issue, and google is surprisingly helpful!

        I hope the OP’s friend uses this as a chance to learn more about taxes so she can catch these kinds of issues in the future.

      4. Snow Globe*

        It shouldn’t take a significant amount of knowledge to realize that Fed Withholding should not be $0.

        1. Texas*

          My company doesn’t send us our paystubs automatically so if you want to check the numbers you have to go find wherever they’ve moved the link to whatever new portal it’s on to find out any info more than the dollar amount deposited into your account. We have no idea how Jane’s company handles this. It is definitely in Jane’s best interest to check her paystubs, and hopefully she starts doing that going forward. It’s also understandable that if her company handles paystubs similarly to mine and her wages deposited were in line with what she expected, double-checking that her company is doing what they’re obligated to do and had been doing up to whatever point in 2020 wasn’t up on her to-do list during the pandemic.

          1. Cj*

            The thing is, the wages deposited should not have been in line with what she expected. She’s salaried so it should have been consistent. If the employer was withholding correctly initially, and all of a sudden her net pay went up significantly, she should have noticed.

            Even if she got a raise at the same time things went wrong, if you get a 10% raise and your net pay goes up by 20%, something is wrong.

      5. anonymous73*

        You’re being unnecessarily snarky. Yes Jane’s company is not handling this well, but it is ultimately HER responsibility to make sure things look correct. If my paycheck amount changed I’d look into it. And if I didn’t understand what was on my paycheck, I’d ask someone. It would be pretty obvious that there’s a problem when the federal taxes taken out is $0.

      6. Prospect Gone Bad*

        People aren’t smart enough to read pay stubs? This isn’t some nuanced error, this is the largest tax completely missing. This meant they were getting like 85% or 90% of their pay in take home. You don’t need to be Einstein to notice that. And this person owes many thousands, which means they probably are in a reasonably professional job, not someone struggling with basic reading.

      7. RagingADHD*

        If someone is so illiterate that they can’t tell their pay deposit suddenly went from $X to $X + 25% overnight with no explanation, I have to wonder how they are holding down a steady job.

        Jane is a W2 salary worker, not an hourly worker whose wages fluctuate. She didn’t even need to look at a paystub to see that something wierd was happening. Who ignores an apparent 25% raise?

      8. KRM*

        Even if your stats are true, it’s pretty easy to see $0.00 next to ‘federal tax’ and realize that something isn’t correct. I have basically zero idea how to properly calculate my taxes, but if there was a zero, I’d know something needs to be fixed.

      9. New Jack Karyn*

        “52% of Americans cannot read and/or write at a level that is sufficient enough for our complex and advanced society.”
        That’s new. What brings you to that conclusion?

      10. Nancy*

        A salaried worker would have a consistent pay check, and it is easy to read that no taxes are being taken out.

        Don’t throw out random percentages without a reference for the claim.

        Jane should call the IRS for a payment plan and then check her W4 to make sure it was filled out properly.

      11. Annie Moose*

        This seems like a real fanfic moment. There’s nothing in the letter to suggest Jane, a salaried employee, couldn’t read her paystub because her literacy was too low to understand it! I’m sure that she, like many of us, just didn’t look.

      12. Observer*

        I mean, there can be numerous reasons people might not check. For one, 52% of Americans cannot read and/or write at a level that is sufficient enough for our complex and advanced society. A perfect example of that would be reading a pay slip.

        Pay slips are actually not all that complicated – there are a lot of little boxes in most cases but that’s actually easier to figure out that a wall of text.

        And every pay slip explicitly show how much tax is being taken out. Now, if they had been taking out the WRONG amount, that would be one thing, because it can be very difficult to know what is the correct amount. But ZERO is a different thing – you don’t have to understand the tax code to realize that something is wrong.

        If they didn’t withhold anything for 2020, then that also means that Jane messed up on last year’s taxes. On the other hand, if they stopped withholding in 2021, then Jane should have realized that there was a significant change in her paycheck. Given that the debt is “thousands of dollars” it means that the amount had to have been significant. And also that it’s unlikely that this was for a job where someone could be barely literate – someone making minimum wage or just over that is probably not going to owe THAT much money.

        So, while I do think that the employer is being really terrible here, I don’t think handwaving “2020” really is a reasonable reaction to the situation either.

    3. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      My pay stubs are available online (secured intranet). While I don’t look at all of them, I do when there are changes (annual bonus, rises and possibly promotions in April, although any promotion at my level would be announced on the intranet anyway), changes in health plan contributions or if the monthly payout on my bank statement differs. At European tax rates, missing the withholding would not go unnoticed, I’m sure.
      For salaried employees, the paycheck should be fairly constant from one period to the next. It’s obviously less clear cut for hourly employees.

    4. Asenath*

      Yeah. It doesn’t fix the problem Jane is in now, but simply checking the stub each payday could have avoided it. I don’t scrutinize every single line on my pay stub, but I download and save to my records every single one, and if the amount isn’t the same as the recurring amount I’ve entered in my own accounts, I do go back and read the stub carefully. No way I’d not notice that something as big as my tax deduction was missing. Generally, it’s a matter of a few cents or dollars “missing” because my insurance payments have gone up slightly, or the tax rate might have changed slightly. So far, Human Resources (who prepare our cheques, not that they’ve been literal cheques in a long time) have always gotten their figures right, but I always look at them.

      Still, she should be able to get a longer payback time. I know ideally she had all that extra money, but on the other hand, if she’s like a lot of people, most of it probably went in living expenses and so isn’t still available.

    5. BRR*

      I hate to be unsympathetic to Jane because it’s the company’s fault but I have to wonder did she not notice her pay increase substantially?

    6. Accountant*

      “Anytime there is a change in the amount you should analyse the paystub and calculate to make sure everything is okay.”

      US withholding tables are complex enough that this is an unreasonable universal expectation IMO. But, the difference between some withholding and no withholding is obvious enough that she could have caught it.

      1. 1099, 1098, Whatever*

        I disagree. If you know what tax bracket you’re in, it’s easy enough to look at your pay stub and do a quick assessment if you have even basic math skills. It’s not hard to say, hmm, around 10% of my paycheck should be going to the federal government. Your tax pro or tax software should be able to tell you what tax bracket you’re in.

      2. Cmdrshpard*

        You are right, I don’t actually calculate my federal and state income tax withholding, I just take it on faith. But I would notice a difference between $0 withholding and there should be some withholding.

        But I do calculate items that are a flat rate, like medicare Tax 6.2%, social security, 1.45%, elected deductions like retirement contributions, flex spending account etc…

      3. RagingADHD*

        There are plenty of free online calculators that do it for you, close enough to estimate what your paystub should say within $10 or so. You don’t have to read the tax tables yourself.

        1. Accountant*

          I know, I love the IRS’s W4 calculator and I shake my fist at my state department of revenue every year because they don’t have one (nor do they automatic conformance, so online calculators are always inaccurate). But that’s not actually doing your own analysis, and there are enough complications in the tax code that it’s really easy to make input errors which make their calculations incorrect (mistake your Roth 401k for traditional, input the child tax credit when you also have a dependent care FSA, input work expenses when you don’t qualify for that deduction, confuse single with married filing jointly, etc).

          But, as I said, the difference between zero withholding and some withholding is pretty obvious. No analysis should be required.

      4. Orange You Glad*

        Yup. You don’t need to be a tax expert to realize no withholding is wrong. Also, while your pay may rise a bit each year, if it’s roughly what it was the previous year, you can compare your withholding to the previous year. If it’s significantly lower when your pay hasn’t decreased, you’ll know there is a problem.

        I live in a city with a local income tax that employers outside the city mess up a lot. Everyone I know that is a city resident gets really good at reviewing their pay stubs to make sure the city gets paid because it’s a tax that is frequently handled wrong but has high penalties for getting wrong. Usually, it’s a matter of making sure a number appears on the pay stub.

        Jane should take this as a lesson to stay more on top of these things. She doesn’t need to become a tax expert but she should have some basic knowledge about her tax obligations.

      5. Annie Moose*

        I have to agree. My withholdings were wrong for a couple of years (I bumped into a higher tax bracket without realizing, got smacked with a nice tax bill the next year, thought I’d fixed my withholdings but hadn’t the next year, finally got it sorted out the third year). So I completely understand someone not realizing their withholdings are slightly wrong.

        But not noticing you had no withholdings at all–I’m sympathetic to Jane, I hate and fear taxes too, and would rather not think about them!! But that’s a stark enough difference that even those of us who don’t really get how withholdings work could see something is wrong if we check.

      6. Observer*

        But, the difference between some withholding and no withholding is obvious enough that she could have caught it.

        That’s really the issue. You can argue if she should have caught a smaller error. But this is a whole different level.

    7. Grace*

      I had 5 PRN jobs at once and I didn’t keep up with checking that many paystubs. I realized a job had been underpaying me by $4 an hour for 2 years. That was on me for just assuming they would honor their verbal agreement when I negotiated. They had been paying me the original amount they offered instead. Luckily it was one of the jobs I rarely worked so not a ton lost, but lesson learned!

    8. Koala dreams*

      I can easily see this happening during the pandemic. Many office workers including payroll and accounting have been working from home so you couldn’t just pop by and ask someone, people have been sick and too tired to deal with a lot of life stuff, it’s been hard to reach companies (and government offices, although perhaps not IRS?) because of layoffs and long sick leaves. It’s much easier to explain payroll things when you can look at the paystub together, instead of talking on the phone or mailing back and forth. And if you never got a paystub for some reason, well…

  5. Belle*

    I’m a little confused on the payroll tax one. Shouldn’t she have noticed the issue when she filed her 2020 taxes? Why did it take two years to discover?

    1. Cj*

      I don’t understand that either. Even if she filed an extension for her 2020 return and didn’t actually file the return until October, you need estimate your tax liability and report your withholding or estimated tax payments you made on the extension, so she should have noticed it by May of 2021 at the latest.

      1. Van Wilder*

        But a lot of people just file their extension with no payment, assuming they won’t have a payment due if they’ve never had one before.
        For residents of certain states, the extended individual filing deadline was extended to January 3, 2022 due to (I forget which natural disaster?) so if she waited until the last minute, she could be just dealing with this now.

    2. Yvette*

      Something seems off. I don’t think LW has gotten the full story from Jane. How do you not notice that nothing was withheld? The wrong amount maybe, and even if she didn’t look at her pay stubs (direct deposit often means you don’t get stubs handed to you, you have to look them up on-line yourself) wouldn’t she have noticed it on the W-2? Those are still provided as a hard copy.

      1. Anya Last Nerve*

        I agree – there are definitely missing pieces to this story. I don’t understand how someone couldn’t notice missing taxes for 2 years and then blame it all on the company.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          OP mentions: “My friend Jane just discovered that, despite taking zero allowances,”

          My understanding is that the old allowances method of using a W4 for example put a 1 down for your self, 1 for dependants equals 4 allowances total, is no longer used.

          Instead it is a worksheets that estimates your total tax balance and tell you how much you are expected to owe.

