director secretly hired her daughter’s boyfriend, dealing with a needy customer, and more

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

1. Director secretly hired her daughter’s boyfriend

I recently found out a former director hired her daughter’s boyfriend but went to great lengths to hide it from me (the CEO) and their team for over two years. The boyfriend was originally hired on a short-term contract through a wage subsidy program and there was no formal recruitment process. The boyfriend reported to the director before being assigned to another manager, and the director became the grandboss of the boyfriend. They were in the same team throughout the boyfriend’s employment. From all accounts, not just the director’s, the boyfriend performed well. But still.

I signed off on the director’s recommendations for the boyfriend’s contract extensions, promotions, salary increases, and bonuses but had no idea of the relationship. We only found out when the boyfriend resigned and the director revealed it to a colleague.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any kind of policy around hiring family members or friends. But is a boyfriend relationship perhaps different than a son-in-law relationship? I don’t think it meets the usual strict definition of family. Still, I would have thought that someone in a senior leadership role would have wanted to ensure there was no conflict of interest or perceived conflict and would have revealed the relationship prior to hiring.

And what about the boyfriend himself? Did he have a duty to disclose? It seems that he and the director decided they would not share this information. The team was blindsided when they found out who his girlfriend was.

Going forward, I know we need a nepotism policy that outlines what kinds of relationships need to be disclosed and who can report to whom. However, would a girlfriend/boyfriend of an adult child of an employee fit into the kinds of relationships that would be covered by such a policy? Or is this something that a conflict of interest policy might cover? We don’t have that either.

I also feel like the standard for the duty of care for the organization that a senior staff member (who also had HR in her portfolio) holds should be higher. I expect more from a senior leader but should we also spell that out?

Yep, you need a nepotism policy and a conflict of interest policy. You’ll never be able to spell out absolutely every situation that might arise under either of them, but after naming specific categories (parents, siblings, etc.), you can include language like “and other close, personal relationships that could raise concerns about bias or favoritism.” You can also include, “If you’re unsure whether a situation could fall under this policy, we expect you to proactively raise it for consideration.”

And yes, a senior staff member (particularly one overseeing HR!) should be expected to have raised this on her own without a written policy … and if she went out of her way to conceal it, that’s a big enough red flag about what else might have happened on her watch that it’s worth digging in to see what else might be there. (In fact, even if she didn’t go out of her way to conceal it and instead it just never occurred to her as a potential issue, that’s a different kind of problem, and also might indicate a need to dig around further.)

The boyfriend himself is far less culpable. He’s likely to have assumed the director knew what she was doing and disclosed whatever she needed to disclose. The director is the one who bears the fault here.

2. How to deal with a needy customer when I answer the phones

I work for a company that ships goods out to other companies to use in their machines. That is the type of thing that takes months if not years, with the supply chain the way that it is right now. Orders come in, they are processed, and then it can be six months to a year before materials are found, items are forged, and six months to a year beyond that for items to actually come to us to be sent to customers.

We have a customer who works with us on a yearly basis. At any time he may have four or five orders in the pipeline, but they aren’t overdue and they aren’t due anytime soon … and he will call us a minimum of every single day trying to get an update. There are no updates. He will disappear for a week or a month, but then invariably appear to annoy the same few people, long before he should be asking anything at all.

I am the front desk person in this situation and I only know about this customer because when he can’t reach his sales representative directly at their extension, after already emailing three separate times and often leaving voicemails, he will call me and demand to be transferred. It’s as if he doesn’t realize I’m transferring him to the same location that just chose not to pick up for him. Other times he will call and demand that I use a paging system that we don’t have, to get him a manager who he’s already tried calling. I can’t force my coworkers to answer their phone calls and deal with this guy, because they’re all much higher ranking than I am. But it’s really starting to grate on me that I have nothing to tell this person to get him to just … patiently wait.

We have thousands of other clients who have no problem waiting for their “your items have gone through production and will ship (when)” emails. I know we live in a world of instant gratification and overnight shipping on a lot of things, but the products we ship are not among those. There is no situation where this can be sped up for this customer.

What do I do about him? Do I tell him that people are avoiding him because of the frequency of his calls? Is there a script for this?

Some of this just goes with the territory when you’re on the front lines of the phones. There will always be annoying callers, and there will always be this particular brand of annoying caller, where a person struggles to accept the policies or timelines of the organization they’re doing business with.

I think you’re getting too invested in solving the problem of … him. He probably can’t be solved by you. It’s possible that his sales rep could try to solve it with a direct conversation — but it’s also possible his sales rep has tried that repeatedly, it doesn’t work, and this is what they’ve settled on instead. Do you know if they have? If not, you could certainly urge them to lay that out to him … but there are customers who are repeatedly told what timelines to expect and behave like this anyway.

Your company probably wants you to just continue handling him like any other caller — transferring him when he requests it, etc. If you think that might not be the case, you could check in with your manager to see if they have different guidance where he’s concerned. And if he’s abusive to you or takes up large amounts of time, that’s something you should raise with either his sales rep or your manager. But if it’s more just that it’s annoying, it doesn’t sound like it’s part of your job’s scope to try to fix that, and you’re better off detaching emotionally. Pretend it’s your first time hearing from him that month, if it helps, or that you don’t recognize him. But he’s not your problem to solve (again, unless he’s abusive or getting in the way of you doing your job, or unless your manager asks you to handle him differently in some way).

3. How to write an improvement plan for critical thinking skills

I manage a team of nine. Because the role is so specialized, we tend to hire people who don’t have much direct experience. We aim to find folks who have potential to learn the role and have the right temperament. My interview process includes problem-solving tasks, which has really helped to find those who have the right skills to be able to learn the position. There is intensive training, documentation, and shadowing available for new employees. By six months, team members should be handling their own clients, with assistance. It takes at least a year to learn the role.

Last year, for several reasons, we decided to prioritize experience over problem-solving skills when hiring. This hasn’t worked out. “Jane” has been in the role for about 10 months and it is becoming clear that she can’t handle this role. I need to craft an improvement plan for her, with the likely outcome either reassignment to a lower role in the organization or termination. Jane’s attitude and demeanor are friendly and, for the most part, professional.

I am having trouble writing the improvement plan. We need to set measurable, achievable goals, but when the problem is critical thinking, I’m not sure how to frame the goals. If she was coming in late or being rude to clients, I would know what to do. But I’ve already tried talking to her about “thinking things through” before deciding on an action plan, and I’ve walked her through my thought process in problem solving many times. She works with two other senior members of the team as well. She hasn’t been able to investigate situations, solve problems, or identify issues. She doesn’t seem to know how to think about a problem, and she has a difficult time determining what is a serious, urgent matter and what is not an issue. How do I write an improvement plan for critical thinking skills and problem solving?

Look at this language from your letter: “She hasn’t been able to investigate situations, solve problems, or identify issues. She doesn’t seem to know how to think about a problem, and she has a difficult time determining what is a serious, urgent matter and what is not an issue.” That gets to the heart of it, and that’s what you build the plan around.

For example, you could write that you need to see her:
* identifying issues like XYZ
* proposing and implementing solutions that quickly and effectively solve those problems
* correctly identifying and prioritizing serious, urgent issues

Another way to think about it: when you see someone who is displaying the necessary critical thinking for the job, what specific actions are they taking — and what specific outcomes are they achieving — that Jane currently is not? Write it around that. In particular, try to focus on outcomes — when someone is doing this job at the level needed, how are their outcomes different from Jane’s? Sometimes with certain types of work, that’s going to be the most effective way to capture it.

4. Should I tell a potential employer this is my last time applying?

There is a long-standing two-year program (not an internship, but I’m being purposefully vague) with a local company, and applications typically open up late summer. I have applied twice in the past; in 2021, when interviews were paused and no one was hired due to the pandemic, and in 2022, when I made it to the final round of interviews but ultimately didn’t get the job.

I want to apply for a third and final time this year. I’m comfortable with my reasons for calling it after three attempts — they’re not something I feel I need to get into here, but your typical life circumstances where the program would not make sense for me after a certain point in my career.

If I get an interview, should I tell the employer that this is my final attempt? It’s a little more complicated because I work with this company a lot in my role now, and I want to keep my good reputation. At the same time, I feel they should know that this is my last time applying for this job, and if they want to hire me, they should do it now. I obviously wouldn’t be aggressive or phrase it as an ultimatum, I’m just thinking more of a “heads-up” kind of way. Do you think this is worth mentioning, or should I keep it to myself?

Don’t mention it. There’s too much risk of it coming across strangely, and they don’t really need to know this is their final shot at hiring you — employers will always assume that if they pass on you this time around, you might not be available in the future. It’s pretty rare for employers to think, “Eh, not this time, but we’ll definitely grab her up in the fall.” They know the risk they’re taking by not hiring you now is that they might not be able to hire you later.

5. Payroll messed up my taxes — who pays to fix it?

The company I work for employs an external agency to complete payroll for myself and the other members of my team. Both the company and the external agency that performs our payroll are located in the same state, but our team works remotely and none of us live in the same state as either the company or external agency.

We recently discovered that the agency has been making errors in our state taxes for all but one member of our team. The agency has been taking taxes for the state in which it and the company are located; an accountant one of the team members hired for her personal taxes advised her the agency should have withheld taxes from the state in which each of us resides. This team member had to pay thousands of dollars in back taxes to her home state and now has to wait months before receiving thousands of dollars she mistakenly paid to the company and agency’s “home state” — all thanks to the external agency’s error. The agency has not been apologetic at all about the error.

Other team members are wondering if our one team member’s accountant is correct and we all need to hire our own accountants to review our taxes. For some of us, this would mean an error going back several years; for others “just” one year. The agency advised each of us to simply call each state’s treasury department, but I am wary of accepting tax advice from whatever random person answers the phone. Isn’t fixing this the agency’s responsibility? Or, if they can’t file the necessary paperwork on our behalf, do they have a responsibility to reimburse us for extra funds expended to hire professional help to resolve this complex mess? I am no good at numbers, the company we work for will not pay for the external agency’s error, and I am very concerned about all the money involved in this mess.

That is a major, major thing for a payroll company to mess up; it’s so fundamental to their line of work. The fact that people owe taxes to the state they live in is so basic that it’s pretty shocking that they messed it up, and messed it up for so many people. And then for them to not even be apologetic about it is just ridiculous.

Unfortunately, though, it’s pretty standard for companies not to cover the costs of fixing this kind of error. The assumption is that you should be reviewing your own paystubs and making sure they’re correct — and that if you don’t do that and an error is discovered later, they’re not accountable for not catching it earlier. It’s pretty normal that you’re getting stuck with the burden of that (although that really sucks, obviously). It would be a good will gesture for your company to pay for you all to get help with it … but not one I’d expect.

For what it’s worth: You don’t need an accountant to look at it to tell you that you do definitely owe taxes for the state in which you were living while performing the work. That’s the way the tax laws work in all 50 states (excluding the small number without state income tax). You’ll be able to file for a refund from the state to which you mistakenly paid taxes for that time, but — as happened to your colleague — it’ll take a while before that money is returned to you. You might choose to hire an accountant to do the refiling for you, but you can also do it yourself if you’re comfortable filling out the two states’ forms yourself.

{ 518 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    #5 might also be responsible for late payment penalities to the state they live in.

    But I also don’t understand how this wouldn’t become evident when you filled your state tax return in previous years.

    1. Tilly Bean*

      Yes, I don’t understand how this didn’t get noticed in year 1 upon the filing of state tax returns? I get not checking your paystubs. But, did multiple people file individual income taxes in the wrong state? Feels like something is missing.

      1. cabbagepants*

        I agree. Unless this company also filed your taxes for you or supplied incorrect W2s — which is another kettle of fish entirely.

      2. Thatoneoverthere*

        I don’t know the ins and outs of this, bc it wasn’t me. But a former co-worker of mine had their taxes calculated incorrectly by the company we worked for. The company admitted fault to her. However she was still getting taxes taken out, just not the right amount. She didn’t really think to check the amount being taken out. She ended up owing quite a bit of federal taxes.

        1. doreen*

          It’s easy not to notice a mistake in the amount withheld withheld. But I don’t understand how someone doesn’t ever notice that taxes are being taken for the wrong state , not even when tax filing time comes and my W2 says taxes were withheld for NY (where the company is located ) not Massachusetts ( where I live and work). And if they noticed at filing time, I would think they would get it fixed then and it wouldn’t happen for more than one year.

          I also don’t know why someone would expect the company/agency to pay these taxes. It would be nice if the company advanced the money to pay the correct state to be repaid when the refund from the incorrect state comes in , and they should pay any penalty but ultimately the taxes are my responsibility and the company/agency didn’t keep the money that was withheld.

          1. MassMatt*

            I think we need to distinguish between the company (which LW works for) and the agency, who was handling the payroll.

            No, the company has no obligation here (other than to fire the incompetent agency), but this is the payroll agency’s fault and IMO they do have an obligation to fix it. Their negligence caused financial harm to the employees, and while it may not be worth a lawsuit, it would surprise me if a court wouldn’t see it the same way.

            1. Orora*

              I disagree. The agency doesn’t know the ins and outs of the company and its employees. They rely on the information given to them by the company. If the company tells them they only operate in Arizona, they don’t have the authority to tax elsewhere, especially if the company is not registered to do business in that state. There is literally no way for the agency to collect taxes in New Jersey if the company doesn’t have a tax ID for New Jersey. This is on the company.

              At most the agency could (but are not obligated to) tell the company that the employee addresses don’t match the work state for taxes. But having mismatching addresses is not uncommon — maybe the employee is a student who wants their W-2 to go to their home address. The employer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the employee is taxed correctly, and the employee is ultimately responsible for paying their taxes correctly.

              I work in HR and have used multiple payroll companies. They are clear that they can only do what you tell them.

          2. MaryB*

            I don’t think they’re looking for the agency to pay the back taxes. My understanding is that they want the agency to cover the cost of an independent accountant to review and refile the taxes correctly.

            1. ScruffyInternHerder*


              And FWIW, I would consider this to be a minimum requirement for this agency.

          3. Bibliothecarial*

            *raises hand shamefacedly* I moved from one of those states that didn’t have income tax to one that did and neither I nor my tax preparer (from my old state) noticed for a couple years that I was supposed to file and pay in my new state. Whoops. Paid a penalty for that! Were I the one in the letter, I’d have assumed the payroll company knew what they were doing better than I do.

            1. Cmdrshrd*

              I am curious was it in a close multistate area? I can understand a bit more if it was in a multistate area where people are commuting between states and could see it slipping if the move was only 20/30 minutes across the border in the “same area.” If it was a longer move, I think it was as much your “old” tax preparer for not saying now that you are in x state you should use or consult an x state tax preparer because I am not experienced in x state returns/tax laws.

              1. No Tribble At All*

                Yeah, there are some multistate areas (MD/VA comes to mind) that so many people live in one and work in another that the states have an agreement that you only have to file taxes in one.

            2. SpaceySteph*

              Spent my whole working life in Florida and then Texas… both states without income tax. I just this summer moved to another state that does have state income tax and I’ve been exceptionally paranoid since I got here about state income taxes, having never paid them before in my life. I’m putting away as much money as I can in savings in preparation for getting slapped with who knows what kinda taxes next spring.

              1. Rubber Ducky*

                You are wise to be paranoid. I live in a state with one of the highest income tax rates in the country and OUCH.

            3. Avery*

              If it helps, you’re not alone. I used to work remotely for a company in Florida, where they don’t have income tax, but I was located in another state, which did have income tax. Only at tax time did I notice that they hadn’t taken state income tax out of my paystubs. So in my case, the company payroll didn’t catch the issue!

              1. Reluctant Mezzo*

                I’ve run into this one since I live close to the border of two states with quite different state taxes. A client worked in one state and lived in another. They were somewhat disconcerted to learn they would have to file returns for both states, and that the credit they got for the taxes withheld for the state they lived in, which they thought adequate for the state they worked in, wasn’t. Did they listen to me when I advised them to change their withholding? I sure hope so!

                1. LikesToSwear*

                  I had quite the surprise after my first full year working in one state and living in a different state. They do not have a reciprocity agreement, and taxes in the state I worked in are higher than the state I live in. Submitted a new w4 with a request to withhold extra for state taxes as soon as I found out I owed!

            4. Bob-White of the Glen*

              As a tax preparer I would be paying any interest and penalties that my client incurred because I did not file their state taxes. (And in fact, am doing so right now as I missed that a client who has a rental property in another state went positive on that rental. Darn refinancing and increased rents!) I don’t pay the tax they would have owed anyway, but the penalties are all on me. If your tax preparers does not stand behind their work this way, you need a new one.

              1. Jack Russell Terrier*

                Right – my tax preparer did this. He messed up something on Federal Income tax and I paid the amount owed to the IRS and he paid the penalties.

          4. Observer*

            It’s easy not to notice a mistake in the amount withheld withheld. But I don’t understand how someone doesn’t ever notice that taxes are being taken for the wrong state , not even when tax filing time comes and my W2 says taxes were withheld for NY (where the company is located ) not Massachusetts ( where I live and work)

            Yes, this is a significant difference.

