making a remote employee pay for their own travel to visit the office

A reader writes:

Is it legal for an employer to require a remote employee to pay for their own flight and hotel when they come on site four time a year?

And here’s the background that leads to all kinds of other (potentially more relevant) questions:

I manage a team that includes a remote employee. This employee lives in another state, always does great work, is super dependable, and is thrilled to be able to live closer to family. She’s worked out of state for over five years, no issues, and she and I are both happy with this arrangement.

But apparently part of the off-the-books deal she made with the boss in order to get permission to work remotely, was that she’d pay for her own flight and hotel when she comes on-site four times/year.
A. Is this legal?
B. Is this ethical?

On one hand, that’s the deal she made with the boss. On the other hand, I’ve never worked at a place with an arrangement like this. Further background: the boss is super stingy and is always looking to save money. Great that the boss is trying to save money. Bad that both the boss and I know that we’re always close to a million dollars in the black each year in terms of our operating budget: we could EASILY afford to cover flight and hotel.

Is this just a “me” issue? The out of state employee finds it mildly annoying, but it’s still worth it to them to be allowed to work out of state. But I have to wonder: if you’ve demonstrated for over five years that you can do your job remotely, at what point (if ever) does it cease to be an exception?

Oh, and I forgot: the employee is required to come on-site four times a year because the boss likes to see people in person. We typically have a quarterly “retreat” that this employee attends, which is essentially a four-hour staff meeting conducted in the afternoon, with half of it devoted to wine and cheese. The rest of the week, she does her regular work in any open space she can find in the office.

I don’t love arrangements like this, but they exist in other organizations and are indeed legal (with the likely exception of California, which requires employers to pay business expenses). Unethical? It depends.

It sounds like the employee wanted to move out of state and agreed to cover her own travel expenses so the business would agree to let her go remote. If the arrangement is worth it to her as a trade-off for being able to work remotely, and if indeed the employer wouldn’t agree to remote work otherwise, then I’m hard-pressed to argue she shouldn’t be able to strike that bargain.

That said, as you point out, it’s been five years and she’s been doing great work the whole time. Plus, acceptance of remote work has greatly changed during that time. Should the business just accept they have a great remote employee and pay all her travel costs? I’d argue yes. But I also can’t say it’s a great crime that they’re not choosing that.

I’m curious, though, if she has tried proposing it. The circumstances are different now than they were when the agreement was first struck and she has a stronger case now for arguing that her travel costs should be covered … or, alternately, that the number of trips be cut down and/or some of them replaced with virtual attendance. If she were willing to walk over this, would your boss be willing to lose her over it? Given the job market and the changes in remote work, it’s a good time for her to raise it if she wants to.

Read an update to this letter

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. bunniferous*

    I am wondering….there might be reasons she likes this arrangement. Five years is a LONGGG time to be doing this. But maybe she sees it as a quarterly break? I think in five years she could have most certainly found a position closer to home if she had wanted one, even one that allowed her to work from home. Has she expressed dissatisfaction?

    I can see why you would think this is unfair to her in the long run-and it kind of is-but if she herself is not complaining, then I imagine there are reasons SHE is happy with the arrangement.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yeah I wouldn’t suggest taking the travel component out unless the employee asks for it – there are benefits to seeing people in person even if it’s a little awkward for her space wise. But the company should pay for it.

        1. JM60*

          Agreed. I’ve been lucky enough to be working entirely remotely for the last 2 years, even though I’m geographically near my Employer. Even aside from the pandemic, I definitely would not see it as a benefit to travel to the office every 3 months for an in-office “retreat”.

        2. Metadata minion*

          They’re also very individual. This specific employee might find that she benefits from being able to see her coworkers in person a few times a year, especially since it sounds like she’s the only remote employee. For other people, at other workplaces, the same arrangement might feel like a frustrating waste of time.

    2. anonymath*

      I’d try to push for paying from it through the corporate budget. It’s worth it.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        When I had a similar arrangement (only remote worker in the whole company), the travel was covered from the corporate budget. However, they made it clear that they factored in the expense of my visits when considering my salary. So basically, I made a little less than I would have otherwise.
        I felt this arrangement was fair. It was much less stressful to have all the travel booked on corporate credit cards, and I felt motivated to keep travel expenses reasonable because I know that every year they summed up the cost of paying for me traveling.

    3. Nora*

      If she’s paying all of the travel expenses herself, though, she can go into the office as often as she wants. If the manager says “you no longer need to come into the office 4 times a year” she could still come in 4 times a year if she wants to. Or 6 times or 2 times.

      1. Clisby*

        That’s how it was during the 17-18 years I worked remotely. I went to the office at least once a year just to touch base with everybody because I liked to do it – but the company never required it. (There also wasn’t much travel expense, since I combined these with family trips to visit my husband’s family.) I can remember only twice when they specifically asked me to come in, and they paid those expenses.

        1. JustMe*

          I have been full-time remote since 2017. When I negotiated it, my boss said he’d like me to pop into an office “once or twice a year”. It never occurred to me that would not be a thing that I paid my own expenses for. Generally I (and the other remote employees) scheduled it around a holiday party or such. Of course, because of covid I haven’t been to an office since my last visit in spring of 2019.

            1. jasmine*

              But if she’s an employee (as opposed to a self-employed contractor), it’s not a business expense for her.

              And looking at IRS’s Publication 529 (Miscellaneous Deductions), we see that it’s indeed true that most employees can’t deduct such expenses anymore: “You can no longer claim a deduction for unreimbursed employee expenses unless you fall into one of the following categories of employment, or have certain qualified educator expenses: Armed Forces reservists, Qualified performing artists, Fee-basis state or local government officials, Employees with impairment-related work expenses.”

              1. Freya*

                If they’re Australian, it’s deductible under the general rule that if a business could deduct it if they paid for it, an employee paying for the same thing in connection with their employment can deduct it. It does have to have a sufficient connection with income that they’re also claiming, and it can’t be more than the employment income that the expense relates to.

                (Exceptions to being able to claim deductions for work travel as an employee are mostly due to the travel not being related to employment income, here)

                Frankly, what a lot of employers do here in Australia is either put it on the company card, reimburse the employee, or add a travel allowance to the employee’s pay – the allowance gets listed separately, it’s an approximation of the cost, and the expense of travel is claimed by the employee on their tax return at tax time, BUT any savings the employee makes on accommodation or whatever are basically a little cash bonus (on which the employee will have to pay tax at tax time but the employer doesn’t need to deal with that). In addition, if the travel allowance (meals, accommodation, incidentals) is the Australian Tax Office published reasonable rate, everyone treats it like the employee got reimbursed for the entirety of the allowance, because it’s not worth the tax office’s time to audit that.

            2. somanyquestions*

              If she owned the business it would be. Employees can’t deduct much at all anymore.

      2. The OP*

        Given the choice, she’d come in zero times/year — she has demonstrated, even pre-pandemic, that she’s great at doing her job remotely.

    4. Lizianna*

      I live and work in a high cost of living area. If I had a job that supported it, I could move to a lower cost of living area, travel here 4 times a year, and still come out ahead financially.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        No kidding. A person could buy a lot of plane tickets for the yearly difference in housing costs between, say, DC and Cleveland (or, heck, Chicago, for that matter).

        1. The OP*

          Yeah, but flight, four nights of a hotel, meals, ground transport — it’s not that she can’t afford it, it’s that it’s such a pointless requirement that the company could easily cover.