          I wonder if Jane filled out the new W4 like she was filing out the old one.

          Jane thought she was marking 0 allowances but in reality she was marking that she should have 0 withholdings.

          1. Cj*

            New employees have to fill out the new form, and if you want to change your withholding you need to fill out the new form. Otherwise the old form can still be used.

            It’s unclear to me if this was a new job or not, but if it’s not, that seems like even more reasons you would have noticed that her net pay was much higher and it had been.

            If she did have to fill out a new W-4 by necessity or choice, it doesn’t ask you to estimate your tax liability. I asks you to put down any income you have in addition to the job you’re filling it out for, and any credits you are entitled to for dependents. There is no place you can put zero tax liability by mistake.

          2. nona*

            The new W-4 looks different enough from the old W-4 and has pretty clear instructions on how to fill it out, though I don’t see the typical used remember the confusing concept of “allowances” from the old form and using them here. So I highly doubt that’s the issue

            And it was released in Dec 2020, so it’s unlikely that someone who worked for all/most of 2020 used the new form.

            1. Cj*

              Actually, it was released in December of 2019. There may be a somewhat revised version with a December 2020 date on it, but it was originally released in the new format in December of 2019.

      2. Liz*

        I agree; I have direct deposit, and while I don’t get a physical paystub, they are online, going back however many years since we switched payroll and time reporting companies. My deposit is generally the same; unless I get an increase, or change any of my contributions/deductions. In which case, I will always check my stubs. I would think that not having any tax whitheld would increase your net pay significantly, and if it were me, I would have looked, AND questioned it ASAP.

        In her defense though, IF she filed herself using something like turbo tax, it is entirely possible it took the IRS a while to catch her error. My mom, who used to do her own, forgot one year to include a significant portion of her income (my dad’s pension she receives). and again the following year, as TT pulls the previous year’s info. She’s pretty with it, but just spaced on that. I believe it was for 2019 and 2020, discovered in 2021. It took that long for the error to show up. My BF is a CPA; so he was able to help her resolve the issue. And while she paid what she owed in full, she could have done a payment plan as well.

        1. BethDH*

          But it sounds like Jane did this for her main income, which would be a lot harder to miss. It’s super easy to make a mistake with something that’s not your main income. Maybe if they withheld state but not federal, and she entered the state withholding on federal or something like that.

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I see what you’re saying, but an online program like TurboTax would have caught this. I had an employer who didn’t deduct NY City tax and TurboTax let me know the second I input my W2. That was a fun year.

          I’m sympathetic to Jane but I do think she bears some responsibility here.

      3. Biscotti*

        2 years with zero dependents and Jane didn’t notice she wasn’t paying taxes? Something is off unless this job is throw away money for Jane then. Otherwise I can’t see any way Jane didn’t notice for 2 years. Every job I have ever had everyone complains at some point about the amount of taxes being taken out of their check, and someone with zero dependents should be expecting a larger amount taken out.

      4. MicroManagered*

        Definitely missing some details in #4. The most common culprit is that the employee selected “exempt” when filling out their W-4. The way the exempt line is worded, it often gets interpreted as “if you got a refund last year and think you will get one this year, check this box.” People don’t realize that “exempt” means they’ll take $0 out of your check for federal taxes, which is not the same as getting part of your tax withholdings refunded.

        If the employee in #4 did something like that, it’s not the company’s fault and they’re being very generous by offering her a loan to cover a personal expense.

        1. Global Cat Herder*

          It’s been 20 years or so and one of my brothers still blames his payroll department for that year he owed the IRS a whole lot of money, because he checked the EXEMPT box on his W-4 thinking “I’m salaried but HR calls that ‘exempt’ so I should check this” instead of actually reading the form.

          So that’s what I thought, that OP4’s friend checked the EXEMPT box, and payroll did what they were told to do – they withheld $0 federal taxes.

    3. BRR*

      Upon rereading the letter I noticed it says “since 2020.” So it’s possible that means she had taxes withheld in 2020 but not 2021 or had taxes withheld for part of 2020 and her tax bill wasn’t terribly high. But even then I have to imagine her paycheck at some point changed dramatically.

      1. Cj*

        I caught that too, but elsewhere it says she owes two full years of taxes, so it must have been at least the majority of 2020.

    4. Annea*

      I used to work in payroll and would assume one of two scenarios:

      1) she started part way through 2020, never had any tax deducted, and had a tax bill that she figured was normal due to switching jobs or only working part of the year.

      2) she filled our a new w-4 during 2020 and it was filled out or entered into the system incorrectly, so she had some tax withholding for part of the year but the rest of the year was messed up, and she assumed the tax bill was due to changing her withholding during the year

      Then, when she filed 2021 or took a look at her w-2 and noticed zero total tax, instead of a smaller-than-correct-amount, she took a closer look at 2020 and checked her paystubs to figure out what happened.

      It’s also possible she noticed the lack of withholding and checked with her payroll or HR contact and was told the lack of deductions was correct for her based on the exemptions listed in the system, but those exemptions were different than what was on her w-4.

      1. Cj*

        If she started her job or changed her withholding in 2020, she would have had to use the new W-4, and there are no such things as allowances on that version.

        Also, if she prepared her own return, she would have noticed it said zero Federal withholding. If she has somebody else prepare her return, they most certainly would have mentioned to her that she owes so much because they didn’t take out any withholding. If they didn’t, she needs a new tax preparer.

        Plus it sounds like she’s filed her 2020 return late, like very recently. Otherwise she wouldn’t just now owe 2 years worth of taxes that need to be paid. She would have known she owed for 2020 a long time ago if she had filed on time, and wouldn’t only now be trying to come up with the money because the IRS would have been contacting her for payment.

    5. somanyquestions*

      If someone is owed a tax refund, the IRS won’t penalize them if they don’t file a return, or file it late.

      I assumed that she knew she had asked for more taxes to be withheld than she owed, so she thought that she didn’t need to file on a schedule. If true that was her choice, and she gave up the opportunity to make sure she didn’t owe anything.

  6. Prefer my pets*

    I’m confused by #2. I’ve been a fed for decades and I can’t figure out how this was set up. Normally positions are only re-graded either via a desk audit, in which case there wouldn’t be anything to advertise, or a position is re-classified when there is a vacancy. I have once in my entire career seen it where they decided a GS-12 was required and they eliminated the previous GS-11 position from the org chart and the individual had to compete for the new position…if she didn’t get it she would have been unemployed. But that was during a RIF and those are incredibly rare.

    If these two don’t get the promotions, are they just not promoted and there are now two additional positions? (Which dang! My office needs to try that ploy for some extra staffing!) Or do they lose their current jobs and become completely unemployed? I think that makes a huge difference in how you handle it.

    1. Nanopi*

      I read it as they applied for promotions but because it’s govt the jobs had to be advertised too. I don’t see anything that would indicate they can’t stay in their original jobs.

      1. Sasha*

        But the question is where these two promotions have come from – usually with a promotion your existing job is upgraded, but this sounds like a move into a more senior position. So are these new posts, or have two other people coincidentally vacated their posts?

        It sounds like there were two senior vacancies, and these two guys assumed they would just be handed to them which… is not how jobs work in many large orgs, and definitely not government jobs. You have to be able to demonstrate transparency.

        1. KateM*

          Well, at least one person did not-so-coincidentally vacate their post – OP when promoted to the place of this supervisor who probably knew he would retire.

        2. Student*

          This varies by the agency. We do not upgrade existing jobs. We do what these guys did – promotions only come from applying competitively for an open position above your current grade.

          Part of the reason we do it this way is that we’re in a relatively small office. With high turnover. We can’t afford to upgrade positions, we don’t get approval to increase our total staff easily, and we still need those lower level positions. If we did promotions, we’d rapidly get stuck with an office of nothing but GS-15s and no one to do the lower level work.

    2. misspiggy*

      Yes, that’s how I read OP’s question about what to do with the two internal guys – has she got to lay them off or find a transfer? Although I’d have thought HR would be there for that kind of info. But if that is the case, it does at least sound like losing them won’t be a disaster for her team, based on their performance.

      1. anonymous73*

        My husband works for the government, and you basically have to murder someone (or bring your cell phone into the office) to get fired. If they didn’t have room for them on their current team, they’d probably just find somewhere else to put them.

        1. Loulou*

          But if their jobs are reclassified and they aren’t awarded the new, reclassified jobs in a competitive application process, that’s not firing.

    3. Antilles*

      To me, it reads like this is the chain of events:
      1.) The organization has two Mid-Level Teapot Designer Positions available – maybe because a couple people left, but possibly because the department’s workload has expanded enough that two brand new positions were created out of thin air.
      2.) The previous Department Head told a couple Junior Staffers that hey, you guys should apply for this, I think you’re ready for a move up and I’ll pull some strings to make it happen.
      3.) Since it’s a government role, the positions are required to be posted publicly. The existing employees apply, along with a bunch of better external candidates.
      4.) External candidates are hired on as Mid-Level Designers, leaving the two current employees to stay in their current roles as Junior Staff.

      1. doreen*

        Or it could be this chain of events that I have seen bits and pieces of ( but never all at once)
        1) Department has two Junior Staffers
        2) Previous Department Head gets those positions reclassified to Mid-Level Designers
        3) Department Head tells the Junior Staffers to apply, assuming he is going to be around to make/influence the choice and leads them to believe ( or actually tells them) they are shoe-ins because he is going to choose them regardless of the other applicants’ qualifications.
        4) Something happens and Department Head is no longer able to make the choice – maybe he’s on long-term sick leave or had to retire earlier than expected or it took longer that expected to get approval to hire or he was unable to pressure his direct report (who is actually the hiring manager) to choose Junior Staffers.
        5) Junior Staffers are not chosen and since their previous positions as Junior Staffers no longer exist in this department, they are transferred to somewhere with openings for Junior Staffers.

        I suspect that the main reason I have never seen all of these pieces together is because of number 5 – that’s not an issue if you wait until there are vacant positions to do the re-classification. If there were four Junior Staffer positions and two were vacant, you can reclassify the vacant positions without having to transfer the other two JS if they aren’t selected.

    4. OP#2*

      So, what I think happened was this (and again, I wasn’t there, I’m just speculating.) My old boss wants to promote these guys from the bottom positions. The administration wants more people to work in the evenings. They decide to take this opportunity to create these positions that are evening shift that are a promotion for these guys but a new position? Again, only a guess since HR is not telling me anything, just what the positions are, the hours, and who I have to interview.

    5. Free Meerkats*

      Nowhere in the letter does it say “Federal”, just says government. I’ve worked for cities, a county, and the feds and hiring practices are significantly different with federal on the more bureaucratic end of the spectrum.

      With the county I worked for, non-union, exempt positions were regularly filled with a director level manager basically giving the job to someone. HR had them fill out a basic application, they went through the background check, and ‘Bingo!’, new job! And then there were the elected officials’ staffs…

      1. Free Meerkats*

        Inadvertent send.