            I also don’t know why someone would expect the company/agency to pay these taxes.

            Not so much to pay the taxes, but any penalties.

            The payroll service messed up, so there is some responsibility on their part and on the part of the company that hired them. Of course, that may not be the law, so the OP would be best off consulting an accountant.

            1. Orora*

              If the payroll service was told by the company to tax everyone in a certain state, they did not mess up. If the company didn’t register to deduct income tax in every state in which they have an employee, that’s on the company. The payroll service can only operate with the information given to them by the company.

              1. Rick Tq*

                The payroll company did what your payroll clerk told them to do. This error is an internal problem IMO, your payroll department needs training and improvement.

        2. Scully*

          Lol, are you a former colleague of mine? My previous employer made a mistake on my W4 when I was hired. My checks looked off and I asked about it thrice, repeatedly being assured that all was correct. Until I filed my taxes. Which is when I found out that I owed 14k.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            How did you go about handling that situation, I’d you don’t mind talking about it?

            1. Mid*

              Not the same person you asked, but some states will allow you to pay in installments to correct a tax issue, or offer a payment extension. Some will also allow you to withhold part of your paycheck (like an optional garnishment) to pay off your back taxes. And sometimes, you can offer to settle for a smaller amount if you can pay it in full, but that’s usually if your taxes weren’t unpaid due to a hardship. But it really depends on your state. Some people take out loans to pay the bills or put them on a credit card. There are also tax-relief companies you can work with, though some are predatory and a lot of them seem to deal with businesses rather than personal tax issues. (At least that’s my understanding from helping out a relative who had some tax issues two years ago. They had hired an accountant to file their taxes and it was done incorrectly for about 5 years before the issue was discovered.)

              1. Bob-White of the Glen*

                Or just file the amended return in the state you mistakenly paid taxes to, and file the correct return (not amended, you never filed in the first place), once you have the refund in hand.

              2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                This, work out an offer in compromise (or whatever your state’s equivalent is) or a payment plan. You can also request them to waive or reduce penalties. Some states may only give hardship exceptions, but at least the IRS will waive penalties if you have a solid explanation.

                All of these taxation agencies are understaffed. They spend a lot of time dealing with folks who legitimately don’t have the income to pay their tax bills, or those who have just decided they aren’t going to pay for whatever reason. If you have some sort of income and some willingness to pay, they will work with you.

            2. Scully*

              I’m afraid I don’t have a satisfying answer to this. I gave notice a week before the tax issue became clear (when I started my filings), so there was even less incentive for the company to do anything. When I brought this up to the person who misfiled my W4 (the CFO!) the response I got was “well, at least that money isn’t missing, you did get it” which, thanks? I guess? He couldn’t even bring himself to apologize. That was my last week at that company. I filed my taxes and wrote a big fat check to the IRS.

      3. Snow Globe*

        I’m guessing they got a W2 showing income in the state in which the company is located, assumed that was correct so filed their return in that state and didn’t file a return in the state that they live in.

        1. Heather*

          I wondered about that too, but wouldn’t that break down very quickly? one of the first questions my tax software asks is “have you been a resident of (state) all year?” If the LW used a tax preparer or a software it must have come up, and LW doesn’t sound like they’d enjoy doing their taxes by hand. I really don’t understand how this could slip between the cracks for several people for several years.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I kind of agree, but I also have to tell my tax software each year that I don’t actually need to file both returns where I live in one state and work in the other, based on my understanding of the reciprocal agreement between the two states.

            On the other hand, I do look it up each year before telling the tax software to buzz off, so I would have caught a mistake like this.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Generally you don’t have to pay state income tax twice so if you earned income in another state and paid that, then your home state would deduct that from what you owe. It sounds like overall the correct amount of tax was being paid, but it was not correctly being paid in the state where the income was earned. The various state departments of revenue would have no way of knowing the work wasn’t actually done in the state where the tax was withheld so it makes sense to me that this wouldn’t have spiked out as an error to anyone if none of the employees knew that it was wrong.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              I think this depends on the income tax rates in the relevant states. I assume the payroll company was withholding taxes at the appropriate rate for the state the company is based in. If the home state has higher tax rates, oof.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          A few years back I filed federal income tax but not state taxes in my state of residence (complicated reasons involving income in multiple states and a marriage that was only semi-recognized federally at the time) and I got a letter from my state tax authority saying, basically, “um, are you sure you don’t owe us anything? Please explain.” Now that I think about it, it happened again when I moved out of that state and had income in one state but not the other.

          I don’t think all states are set up to do this, but if OP’s colleagues are spread across multiple states then I’m a little surprised none of the states caught the problem before now.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            I’m not. I didn’t know a one-time check I received from the state needed to be filed on my tax return. I ended up getting a letter saying I owed taxes for filling out the paperwork incorrectly. No problem there. But it took them nearly four years to send me a notification that I made an error and so I also owed interest. If they had notified me sooner, my bill would have been much smaller.

            I’m not surprised even slightly that it is taking them years to catch this. These agencies aren’t exactly efficient.

        3. emmelemm*

          That makes very little sense, though. You live in a state. You know that you should be filing *something* regarding taxes in this state, the one which you live in.

          (I mean, actually, I don’t know this, because I live in one of the states without state income tax. But I assume that filing a state return is one of those things that you’ve been doing since you started working.)

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I think most people know they should file some sort of state taxes, but if you live in one state and work in another it’s not obvious to everyone at first glance what taxes get paid to which state. If the payroll company withheld taxes in one state but not the other, I can see some employees just assuming that the company knew what it was doing, especially if they’re young or have never worked for a company in a different state before.

            Still seems weird to me that if this affected multiple people that it took years for someone to notice, but I can easily see how a given individual might not know.

      4. Allura Vysoren*

        This is what I was thinking too. I had something similar happen to me at my first job where payroll failed to take local taxes out of my check for over a year (despite the fact that I lived and worked in-office in the same county so it should’ve been a no-brainer) and ended up having to pay hundreds of dollars when I filed.

        Even if you don’t check your paystubs, how does almost an entire team of people not notice the WRONG STATE listed on their W-2?

    2. Lurker*

      LW #5 if you are concerned about if you owe money/ how much you owe it would be worth it to hire an accountant for a few hours to look over your stuff if you can afford it. If you do end up owing money and you can’t pay it all at once a lot of states and the IRS will work with you to pay them back. Ultimately they want to get paid and they don’t wanna spend time and money chasing you so you can often settle for less than you actually owe. Or even just settle for what you owed but not have to pay late fees. The key is to work with them and not try to hide the mistake. At the end of the day they want their money and they would rather get less from you and not have to spend time/money chasing you, then get nothing.

      1. WellRed*

        I don’t think they can afford NOT to seek professional advice at this point. It will be worth it.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Yes, if this issue is really going back several years (adding with other commenters: !!!), an accountant will be a good use of money. They can find the scope of the issue, help you file the right forms, and even help negotiate payment plans if needed.

        2. Lilo*

          Agreed. OP needs to pay for an accountant.

          It’s possible they can negotiate a payment plan with the state they owe to, so they can pay after the refund from the other state comes in. But they need a professional to help with that.

      2. mondaysamiright*

        Yep, yep! I live in Indiana and our revenue agency has something called a Taxpayer Advocate Office that helps people in unusual situations/that have experienced financial hardships resolve their tax bill. If you can find the equivalent of that group with your state, reach out to them (after getting advice from a professional), let them know what happened, and that you want to make it right, but are concerned about your ability to pay the full amount. They might be willing to waive some of the penalties and interest or at least get you set up on a payment plan. Every state’s different, so I’m sorry if yours doesn’t have anything like this. But this is what I’d advise you to do if you were here!

    3. Malarkey01*

      I would second the need for an accountant. I’m a state line commuter and understanding the laws for those two states (reciprocity agreement? Double filing? You’re going to have different tax liabilities) and whether that means you owe money and therefore interest and penalties is going to be messy. In many states as soon as you file you’re going to trigger some audits or extra review so it’s worth some help to avoid owing more (and some states will waive penalties or reduce them if you provide explanations which an accountant could help with).

      1. Hannah Lee*

        There’s also sometimes credits/ offsets that come into play when taxes were paid to one jurisdiction instead of the other. It wouldn’t change the overall amount due to whoever, but it might help get penalties waived and in negotiating a payment plan with the state taxes are due to.

        Agree with Alison that this is a huge issue with that company that handles payroll. One of the main reasons my small company uses a payroll processing service is to make sure taxes get handled correctly including across jurisdictions. I sanity check the reports each period and confirm they’ve done quarterly filings, but I’m not an employment tax expert and rely on them to do it right … that’s what they are paid for.

      2. Lilo*

        I live in the DC area where cross-state activity is incredibly common (on a given day my spouse may work in all three jurisdictions) and we actually have little reminders from HR about it regularly.

    4. MM*

      I had something similar happen. After I left a company based in PA, they hired me back as a consultant type job but through the temp agency they used.

      So the company I was working for was based in PA. When I started this arrangement, I was living in NC, and after 3 months moved to FL.

      Turns out the temp agency (well known national company) was pulling out taxes for PA. We did not have access to pay stubs. When I questioned this, they acted like I was crazy for asking for them.

      I did figure it out at tax time. I attempted to get my money back from PA, PA refused without a written document from temp agency stating that the money withheld and sent to PA was a mistake. Temp agency refused.

      Also, NC demanded their money for the whole year, even though it was only three months that I lived there. NC would not accept that I moved, without a copy of the new state tax filing. Except I had moved to FL and we don’t do state tax filings in FL.

      So what happened was I paid state taxes for the whole time to PA, and NC.

      Let’s just say I quit that job. Also I could have perused, but lawyers cost more than the state taxes.

      1. Melonhead*

        If it’s not already, it should be illegal to refuse pay stubs to employees. That is unconscionable.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      But I also don’t understand how this wouldn’t become evident when you filled your state tax return in previous years.

      I have a hunch audits went up during the pandemic, especially of out-of-state remote work, as states started looking for more revenue. The way we’d filed for 8 years was no longer correct last year, and we ended up having to refile for refunds in one state and our tax professional negotiated away the penalties in the other state (with the concession being we paid everything back up front and waited for the first state’s refunds to reimburse).

      It was every bit the mess LW5 describes.

    6. KatieP*

      Perhaps LW5’s previous work experience is in a state that doesn’t have income tax? I’ve lived and worked in a no-income-tax state my whole life, and if it weren’t for my experience with multi-state payroll, I might not know what the rules were if I moved to another state.

      1. Cmdrshrd*

        “I might not know what the rules were if I moved to another state.” Not knowing the rules off the top of your head is understandable, but not looking into them is less so, or consulting with an expert about them is less so.

        1. Observer*

          Yes. And the tax authorities in the state are not going to accept that as an excuse. This is not some obscure issue that reasonable people have NO IDEA would even be a possible issue (like one of those bizarre laws you see on internet listicles – such as an Indiana law that apparently prohibits liquor stores from selling cold water or soft drinks.) Everyone knows that taxes come up once a year and they should also be aware that some states also have income tax. And it’s stupid simple to find out if your state of residence is one of those states.

          So, their argument is absolutely going to be “ignorance of the law doesn’t remove your responsibility.” Get hold of a *good* accountant who can get you squared away with the least amount of trouble. The fact that you are voluntarily straightening it out *should* help.

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Ok, a pure “I never bothered to check” won’t help you, but I would encourage anyone who made a legitimate mistake to try and at least make an argument, even if only for reduced/waived penalties.

            So long as LW5’s residence was on file with their company and the payroll company (as I am sure it was) and there were taxes coming out of their paycheck for SOME state, they have a solid argument that any penalties on the late/non-payment should be waived. LW5 isn’t a tax expert, they told their company “I reside here” and the company obviously knows where they work, and the company elected the wrong state. Note: a solid argument doesn’t mean it will definitely be successful, but worth trying.

            A Note to the Note: This is NOT the same as an employee not updating their HR file once they move, or an employee not noticing that their address was never updated on their paystub. Or the paystubs clearly indicating that no state taxes have been taken out. All of those scenarios fall pretty firmly into the “this is on you, bud” camp.

    7. Another Taxpayer*

      I filed the paperwork with my company for both the state where I work, and the state in which I have a permanent residence. There is no reciprocity agreement between them. Payroll withheld my taxes for my state of residence but not where the work was performed even though I filled out the forms for both states. Fortunately, they caught it after a couple of months. They want me to file a new income tax form with the work-state with additional withholding to make up the difference.

      I’m in the process of relocating, so I won’t be a nonresident worker for much longer. My paystubs are online and I haven’t logged into that system after the first two pay periods, when I checked to see if insurance and 401k withholdings were correct.

    8. Helena Handbasket*

      This. I don’t see how this could have gone on for more than a year because the W-2 would show which state the taxes were paid to. Also, *sometimes* you pay state taxes to the state the business is in, not the state where you live. I lived in one state and worked in another for a decade, and paid taxes to the state in which the business was located and got a credit for that on the state taxes where I lived. I had to file a return in both states (and it was a pain in the butt).

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I took from OP’s letter that they and the other employees basically didn’t know it was incorrect that their income taxes were going to the company’s home state rather than their own. So even if the W2 was clear on where the tax was going, they didn’t know it was wrong.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        If the employees in question worked in the other state and lived where they do, it might not have been wrong. My understanding is the issue in the letter is: these employees are remote, the employer knows they’re remote, so where they live is their work location. It’s potentially not weird for the employees to not realize it was supposed to go to the state they work in, regardless of where the company is. Ignorance isn’t an excuse, but they probably assumed the payroll company knew better than they did.

    9. HB*

      Not really responding to this comment, but just responding to #5 in general.

      This is actually a bigger problem than just the state not withholding taxes for the correct state.

      The company has to file W-2s with each state. The company is going to be liable for State Unemployment taxes for each of these individuals.

      Further, I actually had a client recently where the Partner in my firm corrected me when I tried to adjust the wages between two states (she had moved) according to when she’d actually moved which was different than what was reported on the W-2. According to him, you really can’t move wages from one state to another inconsistent with the W-2 because it’s a form that is filed with the state.

      This is a different situation because the W-2 is *so* wrong, but because this is a government filed form… it actually gives the LW a bit more cover than it would normally. Because if the LW files a return reporting wages owed in the new state, and not the former one, then the former one may actually question it.

      The correct thing to do would be to have the company amend the payroll reports and W-2s for all affected years, and then the employees would need to file amended returns reporting the wages to the correct state… which would be a pretty big mess.

    10. Overeducated*

      Something like this happened to me and while I caught it the first year I filed taxes, it went on for another year. Why? Well, I tried to changed my address in my employer’s online system for updating contact/location information and downloading tax forms and paystubs, but nobody told me (and there was no manual, website, or anything) that I had to fill out one specific form via email with HR for them to ACTUALLY change it for payroll. I thought the online system was…connected to something? But it wasn’t!

      I didn’t figure this out until after the NEXT year’s taxes were also wrong, so I had to file for a refund in the state where I did pay (which I still haven’t received), and pay in full for my state of residence at tax time. If OP has a similar experience, OP’s company and the payroll company may say it’s on OP to understand the process and get the right forms filed, so I would keep on it with emails and phone calls until you have a positive confirmation that it’s been corrected moving forward.

    11. Abogado Avocado*

      The employees may not have caught this because they live in states without personal income taxes (yes, we see you, Texas), but with other payroll taxes, such as worker’s compensation taxes. Thus, for those employees, who are not filing tax returns with their states, the fact that their employer paid payroll taxes to the employer’s domicile state and not the employee’s could easily be missed.

    12. Coverage Associate*

      I don’t think my pay stub or my W2 spells out the state name. I think it’s just the postal code. I have never lived in a state that starts with M, but I can see not catching MI v ME or whatever for awhile, especially because there are all sorts of other abbreviations on paystubs and W2s.

      I don’t know why the states didn’t catch it, but hey, the IRS admitted it lost part of my return and always takes months to process it even when they manage not to lose it, so I can see 2 under resourced states not catching it. (and if you don’t believe me about the IRS, have you ever filed a paper return as an injured spouse?)

    13. SbuxAddict*

      This is not tax or accounting advice and everyone should seek their own information. This is, honestly, not necessarily the agency’s fault. It is probably the company you work for who did this.

      I run a firm that provides tax and accounting services including payroll to clients. My system flags when en employee’s address is not in the same state where the client operates. I contact the client and tell them we need to sign up with OtherState. Many times, we explain the rules to the client and they do not want to pay to file in other states or they don’t tell us the people are in other states. They often argue the work is performed here and not there and that the employee commutes especially if it’s a state right next to mine.

      I cannot hold a gun to their head and make them follow my advice. I often will fire clients who ask me to do things like this because it is not right but not all agencies allow their employees to fire/turn down a client. The rule is we have to tell them the risks and correct way to do it but at the end, the company makes the decision about how to proceed. It is kind of like seeing a doctor – they may tell you to eat more vegetables but they can’t prevent you from picking up at KFC on the way home.