          1. Tom*

            Do they pay the cost of all the other employees to commute to work. Suppose someone live a hour away and had to pay tolls to get there would they pay those costs? If she was a remote worker because the company wanted her remote than they should pay for her to go to the office in your situation I think the should treat the commute they way they do for onsite employees.

      2. Everdene*

        My husband has a job in a high cost of living area about 500 miles from the mid COL area we live in. Getting the higher big city salary and paying for flights/hotels to the office every couple of months is a much better deal than us moving to that area.

        (My head office is close to his official place of work so we try and combine trips and tack on some time visiting friends/family or even just not have to pay his hotel because my employers have paid for mine.)

    5. Sloan Kittering*

      I can also imagine she has added up the cost of a daily commute and decided it all comes out in the wash. Very few employers would pay an employees commute no matter how near or far they live (although ironically in DC where I live it is quite common for employers to cover metro fare through a program with the city).

      1. Colette*

        Plenty of companies subsidize transit passes or provide free/subsidized parking, which is paying for an employee’s commute. The vast majority of them cover business travel, which is what this is.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          +1 my (small nonprofit) employer pays transit and parking, as well as travel and lodging for our small number of remote employees

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        Oops I didn’t notice this has been covered further down the thread – my bad.

        1. farisfair*

          Unless the company covers daily commuting costs for the local employees. I don’t see why she shouldn’t pay her own travel costs. Fair is fair.

    6. PotsPansTeapots*

      Agreed. Maybe she needs it to be “mandatory” so she can take a much-needed break guilt-free. Maybe she’s poly and has a partner in your company’s city and she sees the trip as *really* about seeing them. Maybe the toe jam museum in your city throws a heck of a quarterly party.

      If she’s happy and doesn’t want to rock the boat, I wouldn’t. She knows the remote work environment has changed as well.

      1. Nora*

        I don’t think it’s the employer’s job to mandate trips so that an employee can have a “guilt-free” break, and they really really REALLY don’t need to be inserting themselves into an employee’s theoretical poly relationship. The employee is an adult, if they want to go on a break or see their poly partner that’s their own business, not the employer. Nothing is stopping the employee from doing those things uncoupled from a Mandatory visit to their office, if they are paying for it themselves either way.

        1. somanyquestions*

          None of that was really what they were saying. They said he might have reasons she likes to do this, and if she doesn’t mind no one else should intrude into what those reasons are.

          1. Nora*

            My point is that it doesn’t matter if there are reasons that the employee likes to travel to the office. That should not factor in any way into mandating that an employee travel to the office.

    7. The OP*

      OP here. She likes working remotely, and it’s worth it to her to pay for all this herself. But she doesn’t particularly like it, especially given, first, that everyone feels that the quarterly meetings are rather pointless, and second, we have TONS of money available.

      1. Saberise*

        Sorry to me the fact that they have a ton of money is besides the point unless they are going to cover the commute for every employee. She agreed to that as part of going remote which dollar for dollar is beneficial to her it’s crappy to now complain about it and want it changed. That right there is why a lot of companies will say no to requests like that.

        1. Journalist Wife*

          Except she seems to be the lone employee operating remotely from far away, in a world that is rapidly changing its expectations about this. While she’s alone on this front, there’s no disparity in covering her own travel four times a year, as the office would effectively therefore *be* covering everyone’s distance-travel. There’s even room to maneuver within that decision, like to decide that the only reimbursement is for, say, plane & hotel. I can 100% see it being reasonable to not offer to reimburse daily bus tokens or whatnot to/from the hotel to the office…or not doling out a three-meals-a-day per diem to her…or neglecting other smaller, more innocuous stuff that is usually involved in travel arrangements for regular on-site employees who must travel elsewhere for the business.

          And there’s a larger point to be made in that re-evaluation as well: She has the market (for now) cornered on remote employment within this office, because she negotiated an unconventional telecommute plan years ago in the first place, and with nobody else following in her footsteps afterwards (at least pre-pandemic or in an intentionally permanent way), so the minutiae of this arrangement is therefore probably a bit fluid or renegotiable as it currently stands.

          However, if it’s expected that more employees will request/desire/be considered for permanently remote work from here on out, any rules or decisions regarding accommodations handled right now for this employee are especially important. This *is* very much a natural time for remote-job parameters to be re-examined in most businesses that do not already have accepted norms for this type of work. And in this particular case, the lone original remote employee’s evolving/present arrangement will set precedents for future telecommuting policies in the years to come.

          With that in mind, it seems especially prudent at this time for the company to take a beat, consider the future, and ask themselves questions like:

          –“How likely are we in the next [few years/decade/whatever] to see more positions performed remotely?”
          –“Would we have cheaper overhead if we transitioned more positions to remote?”
          –“How adaptable and sustainable is our current arrangement if applied to others?”
          –“How much sense would the current stipulations on our one remote employee make if we applied it to, say, a third of our workforce in the future? Would the arrangement still seem fair and agreeable, or would certain things suddenly seem disparate among the two work styles?”
          –“How official *IS* our policy at present? Is it just a casual agreement, or formalized enough already to protect all parties involved in the case of a labor dispute?”
          –“Is our current agreement with this single employee likely to create issues in morale, retention, liability, or inequity if other current, on-site employees requested the same provisions for similar work tomorrow? For that matter, how possible is it that it already has created silent issues or envy?)”
          –“Do we have enough actual ‘policy’ to be able to rely on functional rules or necessary conditions for evaluating or considering future similar requests, or can we reasonably defend this as an arbitrary, only-applies-to-this-one-position-ever kind of deal if challenged?”
          –“Are the four quarterly retreats something that would be sufficient for most remote-work position possibilities, and/or would even those seem like overkill to pay for bring more people in if half the time is spent eating hors d’oeuvres and making small talk?”
          –“How much were we using Zoom/Slack/other collaborative software prior to COVID versus now? Has teleconferencing become common enough in the last few years to replace this employee’s original quarterly travel requirement…or at least cut it back to once/twice annually, or something else more affordable, for posterity’s sake?”

          It’s incredibly likely, especially in a post-pandemic world, that more and more workers, having tasted the fruit of remote work during COVID–either workers already employed there and/or future possible employees–will be interested in knowing their options for partial or full telecommute down the road. Recruitment could be as important, or even more important, than retention strategy–depending on the nature of OP’s specific business/field/current job market–and options for flexible work hours/location are definitely trending harder than most other considerations during The Great Resignation.

          There’s legitimately no good reason to NOT revisit the nature of the policy while there’s still only one person using that framework there. It’s certainly feasible for the company to decide that future compensation probably should include specific parts (or even all parts) of her travel expenses; doing so while Current Remote Worker is the only one working in this capacity is absolutely in the best interests of a tight-fisted boss (like OP’s boss sounds like a bit, at least where labor capital is involved) to pass off this change as part of a one-time, paradigm-shifting bonus for this employee. It would seem more like a goodfaith act of retention for this employee rather than a recalibration of basic business policies, but would effectively accomplish both things at once. It is an opportunity for Current RW to gain that as an annual perk WHILE the company can feel like it achieved some goodwill without changing the actual market value of individual job classification salaries or disrupting an otherwise healthy payroll ecosystem across the board, and could be used in place of whatever the next significant retentive measure for that employee would have needed to manifest otherwise.

          More crucially, if the company is able to recognize when the next appropriate time would be for tangibly recognizing this employee’s merit, and offers it up instead or (or alongside) a pay raise or bonus without the employee having requested it specifically, it might resonate as more benevolent than if the employee eventually requests either fewer visits or that the trips be funded…which, surely, the employee would someday do if they stayed put at this company in an increasingly-digital future.