        When I got promoted from union-represented to management at the city I currently work for, there was no application involved, no interviews; basically, “You want the job?” (I was the only one qualified for it on city staff), talked what salary step with HR, and the following pay period I was a manager. Replacing me took almost 6 months though, because it was a Civil Service, union position.

  7. Pennyworth*

    #1 – I don’t think that putting other people down to make yourself feel better is a self esteem issue. It reads as manipulative and nasty to me. I have fairly low self esteem, and making someone else feel bad would make it worse, not better.

    1. supertoasty*

      This. I was going to say this feels almost… negging-ish? Diet Negging? In any case yeah your boss is terrible and you have my sympathies.

      1. Mrs. Smith*

        Yeah, this has all the hallmarks of classic PUA negging techniques. 50 bucks says this dude read the handbook and is applying it in work life as well as in the club. Yuck.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      That’s probably because you’re a nice person ;-)

      I think it can be a self esteem issue. I’ve caught myself thinking “well, at least I’m not like X” when feeling down about myself. I’d never say that out loud, because I know it’s not nice or actually helpful, but there are absolutely people who lack that filter.

      1. Wombats and Tequila*

        It might also not be a self esteem issue, just old fashioned bullying covered up with a fig leaf of “Gawrsk I’m such an awful person,” in order to deflect the criticism he rightly deserves. In other words, it could be a kind of DARVO tactic. Anyone who pushes back could be accused of wounding his fragile self. Then they become the bad guy.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Telling the employee at least she doesn’t look tired today almost seemed like a sideways dig at the LW, which doesn’t seem like something a boss with bad self-esteem would do. It does seem like something a Mean Guy would do to plausibly-deniably insult someone who called him out.

    3. Panda Bandit*

      It absolutely is a self-esteem issue. I’m glad you don’t have that mindset but a lot of people don’t have that empathy and awareness.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Secure bullies might. Fortunately, we don’t actually need to figure out what’s happening in the person’s brain to draw boundaries on their behavior.

    4. anonymous73*

      I think it is 100% a self esteem issue. He puts himself down so others will provide him with praise. And he puts others down to feel better about himself. It’s classic bully behavior.

    5. JimmyJab*

      It’s not the only way low self esteem manifests, it’s a common one though! I have certainly had low self esteem and I put myself down, not others. But most bullies are incredibly insecure.

    6. Miss Betty*

      This is what we’re taught as kids, though, about bullies and mean kids. “They only pick on you to make themselves feel better because they feel bad about themselves.” It makes sense that someone who believed this as a child would carry that thought process into adulthood and apply it to the workplace.

      1. Tomato Frog*

        Eh, if you figure people putting down others stems from insecurity, you’ll be right most of the time. Abusers are some of the most insecure people you’ll find. The problem is thinking that that excuses anything or that that knowledge is any help to the victim.

      2. OP#1*

        My working theory is he’s got a rather challenging personality disorder, one where I fully believe self-esteem issues are a major part of the problem. Because of that I have no doubt any boundaries we set will be interpreted as personal attacks rather than professional interventions.

        I also have no doubt that we’ll be bad guys any time we set a boundary, and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop after this incident.

    7. Nea*

      What strikes me as particularly manipulative and nasty was his lashing out at a young woman’s appearance when he was defied by his entire team. I hope that she has started to record his sexist outbursts.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Particularly manipulative because he cherry picked his target. He determined she would be the Probably newer, fewer work friends/Allie’s. (I’m not correcting that a fourth time. iPhone wins this round) and that she’d be visibly upset, not tell him off, and other people would react with “oh no, I don’t want to be next,” not “cut it out.”
        But they did and it sounds glorious.

        Ps: “ My supervisor has the self-esteem of a 90’s emo kid…” is my favorite OP line ever. And yes. I have a list of favorite lines from letters and comments.

      2. Observer*

        What strikes me as particularly manipulative and nasty was his lashing out at a young woman’s appearance when he was defied by his entire team. I hope that she has started to record his sexist outbursts.

        Yes, that’s truly nasty.

      3. OP#1*

        Nea, I hope she is too. His way of speaking to her has been troublesome to me since she was hired. One of the other posters mentioned this sounding like negging and for her in particular I think there’s some truth to that. I think he wants to date her but he truly has a zero percent shot.

        1. Kal*

          You can also record the sexist outbursts you witness as well. You don’t have to be the direct target of harassment to be affected by it or to report it (though it is a good idea to check in with the target before reporting if you can if there’s a concern of retaliation being directed at her). Even if you aren’t ever involved in reporting, your records of the outbursts can go a long way to back her up if she does decide to report at some point, especially if things later escalate or if it ever becomes a legal thing.

          And if nothing else, the record of the outbursts might be something to review to see if he eventually starts getting better at not doing those snipes when you all consistently hold the boundaries, if he stays the same, or even gets worse.

    8. DJ Abbott*

      It seems extremely selfish too. He doesn’t care about the work or being a good supervisor. He only cares about filling whatever it is that makes him want to do this.

    9. Observer*

      I have fairly low self esteem, and making someone else feel bad would make it worse, not better.

      As others say, that’s because you are ALSO a nice person. The OP’s boss? Not so much.

      Which is to say, OP, don’t worry so much about your boss’ self esteem. Do what you’ve been doing till now, which is just holding the line on the trash talk. And if you do need to talk to someone else about it, don’t get into self esteem, just stick to the trash talk and the latest iteration of putting down his staff.

    10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah if making people feel bad makes you feel bad, you’re a good person, which is most likely not the case for OP1’s boss.

  8. EL*

    I am a payroll manager, and this question comes up quite often. We patiently remind our employees that they should be checking their pay stubs throughout the year. It’s not as if the money disappeared into thin air. It went into the employee’s pocket as additional net pay. Whether the employee pays the tax through withholding or on their tax return, the employee is the one paying the tax.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      To me this is a situation where someone who works in payroll will think this is all quite simple, but to the average employee, it’s quite woolly. There are a lot of things that happen between “your salary is X per year” and “here is your paycheck of X/24-W, Y, Z. What do you mean you didn’t notice that Y was calculated incorrectly???”

      1. anonymous73*

        So you’re saying that if your paycheck is significantly higher with no known changes (like a raise), you wouldn’t think to check your stub and figure out why? This has nothing to do with not working in payroll.

        1. A Feast of Fools*

          When I started my current job, my paycheck was X from Day 1. I’m salaried, so it was mostly the same every pay period (some periods had one extra day in them, but the amount was always in the same narrow band).

          Then I calculated my 2020 1040 and realized I owed several thousand in taxes instead of getting a refund, despite meticulously filling out my W4 and requesting an extra few hundred be taken out of each check, to cover my 2nd stream of income (that doesn’t automatically pay payroll tax).

          I checked my stubs on the regular, and there were line items for the extra amount, but the stub is laid out wonky and it looks like it’s highlighting that the extra amount is included in the overall total.

          It was not.

          Turns out, the W4 I filled out when I got the job offer in Nov 2019 was invalid by the time I was onboarded in Jan 2020. And instead of contacting me about it, Payroll just put in a standard deduction.

          I have a Master’s in Accounting and work in Audit, so it’s not like these numbers and calculations are a big mystery for me. But my company’s paystubs and online payroll info system sure as hell are.

          I’ll be doing my 2021 taxes this weekend. Fingers crossed that I don’t owe anything more than a few hundred bucks. (My 2nd income stream did better than expected in 2021).

      2. comityoferrors*

        I agree with you in the case of miscalculated withholdings, but in this case it just…wasn’t withheld. It’s a lot easier to figure out that Y and Z are calculated incorrectly when you’re a taxpaying adult who knows taxes come out of your paycheck, and subsequently see that the taxes withheld on your paycheck equal $0.

      3. Annika Hansen*

        I think it is simple. I don’t work in payroll. I wouldn’t notice if the rate was simply wrong. However, I would notice is there were no federal taxes taken out. I know I am supposed to be paying something. And yes, I do go on the online portal to check my paystub closely once in a while because I know if there is a problem, it is better to find out sooner than later.

      4. STG*

        I mean….anyone who is beyond their first job (and tax return) understands that they should be taking out federal taxes from a paycheck.

    2. Chauncy Gardener*

      As a finance person, the major control over payroll accuracy is the assumption that employees check their paychecks.
      As a human, I know that a lot of folks don’t do this! So when we do raises or open enrollment or whatever, I always remind employees to check their withholdings and everything to make sure it looks right to them.

  9. The Rafters*

    I also work with a Government agency. We HAVE to post all jobs outside as well as inside. Sometimes, someone will think they are a shoe-in for whatever job and it turns out they don’t get it – usually because we had such an outstanding candidate from the outside. Not sure if the people in question ever half-assed the paperwork or interview though.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      OP, I know the general advice is against gifting upwards, but have you thought of offering him a Hot Topic gift card in exchange for fewer social interactions?

      (Not hating, I had plenty of those shirts back in the day!)

    2. WulfInTheForest*

      I think what the OP meant was that the emo kids of the 00s were born in the 90s. (I was born in the early 90s, was in fact an emo kid from the span of about 05-09)

    3. Jarissa*

      I was a college kid in the 90s. I definitely remember my slightly younger sister talking to me about the difference between emo kids, scene kids, in this new thing called “grunge” where the important thing is to never take a bath again. Maybe the timing for emo was a regional thing?

      1. OP#1*

        I was alive in the 90’s too and I remember there being emo kids where I went to school – which was why I went there. I couldn’t think of anything that captured this guy’s self-esteem vibe better. But I admit they were not around to the extent that existed in the 00’s and definitely no Scene kids.

    4. Jacey*

      My understanding has always been that emo went mainstream (i.e., became well known across many regions and became a demographic to market to) in the early 00’s, but was born in the 90’s.

  10. TIRED*

    #4. Any chance Jane’s employer is wrongly pretending she is an independent contractor? This way they don’t have to pay her federal taxes, and a bunch of other stuff. IF Jane (or any other reader) thinks they have been misclassified – she should file a complaint with her state Dept of Labor.
    Ignoring that possibility, I agree with others that a direct payment plan with the IRS is better than a random bank loan or an agreement with the disorganized company. “Ooopsie, we made this serious mistake but eh…. *shrug*… hey just pay it back through us with your next 3 paychecks, promise we’ll take care of it THIS time.” Hard pass.

  11. John Smith*

    #1 I think you need, if possible, to share this with HR because, frankly, it sounds like your manager is in dire need of some form of therapy for his mental health. It sounds to me like manipulative attention seeking which will only continue so long as he’s fed the attention and the root cause goes unadressed.

      1. allathian*

        Definitely. And the vast majority of people with mental health problems aren’t a-holes, even if some people use their mental illness as an excuse to be a-holes.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Actually the root cause does not matter, as the behavior has to stop. It’s up to the manager to figure out what it takes to make himself stop it and that is a private, personal issue.