      Always always check your paystubs. Again, this isn’t considered tax and accounting advice or a client relationship. Do the math. Is your social security 6.2% of your gross after the pretax deductions? Is your medicare 2.45% of that same number? Are your pretax deductions coming out correctly? Are they taxing your reimbursements? Mileage? Do your federal/state amounts seem correct or too high/low?

      It stinks but the reality is the agency can only work off the information the company gives them.

        1. SbuxAddict*

          Stupid fat fingers on the phone. Yes! 1.45% and some love for actual keyboards. :)

      1. Orora*

        THIS. If the company gives the agency garbage information, the payroll output is going to be garbage. Not the agency’s fault.

    14. Observer*

      But I also don’t understand how this wouldn’t become evident when you filled your state tax return in previous years.

      Yeah. That was my second thought.

    15. Full Banana Ensemble*

      Yeah, it kind of surprises me, too, that no one noticed before this. I can kind of understand not knowing that you pay state taxes to the state you live in if you’re brand new to the workforce, but to get YEARS into a career before learning that? As someone else said, even if you’ve never worked out of state before, the self-preparing tax programs all ask about your residence, so that should have flagged it.

      At my previous job, we had an incident where HR changed payroll systems in July, and it defaulted to using the office address instead of our home address for W2s. It didn’t occur to anyone that this would be an issue, since the majority of the staff (and all of HR) lived in the same state as the office, but the few out of state remote workers discovered upon doing our taxes that year that we’d been paying the wrong state taxes for 6 months.

      No one had thought to double-check the paystub, because we’d been getting the correct taxes taken out for years, but we DEFINITELY noticed the first time we had to file after the change. The company was able to get corrected W2s issued, but that’s only possible if (a) you catch it early enough to get a new W2 by mail before April 15, and (b) you haven’t already filed your tax returns for that year.

      (You better believe that’s the first thing I check now when I start a new job. I learned my lesson.)

      In this case, I’d definitely want to talk to an accountant to figure out how to handle the back taxes from previous years. Sorry, OP – what a headache.

    16. We Don't Work in Oregon*

      This has happened to my husband every year for the past five years. Think he is physically based in one state, but his “seat position” is based in another, like 1300 miles away. So he pays state income taxes at a much higher rate than what it is in our state, and his huge major company can’t figure out a way to make it right in their payroll system. Thankfully, we are aware of this and I pay double income taxes for our home state, out of my wages, and then we need to file in both states. Our home, as the correct state, and then other other state, as an incorrect state. We need to provide proof that my husband does not physically work in that second state. It’s a PITA, and takes FOREVER (still waiting for our 2022 return now). But we eventually get our money back from the state we do not live in.

    17. Princess Sparklepony*

      Could it be that they saw the taxes being taken out of their check but didn’t know they were going to the wrong state? But wouldn’t the state that should have been paid have eventually said something when the taxes didn’t “balance?” But govt agencies are often short handed…

      Once long ago, I didn’t file taxes one year. I thought I didn’t make the minimum needed to file taxes. Turns out I made a couple thousand over the minimum. (It didn’t seem like anything you could live on to me!) The state contacted me and threatened legal action. I threw myself on the mercy of the office and they told me what I owed. It was like $50 in taxes and $300 in fines/interest. They didn’t buy my But I thought I didn’t make enough excuse. But they were on it within a year or two of the missed payment. I learned my lesson for sure.

      If it was me, I’d hire an accountant to make sure it was right and some one who is on the hook for any problems. The other option is to go to the state and ask for help but that puts you at the mercy of whoever you get assigned to. They may be perfectly competent and understanding or they could not be. It’s a risk.

  2. Labrat*

    …I live near a state line, so commuting from one state to the other is common. I thought the procedure is you file each year in both states–not to double pay, but so the state you work in knows not to come after you because you’ve paid another state. I could be wrong, but I’d consult an accountant, even if it’s just H&R Block or a similar company. Your taxes are likely to be more complicated throughout your employment.

    1. D*

      I also live near a state line and commute over it to work, and the one year I accidentally filled out the wrong state tax form, HR contacted me in like a week or two to go, hey, no, wrong one, redo it.

      1. Labrat*

        I’ve never commuted over the line, but I heard enough coworkers complain about it at tax time.

        I’m glad your HR was on the ball.

        1. LM*

          Typically you need to file a state withholding form with HR to tell them how much you want to have withheld for state taxes.

    2. Evergreen*

      Aren’t there some states where the laws about state taxes do hit the interstate commuter though? I remember that one state sued another over remote work tax assessments during the pandemic (though the Supreme Court decided not to hear that case).

      1. DataSci*

        Most neighboring states where people will frequently commute will have the reciprocal agreements – think of the NYC area, or the DC area. They won’t cover people working remotely from Wyoming to a job in California.

      2. doreen*

        Even if there isn’t agreement, ( NY and NJ don’t have one ) there will generally be some process by which you don’t pay taxes on the same income to both states. Usually either your State A income gets deducted form your State B return or if you pay $100 in taxes to State A, you get a $1000 credit on your State B return.

        1. adorkable*

          …it’s the worst.

          Spouse and I each work in one of NY/NJ. The year we moved from NJ to NY and neither of us changed jobs was a nightmare, even with an accountant.

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            Done this 3 times between these 2 states– always a bloodbath and always why I weirdly pre-emptively decide what date is a my “moved” date and what my rationale for deeming my residence to have changed is. I think I may just be constantly prepared for an audit.

      3. IrishGirl*

        NH sued MA. MA has a large number of NH people who commute in and NH has no income tax. All those people still ahve to pay MA taxes becuase they work here and there is no state tax they pay elsewhere.

        1. chocolate muffins*

          You may or may not know the answer to this question, but I’m curious why someone would need to pay taxes in a state they work in but don’t live in. The way I see it, taxes benefit the residents of the state – e.g., if I needed help from a state (like to afford food or housing or something), I wouldn’t be able to get that help from a state where I work but don’t live, right? Maybe these states actually do provide such benefits to employees, in which case I will change my perspective. But from my current view if I work in a state where I don’t live I benefit the state through my labor without deriving the same benefit from that state government as residents would, so it doesn’t make sense to me to ask people to benefit the state by providing their labor and to benefit that state again by paying taxes to it without getting anything back.

          1. Joron Twiner*

            Makes sense to me that “income” tax would go to the state where you make the “income”. In this case the tax is related to business, which is done in MA, so MA should reap the benefits of supporting businesses.

            Otherwise states that don’t have income taxes like NH are having their cake and eating it too. They don’t need to attract businesses themselves, but can get the money from business done in neighbor states.

          2. cabbagepants*

            You get a lot from the state where you work, though. Roads, building codes, and emergency service come immediately to mind.

    3. Old and Don’t Care*

      It varies based on whether the two states have a reciprocal tax agreement. Posting a link below that I would not rely on as gospel but gets the point across.

    4. Lady_Lessa*

      I, too, have lived and worked in different states, and being close geographically, H&R Block even had their computer system set up for the combo.

      I would have the LW consider them or a similar organization if going to an accountant is a high barrier. Also, make sure that the person who checks is experienced in taxes.

      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Sometimes H&R Block isn’t much of a bargain. So be a little aware of what an independent accountant would charge when going to H&R Block. I had them do my taxes one year – it cost $100 more than what my new accountant charged the next year. But Block reels you in with their $100 promises…

    5. lunchtime caller*

      Yes I’m a cross state commuter and in every company I’ve work for in state A, they only deduct state A taxes. It’s on me to get sorted with state B, the one I live in, come tax time. This is for companies where I am actually doing the work in state A though, which is likely a different situation than full time working remotely in my home state B.

    6. Kesnit*

      My wife and I live in State A. Until 2022, my wife also worked in State A. I work in State B. Both States A and B have state income taxes. Every year, we hire H&R Block to handle our taxes because of the cross-state issues.
      So I agree with other posters – how was this not caught after a year?

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Out of state remote workers don’t live in one state and work in another, they live and work in the same state.

    8. Bee*

      This is a different situation: the OP lives and works in the same state, but the agency that handles payroll is in a different state, and the OP has no tax responsibility or requirement to file in that state. It’s an understandable mistake for a normal person but an EGREGIOUS one for a company whose whole job is to handle payroll. (I had a remote side-job for a while that had the same setup.)

    9. JC*

      As some other posters mentioned, the procedure depends on the states involved. I currently live in DC and work in VA. They have a reciprocity agreement, and so I pay taxes to DC only. When I was younger I went to college in NY and my permanent address was in NJ. I had income from both states one year, and if I remember correctly I had to pay income tax to both states (and I think there was some kind of double payment to NY on my NJ income!). I don’t really remember that one, so I might be getting the details wrong, but it was definitely different than the reciprocity I experience in the DC area now.

      Incidentally, I have had issues with my state tax withholding being messed up by my employer in more than one state. Each time I caught it in the current year and so dealing with it was not difficult. One I caught on my first paycheck so the employer was able to reissue it. For the second I filed for a refund and included a letter from my employer about their oopsie.

    10. Calpurrnia*

      Oh this is interesting because I lived in VA and worked in DC for like 5 years and only ever paid/filed in VA. Nobody ever even mentioned the possibility that I would need to file in DC as well.

      I grew up in a state without personal income tax (NH) and the only time I filed any state taxes prior to the move to VA was a special “non resident” tax form for MA (confusingly, this was for the summer in college when I had a research internship in AZ and never worked a day in MA!)…. so I was extremely ignorant of how this is supposed to work!

        1. Calpurrnia*

          I see that now, but mostly I’m annoyed that I didn’t have any idea then AND it never occurred to anyone to bring it up. I never thought to research it and just assumed you pay tax where you live, period. Nobody in HR/payroll thought it was worth mentioning. When I filed my taxes with TurboTax it never mentioned it or brought it up in any way. I’m not sure how I would have found out except for reading comments on blog posts like this, years after the fact!

    11. Orora*

      Some states have reciprocity agreements when it comes to taxes. It’s worth looking at if your state does. If you’re in an area where cross-state work is common, payroll should be on top of it.

  3. Betty*

    RE #5: I worked for a company that neglected to take any taxes out of my paycheck, and when I went to file the following year, I owed a LOT. I was surprised and angry when the IRS person told me that, even though the company didn’t follow the law, I still had to come up with what I owed. They made it sound like companies that make these sorts of mistakes are generally not penalized. This was one of my first office jobs, so I didn’t know I needed to check my pay stubs. Thank goodness I started that job in October, so I only owed three months’ worth of income tax by the time I found out about the error.

    1. Not Australian*

      Same thing happened to me. When I was hired, the accountant asked me if I wanted to pay tax or not. I said I would like to pay tax, please. He ignored this and paid me off the books instead, and I was therefore liable for the tax a year later – when, fortunately, I was no longer working there. It was a toxic environment all round, so glad I got out when I did.

      1. MassMatt*

        You were asked not if you wanted tax withheld, but whether you wanted to *pay* tax?

        I’ve never heard of this even in jobs where working “under the table” is not uncommon, such as restaurants and bars.

        1. Betty*

          Right, and even if you don’t want tax withheld, you can’t just tell someone. You have to fill out and sign the form that asks about that (W4?).

        2. Alisaurus*

          In college, I interviewed for a job at a retail store. Being the personality I am and having the parents who raised me, I had a whole list of logistical questions for the owner interviewing me as soon as he mentioned payday was every week – IN CASH.

          “But you still give me a pay stub, right?”
          “Uh, no, you get paid in cash, not a check.”
          “But how do I know what taxes are taken out?”
          “You… don’t have to pay taxes.”
          “So how are W2s handled then?”
          “We don’t do those.”
          “So then how do I file my taxes?” (Yes, I was incredulous at this point.)
          “Well, most of my employees don’t, but I guess you could keep track if you wanted and then file them yourself at the end of the year? But I don’t recommend that.”

          Honestly, if I hadn’t also been slammed with classes and exams while also trying to find a job to pay my bills (and completely flummoxed by this guy), I would’ve had the energy to figure out where to report the guy. He basically was paying one full-time employee on the books and taking advantage of being in a college town to just pay broke college kids under the table.

    2. münchner kindl*

      I’m shocked that the burden is put on the employer: payroll and taxes are so complicated that company hires specialized accountants – who I thought had to pass exams to make sure they know their stuff and are qualified? – but then the company is not liable at all to fix their errors, let alone make up shortfalls that are caused by gross incompetence?

      If the average non-accountant employee should be able to catch problems when looking at the paystub, why does company need accountants at all?

      Also does state IRS not have a dedicated helpline – as opposed to “random person who answers the phone” – for taxpayer questions? Or at least a website?

      And can tax payers who were unknowingly screwed over not talk to state IRS and ask for an accomodation: to pay back the owned taxes in several parts, so they don’t go in the red until the repayment from other state arrives?

      1. PayrollSucks*

        I am in Canada, so it works a bit differently between provinces. But, most payroll companies (here anyway) do not employ actual experts to do payroll. The experts build the system and make sure everything is correct in the background of the program, but if the person actually doing the payroll doesn’t set it up properly that is what causes the issue. I see this a lot as I have worked for a few small companies and done their payroll, it was often set up incorrectly in the background, which is usually on the company you work for, not the payroll company. For example, I set up each new employee and their tax information even though the payroll company processes the payroll. So it is possible that it’s not on the payroll company and the employing company doesn’t want to admit it because of the cost of helping employees fix it. Not that that is ok!

        Just a note about tax experts, they wouldn’t normally deal with payroll for a company, never in my 20 years of work in accounting (with a side of payroll and HR sometimes) have I seen a company involve a tax accountant in payroll taxes, even at huge multi national companies.

        1. Colette*

          Yeah, I’m wondering if the payroll company even knew the employees were remote & where they were living – which would be on the employer, not the payroll company.

          1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            Having just changed payroll companies and also just on-boarded several new employees recently, all of these things are asked in payroll companies. Or should be, at least.

            1. Colette*

              The payroll company should ask, but they don’t necessarily have the answer unless the company gives it to them.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Employers *are* responsible for withholding federal taxes, and if your employer isn’t doing that, they could be reported to the IRS. In addition to withholding for income tax, the employer should also be paying FICA/Medicare, and if your employer isn’t withholding income tax, they probably aren’t paying FICA either. But the employee is still responsible for paying the full amount of their own tax, even if the employer failed to withhold correctly.

        1. Retired Accountant*

          Also, sometimes employees fill out their W-4s so they don’t have any federal tax withheld, and are shocked at tax time to learn they had no federal tax withheld.

          1. hbc*

            We had an employee who kept changing his withholdings based on his current (wildly fluctuating) financial situation. As in: withheld the max as a kind of savings account this pay period. Got shocked that his paycheck was so small and switched to zero withholdings within a month. Bragged about his skill to a friend who told him it would hurt in April so he switched it to something more reasonable. Then needed a little more income in for a while so switched back to zero “just for a couple of pay periods.”

            I cannot describe the look on the face of the HR person when he came complaining that he owed so many taxes. It was obvious to him that she was at fault because she didn’t remind him to put his withholdings back to where they should have been.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                Are you really, though?

                A friend of mine was working as a temp, so they worked a lot of gigs for a week or so. Sometimes the temp agency paid them and sometimes the company paid them directly. Friend says once that it is better when the company pays them because then they didn’t have to pay taxes on it. Confused, I asked for an explanation and they said, as though it were gospel, that if you don’t get a 1099 for money you earn you didn’t need to pay taxes on it.

                About 15 minutes of me trying to explain reporting thresholds, the personal exemption and standard deduction, and progressive tax rates later– nope, friend still insisted that they were completely correct that they didn’t need to include over 1/3rd of their income on their taxes.

          2. We Don't Work in Oregon*

            This happens so frequently at my work, that I tell new hires the same script “You are claiming 4 dependents/tax exempt/etc. This means you will have $0 in federal taxes withheld at the end of the year on your W2. I am not a tax advisor, nor can I give you tax advice. This is just something you need to think about, and not yell at me about come next January when you get your W2.”

        2. Lynn*

          That happened to my husband

          His current employer did not take out the required withholding taxes for several employees, including him

          He and the other employees owe the IRS the amount of withholding taxes that their employer did not withhold

      3. doreen*

        Also does state IRS not have a dedicated helpline – as opposed to “random person who answers the phone” – for taxpayer questions?

        The person who answers the helpline usually is kind of random – they’re assigned to answer the helpline but who you talk to is random among the people who might do that. And usually, it’s not the sort of situation where if you talk to Dave today, your issue will be assigned to Dave and you can speak to him if another related question comes up two weeks form now.

      4. Potatoes gonna potate*

        To address the last point: states and IRS do allow installment payments. so long as you communicate with them, they’re usually willing to work with you.

      5. Observer*

        Also does state IRS not have a dedicated helpline – as opposed to “random person who answers the phone” – for taxpayer questions? Or at least a website?