          Given the OP’s remark that there is a demonstrably large money pot from which these funds could materialize at any given time, this seems like a genuinely good opportunity for the employer to get with the times before they are outdated by evolving practices. If they wait until the standard is more unanimously “employer pays for travel” in a few years among the remote working world, then their eventual concession to that will NOT be seen as an act of retention–nor would it seem like as generous of a “bonus” as doing so now.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          Trust me when I say that covering plane travel for remote employees when they are required to visit the home office is standard. The company here is being cheap, particular given the uselessness of the visists.

  2. Eldritch Office Worker*

    I agree that you need to take the ethics of the deal in the context it was made. Remote work was a very different beast five, or even three, years ago, and this was probably seen as a huge concession. But that doesn’t mean it makes sense now.

    How has your company’s attitude around remote work changed overall? Have people been working remotely during the pandemic? Are you discussing long term accommodations for any other employees? That would change the arithmetic quite a bit.

    It’s clearly bothering you – I wonder if you might have success framing this as a compensation bonus for the employee. NOT at the expense of a raise or bonus the employee would otherwise get, but “Hey, Jane has proven to be a great remote employee and delivers high level work, I think we should take this financial burden off her back”

    1. Triplestep*

      I like the idea of framing a change to “company paid travel” as a bonus. I accepted a remote position three years ago, and I took a pay cut to do it. It was worth it to me. But I did ask if I would be responsible for the cost of the 4x a year trips to the office. If they intended me to pay for that, I would have considered that an even further pay cut. (As it turned out, I’m not responsible – they pay). Similarly, paying for this employee’s air fare alone could be looked at my all involved as a bonus. In the future, her other travel expenses could be covered, too. (Baby steps in consideration of the frugal boss.)

  3. Kevin Sours*

    Having worked remote far more than I’ve ever worked in an office, the negotiations — implicit and explicit — for that are a little touchy. Particularly if going remote is for your benefit and not the company’s. I’ve definitely covered things that might be legitimately be considered business expenses (internet, computer equipment, office furniture, etc). But that stuff served a dual purpose — I probably spent more on than I would have for my own use but I definitely use it for personal reasons. So nothing quite so direct.

    But, ultimately, they can always insist that you work in the office…

  4. HA2HA2*

    I’ll say that if my previous job had offered me this deal, I would have taken it and been totally happy with it.

    1. BubbleTea*

      This is the exact arrangement that I’ve made with my employer. I’m moving away, and they never had fully remote employees before covid. Recruiting people during covid was tricky and they wound up with a few who live too far away to come into the office regularly, so now they’re more open to it – but the agreement is in-person for team meetings each quarter, once the office has reopened. I’m perfectly fine with that! If they want us in more often than the four times a year agreed, they will cover the extra travel (for instance for additional training or something).

  5. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    All other points aside, I would recommend a salary reduction arrangement. The expense of the flight and hotel paid by the organization has no taxes; but if you pay the employee and then have her cover the expenses you have both ER and EE payroll taxes, as well as income tax, that are paid out before she actually pays for the travel expense. Seems like a waste of money if you’re going to continue the arrangement.

    1. Colette*

      I’m confused about what you are suggesting. Are you suggesting that the OP propose that the company cut their great-but-remote employee’s pay but cover their travel? That’s not going to go over well.

      1. Granger Chase*

        Yes, this doesn’t seem like a fair solution to me at all. Why punish a great employee by docking her pay? At least if she’s paying her own way for travel she can rack up hotel or airline points. She shouldn’t have to take a salary cut.

      2. doreen*

        I think what’s being suggested is to cut the salary by the cost of the travel which will save everybody some money, although maybe not enough to be worth the trouble. Lets say the four trips a year cost $2000 a year. If the salary is reduced by $2000/yr and the company starts paying for the travel that’s $2000 a year less of income subject to income tax, SS tax etc. and the employee may even take home a bit more money with that arrangement.

        1. Colette*

          “Hey, guess what! You’re such a great employee that we’ll pay for your travel 4 times a year. Oh, and we’re going to cut your pay! It’ll save us $500!”

          I mean, it would probably stop the dicusssion about who pays for travel, because she’d find another job. It’s not saving her money, and she’s giving up control of her travel. (It saves the company money, but not the employee.)

          1. doreen*

            I’m not saying I think it would be a good thing for the company to do and I’m not saying that employee would save a lot of money (which is why I said it’s probably not worth it) – but you have to earn more than $2000 of income to have $2000 of after-tax income to use to pay for the travel. It’s the same reason that putting $500 a month in a 401K lowers your net pay by something less than $500 a month.

          2. Cj*

            It most certainly does save the employee money. If, as in the example above, the travel cost are $2,000 a year, and they reduce her salary by that much but pay for her travel, she is saving Social Security, Medicare, federal income tax and state income tax on that $2,000.

            If she is in a 22% federal tax bracket, that would be around 8% in the state I live in for state income taxes, plus 7.65% FICA taxes. That is $753 she would be saving in taxes. And she would not be paying the $2,000 in travel expenses. Even if she’s in is a lower tax bracket, she’d probably still be saving around $500.

      3. Blueberry*

        I think they are assuming that the employee’s salary includes the cost of travel? But it doesn’t seem like a raise was arranged in addition to the remote work scenario.

        1. The OP*

          It’s true — employee salary was not raised or lowered when she moved out of state. However — she consistently gets a lower COLA raise than everyone else because company says they factor in COL in her area. But this is not a HR decision, it’s the boss’s decision.

          1. misspiggy*

            Those two things together seem really unfair in today’s environment. Is this employee someone who has trouble advocating for herself?

          2. Teapot, Groomer of Llamas*

            Wait, not only is she having to pat for these meetings, but she is making less in COLA? That seems incredibly unfair.

    2. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      There are lots of ways for employment arrangements to come to, there is not a single right way for things to happen. They way LW presents this makes it seem extremely one-side and the employee is being taken advantage of…but we’re not getting any information from anyone that has first hand-perspective on this. It could be a great arrangement that the employee is happy with.

      Salary reduction plans are a useful tool for keeping total compensation the same, but reducing the tax burden. We see these in the form of commuter benefits, cafeteria plans, and stock buy-ins. It is a real way to save a not insignificant amount of money.

      The employer would save: ~$165 in payroll taxes
      The employee would save: ~$171 in payroll taxes and $402 in income tax
      Total: ~$740 saved by reducing wages and paying the amount out as an expense instead.

      That estimate is ignoring the tax implications from the state level.

      1. The OP*

        Employee finds it annoying, but is willing to deal with the annoyance for the privilege of working remotely.

        1. CalT*

          OP, you are the manager. You are in the best position to ask without rocking the boat. They might say yes, they might say no, but you won’t know if your only action is writing to Alison. How shall anybody in the company know that what was ok five years ago suddenly isn’t? And expectation “if they cared about me they’d offer” is toxic and harmful, both at work and in personal relationships.

          1. Tee 3*

            I tend to agree with this. It sounds like the employer made an atypical concession when they approved the arrangement. It also sounds like she gets more lifestyle bang for her buck since she lives in an affordable area but has a salary commensurate with a high-cost-of-living locale.
            Were I her, if I was inclined to want to renegotiate things, I would ask for a reduction in annual in-person expectations rather than travel compensation. My guess is that on the front end, she presented the idea as , “This won’t cost the company a penny,” and she was probably pleased when they said yes. Were she to want to renegotiate and try to be compensated for travel, she could mention the COLA savings the company benefits from.