        1. turquoisecow*


          Not OP or their team’s problem what’s going on with him. He can talk it out with HR if it comes to that but he just needs to stop being a jerk.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          Exactly. Fascinating as it is to try to understand what’s going on in a jerk’s head, it almost never helps the person dealing with the jerk. I think Captain Awkward has a rule that if you’re going to speculate on the jerk’s state of mind, you also have to say how that hypothesis would change the actual advice.

          He’s acting badly and ignoring clearly-stated boundaries. Regardless of why he’s acting that way, OP needs to continue enforcing boundaries in a group with all of her coworkers (while planning to GTFO).

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s not. But a steep slide in off behavior, which this sounds like, can signal something deeper is going on.

        1. Observer*

          Ah! *THAT* is absolutely something that should be brought to HR. Boss’s supposed “mental health” issues?

          I think we’re agreeing, thouhg :)

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I was thinking that the LW doesn’t actually know if “this is how our director thinks” except that her manager said it, and I think we can assume the manager is not a reliable reporter. But, yes, it needs to be brought to the attention of someone who can act on it.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I think it’s very likely he’ll say anything to back himself up, true or not. Because as I posted above he seems extremely selfish.

    2. Reba*

      I agree to go to HR or a higher up if possible, but I don’t think that “therapy” or “mental health” should come out of your mouth! Unless it’s to speak about your own mental health, even then I might keep to more general terms like how the boss’s behavior is affecting “morale” and “stress.”

      You cannot know the underlying reasons why your boss is this way, and you don’t need to know! The complaint has to do with their behavior: trash-talking, negging and asking for praise from his staff.

      Alison is right, OP and their coworkers have handled this really well! If going over the manager’s head is really out, I think the boundary they’ve drawn and enforced is the best thing they can do.

    3. Observer*

      I think you need, if possible, to share this with HR because, frankly, it sounds like your manager is in dire need of some form of therapy for his mental health.

      Since when do people go to HR to get mental health help? And especially help got SOMEONE ELSE?

    4. Just Me*

      Certainly could be a mental health concern, but I was more wondering where the manager’s manager is. It seems like maybe OP should reach out to the grand boss privately to raise these concerns, and then grand-boss and potentially HR bring it up to him. He needs to be told that this behavior isn’t okay, and if it’s a mental health issue, he needs to get treatment and seek solutions so that it doesn’t affect the team.

      1. OP#1*

        I wish I felt I could talk to the Grand Boss. There are dynamics in play here that prevent that – foremost being that you never know what you’re going to get on any particular day with Grand B.

    5. OP#1*

      I appreciate the empathy behind your point and I actually do think the guy has a MH issue. However, I haven’t seen symptoms that would say it is a threat to my safety, his, or our clients. For me, that would be the only circumstance where I’d go to HR from a mental health standpoint.

  12. Xavier Desmond*

    #2 I’m so confused by this. Why were people who were struggling in their positions put in for promotions? OP explains that it was because they were getting mentored by the previous boss but that seems like a complete non sequiter.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Sounds like old supervisor was for some reason trying to bend all the rules for these guys. Maybe one of those people who’d rather have a team that likes them than a team that does good work.

    2. Freelance Anything*

      Maybe they were struggling, got mentored on key areas and were told to go for the promotions?

      Though something went wrong somewhere because clearly they’re still struggling if they don’t know to at least fill out a form properly and not embarrass themselves in an interview. Rubber stamp or no.

      1. Grits McGee*

        I’ve also seen supervisors who think that under-performing employees are under-performing because they’re bored or frustrated with low-level work, and if those employees are promoted into more advanced positions they will be more fulfilled and actually do their job. (I’ve only ever seen male managers do this with male employees though, so take that as you will….)

        1. Fran Fine*

          I said something similar upthread. I doubt the former supervisor/mentor would have given the benefit of the doubt to female employees.

    3. Washi*

      Yeah it feels like there is some missing information about their performance now. If they’re doing great work now, that seems like ultimately it should hold more weight than doing a poor job on the application (though OP should still have a talk with them.) If they’re still struggling, it’s weird that OP hasn’t expressed any doubt about about promoting them beyond the incomplete applications. If I were in OP’s shoes and had been expected to promote two employees who had been doing poor work, part of me would be relieved that they gave me a reason to put that on pause!

    4. Esmeralda*

      BEcause the previous boss wanted to promote them for whatever reason — could have been a bad reason, like, these are my buddies. This sort of thing happens, and it’s not rare. I mean, we read tons of letters on this site about incompetent co-workers, project leaders, managers, CEOs…

      Previous boss is gone, now these fellows don’t have anyone advocating for them. Maybe they assumed it was all arranged. Sounds to me like previous boss left them in the lurch.

        1. Starbuck*

          It seems like you do have the leeway here to not promote them if other applicants are much stronger though, right?

    5. Gray Lady*

      OP says they “have struggled.” That could mean that with mentoring, their performance has significantly improved and their mentor feels that promotion is now appropriate.

    6. Anonymous Hippo*

      My company is considering doing this now with an employee. They were good once, but have seem to lost all motivation and just makes careless mistakes. Somehow they think moving them to more difficult tasks will fix this. I do not agree with this method, but its one reason.

    7. Khatul Madame*

      Getting rid of a poor performer is a lot of work that the previous manager was not willing to do. He “mentored” them instead and made promises that he knew he wouldn’t have to answer for.

    8. OP#2*

      I’m honestly not sure what the thinking was behind it. My old boss said I could contact him with questions post-retirement, but he’s since had a mild stroke so that’s out of the question.

  13. KateM*

    #3: “I also am making a very good hourly rate with my own client base, even though the work is not high in volume at all, and it wouldn’t make sense for me to accept a position at lower compensation levels” – surely this is not a general statement (even though it may be the case for this particular OP)? If there is this one job that brings in good hourly rate, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t make sense to accept another job for somewhat lower rate but with possibly another perks. Depends also on how easily current job could be expanded and if OP would want it, but a job 30 hrs/wk paying only 2.5x as much as the job 10 hrs/wk may still be worth it, especially if it comes with PTO or insurance or other fun things.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Very situational. Also don’t underestimate the implicit value of working for yourself.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      The statement you quoted is not a general one; certainly for many people it makes sense to take a job with a lower hourly rate.

      OP3 wrote: “it wouldn’t make sense for me to accept a position at lower compensation levels” (italics mine for emphasis).

  14. Night Vale Seems Good by Comparison*

    I think it’s telling that so many responses to OP4 are “Gosh, in 2+ years of pandemic, why didn’t the friend notice payroll was messing up their paycheck, for shame” (which payroll is literally paid to do correctly), and not “Wow, it’s alarming that payroll made such a serious error for 2 years.” Doesn’t payroll have audits, QA, processes that they have to follow? They literally prepare the W-2s; why didn’t THEY notice this glaring error?

    When I hire an electrician, it would be absurd to suggest that I, who is completely unskilled, should oversee or double check their work. I am literally paying them for the years of training, experience, and license to do the work without burning down my damn house. We have all seen what happens when people decide that watching one (1) YouTube video makes them a qualified expert in any subject. Yet we have bought into this idea that employees are responsible for constantly overseeing our own paychecks. If you want me to audit another department, you better pay me for that! I’m a bit busy to do your job on top my own.

    “But you suffer if your paycheck is wrong, so you should be checking it!” Yes, but my point is that we should stop accepting that as a normal state of affairs.

    “Dear Alison, I accidentally didn’t do part of my job for 2 years. My company incurred fines for non-compliance, and they fired me! I didn’t mean to make the mistake. Was this fair?” Everyone: “You’re a screwup who coat the company money. Why didn’t you notice in all that time? You deserved to be fired.”

    “Dear Alison, my company messed up my taxes for 2 years, and now I’m in trouble with the IRS and have racked up fines.” Everyone: “Um, you should have NOTICED that the taxes weren’t correct. I calculate my payroll, taxes, benefits, withholdings, and PTO every single week because I’m a responsible person. You can’t expect the company to do that FOR you, duh.”

    1. Urguncle*

      The first situation would be more appropriate for not filing the company’s taxes for two years, or taking the money out but not paying it to the government.
      People make mistakes, and while it’s not Jane’s *fault* that her withholding got messed up, she is *responsible* for paying her taxes, and that includes taking a look at your pay stubs every once in awhile to make sure that things add up.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes…I don’t think anyone’s saying the situation doesn’t suck, but at the end of the day (even though it sounds like the tax situation is generally more straightforward where I live than it is in the US) it’s my responsibility to notify my employer of any changes that might affect payroll (change of name, marital status, bank details) and it’s my responsibility to make sure my tax is right (most people don’t do tax returns here as a matter of course, but sometimes people can end up on a different tax code for one reason or another, and it’s up to them to make sure HMRC has that right or they won’t be paying the right amount of tax).

        My sister forgot to pay her car tax in 2020. She moved house, she never got a reminder letter (which could have been because it went to an old address or could have been because the DVLA was a total shambles thanks to Covid, she doesn’t know) and yep there was generally a pandemic going on. Was she still responsible for paying it, and for paying the fine once she fessed up to the DVLA? Yep, absolutely. And if she’d been caught having not paid her car tax in the meantime, the penalties would have been even greater – and it still would have been her responsibility to pay.

        About 10 years ago I had a situation where the Student Loans Company contacted me out of the blue and claimed I hadn’t made any student loan payments for two years. I knew I had, because I’d kept all my pay slips, but it was my responsibility to prove that. I had to send them copies of my pay slips for the previous two years showing that my loan payments had been deducted from my pay every month as they should have been. They then said ‘Oh yes, seems there was an error on our part, it happens sometimes’ but it was still my responsibility to make sure I had all the pay slips and I could prove I was right.

        1. birch*

          Those situations are different though, because your sister and you are required to make the payments yourself. OP’s friend didn’t forget to pay her taxes, she didn’t double check someone else’s work. In the end, yes, it is her responsibility, but it’s not as direct of a situation as not doing her own work in the first place.

          1. londonedit*

            It’s certainly a similar situation to the student loan, though – that comes straight out of my pay cheque without me seeing it. In this situation I knew I was making the payments, but if I hadn’t been checking and it turned out my employer hadn’t done whatever it is they need to do to make sure the payments are deducted, I still would have had to pay up. And my sister would have had to pay whether it could be proven to be the DVLA’s oversight or hers, because at the end of the day the driver is responsible for making sure the tax is paid.

            1. Texas*

              In the US, where Jane is, though, employers have a legal responsibility to collect and pay withheld taxes from their employees. The company really messed up and could face serious penalties/fines from the IRS.

              For the loan situation, that sounds like 100% the fault of the loan company and they punted responsibility to you as a CYA move, which is what it sounds like Jane’s company is trying to do as well.

                1. Texas*

                  We don’t know that it was a solitary error. It might be a good idea for Jane to ask her coworkers and see if this happened to others as well.

                2. Cmdrshpard*

                  That is a good suggestion and not a leap.

                  It is possible the person made a single error, meant to type $3000 as total deduction but missed the 3 ended up entering $000 as the deduction. But it does not hurt to make sure the person didn’t make a similar mistake with other people.