        They do. Also, a web site. The quality is not always great, so if something sounds too good to be true, double check.

        but then the company is not liable at all to fix their errors, let alone make up shortfalls that are caused by gross incompetence?

        Yes and no. The individual is on the hook, but so is the company. If they mess up the IRS can (and often does!) come after them.

        And can tax payers who were unknowingly screwed over not talk to state IRS and ask for an accomodation: to pay back the owned taxes in several parts, so they don’t go in the red until the repayment from other state arrives?

        Yes. Some agents are jerks and don’t tell you this. But the IRS does do that kind of thing on a regular basis. Especially if you can show that you weren’t trying to cheat on your taxes, but depended too much on your employer to do the right thing.

        This is the IRS site: https://www[dot]irs[dot]gov/payments/payment-plans-installment-agreements (replace the [dot] with an actual dot.)

    3. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      At a previous job, I was hired on about five years after the company had been bought out by a larger company in a different state. The out of state company used one of the large payroll companies to do their payroll and when they migrated all the existing employees over, they correctly set up everyone in payroll to have all the correct taxes taken out. However, everyone hired for FIVE YEARS after that (until me!), the local taxes were NOT taken out. I was hired in summer and the next year when tax season rolled around, the person who does my taxes came to me and said, “Um, WHAT?!” Fortunately, I only had to pay about $260 in back taxes for the half of the year I worked there. There were about 20 people in my company who had to pay up to 5 years worth of local taxes. We’re in a tri-state area, too, so double trouble with complications. Still boggles my mind how that wasn’t caught the first tax season after the merger. (And no, we were not offered any compensation for back taxes or professional help and yes, they kept the same payroll company going forward. But everyone hired after that tax season had the correct taxes taken out.)

      1. Retired Accountant*

        In my state companies are only required to withhold local taxes for the jurisdiction the company is located in. Many companies will withhold the employee’s jurisdiction of residence as a courtesy, but some will cheap out and make it the employee’s problem.

      2. Observer*

        And no, we were not offered any compensation for back taxes or professional help and yes, they kept the same payroll company going forward. But everyone hired after that tax season had the correct taxes taken out.

        This sounds like it was not the service provider at fault, but your company that couldn’t be bothered to set people up correctly.

        And your company should have helped you out. But of course, it’s unfortunately not surprising that they didn’t.

        1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

          It’s really baffling either way- the payroll company probably bulk added all the merged employees on at one time and that’s why those were set up correctly. The payroll company had an electronic onboarding system where you put in all of your info- including your address- so I assumed (along with my parent company and the division I worked for) that they’d be taking the correct taxes out for wherever someone lived. Theoretically, their software wasn’t checking addresses properly? That said…presumably someone at our corporate office should have matched their records after the first year and realized that something was off?

          It just all seems suspect that it happened for that long and NO ONE caught it. It didn’t seem like it created too much hardship amongst my colleagues, but I’m doubt anyone was thrilled it happened and I don’t know that anyone got in trouble.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      The company was wrong for not withholding your on paycheck correctly and they can definitely face punishment and fines for failing to do so correctly, but any fines they pay would be unrelated to the amount that you personally owe. At the end of the day it is you that owes the tax on your income so I guess I’m not following why you were surprised you still had to pay the taxes? I mean it’s a crappy situation and I would certainly be angry with my employer for messing that up–but the fact that an error happened would not erase the taxes due. (Often though you can work out some kind of payment plan to avoid having to carry the sudden burden of paying a ton of tax at once!)

    5. Avery*

      A variation of this happened to me. Job was located in a state that doesn’t have state income tax, but I was a remote worker located in a state that does. They didn’t take state income taxes out. I had to pay several hundred dollars in back state taxes come tax filing time. I was not happy.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t blame you. But this is why many companies don’t want to deal with remote employees in other states.

    6. Observer*

      They made it sound like companies that make these sorts of mistakes are generally not penalized.

      Oh yes they do!

      The IRS does *not* like companies that don’t withhold properly. Not at all. And they go after those companies.

    7. Velociraptor Attack*

      I had a job once that was only 35 hours a week (and I’d just come out of working on political campaigns so I was used to working all the time and hadn’t figured out that a work/life balance is a good thing) so I got a part time job at a large chain bookstore mostly subsidize the cost of buying books.

      Except it turns out I didn’t work enough hours for my paychecks to be high enough to have taxes withheld. I was young and didn’t bother to check my paystubs for the part-time job and that was an unpleasant surprise.

  4. GelieFish*

    We have a client that will call in the morning and then call in the afternoon to see if the reviews are done. He will come in daily. I’ve tried both humorously and seriously (without outright banning him) to be patient and we will let him know when it is ready. Others have as well. It won’t change. He thinks it makes us move quicker (honestly, it occasionally makes it slower). Nothing you can do with him unless your company wants to fire him as a client. (In my case, I know a related organization that did.)

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      This kind of client sounds like an utter nightmare! If I were the sales rep dealing with the client from LW2, I would tack on a huge fee to his next order. When he asked why the price went up, I’d tell him we calculated the employee time costs of dealing with his _daily_ phone calls over the months long fulfillment process.

      1. Sloan*

        Yep. I feel like we’ve all had *that guy*. I documented how many times he called/how much staff time and how much stress it was. Didn’t matter. And basically flat out saying his behavior made him go to the bottom of everyone’s to do list did nothing.

        Fortunately / unfortunately he finally crossed a line of rudeness/abuse to front line staff so higher ups gave us all permission to ignore him, he is only allowed to email/phone the Director.

      2. münchner kindl*

        Our solar parc did that! We were all equal share-holders (that is, different amounts of investment, but legally all equal) and of course had a right to ask the admin company detailled questions to make sure things were going right.

        But one guy had a problematic personality and badgered the admins with so many requests, many of which looked useless except to annoy them, that during the yearly general assembly, a new rule was announced along the line of “all members can ask questions of the admins; once they exceed 20 hours of working time per year, each hour the admins spend answering the question is charged to the member as x Euros.”

        1. Bagpuss*

          Yes, for the types of work my company does which are charged on a fixed fee basis there is an provision in the contract that expressly says we reserve the right to move to an hourly rate if the time spent on the matter significantly exceed the normal – in practice this tends to kick in if the value of the time logged is more than double the value of the fixed fee. Mostly, warning someone that they are getting close to the point where we will have to star charging and explaining that that means a charge for every email and phone call works.
          Most of my work is routinely changed on an hourly rate so I make sure to send an interim bill early on, and frequently after that, so they can see the costs (the bill breaks down to show the number of phone calls etc)

      3. Cat Tree*

        I’d be really tempted to tell him that if he’s unhappy with our timeline he should take his business elsewhere. Of course I wouldn’t actually say it but I would think it so hard.

        1. MassMatt*

          Problem customers that waste excessive time absolutely should be fired, though that’s a decision for the managers or owners.

          Sadly, many are spineless and let customers get away with (or worse, reward) bad behavior.

        2. learnedthehardway*

          The sales rep might be able to do that (with their boss and grandboss’s support, given that it sounds like these are very big ticket contracts), but the receptionist should definitely NOT make any waves.

          In fact, they should only raise the issue with the sales rep or their own manager – Definitely NOT with the client.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      I get this kind of caller occasionally in my job, and honestly, after a certain point there is simply nothing else you can do for them. Some of them are hardcore scammers who have no problem with investing a week’s worth of whinging for a free salad or similar, but others…just love to complain. They LIVE to complain. I think they really feels there’s some Platonic Ideal of pizza out there that everybody around them gets and they don’t and the universe has cheated them.

        1. sb51*

          Yeah. I had one weird year in college where I was officially living at my parents house in state 1, attending college in neighboring state 2 with a work study job, and did a summer internship in a third state bordering my parents’ home state. None of these locations were anywhere near the state borders, but since they had reciprocal agreements, I ended up not filing in my home state at all. (I was under a threshold of not having to file the few dollars of bank interest that was my only other income. I confirmed this with my state tax agency because it was so weird. I did have to pay municipal income tax on all of it in my home town, though…)

          I also had to, at the time, include a letter explaining I lived in a reciprocal state each year with my college-state return, because for some reason they just didn’t add a checkbox for that.

      1. Texan in exile on her phone*

        “whinging for a free salad”

        My husband’s father ate half of a Zaxby’s salad, then went back to Zaxby’s, got my nephew, who worked there at the time and was mortified, to the window, and demanded a refund.

        1. Eater of Hotdish*

          I was, for a time, a cashier at a food co-op with a salad bar. I had a customer come to my register from the wrong direction (i.e. skipping the line), holding up a mostly-empty plate with a few remnants of salad on it, but it had been mostly eaten. They informed me, in martyred tones, that there had been aphids on their spinach, but they ate it anyway. They pointed at what they said was an aphid, which looked an awful lot like a crouton crumb to me, but what did I know; I was just a cashier. They went on about how the deli staff should wash the greens more carefully, and passive-aggressively hinted that I should just give them a refund promptly or the place would never have their business again.

          Well, I couldn’t do refunds at my register anyway, so I brought them to the customer service counter and looped the deli manager in to discuss spinach-washing protocols, much to the salad-whinger’s dismay. The customer was comped for the salad in the end, but bitterly disappointed that the process took more than thirty seconds of yelling at the cashier who was getting paid $10 an hour.

    3. Cat Tree*

      One thing that might help is to mentally reframe it. Someone else gave me this advice once. As awful as the person is, you only have to deal with them for a set amount of time, but they have to be with themselves all the time. I think it’s especially applicable here. Imagine how utterly exhausting it must be to be so obsessed with this shipment that he calls every day for literally years, and often calls multiple times and multiple people when he doesn’t get immediate satisfaction. And I’m assuming that when he reaches the sales rep he doesn’t just accept the answer of “yep, still expected July 2024 just like the emails said”. He is probably futiley arguing with the sales rep with no success. Every day. For years on end. It sounds exhausting to be him. How does he have time or energy to get anything else done? LW can try being glad that they’re not dealing with all that nonsense beyond a few minutes a day.

      1. Armchair Analyst*

        it would be sad/funny if his friend or brother or minister (imagining someone obligated to hang out with him) was like, “hey, let’s hang out on Tuesday” and he was like, “no, sorry, that’s the day I check on my factory part for 45 minutes even though nothing ever changes and I have no effect on the process.”

        I mean, when you put it that way…

      2. Venus*

        I have reframed it by amusing myself with counting up the numbers of calls or redirects to see how mant times they can do it in a row. Change it from yet another call to “8 calls in 3 days?! New record!”

        1. ferrina*

          Yep. If the problem person is just annoying, not abusive, you can almost turn it into a bingo board. Called twice in one day? Check! Came in person? Check! Asked for a timeline they were given less than a week ago? Check! Bingo!

          It can also help to think of them as a character in a sitcom.

          1. AnonInCanada*

            What an awesome idea! Everyone who works at the CSR level gets their own Bingo board that they pay a token amount for, say $2. Whoever’s first to fill it wins the pot! It would definitely lighten up the aggravation this guy’s giving them.

            1. Quill*

              Other bingo squares – called from an unsuitable location (Background noise very bad during the call) – called back in under an hour for “and another thing” – Assumed that they could get answers without confirming their information

            2. Venus*

              I think AAM’s best use of this concept was the person who suddenly decided to have an accent and Alison suggested that OP enjoy the spectacle. So much of life would be better if we could frame quirks that way! I had the same idea years ago with an elderly relatively who complained constantly so the rest of us would see how many different complaints she could think up during the short drives around town.

      3. Betty*

        This reminds me of a situation I ran into yesterday. The road we were on has one lane open for construction, so you could go east, but westbound was closed, with plenty of signs. When we got to the end of the closed part and were trying to turn into another street, all traffic was blocked because of a car sitting in the intersection. The driver was arguing with the cop about being allowed to drive down the blocked street. The cop gestured to the multiple signs several times. And we all just sat there at a green light waiting, incredulously. Why was the cop even participating in the argument and allowing traffic to be blocked???

    4. Random Bystander*

      That reminds me of a time when we had a really out of touch VP make a policy that showed just how out of touch he was with the realities of the job. The specific items that we work (getting reimbursement from insurances), the processing for payment took 30-45 days. Always. Unless it was really complicated and took longer. He wanted calls made every *SEVEN* days on the high dollar accounts (which are necessarily complicated). Calling five times during that normal processing period would never result in anything more than “it’s in process”. The only saving grace was that the person answering the phones/giving the answer was not the processing person, or else I am sure that 30-45 (calendar) day turn around would have turned into a 45 business day turnaround. Expecting that pestering (what I consider calling repeatedly for status updates when you know that you’re not even at the short end of the standard range) will have a positive outcome is baffling to me. Eventually he did stop paying attention (when we could go back to the old way of not checking until the short end of that processing range had been reached.

    5. infopubs*

      I worked for a small business for many years, and fired a client like this. It is exactly as satisfying as you might imagine. Their slow realization that I was serious about ending the business relationship, their sputtering, their yelling, my gently hanging up the phone, my deliberate blocking of their number, the ensuring peace and quiet…glorious.

      This was a mail order business, so there was no danger of them showing up at our door. We also had many small customers, so firing one wasn’t a problem financially. But I’m telling this story so you can share in the deep, deep pleasure I took in getting rid of a PITA like that!

    6. Colette*

      When I was in customer service, we had one customer that did something like 15 chat sessions for an issue we could only handle over the phone. 15 times she was told to call in, and she just got more abusive and irate. (The agents were correct, it was an issue we needed to handle over the phone.) Some peopple just want the world to work the way they think it should work.

    7. User 456*

      I’m going to defend the ‘annoying client’ here.
      We have all been subject to really bad customer service. Just this year I’ve been on hold with my bank endlessly bouncing from department to department. Being left on hold for 50 minutes trying to get to the billing department at a hospital with the worst on-hold music ever is another one. And I needed urgent information on my pension to figure out tax and that took 3 months for the Pension company to finally sort out with so much radio silence. Just picking up the phone nowadays is stressful because of menu options, bots, etc.
      This guy needs his product. Sounds like he needed it yesterday. He’s just being vocal about his stress and you are (unfortunately) the ear for his stress.
      Would it help to flip the idea here? What if the customer isn’t actually trying to annoy you but that the way the company is dealing with enquiries is poor? What if there was an app which showed at what stage of the production the component is at and whether it’s being shipped? This customer could just be a sheer PITA or perhaps he’s signalling there is something crummy about the information being provided.
      Incidentally, I found immediately sympathizing with a customer about how frustrating their experience is tends to take the wind out of their sails. But this doesn’t sound like that will help here.

      1. Myrin*

        “We have a customer who works with us on a yearly basis. At any time he may have four or five orders in the pipeline, but they aren’t overdue and they aren’t due anytime soon”
        It sounds like he does not need the product yesterday or even tomorrow and also like he’s a recurring customer so he should really know better from past experience alone.

      2. Critical Rolls*

        There are people with genuinely urgent needs, and people who really have been jerked around. Persistence and frustration are understandable under those circumstances. But weekly or *daily* calls on a product with a year-long timeline, that the customer orders enough to be familiar with the timeline? Absolutely not. That’s fire-the-client territory.

      3. Venus*

        It doesn’t sound like OP can change the process, so even if there was a problem with customer service it won’t be solved by them.

        Also, while I agree that a lot of customer service isn’t great, if there are a hundred customers and only one of them is complaining then the problem isn’t likely with the company. A friend used to answer the phones for a politician and quickly learned that there are a lot of weird and unreasonable people in this world!

      4. Irish Teacher*

        I still don’t really think it’s the best idea to phone 7 times in a week when he must know that it took a year or more for each of his previous orders to come and he’s now only been waiting a month for this one.

        Yeah, I agree there are times when constantly following up makes sense, if say the norm is for things to arrive within two months and it has now been four. But ringing daily before the point when a thing usually arrives seems excessive.

        And honestly, if he really needs it yesterday and he orders things every year and knows how long they take, then he should probably have ordered earlier. If this was his first order, I might feel differently, but if he is a regular customer, he should have an idea how long things take.

        Plus the LW said this is the only customer who seems confused by their procedures. If the company was not giving clear information, I’d expect numerous people to be ringing up for updates, not just one.

      5. AnonInCanada*

        I think you’re comparing apples to oranges. Yes, we all know how frustrating trying to get a human being to answer the phone at (big telco/government agency/insurance provider) can be when a matter needs to be rectified. But this customer knew right from the start what the expected timeline was going to be to get the item(s) shipped. It’s not like OP’s company was negligent on this timeline; the customer was making everyone’s lives miserable in their futile attempt to expedite the process to get their way at the expense of others. Something something squeaky wheel something something and all that.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          Yeah, User 456 is asking for something that exists, information, and just needs to thread the labyrinth to find the right person to give it to her. The LW’s annoying customer is asking for something that does not exist, and will not exist for a YEAR, because that’s just how long these things take to make. Very different scenarios.

        2. Observer*

          the customer was making everyone’s lives miserable in their futile attempt to expedite the process to get their way at the expense of others.