  6. Neely O'Hara*

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I guess I don’t see why the company should pay for her travel. I live in the same city as my office. I am responsible for paying my own way to get to work – my job doesn’t pay my commuting costs. Why should a remote employee get to have their travel covered when local employees pay out of their own pocket? Traveling from out of state is more expensive but probably works out to the same amount of money annually as a daily commute. It seems unfair and as a local employee I would be resentful that someone remote was getting their commuting costs paid for when I don’t. I would be happy to hear the rationale for this because I don’t see it.

    1. Sunny*

      That’s a good point. When I drove to work I paid about $50 in gas every two weeks or so, or $120 a month for a bus pass if I was taking transit. That all came out of pocket and it would be a cost saved if you work from home.

    2. Scottish Teapot*

      I suppose the rationale is that if your contract was as a remote worker (therefore your work address is your home address) they would pick up travel expenses to go another office on a business trip (say a satellite office). So travelling from your work (home address) place on work time for a work event to head office or elsewhere the. It should really be covered. The complication here is the worker requested to work remotely and wasn’t forced to.

    3. ThatGirl*

      In my mind, it’s because the company mandates it, and she has additional expenses beyond just an ordinary car or train commute. I have coworkers at an office in Ohio who occasionally have to come to Chicagoland to our corporate office; their travel to Illinois is definitely covered. I don’t see this as a commute; it’s more of a business trip.

      I can also see where this might not bother the employee in question, that it was a reasonable tradeoff for her. But I think she would have the leverage to ask for the travel to be covered if she wanted to.

      1. KateM*

        Well, she could move to be nearer to the office? It’s her own choice that her commute is so long. But on the plus side, she needs to be only in office once in a three months.

        1. Teagan*

          It’s not a “commute” because the office is not her work location. She has a remote working arrangement. Her work location is her home. This is business travel.

          1. Doctors Whom*

            This actually depends on things like what is her official legal office location, and is the employer registered to do business in the location in which the remote employee resides. If the employee’s legal home office is the main office – then the expenses for travel are commuting expenses.

            There is a lot of inaccurate though well intentioned commentary on this thread but the answer here is “it depends and it is a matter for the compliance function at the employer.”

        2. ThatGirl*

          That would rather negate the point of her remote work arrangement! And as has been pointed out, this is not a commute.

      2. Momma Bear*

        It has been my experience to treat remote workers coming to the office as a business trip not a regular commute. Since the company requires it (when and where and how long), then it’s reasonable to make it a corporate expense, much like sending a sales team to a client location. If it is truly advantageous to the company to have her there, they could pay for it.

        I guess in this instance, talk to the employee, see how she feels, and go from there. She may prefer control over her trips, or maybe her salary was raised to accommodate or any other number of nuances OP may not know yet. If it’s something that OP and the employee want to raise, what about suggesting a middle ground to start? Company pays for airfare but employee covers hotel and meals? Or if people get parking or transit subsidies, could she get the equivalent?

      3. JM60*

        I too see this as a business trip, and therefore my vote is that the employer should be ethically required to pay for it due to them choosing to make it mandatory. In general, I don’t like employers making their employees open their wallets to keep their job.

        Though I want to add that the reason for mandating that the employee be there in person seems flimsy to me. I’d be annoyed if my boss made me travel once every three months for some dumb “retreat” (which I probably wouldn’t care for even if I was local).

    4. Antilles*

      Not to be mean, but I don’t like the idea of being resentful that someone gets a perk you don’t. The goal shouldn’t be for your workplace to be a crab bucket where you constantly pull others down to your level.
      Rather than making it “Jane shouldn’t get this perk because the rest of us have to drive to the office and pay our own gas”, I think the better way to view it would be to cite Jane’s experience as a reason why the rest of you *should* be allowed to work remotely.

      1. LMB*

        If the other local employees are allowed to work from home as they want to reduce their personal commuting costs, the remote employee should not have to pay for her travel expenses to the office. If the local employees are required to commute to the office every day, the remote employee should have to pay to travel to office just as they do, assuming, however, that the remote employee’s pay was not adjusted in some way to account for lack of commuting expenses.

        1. JM60*

          This goes against what’s commonly accepted. For better or worse, it’s considered a business trip that the employer has to pay for (instead of commute) based on distance, not on how often they come in. If an employer asks an employee they know is based in LA to work in their San Francisco office 5 days a week, the employer needs to take care of those travel expenses. However, if that same employer asks an employee based in San Francisco to come into the office 1 day/week, they don’t need to pay for their commute.

          I believe arrangements like the former – travelling great distances to reach your in-person work – aren’t unheard of for pilots. It’s generally accepted that the employers provide the air transportation, but not the transportation between the pilot’s home and local airport.

          1. Tee 3*

            The thing about this situation, though, is that the employee is the one who made this request, and during an era when expectations for remote workers were different than in 2022. The employee wanted to live closer to family and I presume did not go in to the boss saying, “I want to move far away and still work for you and not have to come into the office like all the other employees. OH – and I want for you to pay for flights, hotels, and car rental if you ever have me come back here in person.” I suspect she approached him with, “I’d like to move to live near family, but I like this job enough to want to keep it if I can. If you would consider letting me work remotely, I would come back to the office as often as you deemed necessary, and it wouldn’t cost the company an extra penny.” The boss probably then threw out the four times a year thing, she said that was fine, and the deal was struck.

            I suspect that after five years, she has established a new work groove and some elements of the pact she negotiated don’t feel as cozy. The OP has said that she finds covering her own travel is annoying but is willing because she wants to continue to do what she is doing. I think the employee really should not have expressed that she finds it *annoying* that she pays for her own travel expenses. It’s the bargain she struck and agreed to and it sounds like the boss gave her something that was very much out of the ordinary at the time, and he probably still feels like he did her a big favor (because… it sounds like he did, and she’s still the big winner). I absolutely think it’s fair for her to want to re-visit the terms of the arrangement and negotiate something different, but I don’t think it’s professional of her to be telling anyone that she is annoyed at the boss about the current situation.

      2. L-squared*

        I think companies should strive to be as equal as possible.

        My company has a lot of remote employees. I happen to be in the same city as headquarters. We are required to come in 3 times a week. None of us like that basically 80% of the company has no requirements, but we do. As a compromise, they cover either our monthly public transportation or a set amount toward parking each month.

        But if they are requiring everyone else to be in the office, and not giving them any type of travel compensation, it really isn’t a very fair situation. And while its nice to say “well its working for her so we alls should be able to, it just doesn’t always fly”

    5. Salad Daisy*

      Agreed. Esp. with gas so expensive. Lots of people are now working remote if only in the same general area. When we have to drive into the office, nobody compensates us for gas etc.

      1. Teagan*

        This isn’t a drive to the office. Her work location is her home. This is business travel, like traveling to attend a meeting at a different corporate office in a different city.

        1. KateM*

          If someone is working 1 day a week at home and 4 days in office, is that still commute or already travel costs? What if it is the other way around – 1 day in office and 4 days home? Once in two weeks? Three? Where do you draw the line?

          1. ThatGirl*

            I think the distance matters at least as much as the number of days. If traveling to an office requires an overnight stay or a plane ride, for instance. I’m sure you or someone can come up with some nitpicky examples that are grey areas, but if you’re explicitly a remote employee who is occasionally required to travel to an office, your company should pay for that travel.

            1. JM60*

              I think a good case to consider here is airline pilots. They have to work in-person, but it’s not uncommon for them to travel hundreds of miles to get to work. It’s commonly accepted that the pilot has to pay for the travel between their home and their local airport, but that the airline cover the cost of the flights to/from work plus any hotels they need.