                  Or it was a systematic error the payroll person misunderstood 0 exemptions/allowances under the old system to mean $0 withholding, so that everyone that claimed 0 exemptions/allowances had no taxes withheld. If only 1 or 2 other employees fit the bill, they might not have been checking their paystubs either and just paid the tax owed at the end of the year without bringing it up to payroll. I don’t think this is likely, but it is possible.

              1. Observer*

                It’s true that the employer could be facing fines – and I hope they do get slammed.

                But that doesn’t change the fact that this was something that Jane should have been able to catch fairly easily. And she didn’t. And she’s claiming “covid” as though that’s some special circumstance.

              2. Aitch Arr*

                If Jane in fact claimed exemption from taxes, then the fault is with her. It’s not payroll’s fault or error if someone doesn’t fill out their W4 correctly.

                It’s not clear here WHY no taxes were deducted.

          2. Anya Last Nerve*

            We all have a responsibility to pay our taxes each year. Did Jane not file a 2020 income tax return and notice that she owed an entire year’s worth of taxes? The letter says she got a W2.

          3. Clisby*

            But filing here 2020 tax return was her (personal) work – the company wasn’t going to do it for her. How could she do that without noticing no tax was withheld? Withheld tax is literally something you have to put on the tax return.

          4. BigHairNoHeart*

            What’s very interesting about it (to me anyway), is that it doesn’t matter whether she forgot to pay her taxes vs. forgetting to check the employer/payroll provider’s work. Legally, the tax owed is her responsibility. So, if she doesn’t pay it, even if it’s someone else’s fault, she’s on the line for it. The company and payroll provider have no legal requriment to make this “right.” It’s still kind of crappy of the employer to not at least apologize profusely and offer a longer loan period, don’t get me wrong! But this is a semi-common issue, and employers regularly handle it poorly. What we’re seeing here, that’s just the way our tax system works. I wish we educated people about it more in school so everyone could know this kind of thing before filing their first tax return!

            1. Esmeralda*

              Right. In my first job after college, I assumed that my employer was taking taxes out, because that’s what every other employer had done, and I had never even heard of independent contractors. My boss paid me as an independent contractor…even though I was on site, working, 40 hours a week.

              When I did my taxes, I had paid some at my various parttime jobs.

              W-2? Well, I didn’t have one from my FT employer but I was doing the EZ form as always and I assumed (wrongly, of course) that I must not have needed it. I figured my taxes, wrote a check, and promptly forgot about it.

              I eventually got fired from that job, found a better job, did my taxes the next year. THEN I got a letter from the IRS for under payment of taxes. The very nice agent I spoke with on the phone explained what an independent contractor was, I said hmm that doesn’t make sense because…, they helped me set up a payment plan, and asked me various questions about my employer.

              Who I realized was perpetrating various frauds. I am sure the IRS got him. Hoping he went to jail.

              1. BigHairNoHeart*

                Yep! What you went through stinks, but it’s very common (employer fucking up vs. intentionally committing fraud like in your situation, is the version that happens most often, but still).

                I’m glad you were able to work it out and get on a payment plan. Also knowing the IRS, they almost certainly audited him and had him on the line for a very hefty amount of taxes owed after all that!

            2. Dust Bunny*


              As my grandmother used to say, “It may not be your fault but it’s still your problem”.

    2. Forrest*

      Jane isn’t responsible for doing the calculations on tax withholding, but she IS legally responsible for paying her taxes. She thought she’d delegated / outsourced that responsibility to the Payroll team, and they failed to do it. So yeah, they suck, and she should have been able to rely on them to do that. But if you’ve outsourced a legal responsibility to someone else and they don’t do it, you don’t become un-responsible for it. You’re still responsible for making sure they do it properly.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep…every now and then a story blows up here about a celebrity who hasn’t paid their taxes (or who’s been getting away with paying far less than they should have done). The story they always come out with is ‘My accountant handles all of that and I didn’t know they were dodging tax on my behalf’. Do HMRC care about that? No. They only care that the individual hasn’t paid the tax they should have done, and they end up having to pay a huge bill (and usually having to make a massive public apology and suffering severe damage to their reputation in the process).

        1. Margaretmary*

          I think that is different though, because in those cases, well, firstly, it is highly unlikely they are telling the truth, there is usually some effort put into evading taxes, which the accountant would have no incentive to do if he or she wasn’t asked to and secondly, there is a difference between hiring somebody to do a job and your employer messing up part of their job that affects you. She didn’t hire payroll so they are not her responsibility in the way that an accountant she hired would be. It is highly improbable that an accountant hired by a high-profile celebrity (which implies probably a top-notch expensive accountant) would either accidentally or intentionally without the knowledge of the celebrity, create a complicated system to hide taxes. It is highly likely that a company would mess up without an employee’s knowledge.

          I agree she does have to pay the taxes, as she still owes them, but…I wouldn’t blame her for assuming the wages she received were correct. We generally assume those doing their jobs are competent at them.

          1. londonedit*

            I’m thinking maybe it is all a lot simpler where I live, because if I suddenly wasn’t paying tax on my earnings I’d sure as heck notice it with one look at my pay slip.

            1. Clisby*

              I would have, too, but if Jane happens to be an hourly employee rather than salaried, it’s possible her paychecks can fluctuate enough that it wouldn’t be as noticeable.

                1. Fran Fine*

                  This. People are doing way too much mental gymnastics to try and make Jane completely without fault in this situation. She’s salaried, so she gets paid the same thing every pay period. When her take home pay suddenly dramatically increased, she should have investigated to find out why because that’s not normal.

                2. STG*

                  I don’t understand all the hubbub about the tax withholding issue. See lots of excuses for someone who didn’t do their due diligence. Yes, it’s annoying but…

                  1. She was already going to be paying late fees for not filing 2021 correctly (or not at all) and catching it then. I view the second year as almost completely the employees’ fault.
                  2. The only money she’s really ‘out’ at this point is fees. She received that tax money and presumably used it. It wasn’t taken away from her.

                  Of course the company is at fault for the original error but she’s just as much at fault for not being as thorough as she should have been. Annoying situation but it’s a lesson to be learned.

            2. doreen*

              Not really – I’m in the US and I would certainly notice if my employer suddenly stopped deducting my taxes as soon as I looked at my pay stub. Just like I’d know if they stopped ( or never started) any of my other deductions just by looking at my pay stub. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily know immediately if they were withholding the correct amount of taxes just as I wouldn’t have necessarily known if they were withholding the correct amount for union dues or pension payments – but if my paystub has no deductions at all for any of those things, it’s immediately noticeable.

              And to be honest while payroll at Jane’s company screwed up , it might have been only a single mistake. We don’t know from the letter when Jane started working at this company or when she last filled out the form used to calculate withholding – if either one of those things happened in 2020 , a one-time mistake entering that into the payroll system would have caused this situation. It’s not like they were making the same mistake week after week – and any audits involved would likely have been whether the amounts withheld were sent to the correct place. I doubt very much they were regularly auditing whether taxes were being withheld in accordance with documents filed years before ( you fill out the documents when you are hired and when you want your withholding changed – so my 2022 withholding can be based on a form I filled out in 1994 when I was hired)

              1. L.H. Puttgrass*

                I even have a guess on how it happened. Jane’s W2 said zero exemptions. I’d bet a shiny new nickel that someone down the line clicked the box for “Exempt from federal withholding” instead of “Zero exemptions.”

                1. Cmdrshpard*

                  The allowances/exemptions as a small number is no longer used, that was the old system. Now it is actual $ numbers.

                  I wonder if Jane confused exempt from withholding with zero allowances/exemptions.

                  From the payroll side it really is a one-time mistake. It may have happened for a year or two but payroll issues don’t get fixed unless someone (usually employee) brings it up.

                2. Charisse*

                  There are no more allowances on the W4, so I’m not sure what the LW is referring to with allowances. At this point, it seems most likely to me that Jane herself selected exempt from withholding.

                3. L.H. Puttgrass*

                  LW4 says that Jane had no withholding “despite taking zero allowances,” so I’m guessing that the last W4 that Jane filled out was the pre-2020 version. But I hadn’t even noticed that the “I am exempt from federal withholding” box no longer appears on the new W4 form.

                  (And don’t get me started on the complete mess that is the new W4. Ugh.)

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        There’s also a huge difference between saying someone should do all the calculations to determine whether the amount of withholding is correct and saying a person should at least check to make sure that there’s any withholding at all. I can’t quite fathom someone looking at their pay stub and not noticing that there’s no federal withholding being taken out. Okay, a lot of pay stubs are complex and hard to read, and maybe it’s easier than I think it is not to see something that’s not there. But unless this is Jane’s first job ever, she really should (1) check her pay stub, and (2) know that federal withholding should be on it, and (3) contact her employer right away if it’s not.

        And as others have mentioned, the fact that this dates back to 2020 raises flags, because it should have come out when Jane did her 2020 taxes (unless Jane makes so little that she doesn’t have to file taxes, but in that case she wouldn’t have owed taxes anyway). Something’s not right.

        BTW, not only will the IRS set up payment plans, but they’ll also waive penalties if payments were missed “because of a casualty event, disaster, or other unusual circumstance and it would be inequitable to impose the penalty.” I have no idea whether “I filed a proper W2 and my employer just didn’t withhold any federal taxes at all” would usually qualify, but I suspect that the IRS would wonder why it took this long for Jane to notice.

    3. whistle*

      I don’t understand this comment. When someone gives me cash, I count it. They likely counted it before they gave it to me, and I count it again, and that way we both know the correct amount was given. When someone gives me a check, I look at it and make sure it’s the right amount.

      Why would it be any different with a check from an employer? Mistakes happen. If I care about getting the right amount of money I’m owed, I’m going to review the check stub. It does not take specialized knowledge to see $0 in federal withholdings.

      The employer should pay and penalties and fines and be more apologetic. But the employee owes the taxes and the lesson learned for them is to look at pay stubs.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Until our system changes, the system we have is that the onus is on the taxpayer to keep an eye and make sure all taxes are paid. I don’t think telling the friend that “it’s not her fault” is that helpful. There are plenty of things that happened that are not our fault and yet we are stuck cleaning up the fallout. It’s probably more to the point to help the friend step through the clean up process if possible.

      If there was no withholding in 2020 then tax time in 2021 would have been an opportunity to catch that. I have used tax prep as a time to check to see if I am having enough withheld through out the year. I had two separate years where I filled out a form to have more withholding taken out. (I decided to inch my way closer to filling the gap.) While I feel bad for the friend, I do think that at least this did not go on for another year and she is aware now.

      I’d say ask the company for help with the penalties but that would probably just be more taxable income. sigh. My next step would be to look for a job with, you know, responsible people who were concerned the paychecks were correct.

      1. Liz*

        I did the same as you, after the first year I had a PT job on top of my FT, and owed a decent amount in taxes. So i looked at the total amount, divided by the number of paychecks I got each year, and had that much extra $$ withheld from my FT job. And it fixed the issue.