          With some types of products it’s even worse than that, and from what the OP says, this is one of those situations. The issue here is that there are *physical constraints* on the order. It’s not just that the caller wants unjustified priority. These sound like essentially custom items, so even if the order starts being processed the very day that the order was placed, it’s going to take x number of months, because you can’t change the laws of physics and the company doesn’t have control of all of the pieces in the pipeline. So if the part needs special green and yellow bamboos that they don’t grow, they can’t FORCE their supplier to provide them “today”, they have no choice but to wait for delivery.

      6. My Useless 2 Cents*

        Agree with others that this is an entirely different situation. Customer is not getting horrible customer service or being jerked around. Customer is being a nuisance.

        Having been in a similar position to the salespeople with customers like this, if a long time existing customer is calling enough for the salespeople to ignore their calls, then the problem is 100% the customer and not the company. If there was an issue or problem the salespeople would be bending over backward to try and help. This is just a customer being annoying and thinking that if they squeak enough they will get the grease, however, in reality the squeaky wheel may initially get the grease but when it continues to squeak it gets ignored and back-burnered until it can be replaced.

        1. Chirpy*

          This, I had a customer special order an item during the height of lockdown in March 2020 and complain for *months* that he was “being jerked around”. It was a large order, that took 2-3 months minimum at best, and he couldn’t accept that no, there literally isn’t any of this product anywhere in the world right now, the factories are closed, and any stock they did have pre-made is sold already because spring is the main season for selling that item AND it was an item that people went unexpectedly nuts over during the pandemic. He threatened to take his business elsewhere, and all I could think was “please try it, you literally won’t find this item anywhere right now.” The manufacturer stopped doing special orders completely (still doesn’t), I think largely because of this guy.

      7. Quill*

        Sometimes you’re right in that there could be more information given, but this person has experience with the company for what looks like a very long term order. I think they think that being a pest gets them a faster turnaround.

        1. User 456*

          Hi, I seemed to have stirred a hornet’s nest. I saw so many posts about unreasonable customers I just wanted to investigate the other side – is the OP honestly being supported by good systems in the company?
          All I wanted to highlight is that we have all been at the mercy of what we perceive as terrible slow customer service.
          I’m a community dentist. Our waiting list to see children and people with special needs is about 18 months to 2 years. There is literally nothing we as dentists or nurses or receptionists can do about this, apart from never sleep again.
          We had tons of patients call in, abusive, exasperated, in pain. It was terrible. There were a few who called daily and we couldn’t ‘fire’ them if they were mean (although we could put the phone down).
          In the end, we had to get a simple triage system on an app which gave the patients an idea of what their expectations could be and what their estimated time was for treatment.
          Once we had given this information, many, many of the repeat callers calmed down. We still get the occasional screamer and we have systems in place to deal with that.
          I just wanted to raise the idea that if this problem is bad enough to write in to Ask A Manager, perhaps the system needs tweaking too so that this poor OP doesn’t have to cope with this.

          1. Grammar Penguin*

            You had “tons of patients” calling, indicating a problem with your organization’s communication with clients in general that has since been fixed. LW has one customer unreasonably calling with unrealistic demands for new information when there isn’t any and keeps doing so despite being told the long timeline from the beginning and despite having gone through this before.

            The problem isn’t the system, it’s one customer.

            1. User 456*

              Cool. Totally get it – the guy is a pain in the arse. But I’d stand by sayings it’s always good to investigate all possibilities; that maybe an arse isn’t an arse.

          2. Venus*

            Thank you for being a community dentist and helping so many people! I love that you found a solution that worked so well for your patients and also created less stress for you. It is great that you were able to get the app.

            1. User 456*

              Thanks Venus!
              It’s definitely hard but rewarding. There have been many times where people are furious and even violent in their unhappiness with the whole system.
              But we tried always to look at things from the patient’s point of view. That man getting irate because he’s been waiting 2 hours with toothache (yep, we have a ‘first come first served clinic one day a week)? Making sure we update patients every 15 minutes about where they are in the queue almost eliminated the fury. It seems like more work at the upfront, but was worth it for our poor receptionists.
              The app thing worked too.
              I guess that’s why I always try and figure out ways of making waiting less agonizing.
              But again, perhaps this guys is just a common or garden twit.

    8. Elizabeth West*

      Ugh. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.

      OldExJob had a lot of customers who called frequently for updates, though nothing like that, fortunately. But they were usually freaking out when they did — “My widgets! We’re in the weeds and I need these widgets NOW! What is happeniiiinnnnnngggg!” It made matters worse that the sales manager and Mr. So-Special-I-Can-Hog-Two-Cubicles-For-All-My-Crap never answered their phones. >_<

      Now I'm working in a client industry on the other side of the fence, which is weird.

      1. somehow*

        “Mr. So-Special-I-Can-Hog-Two-Cubicles-For-All-My-Crap”

        So funny it begs to be stolen, which I shall!

    9. miss_chevious*

      He thinks it makes us move quicker (honestly, it occasionally makes it slower).

      Yeah, I work in client service and this is often the case. There’s no reward for getting it done faster–they just expect it faster next time and are the first to throw you under the bus if there’s a delay, regardless of how warranted–so, since I’m going to be hearing from this guy every. single. day. anyways, might as well prioritize the clients who are generally polite and understanding.

    10. Chirpy*

      Yeah, I have a customer who is constantly “shocked” that a special order takes 2 weeks. It has always taken 2 weeks, and he’s been ordering this same item every few months for years.

      I really wish I was in charge of telling him he’s not getting his special discount anymore, because we had the perfect opportunity to do it (manufacturer price went up, buyer who has to ok this special price is sick of it too, he really doesn’t order enough to justify a price break) but my department head won’t do it.

  5. Cmdrshprd*

    OP5 while I sympathize with your situation I think Alison makes a very good point about your personal taxes ultimately being your responsibility.

    I am curious did people not file state tax returns in their home states, and file ones in the company state? if people paid tax preparers they should have caught it, but if people filed their own taxes it should have been caught after the first year, you would owe $x in taxes to your state.

    I am surprised people went years without paying/filing state tax returns and not getting flagged?

    1. Labrat*

      About twenty years ago my grandmother fell behind on her tax returns. Unless things have changed, if you’re owed a refund (which she was) there’s no penalty for filing late. And it takes at least a few years for the red tape to realize something’s up.

      1. Claire*

        Yes you actually have 3 years to file your taxes and still claim a refund. You only get penalized for late returns if you owe taxes.

      2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        There is technically always a “late filing penalty”…it is just calculated as a 4.5% per month of whatever is owed on the late return. So if you owe $0, 4.5% of $0 is still $0.

        Pedantic, but important. It can be easy to reduce filing taxes late to “no penalty if you don’t owe anything” and “5% per month if you owe money.” but when you both filed late and owe money, it is actually 2 penalties: late filing (4.5%) and late payment (.5%). So even if you know you owe money, you are in a much better position if you actually file the taxes rather than avoid the IRS entirely. This is also why it is better to file them badly and end up having to correct them later than file late without getting an extension.

        Or, you can essentially give yourself a 6 month loan of whatever you owe at 3% interest by filing an extension, because you are only on the hook for the late payment penalty, not the late filing penalty.

      1. Cmdrshrd*

        If the state they live/work in does not have state income tax then the employees would be in the clear and this would not be an issue, but it is at least for some/most of them, for those people I am curious how it was not caught before.

    2. My Useless 2 Cents*

      I would agree if the US tax system wasn’t so convoluted and messed up. It’s like saying it’s your responsibility to read the entirety of all Terms and Service agreements before clicking on the agree button on every website you go to. It is setting up the average person for failure when really the payroll company needs to take the responsibility since they technically should have had the expertise. (I realize that is not going to happen.)

      1. Cmdrshrd*

        “if the US tax system wasn’t so convoluted and messed up.” I agree with this statement in a broader/general sense. That really is more of an issue for rich people, there are so many loopholes and stuff but it really only applies to people with complicated tax, investments etc…. For most people that work earn a wage, and have a handful of basic/small investments the state/federal tax system is not that complicated. People could file on their own, it is why the federal government has the “free file” system.

        In this instance it is a simpleish question, “Do I need to pay income tax to the state I live/work in?” The problem isn’t not knowing, it is not asking the question in the first place.

      2. Rebelx*

        This 100%. Convoluted is a good word for it, and there’s no real reason it has to be that way, especially for the average person whose income situation is not complicated.

  6. Not A Manager*

    Regarding LW1, “The boyfriend himself is far less culpable. He’s likely to have assumed the director knew what she was doing and disclosed whatever she needed to disclose.”

    Is this true, though? If he naively thought it was all copacetic, wouldn’t he have mentioned his gf and his interactions with his gf’s mother? I understand not wanting to *flaunt* the relationship even if it were known, but never mentioning it in two full years seems quite deliberate.

    1. Jackalope*

      I too was unsure about that. On the other hand, maybe the director told him it would be unprofessional to talk about a romantic relationship at work or something along those lines?

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        I was thinking that too. especially if this was his first professional job. Or maybe the mother said something like, I don’t want people to get the wrong idea and think badly of you because of our relationship, but don’t mention how we know each other.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      I do think the boyfriend is less culpable, because the responsibility to disclose is held by the person in power. The boyfriend was not the person in the position of power, the Director is. And there’s nothing wrong, inherently, with getting a job through a family connection. I can see the Boyfriend assuming everything was cool and not mentioning the relationship, because sometimes people feel weird about mentioning those sorts of things at work. I had a student assistant who never told anyone she was the daughter of a University Trustee, though I knew it. She was an excellent worker, but didn’t want the other student assistants to think she just got the job because of that. I can easily see the Boyfriend feeling the same way.

      1. Bagpuss*

        there are also plenty of people who don’t talk much about their personal lives at work.

      2. The Person from the Resume*

        I do wonder how much of a cover it was not to say “I’m dating the Director’s daughter.” “He is dating my daughter.”

        You may make small talk about your adult child or the person you’re dating. Do you make small talk about the people your child dates or your partner’s parents? It just seems far enough removed that you don’t really have to make much effort to hide until you’re announcing the engagement and planning the wedding where the coincidences of timing become obvious.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, even when mentioning his “mother-in-law” there wouldn’t generally be a reason to specify she’s actually director Ireen Warbleton unless you specifically want to mention it for some reason.

        2. Paulina*

          Yes. LW1 says that the director “went to great lengths to hide it” but I don’t see any examples of what those lengths are, other than not mentioning it (until after the bf resigned, which I suppose could indicate she suppressed making many previous mentions). LW1 knows the environment and typical types of conversations better, of course.

          1. Sloanicota*

            I agree, I needed more examples to understand that too. I could see it not coming up. Also, these things never seem to go both ways. I had a coworker whose former stepfather passed away and he asked for bereavement leave to travel to the funeral. This was denied because the policy didn’t cover that relationship. By the same logic, a child’s boyfriend seems like a stretch to me.

            1. Quill*

              That’s a really shitty policy – lots of people have a parent that remarried and divorced multiple times, and you run a huge risk of telling someone “you can’t go to the funeral of someone who raised you because your bio-parent decided to get divorced from them.”

          2. learnedthehardway*

            Agreed. If the director REALLY wanted to hide the situation, they wouldn’t have mentioned it, even after the boyfriend had left the company.

          3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

            I also wonder what the conversation was where the director mentioned that He was her daughters boyfriend. Was it like “gotcha” type of conversation or was it more like “oh Andrew left because he and my daughter Jodi decided to move to Peru and start a llama farm.”

      3. ferrina*

        This is what I thought of. I worked at the same place as my mom for a year (different reporting lines), and I don’t think I ever directly told anyone she was my mom. I didn’t talk about myself much at the office, and it just never came up. It was also one of my first jobs, and I wanted to earn my reputation on my own.
        My mom made sure to tell people, because she didn’t want any image of impropriety. She was a manager, though not even close to the same reporting line that I was in. Our work didn’t overlap at all (for example, she was a Sr Manager of Llama Grooming and I was a Llama Library Assistant), and it wasn’t like I could impact her work or vice versa.

        It’s also possible the director told the boyfriend “I have it covered” and the boyfriend didn’t have any reason to bring it up again. It would put him in a weird position to go against his manager to say “She said she had it covered, but I just wanted to double check…”

    3. BubbleTea*

      He might easily have talked about his girlfriend Bella, without anyone realising he meant Grizabelle, the director’s daughter.

    4. Emmy Noether*

      He may have talked about his “girlfriend” (perhaps without mentioning a name) without anyone making the connection.

      Also, if he was/is rather young, young people can sometimes have weird ideas about secrecy and/or professionalism. For example, I once had an internship where for some reason, I thought I had to pretend I moved to [city] just for the internship opportunity, and not also to be with my boyfriend, and therefore had to keep the relationship secret. Which wasn’t an ethical problem in that case, just really awkward during small talk.

      Especially if the director hinted as much to him, the boyfriend in the letter may have though it was “professional” to not mention the relationship, or he may have thought it was cleared with management, but better not mentioned to colleagues, etc.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        He could easily talk about his girlfriend by her first name and still no one makes the connection too.

      2. Random Dice*

        “I once had an internship where for some reason, I thought I had to pretend I moved to [city] just for the internship opportunity, and not also to be with my boyfriend, and therefore had to keep the relationship secret.”

        The funny things we do when new to this stuff!

    5. Earlk*

      He could’ve assumed that the director had ensured everything was on the up and up officially but not wanted colleagues to treat him differently because of his connection?

    6. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I’m assuming Alison meant he followed the director’s advice to hide the relationship but he is less culpable bc he believed a senior level person who said that this was the right way to handle things.

      1. Jennifer Strange*

        It’s not that the situation isn’t wrong (it is) but rather that the boyfriend didn’t necessarily do anything wrong.

      2. ferrina*

        That doesn’t make it inherently wrong. Networks develop from odd places.

        Recommending him for a role is fine. Making the hire non-competitive is likely problematic, but there are occasional business reasons for doing this. But being his manager (!!!!) and hiding the connection it is definitely a problem.

    7. Also-ADHD*

      Lots of people compartmentalize at work. At my husband’s current company, while there aren’t direct reporting situations, there are lots of husbands and wives that both work there (it’s large with many departments so often that’s fine but they can also work on the same team which I find odd and while they cannot directly report, one could work in a department the other runs etc — there are examples of this and it doesn’t violate their policies but does need disclosure). I find it weird, but many of them seem to compartmentalize and folks don’t even know who is married for years sometimes until they find out! And it’s not at all against policy or culture so there is no pressure to lie there.

    8. L-squared*

      Not necessarily.

      Assuming he thought the hiring was above board, i can see not wanting to disclose this, as people are going to think what they are going to think. And why would you want to give people reasons to think that you don’t deserve the job you got.

      Even when there is nothing directly in the chain of command, its why some people don’t love to disclose that a parent/family friend works at that same company. Because the automatic assumption will be that you got the job because of them, not your own merits.

    9. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      Well, it seems initially he was hired as a part-time contract, so he probably thought the job more temporary.

      Which, had it been disclosed he was a family friend, may still have been fine as a temporary job. The real issues came with the ongoing promotions and cover up of this person.

      1. Paulina*

        Also whether the temporary job was used deliberately to enable hiring him (eg. if there was a decision to hire short-term in order to get him in without scrutiny, and there would not otherwise have been a temporary hire).

    10. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it speaks well of him, most likely. He got the job because he knew Janet, but he’ll keep the job because he does great work… and Janet modeled or outright told him “our outside relationship stops at the door” and so he followed that, adopting the business norm modeled by a senior person with more experience at the company.

    11. Lilo*

      We had something like this happen at my work (CEO also encouraged them to hire her daughter’s fiance). The CEO was fired but her son in law was not. He still works there. I don’t think he knew anything was up or encouraged it (there was an audit).

    12. learnedthehardway*

      He probably didn’t mention the relationship because he didn’t want people to think he was angling for special / favourable treatment, or that he was trading on his relationship with the Director.

      The Director may have told him to not mention the relationship, of course, but even then, he might have assumed that relevant decision makers knew about it, and decided he could be hired so long as the relationship didn’t become an issue.

    13. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      My spouse and I work for the same company. I discussed this with both HR and the hiring manager when I started working here, and we’re in different teams with no management overlap until you get to the CEO. All is very much aboveboard, and I don’t make a secret of our relationship. But I also don’t go around advertising it. I want to be known for my own work, which is typically excellent, rather than provide an opportunity for misogynists to call me a “spousal hire” who wouldn’t have the job otherwise.
      The boyfriend is just starting his career, so he may similarly have just wanted to be known for his own work, rather than for his connections.

    14. Exhausted*

      I could see being told that it’s not a good idea to constantly bring attention to their personal relationship without that coming across as hiding it. I am friends outside of work with several coworkers, and I don’t discuss it at work because I never want to make anyone else feel left out. In fact, I’ve gone to weddings and not mentioned it or posted photos. Some people are also simply private. No one at work has ever met my partner, although I’ve been with him for ten years and working there for 7.