              1. Amy*

                I’m sure it depends on the airline. My dad was a commercial pilot / captain for 30 years. He wasn’t permitted to live more than 100 miles from his base airport.

            2. Mr. Shark*

              Yes, I think there’s an expectation in my company that if you live within 50 miles of the office that you are assigned to, for most circumstances, you are responsible for your own commute time/money.

          2. Teagan*

            That’s a different situation, because those employees would not be full time remote. Their assigned work location would be most likely be the corporate office they work in. Full time remote employees are generally assigned as “work from home.” When that employee is in a different state without a local office, that’s even more apparent, because taxes are being paid based on where their work is done (their home) and not the location of the corporate office.

            1. Tee 3*

              But… it sounds like this company is not one that has interest in being staffed with remote workers. They have one employee who pre-pandemic struck a unique agreement because she wanted to live closer to relatives in a cheaper area. She might have been so eager to move, etc., that she happily agreed (maybe even offered) to keep it from costing the company any additional money and footing the bill for her travel. I suspect that selling a remote scenario to a company that didn’t have remote workers wouldn’t have been a win had she said, “I want you to make this exception for me, plus each year you’ll need to pay for four round-trip flights, car rentals, and twenty hotel nights.”

      2. JustMyImagination*

        My role was switched to remote during the pandemic. I still live commuting distance to work but if my management requires me to go on-site one day then they pay for parking expenses or commuter train costs.

    6. Anonymous4*

      It’s expensive to have an employee in the office, which is why so many companies are delighted that their employees are paying for their own space, heat/AC, lights, power, phone, office equipment, appliances like microwave and refrigerator, water, plumbing, cleaning, and so on.

      I used to know the cost per employee for a certain company to have an office in a certain middling-sized city and I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten. It was, however, astonishing.

      1. Firm Believer*

        If everyone else is in the office they aren’t saving money having one person remote. heat, lights, power, office equipment doesn’t cost less depending on how many people are using them.

        1. Colette*

          Some of that stuff does cost less. She’s paying for the electricity to run her computer, she’s probably paying for any printing she does, etc. And whether they have to pay for more space depends on how full their office is. It’s possible that they have space for her if she wants to work in the office, but it’s also possible they don’t.

          1. Firm Believer*

            With all due respect, it does not. Her paying for those things does not reduce the cost to the company that is still running with other people in it. Trust me on this! I run a business and pay those bills and they haven’t fluctuated based on how many people are in there. It’s a moot point that has nothing to do with the letter.

            1. Colette*

              So the electricity that powers her computer costs nothing if she’s in the office? I believe that you likely don’t notice the costs, because it’s not going to make a huge difference compared to lighting/heating, but there’s still a cost.

              One person working remotely isn’t going to save a ton of money for the company. If half the people move to remote, it will – although it might be difficult to see if you’re still heating and lighting a big empty room without people in it. But that doesn’t mean that the company somehow pays for her to charge her laptop at home, or that it magically works without electricity.

              1. Firm Believer*

                Colette please don’t beat this up. If you had 100 people working in the office and one person at home there is literally a non existent difference in the electric bill. Again, this doesn’t even have anything to do with the letter. Full stop.

    7. Colette*

      She’s already responsible for providing her own office space, and probably various supplies. But this is a trip to an office where she does not work, so it’s a business trip. It’s not a commute.

    8. Andy*

      Exactly what I was going to say. I moved out of my city to where I could afford to actually buy my own home. The trade off to this is my commute doubled. I realise the person mentioned in the original post has a much greater commute than that, but all the same, I’d never expect the company to pick up the tab.
      Wherever you live, you need to be able to get to work by your own means.

      1. Parakeet*

        She is getting to work by her own means, because her home is her workplace, her office. A few times a year, she has to travel to a different office. Many, if not most, companies will cover employee travel costs when employees have to travel to a different office occasionally for work. Her travel is no more a “commute” than it would be if she worked in a conventional office in, say, Cleveland, and had to travel to her company’s office in DC four times per year. This isn’t the same as a hybrid role.

    9. The OP*

      How about this: you’re my employee, and once per quarter, I require you to do you work in a different location than your usual workplace. Same work, same deadlines — I just like having you around where I work for a week. Oh, and you have to pay for your own hotel and meals. The meetings we usually have online will instead be held in person this week.

    10. Amanda*

      I agree. My company does not cover local employees commute expenses, so why should they cover mine just because my commute involves a hotel stay? I know in some areas, like DC, employers covering transportation and parking costs is the norm, but it isn’t in the area I moved from. I know the OP stated the remote employee made the arrangement pre-pandemic and the company can afford to cover it. But if this arrangement was initiated by the employee, and others in her same/similar role are generallyon-site, I think travel expenses are on her. It also sounds a bit like the employee doesn’t really see the necessity of coming into the office at all, and is annoyed rhey have room do it regardless of who covers the cost.

  7. Sunny*

    I’d ask her how she feels about the arrangement or maybe bring it up casually that you’d support her asking for it to be covered if she wants it to. But then it’s up to her to bring it up and if she’s happy with it then there’s no problem!

    1. Amaranth*

      The employee might be concerned if she asks for travel costs then she’ll never get a raise, so I’d definitely reach out before trying to sell it to the boss. It might be easier to pitch her coming out once or twice a year and/or attending remotely instead.

      1. The OP*

        I got my ass chewed when I gave her permission NOT to get on a plane mid-pandemic, so I won’t do that again. It just sucks having to tell employee that she has to come because of tradition, and we could easily afford to cover these costs, but we’re just not going to.

  8. Mockingjay*

    This is pretty much my arrangement. We relocated last summer for family reasons and I requested to go full-time remote. It was granted with caveats. I am responsible for travel and accommodations for important meetings and trainings at the home office. It’s a half day drive and I can stay with one of my adult children who live locally. I am paid travel and per diem for site visits to locations other than the home office.

    Main reason: my company’s government contract is funded for official site visits and requires most staff onsite or within reasonable driving distance. There aren’t extra funds to pay for travel just because I moved out of the area.

    1. The OP*

      In our case, there is PLENTY of money for this. Heck, we could cover her for first class flights and staying at the Ritz for the week, and it would still be less than 1% of our annual unused surplus budget.

      1. Tee 3*

        OP, I apologize if I missed this, but at this time, is she the only remote worker?

        The company may not be interested in making remote work commonplace. If they start down this road with her, it may look appealing to others, especially now that remote work is common elsewhere. The boss probably does not want to suddenly have half his workers wanting to move to Montana and to then pay for first class flights for them all to head back to corporate four times a year. The more he gives, the more appealing her atypical arrangement is going to appear to others.

  9. WomEngineer*

    Perhaps management could offer a stipend if someone is traveling more than X miles for these mandatory workshops (similar to how companies may offer relocation assistance if you move out-of-state).

    I think if the employee is officially classified as “remote” or “living in a different state,” and it’s required to be there in-person, then it should count as business travel and be at least partially reimbursed.

  10. acl*

    Here’s my opinion:

    Does the company pay for other employees to commute to work? Is there an allowance, a flex spending plan that can be used for commuting, parking?

    If so, I think that this remote employee should get the same benefit as other employees, or have her expenses covered, whichever is lower.

    If not, then these expenses constitute the employee’s commuting expenses, and do not need to be paid for by the company.

    1. Teagan*

      This is not a commute. Her work location is her home. She’s not commuting to a work location, she is traveling.

  11. Ihaveaheadache*

    To be honest, I am not sure why you need to involve yourself in this unless she has been complaining to you or escalating this as an issue to you. This is an arrangement she made between herself and the boss and doesn’t really affect you in any way.