    5. len*

      This is a really good point! My gut reaction was also to blame Jane but you’re completely right, thanks for flagging that.

      Of course paying the taxes is Jane’s responsibility but it’s worth acknowledging that admin/support services often (increasingly, in my experience) show either an inability to or a lack of interest in supporting employees adequately.

    6. Needs Coffee*

      It is also a taxpayer’s responsibility to file every year. And even if you file an extension in April, and don’t file until October, you have to *pay* in April if you don’t want penalties. So even if Jane didn’t look at her paychecks for the FIRST year, it should have been caught before 2 years.

      1. Needs Coffee*

        And, yes, Payroll has a lot to answer for. But that’s a Corporate issue, not something that Jane’s friend has much impact on.

        Although one does wonder if the employer was properly paying THEIR part of the taxes due on Jane’s earnings.

        1. Orange You Glad*

          Good point about the company paying their half of payroll taxes. That information is often on a pay stub too so maybe that confused Jane?

    7. anonymous73*

      Yes I feel bad for Jane because of what her company did and how they’re handling it now. But if my paycheck increased by a significant amount, you better bet I’m checking my pay stub to find out why. Maybe when that happened, Jane was going through some stuff and just didn’t notice. But it’s ultimately her responsibility to make sure she pays her taxes correctly because the IRS doesn’t play.

      My husband and I have EZ Pass. When we got married, we combined our accounts. We both had commuter plans but what I didn’t realize when I combined the 2 is that the commuter plan needs to be attached to each transponder, not the plan in general. It took me almost a year before I realized it. So we paid an additional $1000 for our EZ Pass before we realized what I had done. Did it suck? Of course. Was it my responsibility to understand how it all worked and ultimately my fault? Yes.

    8. Cj*

      It’s not a glaring error to not have Federal withholding. If you have kids and get child tax credits and the dependent care credit, it’s very possible to not have any federal withholding required because those credits would cover your tax liability.

      Nobody in payroll is going to check the W2 against the W4 that the employee filled out to see what they are claiming for exemptions and credits.

      They should double and triple check the W4 I meant to say enter it correctly when they set the employee up, but after that the likelihood of it being caught by payroll is almost zero.

      If she owes thousands of dollars now, that means she got thousands of dollars extra in her net pay. Even if she didn’t look at her check stubs, it seems really strange she didn’t notice how much higher her net pay was unless she had gotten a huge increase in her salary.

      1. callmeheavenly*

        I had an employee come in one April completely freaking out because he just realized he had no Federal withholding the prior year. I immediately assumed we had screwed up somehow, but as it turned out, he’d put so many allowances on his W-4 that the system correctly calculated it to be zero under those parameters.

        I try to keep an eye out for that now and follow up with any employee who has zero withholding on a paycheck to verify that’s what they actually intended. So a couple years back I called a guy to bring it to his attention, and he seemed really confused. I advised him to run his W-4 past his tax preparer just to make sure, because generally it’s a good idea to have something withheld. Did not hear back until the following March, when I received an email: “Remember how last year you thought I should have some withholding? Turns out you were right!”

        Takeaways: 1) Always check your pay stub. 2) You cannot help everyone.

        1. CatBookMom*

          As a small-business CPA, back in the 1980s Reagan tax-avoidance partnerships, get-out-of-taxes era, I had a very well-paid attorney for a client, who got into one of those deals. He had two kids in prestige colleges, and needed cash flow. So I ran his prior-year return (which had a huge ($15K+) refund), to figure what w/h would pay his taxes. Turned out he qualified for 50-some W/H exemptions. I ran it again, to get within his estimated-current year income. He qualified for 25 or so exemptions. So we filed an amended W-4. Yes, we got a reply from the IRS. I pointed out the 25-vs-50, which we thought would approximate his current-year liability, and they went away. He still got maybe $2k as a refund.

    9. Student*

      Petition Congress.

      People are telling you that you really need to check your own paycheck to ensure your taxes are right for two reasons.

      (1) This kind of error is, in my experience, not uncommon! It’s not uncommon precisely because of (2) below – the company has only a modest incentive to get it right.

      (2) Legally, you will get penalized if your company doesn’t do your tax withholding correctly. The payroll person who made the mistake will probably not get held accountable. Further, in practice, your company will probably not suffer any penalties unless you personally take action, and will probably still not suffer any penalties even if you do, and probably won’t even offer the loan that this company has offered to try to help you fix it.

      This is unfair, you’re correct.

      It’s unfair because of our existing law on how this is handled, though. The law provides you different legal incentives on the electrician example you provided. Your electrician has legal incentives to do a good enough job to not burn your house down. There will be civil and legal penalties if he burns your house down with shoddy work, and you’ll very likely be able to hold him accountable.

      In the US, Congress and the court system has spent decades making sure it’s very difficult for you to hold your employer accountable in a similar way. So if you want to change the status quo, you’ll have to deal with Congress and vote for the changes you want.

      1. Salsa Verde*

        This is what I was thinking, this is another example of how laws are written to protect the employers, and not the employees. I do understand that employees should be looking at their own paystubs, but the electrician example is a good one, and Student’s point that the law protects a customer from electrician error but not an employee from this type of employer error.

        If the payroll company had to pay, I bet they’d be more diligent about checking for errors!

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          Going with the electrician example calculating the estimated taxes owed I think would be the equivalent to knowing the wiring was done correctly, a lay person can’t really know that.

          But not double checking any taxes were taken out, I think is closer to hiring an electrician to install a fan in your guest room, they tell you they did it, you pay them but never check to see if they actually installed the fan. You walk in 2 years later to realize they never installed the fan. That does not take a master electrician to see if something was done.

          Yes it is possible the company messed up and entered the wrong information. I’m that case the company should give a longer loan term. It was likely a single mistake at the time it was entered that was never looked at again.

          But most payroll process use information provided by the employee, the employee is the one that generally decides how much or how little income taxes to withhold on the W4. It is not up to payroll to even cuestion that if the employee says $0 withholding. Some people don’t need to withhold any income taxes. Medicare/social security taxes are a different matter.

    10. RagingADHD*

      Hyperbole, much?

      Nobody, literally nobody claims to calculate their pay stub every time.

      But those of us who depend on every penny of that pay deposit sure as heck know what amount is supposed to show up, on what day. Because we are waiting for it to drop!

      Listen, I get how life gets away from you and stuff gets fuzzy when you’re overwhelmed. But anyone who can afford to ignore a large change to their total pay amount for *an entire year?* Not a month or two. A year.

      That doesn’t say “poor Jane” to me. That says “privileged Jane wasn’t watching her deposits because she didn’t need the money that badly.”

      1. Mercie*

        That’s a huge and wildly uncharitable assumption to make. We (including the LW) have almost no info as to the context of the situation, so all anyone can do is guess at it while filling in the blanks with their own payroll/taxes/employment experience, which may or may not be totally irrelevant to Jane’s situation. The question was about what next steps could be for Jane so she can get these taxes paid and hopefully in a way that doesn’t financially wreck her, but of course the comments are just a back-and-forth between ‘Jane holds 0 responsibility and couldn’t have affected the situation’ and ‘Jane is 100% responsible and also an idiot.’

    11. Mr. Shark*

      I think we all understand that, but it is still up to your personal responsibility to make sure you are paying taxes, your pay is correct, and all of that. I don’t know why the person wouldn’t have noticed after 2020 when filling out the tax forms, rather than waiting a whole additional year (all of 2021) before noticing this.

    12. Observer*

      I think it’s telling that so many responses to OP4 are “Gosh, in 2+ years of pandemic, why didn’t the friend notice payroll was messing up their paycheck, for shame” (which payroll is literally paid to do correctly), and not “Wow, it’s alarming that payroll made such a serious error for 2 years.”

      Because both things are true. But the thing that the person can do is look at their own paycheck!

      Also, 2+ years into the pandemic, in which many of us have either dealt with the actual illness, some of use are dealing with long Covid, many have had to deal with all of the various financial issues coming along with it etc, a lot of us are thinking “how did you manage to mess up something so basic when you were in the same job throughout?”

      We’re ALL going through the pandemic. Unlike something like the vagaries of childcare, for instance, everyone whose been fortunate to stay in a job over this period has by and large been able to manage the basics of dealign with their paycheck. It really doesn’t sit well to just brush off the fact that they really managed to miss something pretty basic.

    13. River Otter*

      You may not do a detailed check of the electricians work, but don’t you think you would notice if the lights didn’t turn on once they were done? It is probably not reasonable to expect a person to know whether the correct amount of taxes was taken out of their check, but it is reasonable to expect them to notice if the amount is $0.

  15. I'm Done*

    Just one comment for OP3 regarding her statement that she quit because it made more sense to “help” her husband. I hope the helping includes getting a real paycheck if she is, in fact, working for her husband’s business. Otherwise she can end up in a world of financial hurt because she “helped” out for years in husbands business without getting paid and ends up destitute after a divorce. I know she’s doing other work, but still.

    1. Asenath*

      Yes. I am a firm believer in the idea that family members who are working in a family business do so professionally – they get a salary and/or have a share in the business, registered legally. Too many people “help out” to an extent that would cost the business money in salaries to have outside workers do it, and not only don’t have a stake in the business or get paid, they don’t get to pay into government pension or workers compensation or unemployment plans.

    2. e271828*

      At the very least, if in the US, OP3 will short her own Social Security account if she is not being properly paid for work for a family business.

    3. dsadsa*

      UGh, yeah your way has to be the WAY. Couldnt help a family business grow. Nope, you have to look out for you and youre right and she’s wrong.

      Seriously? That’s your idea of feminism? Putting down others?

  16. Forrest*

    With my current situation, I can commit to no more than 30 hours per week and need schedule flexibility and mostly remote work. I also am making a very good hourly rate with my own client base, even though the work is not high in volume at all, and it wouldn’t make sense for me to accept a position at lower compensation levels.

    OP3, this is perfectly clear and you can literally just say this! I mean, with a bit more specificity about what compensation you are looking for, but these are totally clear and reasonable terms, and give companies exactly the information they need to decide whether or not to continue the process. You don’t need to apologise or cringe or feel bigheaded for saying any of this– it’s just a straightforward summary of your availability, needs and expectations, and it’s extremely helpful to any employer who is serious about hiring you.

    Any employer who finds this off-putting is exactly who you want to put off!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh my, YES! I have friends who are very good at their jobs. People will wait for them or allow the job to take longer or whatever other accommodation just because my friends are that good.

      Two friends frame it as, “I am moving toward retirement. I no longer do x, y and z. For the time being I am willing to do a, b and c.” One friend frames it as, “I do the easier jobs now.’ People want this friend to work for them because he does it once and it’s right the first time. He also does with an eye on costs- his labor rate does not change, however, he points out how the person can save money and/or prevent further problems.

      OP, you could frame it as “I have limited availability because of personal commitments”. Then describe the type of work you are looking for. My friends never lack for work opportunities even though they have set firm boundaries.