    15. So Tired*

      Not necessarily. Some people are just private and don’t mention their personal lives at work. Or if they do they keep it vague so you may know they have a partner and/or kids but not anything more than that. I only learned today what the name of one colleague’s wife is, and I’ve been working with him for nearly four years!

      Boyfriend may have been someone who naturally doesn’t share much about their private life, and brief comments about a girlfriend wouldn’t necessarily flag that the girlfriend was his boss’ daughter.

    16. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

      People can be very private about their personal lives though and want to keep them entirely separate.

    17. Coverage Associate*

      My new coworker is likely related to the person our department head wants to bring in as our manager. They share an unusual name, last name for my coworker, middle for the potential manager. She also used to work for the potential manager. When I told her about what the department head planned, she didn’t say, “oh, it will be nice to work with my uncle” or “it will be nice to work with him again” and didn’t pretend not to know the potential manager. She just nodded.

      People who have worked with both of them in the past didn’t know they were related. But it was a very small business and a name I have never seen before.

      Anyway, maybe the relationship never came up in OPs case. Maybe it was purposefully never mentioned. When I worked for my mom, not 100% of the people who came to the office learned we were related, but most did.

  7. John Smith*

    re LW3, I’m not sure this is something that can be taught, at least not without a great deal of effort and specialised cognitive therapy. I’ve found some people are naturally adept in critical thinking and analysis whilst others just can’t see the wood for the trees. That’s not a bad thing – it’s just, I believe, how peoples brains are wired. As an aside, it can be annoying seeing colleagues with good analytical skills being labelled as awkward for being able to pull apart a badly conceived plan and rather than using that skill, are punished furniture. The flip side is true also.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I agree for the most part. I think the exception is where you can point to specific instances where critical thinking was missing AND those tasks are performed pretty regulary. For example, I crafted a PIP like this for someone who ultimately was not doing well in that area because they felt hurried, and so wasn’t taking the time to think. These were very regular tasks that I could point to specifically and that he could repeat and practice often (there was also coaching around his need to move faster than he needed to, and what questions he should be asking). I would not say I helped improve his CT skills *overall*, but I was at least able to get him to a point where on major tasks, he could break things down.

      If it’s more sporadic and case dependent, I’m not sure it’s possible to PIP or coach critical thinking, at least not to the degree that seems to be needed here.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Critical thinking can be taught. It might be that not everyone can learn it, but it can be taught. College education is often aimed at that overall target thru the mechanism of whatever specific field of study.

    3. Kiwi Leslie Knope*

      It sounded to me like the letter writer wasn’t so much doing the PIP to actually achieve any improvement, but because it is a necessary part of firing someone.

    4. beedie*

      To me, I found it ironic that the writer can’t solve this problem but is putting an employee on a PIP because of their problem-solving issues.

  8. Really?*

    OP5- That happened to me a number of years ago, as well. I spotted it early on since my state doesn’t have an income tax. I didn’t have to do anything; the payroll company refunded me the tax paid to date, and presumably managed to straighten out the error. Of course if the error goes back several years, it is probably more complicated to get your money back. And of course the states that were not paid are going to want interest and penalties. Would have thought you’d all have been getting letters from your states telling you that they didn’t have whatever you thought had been withheld, though. Good luck.

    1. Shiba Dad*

      They were able to refund you directly? That’s great.

      At my current job, our division’s HQ is in another state. Most of us are remote. On my first paystub I noticed that they withheld state tax for HQ’s state. I got that corrected, but they couldn’t just move that money withheld from HQ’s state to my state. I had to file tax returns in both states and get a refund from HQ’s state.

      1. NumbersLady*

        Based on my experience with many payroll companies, it’s likely they could have fixed that internally as it was within the payroll year. They probably just didn’t want to pay to refile all their quarterly reports. I’ve seen companies do that to employees.

    2. Snow Globe*

      How would the state that you are living in know that taxes were owed, if they don’t receive anything from your employer stating your income? That information is generally on the W2, but if taxes are being paid to the employer’s state, then (I’d assume) the W2 lists that state as well. Your own state probably has no record that you’ve worked and earned income while living there.

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        It’s still pretty surprising thatnone of them was using a tax prep software like H&R Block, TaxAct, or TurboTax, because those all ask you for your address and to confirm that you were a resident of that state all year, which triggers them to add that state’s return.

        The only story I’m able to put together that makes sense is everyone was doing their taxes on paper by hand, and I guess they were filing state returns in the company’s state, and I can certainly see a state revenue department not going out of their way to flag that they’re getting returns from someone with an out of state address.

        Still, it’s pretty surprising in 2023 with how common tax prep software is for basic personal returns that it was able to go on for years without being noticed.

        1. doreen*

          And I think in addition to filing their own taxes on paper, it has to be the case that none of them who actually owes taxes to their state of residence has a spouse who works in that state – because then they would have been filing a return for that state no matter what.

          I wonder if this is one of those things that spread around the company , where one person thought they had to pay taxes to the state where the company is and told others who believed them. Because that’s the only way it makes sense to me that multiple people did this.

        2. DataSci*

          There’s also the IRS’s own free e-filing service, which is what I always use, which doesn’t handle state returns.

  9. GythaOgden*

    Yeah, as front desk myself, repetitive callers can be a nuisance, but they go with the territory. At least the department that gets the most sales calls told us that we could just tell them that they don’t take calls and to email them instead. There was someone who rung up every day at 4.50pm — ten minutes before close — and I put her through every day and she still came back because evidently no-one picked up on her, but I never once said anything other than I’d put her through. (I was tempted to say I admired her persistence but then she had a job to do too! We now close at 4 after the post goes so I don’t hear from her at all, but I wonder if she still rings and listens to our out of hours message to try to make that one deal.)

    Unfortunately it comes with the territory. Ten years of it has made me desperate for something else, but until I get it, yeah, I’m a bit stuck. I hear that the department which gets those calls is actually not renewing their lease this autumn, but I doubt even that will stop the calls.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      At an old job we had one (let’s say Cecil) who would ring up asking for his social worker, but if he was told she was out, he wouldn’t believe that and would think she was avoiding him, so he’d ring back about five minutes later saying his name was Wakeen and seeing if that got him put through, or he’d do something like get one of his friends to ring and claim to be Cecil’s grandad.

      It would have made no difference if the Prime Minister had been on the line. She was genuinely out.

      (He was being offered the options of leaving a message, or speaking to another worker on duty if it was an emergency).

      Where I am now there’s one department who avoid taking their calls and a lot of people keep ringing up irate because they’re being ignored (it’s not quite the same situation as OP’s because in these cases, they do need a sooner answer) and the vast majority of them are things I can’t resolve myself and do need to be dealt with by that team. I know my manager is in the process of resolving that with their head of department, so watching this space.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Totally! In that case, I balance the annoyance with knowing that they’re in a situation where they can’t control much and are struggling themselves — we’re not directly public-facing but our number still comes up on Google so we field such calls as a matter of routine but aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with them. The office is also where all the beans are counted — it’s hard to explain to people used to dealing with e.g. a doctor’s surgery or hospital that the people here aren’t directly responsible for an individual’s care and even if they were able to get through to So and So, they wouldn’t be able to help them either.

        I feel for them — I’ve been in that mental headspace and know how it feels — but it doesn’t make the other person the right person to speak to.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        We had a department like this up to late 2023. Strangely their responses improved noticeably after first a change of overarching department then a manager retiring…

        (I no longer do even emergency reception coverage, so I have no evidence how they’re doing now, but I doubt that trend reversed.)

    2. Mongrel*

      “Unfortunately it comes with the territory.”
      I do think that’s a problem though, the higher-ups are so disassociated from the front lines that they either don’t care about this behavior or have prioritised perceived profits\customer service metrics over all else.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Well, I’m in the public health system so it’s not a matter of profit but of making the best use of their budget. In any company, however, they would pay me to do that work for them so they can get on with earning money to pay me to field those calls.

        I’m thinking that’s actually a win for all of us but NVM.

        1. Jackalope*

          Some people have given good options above. Fire that customer if possible (not possible if it’s someone accessing, say, government services, but a business could). Charge them extra for taking up so much time – with each phone call or email above a certain point they have to pay for e extra employee time they’re using up. Tell them they can only talk to a specific manager or director or someone like that. Etc.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            And if they use the “can only talk to a specific person” solution, frame it to the customer as their special privileged access. Makes them more likely to actually do it.

        2. Dona Florinda*

          Years ago, when I worked answering phones and we had a problem customer who called every single day, we were given a script to follow when he called and were allowed to hang up after reciting it. I don’t know if the person was fired as customer (or if his problem was eventually solved), but he wasn’t rude to us, just really persistent.

      2. Colette*

        How would the higher-ups solve it? Just don’t do business/provide services to someone who does this?

    3. Alisaurus*

      Agreed; I also worked on front desk phones for a few years, and there were always that handful of people who thought that they would get an immediate answer if you transferred them and called back right away to complain about it/ask you to transfer them again. Most of them never got the idea, even when I said, “Well, I assume Coworker must not be available right now if they didn’t pick up. Did you leave a voicemail?” Every once in a blue moon, one would just ask to be sent back to leave a message, but they usually just lectured me on how unacceptable that was.

      My dad calls people like that (as well as any people who cut in line/talk on their phone while at the cash register/etc) Oblivions, which helps make the situation more manageable for me to just think of them as this race of alien people who don’t understand how our world works and just have to be dealt with diplomatically. lol It makes it less personal and thus less annoying. At least most of the time.

  10. John Smith*

    Re #2, I sympathise. We’ve had clients (not in sales) who have, frankly, abused our services with spurious requests and have ended up being threatened with legal action if they contact us again. Obviously that may not be what your employer wants. I’d escalate it to management explaining the problem. If they’re happy with time and resources being taken up, that’s their problem, not yours. Your customer’s lack of understanding / patience is his problem, not yours. Treat him as any other customer each time he calls and act as though you’ve never heard his enquiry before. Just one question: has your client actually and definitely been informed of the realistic timescales involved rather than being asked to wait for an email to arrive?

    1. Katydid*

      “ has your client actually and definitely been informed of the realistic timescales involved rather than being asked to wait for an email to arrive?”

      Yes. When I’m the customer who’s been told there will be a delay, I ask, ‘When should I check back with you?’ In addition to telling him the usual time-frame for the work to be done, does the sales-rep provide a date when it would actually be reasonable for him to follow-up? ‘Course, that might not help, but it might, if you’re not already doing it.

  11. Blue Swede Shoes*

    LW1. Did the director explain herself? Because I as a CEO would feel like I can’t trust her going forward. Also why reveal the relationship at all. She should not be involved in hiring in the future.

    1. coffee*

      Yes, why would you keep it a secret until it nearly faded into history and then reveal it?? What a mistake.

      1. Myrin*

        Right? My first thought reading that she revealed it after he left was “And she could’ve gotten away with it, too!”. Not a very clever ending to her shenanigans, I must say.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I think the director must have slipped up and revealed it without thinking, rather than deliberately admit it. This person clearly cannot be trusted in a position of authority, not even really because of hiring someone who is a conflict of interest situation, but for keeping it hidden. Conflict of interest surely applies even if there isn’t a written policy for it, and someone with director (fiduciary-like) level roles ought to know this already. It would not be too harsh to fire the director imo.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        The director seems to have two fundamental misunderstandings, 1) of why nepotism is an issue, and 2) why honesty is important. The director has thought to herself that because the daughter’s boyfriend performed well, and no one interacted differently with them because they didn’t know, that the nepotism wasn’t a problem. They are also thinking of the dishonesty as a fundamental part of the discretion that made the nepotism work! Now that everyone can see in retrospect that the boyfriend was a good hire… no harm no foul, right? Why not mention it to someone? They may even think they are showing off their great hiring judgement and discretion; that everyone understands that everybody lies and that the means to a good end aren’t important. Sadly, I think there’s probably huge problems with this person’s approach to honesty if this is any example, and if OP does a bit of digging they will probably find other problems.

        1. No*

          You explained it so well. I wish I could upvote your comment, because I couldn’t really articulate the issues.

          There are probably huge problems with the director’s approach to honesty if this is any example, however, I don’t know that OP can even do anything about it and that’s frustrating.

        2. Sparkles McFadden*

          There are always problems with people who believe the ends justifies the means. They call themselves “results oriented” and they hide vital information if they think disclosing the information might mean that they won’t get their way.

          When I re-read the letter, I realized this situation in even worse than I originally thought because the first time through, the line regarding this being a hire through a wage subsidy program didn’t register. So, the director took advantage of a government-funded program designed to give underprivileged people a chance to learn work skills in order to get her daughter’s boyfriend a job. Hey, maybe the guy did qualify for the program, but the director essentially took a spot away from someone without company connections, and misdirected the funds of a government program to do so.

          So, yeah…I’d check everything this person ever touched.

        3. coffee*

          Ah, that’s so interesting. I had assumed the director knew the whole thing was shady and then relaxed too soon, or something, but seeing things this way does make more sense.

    2. ecnaseener*

      She’s described as a “former” director, so she won’t be involved and LW doesn’t need to worry about trusting her!

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, I’m hoping she was already out of the company or was let go. The fact that she hid it means that she knew she was doing something wrong and decided it was fine as long as she got away with it. That’s horrible ethics. Ellis Bell’s comment above hits it right on the head.

    3. Beth*

      I got the impression that the boyfriend did fine at the job, since the CEO was willing to sign off on “contract extensions, promotions, salary increases, and bonuses”. The core problem is the conflict of interest rather than the preferential hiring of an incompetent deadweight.

  12. Jinni*

    LW1: I have so many questions.

    One. Did he get raises and promotions other people didn’t?

    Two. Did your Director advocate for others in the way that she advocated for him?

    Three. Did your Director hire the best person for the job? does she always hire the best person for the job or does she take personal interest into account more than you think?

    Four. Is this a backdoor way for her to provide support for her daughter I could see a scenario in which she said to pay for needs to get a job and her daughter said will give him a job and she did.

    I guess what I’m ultimately saying is that there are so many questions, and so much mis judgment in this director’s work that I wonder if you can trust her with other things. Have you talked to the other coworkers about how they feel about this and the fairness aspect? Have you investigated her other judgment calls? Have you talk to her seriously about what led to this decision?

    1. Despachito*

      These are good questions, and should be asked.

      But if all answers are “no”, would it still be nepotism?

    2. Snow Globe*

      And even if the answers are that he was the best hire for the job and was treated like everyone else, there is still the issue of the appearance of a conflict of interest, which someone in charge of HR should be cognizant of. There’s really no excuse for not raising this as a potential issue from the beginning.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Going on 4 — it was a wage reimbursement scheme. I take that to mean a government program that gets companies to hire people who need help getting into the workforce, so the government pays their salary for the company. Which means this guy got help in a program so that daughter wouldn’t be stuck with a guy with no job, over someone else who could have used the hand up.

      When I got to the part about HR in her portfolio I about spit my tea out. This is HORRIBLY bad judgment for a senior director, its doubly so for an HR person.

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (critical thinking PIP) – I feel you, this is a really difficult one. My own view is that the type of thinking skills you describe (which I know well as they are key in my field as well) are to a great degree “intrinsic” to the person and only able to be learned or improved on quite a small scale. Someone either “has it” or not when it comes to this type of skill. In fact for that reason I don’t see it so much as a skill but rather a ‘trait’. I realise this may not be a popular view though!

    This puts you in the position that you have to set up a PIP based on this quite abstract idea of critical thinking, probably with a low chance of success (which you seem to have already concluded).

    I get the feeling it wasn’t your decision to hire based on experience rather than aptitude. If so, this PIP situation may be something you can go back to (? your bosses? – whoever made the decision) as a reason we don’t do that, if the suggestion comes up again.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Some jobs such as our first line IT support openly say they can teach the necessary knowledge but want people who are good at problem-solving in general. This is the point I think where a competency-based hiring procedure plus testing in the interview is useful — I’m always eager to prove what I can do for someone.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Our first line lot do want some problem solving skill but there also have a huge knowledge base/script library behind the call management system so it’s not quite as essential as a clear phone manner and ability to talk people through things.

        2nd/3rd line however – we absolutely HAVE to have that ability to problem solve on our own. What do you do when google can’t give you an answer? You have to be creative, triage your own call queue, ask for help when needed but be able to work alone a lot.

        I can teach the technical ins and outs of our software, I can to a limited extent teach someone how to handle talking to clients on the phone but I cannot teach someone how to think.

    2. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

      I partly agree that might be an intrinsic element to critical thinking skills—but as someone who wants to improve their own critical thinking skills (even if they’re pretty decent as-is), and as someone who remembers all the critical thinking exercises and assignments throughout their grade school years, the idea that there’s nothing a person can do to improve that skill doesn’t sit well with me either. Even just a Google search for “how to improve critical thinking skills” brings up all kinds of results.