    1. L-squared*

      yeah, I didn’t understand this either.

      The people directly impacted by this seem fine with the arrangement. No need to be offended on others behalf. Because, in reality, if the company does choose to pay for it, whose to say there won’t be other restrictions placed on the travel that she doesn’t care for

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’d say the OP has a right to wonder about it because the OP manages this employee and is (at least partially) responsible for her satisfaction and retention.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        It kind of sounds like you’re more annoyed about it than your employee is.

        1. LJ*

          There’s lots of things that employees might not be vocal about for better or for worse. Why not try to get ahead of it *before* the employee decides that there are many other remote jobs in the sea?

  12. anonymous73*

    So is the boss that she made the arrangement with still there and in charge? If not, I’d look into having the company pay for her travel expenses if she’s required to come in 4 times a year. It’s no different than a business trip. But if that’s the deal she made, I don’t see anything wrong with it. I love WFH ad could see myself making a similar arrangement if I really wanted to keep my job.

  13. cbh*

    I don’t think the company should have to pay. The employee is choosing to work for a company located in another State. That’s her choice. In addition she made a deal with her employer. If the employer NOW pays for flights to the office for other employees, then I could see the argument. The company, in theory could be inconvenienced too by not having the employee closer for an emergency. I just feel like accomodations were made for the employee to work out of state, both sides are making sacrifices. Employee’s sacrifice is having to pay 4 times a year to come to the office.

    1. anonymous73*

      I can see both sides of the argument but I don’t agree about it being a sacrifice for the company. If someone has the ability to perform all of their tasks from anywhere with a computer and a Wifi signal, then the location doesn’t matter. And these past 2 years have proven that to be true in a lot of cases. Unless you’re a doctor, being in a separate location during an emergency is irrelevant. And WFH can provide many benefits to the employee, making them happier and more productive in the long run.

  14. Cedrus Libani*

    FWIW, I work for a large company in California, and this was also our policy in the Before Times. If your job was compatible with WFH, you could live wherever, but your butt had to be in an on-site chair at least once per month. Roughly 20% of my department took that option. Turns out that Silicon Valley wages go a lot farther in Portland, such that it’s worth the monthly round-trip in order to spend the rest of the month living in an honest-to-God house that exists for you alone and not for your umpteen house-mates.

    Now it’s closer to 30%, and while the office has re-opened, the remote contingent is mostly turning up for official events and not the monthly check-ins. There’s a high-risk person who’s probably just never coming on-site again, and frankly, the rest of them could get away with that too – we’re in a hot field, hiring is difficult, nobody’s really inclined to go full Guacamole Bob on this one.

  15. Just Me*

    I also agree that in general she shouldn’t have to pay but if she hasn’t really brought it up, it may be a non-issue (and as some mention, she might like having the flexibility to choose where she stays and how she travels. I could see, though, that next time the company discusses raises/bonuses/promotions, paying for her travel/hotel could be considered an option as part of the package and to recognize her great work.

  16. Lizianna*

    I’m curious where you draw the line, though? How far is too far to expect a remote employee to travel without reimbursement?

    My office has a limited travel budget. If I had to pay for remote employees to travel to the office for meetings, that would come out of the budget we use to pay for employees to travel for trainings, conferences, etc. I guess I just have a hard time justifying to my other employees that we ran out of travel funds because we had to buy plane tickets for one employee to attend 4 meetings when they all had to pay for the gas and parking to get themselves to that meeting, especially if there’s not a business reason for her to be working remotely, but it’s for her benefit.

    That said, I live in a high cost of living area, and if I had a job that I only really needed to be on-site 4 times a year, I could probably move to a lower cost of living area, pay to make that travel, and still come out ahead financially. I think as long as a company is transparent about the times you’re expected to be in the office, it’s up to you to figure out where to live to make that work.

    When I worked in DC, I worked with some people who had truly remarkable commutes, including someone who lived in North Carolina and commuted by her small plane twice a week. It was worth it to her to be able to live in a more rural area. I don’t think we can judge people’s choices in where they live, but I also don’t think a company necessarily needs to subsidize them, absent some kind of business reason to have remote employees.

    1. Colette*

      I think you draw that line when you decide to hire a remote employee, or let one of your employees go remote, the same way you look at your office space when you hire someone to work in the office.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      And this is how companies get into these weird arrangements. An employee wants to move out of state and work remotely, the boss resists because of the extra costs, the employee offers to shoulder those costs themselves, and yada yada yada five years later here we are.

    3. Cera*

      I work for a large company. The travel policy is any distance greater than your daily commute. The means a remote employee who is asked to come to an office has travel expensed regardless of the distance.

      Can it be unfair? Sure. If you have a remote employee and an on-site employee who both live 30 mins from the office; the on-site employee will have to pay their commute while the remote employee will not; potentially for the same meeting. On the same hand, if you have 2 on-site employees making a business trip, 1 may able to expense the trip to the airport while the other can’t.

      I also have never heard anyone complain about this policy. (Plenty of complaining about why 1 gets to be remote and not the other but never about travel reimbursement)

      1. Don't Forget To Mute The Zoom*

        Does your company address the question of why some people are allowed to be remote and others are not? Also, that travel policy of reimbursing remote employees for the same travel on-site people make everyday is next level unfair. What an incredibly effective way to make in-person employees feel completely mistreated and disregarded.

  17. NewYork*

    If she has moved to a lower COLA area, and kept her salary, then I think this is fair.

  18. Ally McBeal*

    I proposed this exact scenario at my last job, a nonprofit. I wanted to leave Big City to move closer to family, but all my friends still live in Big City, so it seemed like a no-brainer to save the nonprofit money – I could crash on someone’s couch on the few occasions per year that I’d need to fly back, and I figured I’d build my trips so I could spend the weekend directly before or after the work commitment in Big City too.

    Ultimately my boss said no and I ended up resigning instead, but if it’s the employee’s preference, I see nothing wrong with this kind of deal.

  19. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

    I’ll preface this by saying I’m in the UK so legal details might be different.

    However, this is basically the deal my husband has struck with his employer. He had two choices: keep current salary and come into the office once a month at his expense, or move to fully remote and take a pay cut but any expenses when he needed to travel would be covered. He did the math and it worked out that it was better financially to pay his own way for travel. Perhaps the OP’s colleague did similar math and decided it was worth it to get the benefit of living where they want?

  20. Goldenrod*

    I probably am in the minority opinion on this one, but I think it’s perfectly fair for the employee to pay her own expenses for a quarterly trip to the office, in exchange for being allowed to work remotely.

  21. Biscotti*

    I had this situation pre covid, now everyone is at home and there is no one in the office to visit. For me the expense was worth it, it wouldn’t work for everyone but for some it does. I really believe I would have never been able to make the moves up working from home that I have with so many people in the office. I think I also avoided the hate from the in office employees from not getting “a paid vacation” from the company to come in to the office.