    2. Iain C*

      I think expecting an employer to match your consulting rate is… naive at best. Even assuming OP calculated in things like the taxes paid by the employer in addition to what they’d pay OP And assuming US, health care.

      I’ve been paid a month’s salary in the past for two days work. I’d be a multi millionaire a long time ago if I got that rate full time. But the reason I can charge that is *because* it’s occasional. They only needed those few days ac year, and only for a few years.

      It took me a long time to grok that I shouldn’t charge by the hour for a solution to a customers problem, but by how much that solution is worth to the customer. But that only works if you go away when not solving problems.

      If OP really wants to keep consulting / temp specialist rates, they need to keep their as-needed status.

  17. Hotdog not dog*

    I once worked on a team whose motto was, “Never half-ass it. Always be a complete ass.” I miss that team!
    It was a joke, but we always took our work very seriously and were consistently recognized for our achievements. Not surprisingly, everyone has since been promoted throughout the company (following internal interviews that you can bet were taken seriously).

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes please rethink this mindset. Your team is acting as a group. Could your team band together and report him as a group? Is there a risk he will fire his whole team simultaneously?

    2. Popinki*

      I’d guess that JerkBoss is favored or protected by someone higher up in the corporation, who’s in a real position to make things bad for LW and team.

    3. OP#1*

      I have good reason to believe there is retaliation risk that I cannot be protected from but I cannot go into detail about that here.

  18. Anya Last Nerve*

    Wait, how did Jane not notice taxes weren’t coming out of her check for 2 years? When she got her W2 for 2020 to do her taxes, shouldn’t this have been obvious?

  19. Policy Wonk*

    LW2 – Fed here. Some of this has been covered by other commenters but here is my two cents:
    Almost everyone working for the government knows someone who didn’t make a hiring certificate for a job they had been doing for a year or more in an Acting capacity because of the vagaries of the personnel system. Even if you have an in with the hiring manager, you have to get past USA Jobs and the central personnel system. So if these employees didn’t apply or didn’t do a good job on their applications, that’s on them.

    The internal vs. external posting issue depends on the grade of the promotion. At lower levels (or in highly technical areas) we can do an agency only posting, but as grades get higher we are expected to seek a broader applicant pool. Hiring managers and central HR are often at odds on which jobs need to be posted where, so if the prior supervisor left, HR probably selected the means of advertisement and opted for the wider posting.

    And finally, for us the issue is always FTE – in the situation described I would be challenged to find two vacant positions to fill with the better qualified applicants.

    LW2 is justified in hiring the two better qualified candidates if the FTE is available. The government needs highly qualified people at higher levels, not people who think they are owed promotions and don’t put effort into their applications.

    1. NewYork*

      This. My sisters is a C level employee at a federal agency, and has been there 20 years. She says it is total fallacy that you cannot get rid of an employee, just takes a lot more paper work. Her agency strives to meet or exceed its mission.

  20. anonymous73*

    #1 In addition to Alison’s advice, I would assert your boundaries each time only once, and then stop engaging in his behavior with him. If you’re in the middle of something, turn around and pop in some headphones. Or get up and leave. He’s like an internet troll. If you refuse to engage, he (should) stop because you’re not giving him the attention he so desperately craves.

  21. anonymous73*

    #3 – here’s something to consider…if they agree to your terms, but you find out they’re just telling you what you want to hear to get you in the door, how easy would it be to go back to doing your own thing? That would be my only hesitancy with this situation. I have pretty good instincts about people, but had a manager once who was very much a “tell you what you wanted to hear” type of person, and then expected us to read her mind because we were actually supposed to do things her way (the opposite of what we were told initially). And she fooled us all for a bit.

  22. Blueberry*

    #2 – In unionized government environments, this is reality. They are obligated to promote from within unless they are clearly not qualified (and can’t reasonably be trained into the job) or the staff turns it down. They usually always post externally to start the process in case the internal candidates don’t take the job.

    It doesn’t matter if you fill out the application wrong or make the interview a joke… the union will cause an uproar if they passed you on a promotion you were otherwise entitled to, regardless if there are external candidates far more qualified.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      I’m curious as I’m in the UK not the US and unions in this country do not behave anything like this in either a public or private sector workplace. In union government jobs in America is this really the case? Just seems so bizarre to me.

    2. doreen*

      That might be true with some government unions/agencies – but none of the ones that I belonged to/worked for . There were jobs that weren’t open to the public and were only open to current employees as a promotion. There were jobs that had two separate hiring lists based on tests – one open to anyone and a promotional list for current employees in certain titles . Typically, people are not hired from the open list until the promotional list is exhausted And there were some jobs that weren’t based on tests and that anyone could apply for. But the only time the union could have caused an uproar is if the agency started hiring from an open list before exhausting the promotional list – if an administrative assistant was on an open list for “accountant” his union couldn’t have done a thing if an external candidate was hired instead.

  23. HB*

    Re: #4

    There are a lot of things that could be happening here.

    Did your friend get married? If she did and she updated her W-4 form to indicate a filing status of Married Filing Jointly but failed to include her spouse’s income she would be underwithheld (potentially with no withholding at all). That’s because withholding tables would be based on the Married Filing Jointly tax rates, which are lower than Single/Married Filing Separately, but they’re only looking at her income.

    Did she fill out the form and mark Head of Household? Sometimes people mark this without realizing that it means you need a qualifying dependent. Since the tax rates and standard deduction are different for HOH filing this can result in someone being under withheld.

    Does she have children? The new W-4 form asks for the number of qualifying children and other dependents. Each child under 17 is worth a $2,000 tax credit. That will reduce any withholding on her paycheck. And if she’s married and her husband indicated the same thing, then the credit has been doubled for the purposes of withholding, which will create a discrepancy on the return. If she’s divorced and doesn’t get to claim the children on her tax return, it’s the same problem. This past year there were also advanced payments of the child tax credit which makes things even screwier but I won’t get into that.

    For people asking how she could have found out about this now – if she expected her withholding to cover her income tax liability there’s no real penalty for filing late. It’s not wise, because you need to make sure that your tax withheld actually *did* cover your income tax liability, but the past few years have been a bit screwy.

    Anyway, your friend really needs to talk to HR and the Payroll company to find out what her w-4 said and how the payroll company marked it in the system – to get it fixed going forward if nothing else. You say “despite taking zero allowances” but “allowances” was a term used on the old W-4 withholding forms (2019 and earlier). Companies may have continued to use those forms into 2020, but my first instinct is that she issued a new W-4 based on the new form and didn’t realize the impact of something she checked. Those forms aren’t written in plain English and an inordinate amount of my job when I prepare tax returns is spotting withholding issues and telling my clients what they need to do to fix them.

    Or the Payroll company just flat out messed up and marked something in their system on their own irrespective of what she told them. Which sucks.

  24. Hailrobonia*

    For the promotion question, are the application forms clear and relevant? I am in the process of trying to get a promotion (that they have dangled in front of me for over a year), and my guidance has been extremely vague and burdensome.

  25. Mehitabel*

    2020 is when the IRS rolled out that ghastly new W-4 form, and I’ve heard a couple of stories like this since that happened, where it has turned out the form was (apparently) not completed correctly. So I would double and triple check the original form just to make sure about that and if it turned out that I as the employer was the one who screwed up then I would feel obligated to make it right.

    I proactively send the new W-4 form to new hires at least a week before their start date and ask them to carefully review the form and instructions before completing it, and I encourage them to talk to a tax preparer if they are uncertain about how to complete it. I also tell them that I cannot as their employer instruct them or offer advice on how to complete the form. And then I triple check to make sure the info is entered into payroll exactly as the form is filled out because I’m just a wee bit paranoid about something like this happening.

    1. Lord Peter Wimsey (she/her)*

      This is probably a better topic for this afternoon on the open post, but wondering should people re-file or update their W4s now, since they were changed?
      I had no idea that there was a new form — my spouse and I have been hit with much bigger tax bills the last couple of years, and thinking maybe that is why, that they’re not taking enough taxes out of our paychecks….
      Also, love your username, I have a Mehitabel in my family tree :)

      1. Mirve*

        If you are in the US, the IRS has a reasonably good withholding calculator (and has for a few years).
        You answer a few screens of questions about income (and extra income like investments), how much is being withheld currently (info from paystubs basically) and what sort of excluded income you might have (401k, etc).
        It will provide an estimate of how much Federal tax you are likely to owe, and what to change on your W-4 to make them match.
        I use it a couple of times a year (like after merit raises or other changes) to make sure we are withholding appropriately.
        Google on irs withholding calculator

      2. Accountant*

        You should probably update your withholdings because the withholding tables have changed quite a bit since the 2017 overhaul. And really, any time you end up owing significantly more or less than you expected, it’s worth taking a look.

        The IRS has a really useful calculator (much easier to use than the “multiple jobs” worksheet on the W4) that you and your spouse can do together, and it can accommodate side work, dividends/capital gains, dependents, etc. I’ll put a link in reply but you can also just Google “IRS tax withholding estimator” and it should pop right up.

      3. MicroManagered*

        Yes, it would be a good idea to review the W-4 and complete the newest version. That’s just a good thing to check periodically, as well as looking at your check stub.

        Most major payroll software is configured to respect both the old and new W-4, and the IRS has been publishing withholding tables (IRS Pub 15-T) with both sets of rules for a couple years.

  26. AcadLibrarian*

    #1. BWAHAHAHAHAHA. 90’s Emo kid. I was in high school in the 90’s. This made me laugh so hard.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Me too! I’m picturing all my classmate Robert Smith wannabes trying to be mopey managers, and it’s making me giggle.

    2. OP#1*

      Glad I gave a laugh. It was the only thing I could think of that captured this dude’s overall vibe. Eeyore wasn’t quite the flavor because I think he was just straight up depressed.

  27. ASW*

    #4 – It is completely possible that the employer did not do anything wrong. Since the new tax laws a few years ago and the new W4 form, we have employees who have zero tax withholding (one guy makes over $60k a year so it’s not just low paid employees) and it is correct based on the current tax tables. We’ve had two employees bring it to our attention because they thought we made a mistake, but based on how they filled out their W4s, the calculation (verified both manually and with online calculators) came out to zero. In one case, the W4 was filled out incorrectly and the employee owed about $3k instead of the refund they were expecting, and in the other case, the person likely would not owe any taxes. The changes were intended to more closely match what is actually owed at the end of the year but so many people are so used to getting big refunds that they think something is wrong. If employees feel more comfortable having something taken out of their checks, they can indicate an additional lump sum to be withheld on the W4.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Because of investments, I have extra taken out (and claim nothing so I have the max taken out for myself). Thanks to this article, I double checked my last pay stub.

  28. It'sABonesDay*


    This happened to me and it was A W F U L. I was fresh out of school with basically zero net worth and, come tax season, suddenly owed almost $2000 because my employer ~forgot~ to take out state taxes. I had to confront my CFO (a more unsympathetic a**hole I’ve never met) about it and he said “not my problem, you just have to deal with it”.