      For myself, I’m less likely to think critically when I’m in not paying full attention to something. If I am motivated and practice enough, I can teach myself to be more mindful of work situations and work problems, and then start acting in ways that help me think more critically. Some people can train themselves to be more mindful without external guidance; others can’t.

      Changing your mindset can be really hard, but if LW3’s employee is motivated to do that, they could end up succeeding with their PIP.

      1. Allonge*

        I see what you mean but to go back to the original question – for me it’s not really an issue of critical thinking not being learnable, but the speed of the learning being sufficient to be kept in this job. It’s possible for something to be improved and still not on the level necessary for a specific place – e.g. I could put effort into my networking skills and get better at it but not to a level where I could perform well as a diplomat or fundraiser.

        So the PIP is not just about the feasibility but the timeline of the improvement.

        OP, if it helps, think about the following – you mention timeliness as an easier PIP subject and I understand why, but that too is something a lot of people cannot control very well, due to various reasons, some medical. All PIPs are complicated.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Yes, I think critical thinking is extremely teachable, but it’s something that has to be taught very intensely. Critical thinking is a pattern of thought which prompts you to look for A, B, C, D, E etc over and over again, and you usually learn it from watching other people go through the pattern until it becomes so automatic you can’t NOT do it. It’s completely reasonable that a business might not be able to provide the level of training and support that Jane needs to get this.

          1. yvve*

            it’s also something that’s really really hard to require someone to do. if you genuinely have a personal desire to improve your critical thinking, i do think that’s possible and a good goal to have. but if you’re only goal is to get off a PIP (or pass the class, or get the minimum score, etc), its not going to happen

            1. bamcheeks*

              I think that’s partly true, but IME the bigger problem is that some people learn it as a process in one context and don’t have the ability to transfer it somewhere else. So someone can LOOK like they have critical thinking skills because they’ve perfected the process for [this type of work], but it’s not a process they can apply elsewhere successfully.

              I also think that the context that LW describes sounds like consultancy type work, where you also need creativity to be part of your critical thinking, because you need to be able to understand the context (critical), develop solutions (creative) and then see the problems with your proposed solutions (critical) and keep reiterating until they are in balance. Sometimes a failure of critical thinking is actually a failure of creative thinking.

            2. Dasein9*

              This is correct. Speaking as someone who taught Logic and Critical Thinking for years, I can attest critical thinking is not intrinsic. (Sometimes it’s even experienced as counter-intuitive by learners!)

              But the learner has to want to learn. That’s the key element to success with gaining CT skills. If this is just not within “Jane’s” interests, then perhaps she’d succeed and be happier in a different role.

        2. Helvetica*

          I tend to agree with you to a point. As a diplomat, I can say that I have gotten better at networking, socialising, negotiating, etc. and other related elements of my job over time and with practice but there is something to be said for people who seem to just have it, intrinsically. While I am good at my job, there are colleagues who seem to have this innate ability that is hard to emulate.
          There are tricks to this, of course, and ways to improve, and I have utilised all of them but I would say you need to know you are lacking and commit to improving (so for Jane to understand what she needs to improve and how) but also the timeline is important as my skills have truly developed and improved over years of service and I could not have done it in 3-6 months or however long the PIP could be.

        3. Paulina*

          Yes, and sometimes considering speed can be counterproductive to learning critical thinking. The people I’ve most wanted to have improve their critical thinking skills were too focused on fast answers, essentially trying to find the quickest way to get something off of their to-do list. This often resulted in having to send things back to them, or elsewhere, because they weren’t really solving the problem but instead jumping on the first thing they noticed. With experience at finding the right thing to do, they may have been able to get better at noticing it quickly, but continuing to jump on the wrong thing because it was fast wasn’t enabling them to learn.

      2. allathian*

        Yes, I agree with this assessment. As with pretty much every human ability and characteristic, it’s a combination of intrinsic talent and training. Nobody is born with critical thinking skills, but some people learn them earlier in life than others, and some need more training than others. And obviously there are some people who never learn critical thinking skills, either because they aren’t motivated to make the effort, never get the opportunity to realize that it’s something they could and should learn, or don’t know anyone who could coach them in critical thinking. And for some percentage of the population, they may simply lack the cognitive abilities necessary to learn critical thinking.

        1. Diocletian Blobb*

          >And for some percentage of the population, they may simply lack the cognitive abilities necessary to learn critical thinking.

          And boy is it depressing when you think you might be one of these people

      3. Sloanicota*

        Maybe some of it can be explicitly broken down into process steps that are intuitive to some but not to others. This will allow those with less fluency to at least demonstrate their thinking as you review it. How did the problem present? What do you think is the source of the problem? What have you tried? How might you test the other possible causes / solutions? I have seen employees have to basically fill out little decisionmaking forms that could be part of a PIP and at least in restrospect help the boss see where it went off the rails.

        1. OP3*

          I appreciate this idea, and I’ve been thinking about how to implement it. The main issue is that these problem-solving tasks occur several times a day, every single day, interspersed with more rote/well-documented tasks. So even an experienced person doesn’t always know whether a situation is going to turn out to be simple or complex (requiring the process you outlined). And I’m not monitoring her work all day.

          But I do think something like this could be useful, and I’m going to try to make it work.

      4. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I don’t think critical thinking are intrinsic but they aren’t skills that a lot of people are taught so the assumption that you either have it or not is perpetuated. Most people can improve their critical thinking skills. However, most companies are not willing to put in the necessary work to help them. I applaud the OP for even trying.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It’s less that it’s not possible to improve them, but it’s very unlikely to improve them quickly. It’s one thing if you hire someone whose job requires some but not a lot of critical thinking and they have the time to learn and grow. It’s another if you hire someone into a job that requires constant critical thinking and if they’re at PIP territory, they’re going to need to improve significantly in, like, a month. They might get somewhat better in a month, and that’s great, but it sounds like for the sort of role OP described, and where the employee is right now, it’s very unlikely they’ll get to there this role needs in that short of a time. It sounds like a fundamental skills mismatch at this point.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I had a job where I kept being told my communication skills were poor, but no one could give me specific examples or a way to improve them.

      In subsequent roles my communication has been praised, and it’s now basically my entire job, so it seems like the issue was inherent in that job context (very hierarchical, and I’m not a natural fit for strict hierarchy) rather than me. But the point is that if you can’t articulate how to achieve the thing you’re asking for, it’s not going to be easy for the person to figure out how.

      1. Ashley Armbruster*

        This 100X. I had a job once at a horrible company where my manager told me to critically think. Yet she never gave examples and would tell me after the fact I did something wrong.

        OP – have you even trained Jane or communicated what she needs to be doing? “Critical thinking” is too broad and not helpful. I wonder if Jane doesn’t even know she’s doing anything wrong and will blindsided because OP hasn’t been clear with her. Something like, “in cases where X happens, the correct action is W, Y or Z. In cases where A is happening, communicate to Fergus and include points B, C and D”.

        Also, how clear is the documentation? Is it clear how to apply A and B to C? Or is it broad and gives an overview, but not how to troubleshoot or what to do in certain cases? Did you go over the training?

        At another company I had a few coworkers who lacked critical thinking skills. However if I were giving feedback to them on how to improve I’d include specific examples like:

        – Look at the budget spreadsheet every morning, if the actuals numbers are lower or higher than the forecast, check A, B and C to see what caused the increase or decrease. Then tell Betty what happened and take X action
        – Taking a look at that same budget sheet. If we say we’re down year on year, what does that mean? Pull a report of this year vs last year and compare the metrics. Then look to see if anything big has changed. Then think of ways of what do this year to improve the metrics
        – There was a drop in one of our KPIs, can you figure out where it came from? If it from A, B, C or D? Are there any external factors at play from competitors? Did something drastically change that allowed this drop to happen?

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          > Something like, “in cases where X happens, the correct action is W, Y or Z. In cases where A is happening, communicate to Fergus and include points B, C and D”.

          > Look at the budget spreadsheet every morning, if the actuals numbers are lower or higher than the forecast, check A, B and C to see what caused the increase or decrease.

          These type of examples are actually anti-examples of the kind of thinking OP wants to see (and that I am referring to). The “critical thinking” part is the kind of initiative, troubleshooting, following your nose that isn’t reducible to “if X, then Y, else Z” type of algorithmic thinking.

          This is the same fallacy people fall into when they think every eventuality can be put into a checklist or set of instructions. Even in industries like aviation that are highly rule-driven and full of checklists, there are situations where you go “off script” and have to ‘know’ what to do.

          1. OP3*

            OP3 here–yes, this is the issue. We have lots of documentation for the If A then B Else C type of situations. We have lots of checklists.

            The problem is when situation AXM comes up, which means you have to ask the customer questions P, R, and S, and then decide what to do with that information. There is no documentation for this, and there can’t be, because every situation is different. And this happens daily.

            Our training often consists of experienced folks talking through their thought process when a situation comes up, in order to explain why they are making certain decisions or asking certain questions. I have even gone as far as to formalize some of these paths (e.g. “Consider asking these questions when X happens”). Jane takes a lot of notes during training sessions, but doesn’t seem to be able to generalize the problem-solving skills to any other situation.

            One piece I have decided is that before the Improvement Plan, I need to have a meeting to point out specific situations that I’m concerned about. I tend to do this in the moment, and use it as a training opportunity, but I don’t think she is aware of the pattern.

            1. My Useless 2 Cents*

              Does Jane know the reasoning behind “asking these questions when X happens”?

              I think the missing puzzle piece in these types of arguments usually fails because Jane doesn’t fully understand the reasoning behind questions YZ. She then falls back to the algorithmic thinking that if X happens, then asking Y question will lead to the solution, if it doesn’t then Z question will.

              When you are really trying to get Jane to think that if X happens the most likely cause if A, B or C and she needs to figure out what questions does she need to ask to figure out which is the cause of the problem. And that common questions Y and Z are good examples, but not guaranteed to lead to the solution.

    4. Emmy Noether*

      While I do agree that a tendency for critical thinking is intrinsic – almost a character trait – it can surely also be trained to some degree. It may have to be a more conscious process for some people, for example going through a checklist, or sitting down and purposely brainstorming what could go wrong. Forcing oneself to think about it instead of the skepticism just popping up in one’s mind unbidden like it does for you or me. Maybe it can even become natural with time.

      And then there are some people who are just hopelessly naïve.

      1. Roland*

        I agree. Some of it can be taught, though the time and effort required may be more than is reasonable for a workplace. Critical thinking skills were a big part of my high school education, and while I myself probably have some natural tendencies in that area, the curriculum was still a big help. It might be the single most useful thing I can point to from high school.

    5. Rebecca*

      I disagree!

      I am a teacher, and I am watching critical thinking skills get taken out of our curriculum in favour of standardised test scores and easy-to-grade fill in the blank worksheets. It not only can be trained and learned – it has to be. I think it’s the opposite of innate and people who don’t learn how, explicitly, might never learn it implicitly. A lack of critical thinking skills in the adult population is, in my opinion, a flaw in the education system.

      It is true that by the time they are an adult and in the workforce, there’s not much an employer can do about it.

      1. Emmy Noether*


        It does remind me that when I was studying at university (I’m a physicist), our professors were very clear that the main thing we were supposed to learn wasn’t quantum mechanics, or thermodynamics, etc., but how to approach a problem, any problem, and how to be scientifically rigorous. That is something that can be trained. It does, however, come much, much easier to some people than others.

        1. Allonge*

          But both at school (for Rebecca) and at university (as you mentioned, Emmy Noether) the main relationship is teacher-student, and the student can expect that the focus of the teacher is on teaching them new skills.

          A workplace is fundamentally different – yes, an employee can learn a lot and it’s reasonable to teach them things that they cannot learn in other ways but there is a reason they usually hire for skills and not experience – if this is fundamental to the job, the company is very reasonable to require it (normally).

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Agreed. A workplace can teach some things (how to use their software, how their products work), but this does seem like something too fundamental.

            Also, often workplaces choose between hiring someone they have to train, but can pay less at the beginning, or hiring someone ready to go with the necessary skills for more money. Thinking one is getting the latter and paying for that, but then getting the former isn’t great.

            1. Allonge*

              And in this case OP is already describing a tradeoff they usually make at hiring – it sounds like they expect to train for substance (so they don’t require experience) and so they focus on skills in hiring. It’s quite likely that even with a reduced salary, the company simply cannot afford to make an additional trade-off (and if course it’s not good for the employee either).

              If their onboarding process is set up for this, lack of critical thinking skills is not something that they are equipped to teach (I would like to think I do ok in this area but I would have serious trouble explaining what I do and how whereas I am good at explaining how e.g. a particular software works and should be used).

          2. Irish Teacher*

            I also suspect it is harder to learn later on. I don’t necessarily think it is innate (though I do think some people find it easier just as some people find just about every skill easier) but I think it is something we are learning from infancy and if somebody say grew up in an environment where they were very much taught to “toe the line” and “not question things” or went through an education system that focussed very much on “giving the correct answer,” which meant the one the teacher had just said or which you’d had to learn off, it’s going to mean a lot of recalibration in adulthood to change that and I suspect that is a lot harder than teaching it beginning with preschoolers or early elementary schoolers.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              Yeah, I think it’s habitual than innate and needs to be ingrained early on for the best success. I also think you make a good point about people being taught anti-critical thinking skills, which is even harder to unpick.

            2. Professional Staff*

              I was thinking about this as I was reading this thread: a lot of learning critical thinking isn’t about skill so much as it is permission, and expectation. It can be a really rough adjustment to move from a job where you’re expected to follow directions and processes to the letter, to one where you’re expected to take initiative and solve problems.

              1. Irish Teacher*

                Yes, I nearly added to my previous comment that I once subbed in a school where the students were completely stumped when I asked them to do any assignments that required independent thinking, like “what do you think is going to happen next in this play?” I got questions like “can you give us the first line to start us off?” No, I cannot give you a line about what you think. And “but how are we supposed to know that when we haven’t read it?”

                I strongly suspect the teacher I was covering for was one who very much expected the “correct” answer. “Learn off these notes on the themes of the play and write them out in the exam” so they were trying to figure out what was “the correct answer” I wanted, when what I wanted was for them to show they had paid attention to what we had read so far and had thought about it enough to make a guess at what the characters might do.

                I’m guessing it’s similar in the workplace.

                1. Emmy Noether*

                  mh, now you’ve got me thinking about how early this stuff is taught. “What do you think happens next in he story?” is literally a question I ask my toddler all the time. Yesterday I asked her if she thought horses could climb trees. She’s als informed me she doesn’t believe bears can climb trees either, because they’re too heavy (which, while incorrect in result, is good application of critical thinking – I told her they’d need very big, stable trees).

                  Maybe if one is raised to think critically from literally the moment one can talk, it just feels intrinsic.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          When I taught for a year in a high school, I had the kids write a paper on a genetic disease. A couple of my kids told me they probably wouldn’t remember anything about the disease a month later. I told them that didn’t matter, because what I wanted them to learn was how to start looking up information about a topic, and how to figure out what sources were good information and which ones were not (as in, please go ahead and START your research at Wikipedia, but don’t cite it in your bibliography because it’s not a reliable reference). Those are the things they can carry forward into the rest of school and the real world.

        3. New Jack Karyn*

          I’m still struggling with how to teach this in high school science. I want to do a better job of it, but unsure how.

    6. 143*

      Having faced and successfully dealt with a similar problem more than once, the best way to assist Jane is probably to provide her with examples of great reports and investigations, with notes about what makes that example a strong one. Then provide examples of Jane’s own work, with notes that point out the good parts and those that need improvement, with explanations, and examples of what she should be doing instead. This solves the problem 99% of the time, in my experience.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        That is such a good idea bc it makes it actionable on her part. If there are no reports, are there statistics you can share. How much most people complete, done correctly, without supervision/handholding, etc

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        This is honestly a best practice for training in general. To the extent it’s possible, trainees should get to see examples of previous work that met standards – and for work that has a lot of variable/subjective content, ideally they should be given several samples that represent a range of high quality variations, so they can see what qualities are common to all the examples and what qualities are more stylistic choices made by the producer/author of each example – maybe Jane creates all her marketing briefs using a template she got comfortable with using at a previous agency job, but Sreedar creates his briefs using a template his boss shared with him after seeing it used in a conference workshop, and the two templates put more emphasis on slightly different things – Jane’s lays out budget allocation by vendor while Sreedar’s doesn’t get that granular, and Sreedar’s goes into more detail about messaging angles for different audiences with a paragraph narrative for each while Jane’s just lists the audiences in a grid with the key message for each, but ultimately they both have included all the parts necessary for success in a clear, readable format, and by seeing examples from both of them side by side, the trainee can identify what those necessary parts are, see that there’s some flexibility in how to present them, and get a few different options they could choose to emulate according to which they like best.

      3. J*

        I really agree with this. I have also seen some strong critical thinkers be given pushback by micromanagers or systems that disempower personal choice (think about anyone who ever did a stint in telemarketing or government) and then it affects their future career until someone provides strong examples that counter this. Maybe this worker is just not ready for critical thinking or maybe it’s been something that’s been trained out of them but showing successes might fix the latter and help the former.