  22. Enn Pee*

    I began a remote job about 6 months ago. The main office is a 5-6 hour drive from where I live, and my employer would like me to come to the office once a quarter for reasons similar to your workplace (work retreat, catching up with people I work with in-person).
    My employer pays for all my travel. (This was VERY surprising to me – I was willing to pay for it myself, because the remote work and not moving to their locations was really for MY convenience.) My impression was that this was something my boss negotiated for me on my hire.
    For what it’s worth, in case it wasn’t obvious – for me, I’d have been willing to pay for my travel 4x-6x a year just for the ability to work from home. My car’s going to last me forever because I only use it twice a week. I don’t have to buy many work clothes (some nice tops/scarves work very well with sweatpants). I don’t have to pay for parking. I can have lunch with my husband every day.
    If you want to be like my boss and figure out a way for her to get her travel reimbursed, that would be lovely and probably appreciated. But – it may not be necessary for your employee.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      I’m in the same boat, but it wasn’t anything my boss had to negotiate – all of the employees of my (large university) employer who are fully remote have their business travel paid when we come to the “home office.” It’s not a commute, it’s a business trip. People who do live in the area and work in the office on a hybrid schedule do get commuter benefits, FWIW.

      Also, I would have still taken the job even if the required business travel wouldn’t be compensated, but I’d stay in much cheaper lodgings further from the center of campus if I were on my own dime. (Not because I’m being extravagant with the University’s money, I’m literally staying where they want me to stay. It’s just a very expensive neighborhood and I’m very frugal with my money.) This would impact the quality of my time on the trip, so I really think it’s in their best interest to pay for me to stay in a hotel in the neighborhood.

  23. Potato*

    This is technically my office’s policy for remote employees as well—they’re required to pay for their own travel to our quarterly all staff meetings. However, in reality, their department head often books the travel for them and charges the company for it. But I guess they could enforce it if they wanted to.

  24. She of Many Hats*

    How effective would it be for the LW to suggest it to the boss that the company start paying for the travel on the basis that the dynamics and logistics around remote work are so normalized and more cost effective that the remote worker may notice that she can get an equally great job that either pays for mandatory travel leaving her more of her salary (a raise), or doesn’t require expensive travel (and more money in her pocket). Would the cost of replacing that employee with an onsite employee and the ongoing expenses of physical space & equipment as well as training be less than moving the travel expenses from the employee? Make it about the cost of keeping a good employee vs the expenses of a new one, especially in a labor shortage.

  25. wobbly*

    It’s not just “remote work;” it’s remote work *in another state,* which adds costs to the employer that the employer wouldn’t have to handle if she hadn’t asked for this exception to be made for her. The exception still exists: She is out of state. The employer has to file payroll taxes in two rather than one state, file quarterly and annual withholding reports for two rather that one states, and has to pay unemployment insurance in two rather than one states.

    1. AnonAgain*

      This is something I was thinking about. OP said it was an “off the books” arrangement. Wondering if the company is registered to do business in that state and doing all the tax work, etc.

      1. Cj*

        Yeah, any fees to be registered to do business in the state, state income tax (for the business, not the employee) and collecting sales tax are way more complicated and expensive than filing payroll tax reports in an additional state.

      2. The OP*

        we are. but it’s such a massive organization, she’s not the only one working in this particular state. The off the books part is the deal the big boss made to allow her to work remotely, that meant she paid for her own flights to and from the pointless meetings.

        1. Stevie*

          Apologies if you answered this elsewhere, but is she the only employee in this situation? It sounds like she’s the only employee on your team with this situation, but do you know of any others who also have to travel in for these meetings? Maybe there could be a a group pushback opportunity.

    2. Vgw*

      Additionally they now have “nexus” in that state, and must collect sales tax on any sales.

    3. LJ*

      OPS already replied – but there’s plenty of big companies with nexus in almost every state that still have individual departments pearl-clutching at the thought of “oh no complications” for maybe not the most grounded reasons. e.g. “X department is based on Y state, so all employees of X have to be in Y state, even though we run payroll in every state (or many countries) across the company more broadly”

  26. Amanda*

    I have a very similar arrangement with my employer. After 10 years of employment, it was best for me to move out of state to be closer to family. My employer offered to let me be remote instead of me resigning and finding a new job. I do need to come into the office a few times a year, mostly to keep up with appearances. I also need to go back to that state a few times a year for personal reasons anyway. It was not at all something I considered should be paid by my employer. We made clear parameters, but I would never have expected that they cover my travel expenses. This is a mutually beneficial arrangement, sure, but my job isn’t so specialized that I’m not replaceable. However, it is specific enough that moving from one state to another I wouldn’t necessarily be equally as employable. The guidelines a d norms in one state are different from another, so I’m not much more hireable than someone brand new to the field. Also, I’m middle aged and have been making more money than someone new to the field would be. Most of others in my same job at this company are able to work from home occasionally, but it is generally expected that this position is on-site 85% of the time. Myself and a person who has a mobility issue are the only two fully remote employees in this job title.

  27. Taxidermybobcat*

    Our company has always had some remote staff (sales reps) in the field that they reimbursed for hotel and travel expenses when they were required to come into the office. When the pandemic hit, they decided after a 18 months of working remotely that they would make it a permanent option for any in-office staff who wanted to retain a remote status. We were allowed to move within a certain distance from the office (with team manager approval), and stay remote, with the understanding that certain states were off limits, and in-office requirements may vary depending on the position (from once every two weeks in office to once a quarter, stuff like that). One of the stipulations of this was…no reimbursement for travel expenses to and from the office if you electively choose the remote option. Several of us chose to stay remote because we prefer it, but I do wish they would reimburse us…at the same time, I kinda get it…but I still wish they would reimburse us voluntary folks because now it’s like…some people get reimbursed, some don’t. We’ll see if the tide turns.

  28. Em from CT*

    Would love to know more about how this applies to California, as I’m in exactly the same situation. Job is in CA. I moved to New England during the pandemic (four months alone in lockdown in my apartment in CA was… not great for mental health, let’s just say) and eventually petitioned my supervisor to allow me to continue the arrangement long-term. I proposed that we try it out for six months and re-evaluate, that I’d institute whatever check-ins or evaluation she wanted to ensure I kept on track, etc.

    She agreed, but only verbally (it was clear she didn’t want to put it in writing), and she said I’d have to cover travel. Which I’ve been doing—it’s still worth the cost to me as cheaper to pay to travel than to live in CA. But if it’s not permitted to do it that way in CA, I’d love to know.

    1. Preppy6917*

      I’m neither an attorney nor an HR professional, but my very large and very well known California-based employer has this policy in place as well. I suspect you’re out of luck.

  29. Miel*

    Fwiw, one of my coworkers got a deal to work remotely, plus the company funds his travel back to the home office once a month. He’s very good at his job, so I’m guessing the management was eager to keep him when he relocated because of his spouse’s job. This arrangement was set up just before COVID.

    1. Miel*

      I should add: in this person’s case, it’s pretty important to be in-person regularly because the work he’s doing involves testing prototypes in the lab.

  30. Work From Homer Simpson*

    We went remote for covid and then my company gave an option for people to stay remote permanently. I jumped at the offer since I really wanted to be back in the smaller town I consider “home” that is a couple hours from the city the corporate office is located in. My company is notoriously cheap on some things (like not providing free coffee in the breakrooms) so it came as no surprise to me at all when they told me a condition of continuing to work remotely would be covering my own travel expenses for times I do need to come to the office. In theory they want me there quarterly for department meetings (although the meetings haven’t resumed in-person yet), plus maybe an occasional special meeting with clients. It is pretty silly for me to drive over for the day for the quarterly meetings since about a third of our department is spread across various satellite offices and has always attended the meetings virtually, but even if their reasoning is a bit ridiculous, it is totally worth the tradeoff of an occasional long day of driving in order to live where I want, be able to see my significant other every day, not deal with city traffic daily, etc. Even if I lived further away and had to cover airfare and a hotel, it would probably still be worth it. I do think that someone in this scenario would be totally justified in asking to have their expenses covered, and I think that will likely become a more common practice in the future as companies adjust to the new realities of remote work and start to compete to recruit and retain remote employees. If the remote employee in question here is happy and doesn’t want to rock the boat, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. If they’re less than satisfied or would be interested in at least opening the conversation up again, then that’s totally fair too. I think it boils down to that the LW should talk the employee and support her in either case. If the LW is really bothered by this but the employee isn’t, they could still suggest a policy change to management without ever dragging the employee into the conversation. Frame it as updating (or developing? Sounds like maybe the current arrangement is informal?) the remote work policy in order to be more competitive in the current labor market.