  29. PB Bunny Watson*

    LW#2: The previous manager did those two SUCH a disservice!! I know people joke about people who work for the government, but times have changed. Even if they were more qualified than the outside people, there are such strict rules that have to be followed–like they HAVE to mention certain things in their interviews, resumes, and cover letters to ensure people don’t get jobs they don’t deserve. I’m just flabbergasted. Whether the previous manager set them up for failure or they felt a sense of entitlement on their own, you are doing the right thing… I would explain to them that even if they were the ideal candidates, blowing an application could have cost them an interview in some levels of government… and blowing the interview is just so disrespectful even if they were told it was a done deal. I’m not saying they meant it to be disrespectful (I hope), but I would let them know that. It’s a life lesson they learned the hard way, but at least they have a chance to correct themselves going forward.

  30. a nony mouse*

    In dealing with the IRS – if you search online and find a hack phone number that gets you to a live person, even after being on hold over an hour, they are surprisingly understanding. They can probably waive any penalties and set you up on a payment plan, and, while it does charge interest, the rates are pretty reasonable.

  31. AdequateArchaeologist*

    #5- Urgh, that’s a terrible situation. I had one job where they didn’t withold anything either (and I’m a bit nervous about taxes this year). Their reason was I was married and they didn’t know how much my husband makes so they couldn’t calculate how much to withhold because they assumed we’d be filing jointly I guess? I was kind of peeved because we file separately. We got married while at this job and they didn’t bother to ask, just assumed. I told them to start withholding because we file separately but who knows if they actually listened.

    1. Lifelong student*

      That is the most bogus explanation I have ever heard of! Download the withholding from from the IRS and submit it. Check to see if the taxes are being withheld from your paystub- which they are required by law to provide to you. By the way- it is more common to need more withheld if one is married filing jointly because of bracket creep- and married filing separately is only rarely good from a tax standpoint. There are valid reasons to do so but it requires a deep analysis.

      1. AdequateArchaeologist*

        There were so many thing wrong with that job. Thankfully I left that job in May and now have a much better job with actual functional HR to help with taxes and who actually makes my paystub accessable.

    2. Accountant*

      Important to know for the future – not only is it not your employer’s responsibility to make changes to your withholding following a life change, they literally legally cannot do so. They can only use the W4 you provided (or specific withholding instructions from the IRS, but that’s very uncommon). So if you need them to make changes to your withholding *you need to fill out and submit a new W4”.

      1. AdequateArchaeologist*

        They made the change themselves, without my input or permission, from withholding prior to me getting married, then not withholding after I got married. I didn’t submit a new W4 or anything. They entirely based this off the fact that I got married must mean I was filing jointly. I asked them to go back to what they were supposed to be doing all along because I had never submitted the paperwork to change it.

        From what you’ve said, I’m assuming they couldn’t legally do what they did. Which is interesting.

        1. Observer*

          Correct, what they did was illegal. And yes, it IS “interesting”.

          Does anyone know if there is a way to report stuff like this without exposing oneself?

  32. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#3: Why does the OP want to work for this company as an employee? It seems OP’s business is going so well that OP is concerned an employment situation wouldn’t be able to match it. Why not take on that company as a client instead? All the aspects that OP wants (compensation higher than market salary, limited hours, flexibility, remote work), well, generally, that’s not what you get as an employee. That’s why people become independent consultants.

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      The independent contractor test is a bit more complicated. You generally can’t take an employee position and make it an independent contractor position just because you want to even if the person you hire also wants that.

      While what you mentioned “limited hours, flexibility, remote work” is usually seen more as an independent contractor, I think now more and more employee positions offer those options.

  33. Kath*

    #2 – I work in government, although not in the US. Whenever we run competitions, we try to make it very clear to internal candidates that just because they know us, that doesn’t mean they can half-ass the process, for this exact reason. I’ve been in a situation where someone who could have been fully qualified for the job half-assed the application so badly that we had to bend the rules to get them an interview… and then they failed the interview by not providing any of the examples we asked for, because they were acting like we were chatting as work friends and not as employer/employee. In that case and others, this was considered a learning opportunity for that employee. Honestly, a huge part of a career in government is understanding how staffing works.

  34. What She Said*

    #1 Your boss may be insecure but what he is doing is being manipulative. He is saying these things for attention. The worst thing you can do is play into it by reassuring him and giving in to the attention he craves. I had a boss like this and when I finally called her on her BS, she was pissed. I simply refused to play her game. After that I stopped responding when she made her usual comments trying to get a reaction out of me. Stick to you boundaries and at some you may want to resort to ignoring him. He is not gonna change.

  35. Dragonfly7*

    I would suggest that #4 also make sure their employer is paying their share of their taxes and benefits. I formerly worked for a non-profit that was withholding my share from my paychecks, but it turned out they weren’t actually paying mine or theirs to the IRS. They received a hefty fine. The peril of working for a place that relies heavily on volunteers meant the person responsible for finances “didn’t know they needed to.” :(

  36. Observer*

    #4- Tax withholding

    Your friend is almost certainly facing penalties. And while her employer may not be legally liable for them, this IS something that she could push back on. Also, if they won’t do better that giving her a really short term loan, tell her to talk to the IRS, and see if she can arrange a payment plan. They do sometimes do that.

    The thing she should point out is that them pointing fingers are the payroll company is not helpful, as THEY are the ones responsible for this mess, legally speaking. And the fact is that they are probably facing legal issues themselves.

    What I’m wondering, though, is how she missed that they didn’t take anything off in 2020. Didn’t she do a tax return for that year? That’s the thing that’s going to make it a bit harder with the IRS, I suspect.

    In any case, she now knows that her employer is NOT a good place, and I would say that she should consider looking for a new job elsewhere.

  37. Observer*

    #1- Something to look out for, and possibly report anonymously if you can’t put your name to it- is that he may be getting in legal harassment territory. It’s bad that he’s putting down people as a way to make himself feel or look better. But that’s not illegal. It *IS* however, illegal to make women specifically the targets for those put downs.

    1. joriley*

      I’m surprised more people haven’t commented on this! OP1, in addition to Alison’s advice I’d also keep an eye on *who* he’s putting down. Does he do it equally, or does he tend to target women/POCs/older employees more often? Do his comments to/about these groups tend to be more personal (“at least you don’t look tired today”) but they’re work-related for others? If so, that’s getting into “straight to HR” territory.

    2. OP#1*

      This is a good point. He puts down targets of a wide variety. So it isn’t of an exclusive protected class flavor.

      BUT he tries to bring up love life woes all the time along with very warped views of “how women are” – we 100% of the time have bucked back on that (most of the team is women) and told him that’s not accurate or appropriate.

  38. Retired ESO*

    I used to work for a federal government (not USA). Years ago I was competing for a promotion with 8 other people. After the closing date the facility boss got all 8 of us together. It seems that 4 of us were screened in, me included, and 4 were screened out. Two had submitted their applications late, and two just barely filled their names out on the application (basically saying “You know who I am so give me the job”). The boss wanted to cancel the job posting and post it again “to be fair to everyone”. He said he would need the agreement of every one of the screened in employees to do so. He said he would ask everyone of us 4 in private but then turned around and asked us in front of them. I said I wanted to carry on as this was how I earned a living and I had to do what was best for me and my family. The boss then said they planned on promoting 2 people but since the posting only said 1 he would stick with that. I got that promotion and 4 more over the years. None of the other 4, who were screened out, got promoted on the next posting or ever actually.

    On my last promotion it came down to me and another much more senior person who had been acting in the position for a year. The final stage was a presentation on a given topic. My presentation was well researched and presented while his was just the bare facts and only about 5 minutes of an expected 20 minute brief. He thought that because he was doing the job for a year and was one pay level above me already he would get it. If you want something you have to fight for it and be prepared to do the work needed to be considered.

  39. Susanna*

    Aren’t companies required by law to take out taxes – if only so that the US treasury doesn’t have to wait for its money?
    So yeah, she’s the one who owes taxes. But in negotiating a loan… do they really want to be turned into the IRS?

    1. Katie*

      They are required to pay what they withheld (within a very short window of time). An employee could have a legitimate reason not not have any withholdings.
      A company also has to pay taxes on an employee but is separate.

      1. Observer*

        An employer is required by law to take out taxes. So if the employee filled out her paperwork correctly, then they do have liability. And the fact that they are “looking into this” says that they messed up here. Because if they had the forms (which they are required to have) it doesn’t take a lot of time to check and see that it was filled in correctly or not correctly.

  40. Nanani*

    #2: ” these two guys filled out their paperwork as if they expected the job to be handed to them”

    That’s probably exactly correct. They’re expecting to fail upward and probably don’t realize how much work is actually expected at higher level, or tbh, how much work people at their own current level are supposed to be doing. They’re skating by because nobody’s enforced consequences on them for doing the bare minimum.

    “God give me the confidence of a mediocre white man” is a meme for a reason.

  41. RB*

    #4: I’m confused as to how this went on for so long. If it started in 2020, she would have noticed the error when she filed her 2020 income tax return, because she would have had a very large Amount Due, and that should have raised questions. So I’m wondering if this is an issue with the FICA withholding rather than the income tax withholding.

  42. Danniella Bee*

    This happened to me with state taxes. The company didn’t take any out for an entire year. I didn’t notice because I am from a state that doesn’t have state taxes. The company had outsourced payroll to a third party that didn’t do a very good job. I ended up owing the state $5k and only had a short time to pay it. It was terrifying. I had the money in savings but it set back my goals a lot. The company didn’t even apologize for the mistake.

  43. Tirving*

    #4 I would say the company owes Jane more time to pay back a no interest loan for the taxes owed. However as Jane is salaried and presumedly used to receiving the same paycheck every 2 weeks, I have to wonder how she didn’t wonder why her paycheck was suddenly so much more. And did she not file her 2020 taxes and see that no taxes were paid ?

  44. Potatopie*

    For #4, all I’m going to say is to be nice to payroll people (unless they’re total jerks). As one of those people, I know the system can be confusing and I know it can be frustrating but a lot of times our hands are tied by regulations and what our systems allow for processing. So if they give you options or explain it to you just try to remember that they’re doing the best they can and mistakes happen ((unfortunately those are sometimes big mistakes, but still)and we usually feel bad about those mistakes)).

    Another note: It’s unfortunate that the friend has a big bill to pay to now but technically that should be offset by the higher net pay they were taking home during that time so it does kind of work itself out. Though I understand that if you didn’t know you were not entitled to that extra money you likely don’t have it on hand now. But hopefully they can settle a payment plan with the IRS to resolve the issue or settle something with the payroll company to pay a portion.

    A further p.s: this is why it’s also good to get input from professionals to make sure things like your taxes are correct or your withholding choices are correct. At least where I work we have to frequently tell people we’re not x, y or z type of expert so they need to talk to someone who is licensed to do that because they will know all the ins and outs of things like tax law or financial planning or whatnot.

Comments are closed.