  31. Vgw*

    I don’t get what the issue is. THIS WAS THE DEAL — yes you can not come into the office any more but we need to see you 4 times a year.
    It would be like if you worked out a deal where you got an extra week of vacation instead of a raise in year X, and then later on arguing you should get a double raise because you didn’t get one last year.
    If she wants to argue that it shouldn’t be necessary anymore, then it’s ok to have that discussion and see where things stand now.

    This employee got a perk, and there were requirements as part of that perk.

  32. AngryOwl*

    I’ve never heard of a company not covering mandatory travel to offices for remote folks (I’ve worked fully remote for almost a decade, at 4 companies). The very idea is bananas to me.

    OP, if I were you I’d ask the employee how she feels about it. If she doesn’t care, leave it. If she’d like the travel to be covered, look into it.

    1. The OP*

      employee is annoyed by it, because she did agree to the deal — but once she learned how pointless the trips are, it started to grate. plus, it has implications for how we deal with others who travel: the norm is that we pay for our own travel to offsite locations, which I think is messed up. it’s a separate issue, but related.

      1. AngryOwl*

        In that case, I would start asking about this policy and figuring out if I had any leverage to change it. I realize all industries are different, but the not paying part is very outside of norms to me.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        Did I read that right? You are expected to pay for business travel? That’s… something. I’m surprised you are able hire and keep staff.

    2. Stevie*

      Maybe it varies by type of company or organization? I had a colleague at my old job who became remote pre-pandemic, and this was the exact same arrangement he had. I actually didn’t even know that *wasn’t* the norm. My old job was at a non-profit (trade association).

      1. AngryOwl*

        It’s very possibly non-profits have different rules. But outside of that, I would heavily judge a company making someone pay for required travel to any office.

  33. mlem*

    If the only reason she’s traveling is because “the boss likes to see people in person”, then it’s unethical to make her make that trip.

    1. The OP*

      that’s my point: there’s no actual need for her to travel. It’s just that the boss likes it.

  34. Sarita*

    I work in an industry where “commuting” is very popular. My boss’s wife (different company, same industry), lives in DC suburbs and flies to LA to work. I know people who fly in, stay a couple of nights, and fly out weekly or they did pre-Covid. All of this was on their own dime. I look at this a bit like that. But in this market, given the competitiveness of an employee’s skillset, I would hate to loose someone over $5k a year in travel costs.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Done that (literally DC to LA). Company covered the costs up until they decided it wasn’t worth it and stopped asking me to come.

  35. Tee 3*

    Clearly it wasn’t the boss’s idea for her to go remote. Her choosing to move away shouldn’t cost the company more money. Had she quit and moved, she simply would have been replaced and the company would’ve moved forward with a new local employee. And, the now-remote employee would’ve surely just found local work in her new locale.

    The boss accommodated her wish to remain in their employ, and surely it was of great benefit for her – even paying her own travel costs – or she would’ve just resigned, relocated, and found something new. If she isn’t happy with the arrangement now, she can certainly be an advocate for herself and try to renegotiate.

    I think it’s unwise to assume that there is no reason for her to have to report in four times a year. It’s possible that the manager is assessing some things that require her presence, and that employees themselves aren’t likely to be aware of.

  36. Graeme*

    Why is the OP asking this question? Is the employee unhappy about the arrangement they previously agreed to, or otherwise expressing displeasure about the job that you think might go back to this arrangement? Because the letter doesn’t read like that, it reads like the OP trying to fix something they think is unfair without the involvement of either party. And I’m concerned that’s going to poke the hornets nest and cause resentment one way or the other for no real reason.

    If the employee has an issue with this arrangement then they can discuss it with the OP and have an alternative deal put on the table as part of the next annual review (ironically, probably in person!). If the boss has an issue with the arrangement then it’s on them to come up with a deal the employee is happy to take instead of what’s currently in place. If boss and employee are both happy and it’s just OP in the middle stewing, I think you’re only going to cause disruption by trying to change this for no real reason.

  37. Everything is (not) Fine*

    So far in the comments I haven’t seen my perspective yet, so I’ll add my two-cents. This is industry specific but might help.

    I worked in mining for a number of years, in mining camps that were not accessible by road (literally middle of nowhere, the only way in or out was by plane). The company chartered planes that departed from two specific “home” airports (near large urban centres) that flew into/out of camp on certain rotation days. Everyone working there had to pay their own way to get their “home” airport. So as a worker, you had a choice: you could live in the urban centre, and only pay for a taxi to get to the chartered plane, or you could live somewhere else and pay for flights (and usually a hotel room for a night – charter flight left too early to fly in on a redeye). Some people I worked with would fly 12-18 hours to get back to their houses, but it was worth it to them not to uproot family, plus they were in a very low COL area. The company I worked for couldn’t afford to pay for everyone’s plane tickets, but there was another mine in the area that might have been able. However, a company probably wouldn’t do that as it would penalize those who chose to live close to the “home” airport (you would get more benefit by living farther away).

    I realize it’s not the same, because my work at the mine had to be in person and everyone coming to the mine was in the same boat. However, right now you’re only dealing with one person who is remote. There could be a time in the future, where things have changed and you have multiple people working remote, and from farther away than this person.

  38. Erin*

    FWIW, the federal policy (pre-COVID) was along the lines of your company’s current policy. Live where you want, but you have to come in regularly on your own dime. Post-COVID they are reevaluating, but I suspect remote workers who do not regularly come into the office will have their salary adjusted to where they live, instead of the home office location.

  39. Ollie*

    I saw this and had to comment on it. My husband and I moved to Florida for a new, very well paid job. He got a job as well and we depended on both salaries. Ten years later his company went out of business. he had seen it coming and had been looking but it was the height of the recession and there was nothing to be had. He got a job in our home state, Virginia where he was able to live with his mother. I stayed in Florida and worked. After about three months in my boss asked me what my plans were and I very tentatively said, what if I worked from home? While at that office we worked three days from home and two in the office, full time remote just wasn’t a thing. When the approval came from above for me to work from home 800 miles away it came with the stipulation that I would come down to Florida 4 times a year at my own cost I excitedly agreeed. I was a very special case and they didn’t have to do that. I did that for five years. When my boss retired the new boss decided that I didn’t need to come down as often but I still went down at least two times a year. I was glad to do it for the ability to keep my job and I would never have asked them to pay for my travel. When I came down for my retirement party they paid for my hotel. Aside from letting me leave early on Friday for the trip home that was all they paid for my travel. And I was grateful!

  40. Wait_WhatDidYouJustSay*

    I have seen this before. When staff ASKED to be allowed to work remotely, and it was seen as more for their convenience than any discernible benefit to the company, they often paid their own way when they needed to be in the office. It was basically a “look you asked for this, you eat it” kind of (albeit not so meanly stated) attitude. Employeed who were hired right off the bat as remote workers, or who were hired specifically for a designated location outside of the main office, DO get their travel reimbursed when called into the office, so I see it as sort of depending on how, why, and who initiated the remote work agreement.

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