    7. FashionablyEvil*

      The part that I think is intrinsic is actually a sense of curiosity. You can teach people how to think and approach a problem (shout out to my 7th grade algebra teacher!) but you can’t make them curious.

      That said, I don’t think there’s any way to teach these skills to someone in 1-3 months on the job.

      1. Lilo*

        Agreed. I train people at my job and qhile I can sit down and go over the decision making process and how you should approach problems, if someone just can’t hack the problem-solving aspect, it’s really really hard to teach. I find the best way is to model, by taking actual files and walking through them with my trainee. But at some point they have to start drawing the connections themselves.

    8. kiki*

      I think like most things, it’s a skill that some people have a natural talent for. It can be taught, the issue is that it can be tricky and time-intensive to teach. So it’s not always something a job can take the time and effort tor train somebody on. I think it’s also hard for people who are natural critical thinkers to teach because it comes so innately to them– somebody who’s learning probably will need to go through concrete steps and processes to practice (making pro and cons lists, making a flow chart to get to the root of the problem), a natural critical thinker may go through all this sort of stuff in their head in under a minute. So the natural critical thinker may say something like, “just think things through a bit more,” but what does that actually mean? Think of what exactly?

      1. kiki*

        It’s like when I recently went to the batting cages with a friend. They’re very athletic and said, “It’s easy! Just swing and hit the ball.” It was not easy for me! Swing how? Swing when? That’s why coaching and teaching are such a valuable skills– not everyone has them.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Heh, I’m like that with knitting. My brain really understands the 3D process that turns yarn into fabric, and I can figure out most stuff intuitively. This apparently makes me a *terrible* knitting teacher! I tried to teach one of my friends once and she was like, “What’s gone wrong here?” and I said, “Oh yeah, that’s wrong, you need to do it right instead”. There is lots of stuff I’m very good at breaking down into steps and bringing people along with me, but with knitting I’m just, *shrug emoji*

    9. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t think “intrinsic” is the right word. I think it’s helpful to have critical thinking skills taught at an earlier age and to get to practice them, but people who have the right aptitude and want to learn can be taught. The question is whether an organization has the resources and time to train on it.

      I have kids. They didn’t come pre-wired with critical thinking skills, we have to teach them and reinforce that every day. It’s a basic process of defining the problem, identifying and ranking solutions, implementing, and having a Plan B. Both of my kids have executive function issues, so we have to provide explicit instruction and talk them through things, Socratic method style.

      I am cheating a little bit though – I work in an industry where problem-solving is a vital skill, and I’ve both used my experience with my kids to create training and set expectations and also used my work training on my kids. :)

    10. ferrina*

      I’ve run into similar issues to the LW- my Jane had experience and more years in the industry than I did, but she had trouble finding underlying issues and taking the right steps. She was great if you told her exactly what was needed and gave her SOPs or guidelines, but we created bespoke products and there weren’t always guidelines.

      Part of it did seem intrinsic. Jane worked alongside Ronald, who started with the same tendencies. Ronald was a new grad and didn’t have any industry experience. They made similar critical thinking errors- they would read a client email and only solve for the immediate problem or expect the client to tell them how to solve the problem. The difference was that when I showed Ronald what he missed, he would catch it on future emails and be able to extrapolate those learnings to different types of scenarios. Jane only applied it to that exact scenario and client email.

    11. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Most skills are like this, really.

      For some people, doing X comes naturally.

      For some people, doing X takes practice and feels very hard but they can improve.

      For others, doing X is all but impossible because their brain/body simply doesn’t work that way.

      1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

        I meant to add:

        With people you manage, people in the first category are great, people in the third category are in the wrong job.

        If you manage someone in the second category for a skill you need, you weigh up whether it’s worth the time/cost investment in them learning vs hiring someone new and screening for that skill earlier in the process (like LW’s old system which sounds like it worked).

        Jane’s response to being put on the PIP, her curiosity about how to improve, etc will be a useful indicator as to whether she’s in category 2 or 3!

    12. Potatoes gonna potate*

      The idea that they can’t be learned makes me a little sad tbh. I do feel my thinking skills are average. In my annual review I was rated low on that – when I asked the manager who rated it if he could provide examples of what he was looking for….I had literally done every single one of those things. I had never had an assignment from this person – he even said we haven’t really worked together. And my boss who I’ve done 99% of the work for, said that I was fine in that regard.

      I echo everyone’s sentiments – be specific about what’s needed. Things like critical thinking or communication skills aren’t always – there are things that may be obvious to most, but not to others.
      There are a million ways I can improve but that assertion that it can’t be learned/improved is a little demoralizing.

      1. OP3*

        The specificity is where I’m having trouble. I can show her examples of things that went wrong–I do this almost daily as we work through problem/solutions together. I point out the errors in thinking and help guide her toward better solutions. That is all very specific and happening in real time.

        However, since we solve problems on an ongoing basis, I don’t have examples of where a client was affected, for example. That’s why I’m having so much trouble 1. communicating the issue directly to Jane and 2. writing the improvement plan.

        I definitely won’t put “improve critical thinking skills” on an improvement plan. I know that’s not helpful.

        I appreciate all the comments. I’m working on trying to use all the advice in a practical way.

        1. Allonge*

          Would it make sense to, in the ‘pattern’ discussion, point out how many times you need to intervene in the problem-solving process? The customers may not be impacted as you are there to catch the issues, but I would bet that you are not supposed to spend so much time in hand-holding her. So that is the outcome.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          I don’t know if this translates to your environment, but in a past job in a support role we had a ticket system where it was easy to report on how many workers touched a ticket. One of the standards we set out for staff was something like if you’re a ThatJob I you’re expected to be able to resolve 75% of tickets where you’re the primary without assistance. If you’re a ThatJob II, 80%. If you’re a ThatJob III, 90%. There was a ramp-up period so it’s not like someone two weeks on the job was meant to hit those, but it should’ve been the norm by about 4-5 months in. And these were standards people met, not lofty unachievable goals. It was very easy to report on how many tickets they escalated to one or more other people. When we had one person who was hired in supposedly to be a III barely doing 50% without help six months in, they were rightly put on a PIP. Living in it, it felt very much like a “gah, too much hand holding, not even trying to solve problems before roping someone else in”, but measuring the outcomes turned out not to be as hard.

      2. Allonge*

        Hmm, I would say there is a decent chance that if a manager who never worked with you is rating you, they are working on incomplete data at best and making it up. So: just because they have the authority to rate you, does not mean that 1. they are correct or 2. they know what they are doing.

        Meaning – you may or may not need to improve your critical thinking skills (I guess we all do?), but I would not draw conclusions based on this particular feedback.

    13. Serenechi*

      Very much this. I am mentoring a new person to this type of role.

      She is emotionally mature is calm under stress manages internal walkthroughs and client meetings brilliantly. Sadly this is 10% of the job.

      However, she cannot do analytical thinking. Or when given something new come up with the right analysis and questions to ask other teams. When she writes a document that would take me 2 days to write, I spend 3 days helping her and it takes her 2 weeks to produce the deliverable. It’s not laziness or unwillingness to learn.

      As analytical thinking is 85% of the job my boss has a hard decision to make. I have my mentee a lifeline by suggesting to my boss that as 2 similar projects are coming up let’s give them to her to see how she does. Also try and limit her to just doing the one thing say llama grooming when we have say 15 other animals to groom.

      I would love her to succeed because her soft skills are off the charts.

      Ironically I was in a similar boat when trying to learn C++ to get through a Maths degree. I had no aptitude for it and never worked so hard to fail a subject twice. I even had to resort to memorising code to try passing. But my failure there led me to stay un the career I was in and after 30 years I love it.

  14. Dhaskoi*

    LW: Oh boy do you need a conflict of interest policy. Where I work it’s actually a set question in the interview process ‘do you have a pre-existing relationship of any kind with any current or former employee of the company, that you know of?’

    It being her daughter’s boyfriend instead of a more formal/legal relationship makes no difference at all.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Yes, and a nepotism policy is really just a subset of “conflict of interest policies” because that’s the reason it is drawn up – so getting hung up on whether a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship ‘qualifies’ as nepotism is a distinction without a difference. In any case they were together for at least 2 years (presumably longer as it must have been an already established relationship when he was taken on) which is partner rather than casual dating level of commitment anyway.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I’d say even “close friend” falls into that category, and that’s an even less formal/legal relationship.

    2. Drago Cucina*

      In some places that’s really tough. We once hired a tech person who was a third cousin of our business manager. In our community, it would be almost impossible to not hire someone who had no relationship with someone else.

      At one time my son started dating my assistant director (I was the director). The first thing I did was to call my board chair and let him know. I also informed the department heads and let them know that it wouldn’t impact my open-door policy. But, if they had a conflict with the assistant director and felt uncomfortable bringing it to me, they could go directly to the board chair.

      I think transparency is key.

  15. MrsThePlague*

    This is not the point of the LW’s letter, but I’m curious: Allison says that it’s not customary for employers to pay for fixing mistakes they made in taxes/payroll. I don’t doubt she is correct, but how is that a thing? If they screwed it up, why wouldn’t they be responsible for fixing it? Is it really just as simple as: “Oops, our bad. Good luck getting that fixed”?

    1. Hamster Manager*

      It’s possible it wasn’t an accident, it could have been someone not bothering to file the appropriate paperwork, or something worse. *adjusts tinfoil hat*

      I once had a freelance agent take too many taxes from me (they withheld employee and employer taxes ON A W2) and no amount of arguing or pointing out that that was illegal could persuade them. Lighting the bridge on fire on Glassdoor was all I could do; they rightfully assumed freelancers getting milked for illegal taxes AND a service fee they charged wouldn’t shell out for a lawyer.

    2. Parenthesis Guy*

      In general, many of these issues are slightly annoying but don’t do harm. For example, regardless of whether the employer withholds state tax, if you owed $5000 for the year, you would still owe $5000. It’s just that for some people it’s easier to pay if state taxes are withheld but not taking it out doesn’t harm you.

      But this case is more drastic. The payroll company should morally compensate the employees. In addition, the employee may be able to file a complaint with the IRS to get the company fined.

  16. Waving not Drowning*

    OP 1 – we’ve had a similar situation at work. Manager of our team employed her sons girlfriend, her best friend, and also her sons girlfriends flatmate. Of the three, she tried to hide the relationship to her sons girlfriend, and her sons girldfriends flatmate (her now former best friend let us know – she was so screwed over by Manager that she left, and they no longer talk).

    None of these people were qualified for the roles they were in. None of them would have passed the essential criteria in our position descriptions. We’re an office job that relies heavily on excel (as well as other programs) – two had never used excel before. Her sons girlfriend was actually a hard worker, and did become a strong member of the team over time – however – they were given preferential treatment, access to training and other opportunities that we asked about, but we were deemed not worthy of attending. Any suggestions we had for improvement were shot down in flames, but, anything her favoured team member came up with was amazing and we needed to implement yesterday.

    HR wouldn’t do anything about it, because they didn’t see it was a problem because she eventually declared the relationship.

    In my current team, leadership imploded spectacularly after a Director employed their partner and promoted them (why yes, I work in Academia….) . I believe the promoted person was sort of qualified for the role, but, there were other equally qualified candidates who were not even told of the opportunity. Director has now been demoted, and a temporary Director appointed to run the Department.

    We do have partners/friends and in one case grandmother/grand daughter working together (as peers). We have a small population base, so there is always going to be that factor. But, as well as being open and transparent, people need to show how they can fairly manage that person, and then do it – and show that they are doing it!

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I feel like that sort of situation (completely unqualified hires) would also be prevented by not having a single person make hiring decisions. For example, where I work, candidates go through at least two rounds of interviews with different people, any of whom could veto the candidate. Nobody can just employ someone on their sole authority (except the owners of the business, at which point it’s their problem paying dead weight employees).

      1. Waving not Drowning*

        For our Permanent positions, it’s a 3 person interview panel, 2 from that department and an equivalent person from another, separate, division. With the first bad manager, she brought them in as fixed term which doesn’t have such stringent criteria, which is how she could circumvent the essential criteria.

        Second one, not sure how she did the appointment.

        These two managers were also terrible people managers in so many other aspects too. They had their strengths, but were just awful at people management.

        We do have positive experiences regarding partners/family members being employed and being managed correctly – but they don’t make the good stories.

    2. Llama Wrangler*

      I also work in Academia, and or institution has a negotiation/conflict of interest policy that disallows people from being managed by someone with that type of relationship (well, son’s girlfriend’s roommate might be a stretch). I mean sure, people can lie like in LW’s case, but there’s no reason that there couldn’t or shouldn’t be such a policy just because it’s Academia.

      1. Waving not Drowning*

        The hilarious thing… the flatemate was a glorified assistant for the sons girlfriend. We, as in the wider team we’re not allowed to ask her to help us, but SG had her running around and helping her clean out cupboards. We suspect it was so manager could help her sons girlfriend pad her resume with supervisory experience. When I was working out my notice period (I was transferring to another department – manager was a micromanaging control freak … so many stories about her!!) manager assigned me a large project, which was madness, as it was a 2 person 3 week job and I was expected to do it, plus wind up everything else I was doing plus document everything in 3 weeks.

        I gave daily updates as to my progress, and asked if J could help – and was told no. Funnily enough, J was assigned to do it after I left, but didn’t – no idea what she did. So, 6 months later, I get copied in an email trail from my former grand boss asking if I had records of the project – former manager tried to throw me under the bus, saying I didn’t do it when asked, not expecting that grand boss would follow it up with me directly. I politely responded with my email trail, showing the progress and my many requests for help, my summary of what I achieved, and documenting what still needed to be done, with a final response from manager that she would get J to do it. Manager was …not happy. Always keep receipts!!!

      2. Paulina*

        Yes. Also in academia, and our policy specifying conflict of interest includes not only family but also anything else that would materially advantage family. Son’s girlfriend would fall foul of that (since the son would be helped by his girlfriend getting a job). We also have unions for most of our staff positions, so there are strong rules. That doesn’t stop some of the academics from trying to ignore these issues, though; some come from very different backgrounds with respect to such rules and they seem to do their best to avoid learning them.

    3. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      UGH this makes me mad. Legacy Admissions to college and nepotism in the workplace is the real issue – not affirmative action. People getting into college or getting a job that way are the ones actually taking positions away from more qualified applicants.

      I don’t mind when networking gets someone an interview. And I have no problem with related folks working together if they are both qualified and they aren’t managing each other (except in family business where that’s often unavoidable.)

      But man it grinds my gears when someone unqualified gets a job over someone qualified because they were in a frat with the boss’s son.

  17. Emma*

    Perhaps LW5 and their colleagues could save money by getting together to hire one accountant to deal with the problem for all of them?

    It’s an incredibly crappy situation, and you have my sympathy LW. Makes me very glad to live somewhere where income tax is all handled between the revenue and employers directly, and the only time individuals have to get involved is if you’re self-employed.

    1. Jinni*

      Great idea. My accountant does this (kind of like a personal audit). If the cost is split, it may be very affordable per person.

      1. Emma*

        Well, maybe, but it sounds like the process is pretty similar between states, so a qualified and competent accountant might be happy to do the lot even if they don’t have experience in all the relevant states.

        1. spiriferida*

          Isn’t a qualified accountant going to need to be licensed in the state(s) where they work?

        2. Cmdrshrd*

          “but it sounds like the process is pretty similar between states, ” this is a big assumption, the general process might be similar, but the specific step by step process may end up being very different.

          As spiriferida mentioned to actually be able to sign/submit filings they will likely have to be licensed/registered in each state.

  18. Raida*

    2. How to deal with a needy customer when I answer the phones

    Perhaps a monthly report, showing all orders in the pipeline, their current status and if that is in line with estimated progress or not.
    Emailed to him, at the start of every month, to essentially answer all questions without wasting anyone’s time.

    1. Emily*

      That’s not really actionable advice for LW though, because LW is not the sales rep. LW is just the unlucky person who has to take this obnoxious person’s calls, and doesn’t have the luxury of declining the calls like the sales reps do.

      LW, I think you should keep your conversation with this person as brief as possible, and just clearly state to this person what you can and cannot do (e.g., we do not have a paging system so I am not able to page Jane, but I can transfer you to her voicemail).

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I am a fan of the gray wall technique: have a set response and use it every single time, using the exact same words spoken in the exact same intonation. Eventually all but the very slowest figure out that this is all they are going to get.

        1. bamcheeks*

          You can also make a game of this– if this is on teams or something, transcribe the conversation, and then practice getting your responses to exactly the same thing and see whether you can literally recreate the same conversation every day…

        2. Emily*

          Yes, I think this is the perfect way to handle this, and does not reward the behavior.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I really think this is just a not-your-monkey situation. I get that a good admin wants to solve people’s problems so it’s probably hard to embrace the not-my-monkey thinking, but that’s what it is.

  19. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP3: I’ve dealt with the same issue – a person who wanted to be in the higher ranks of tech support and showed absolutely no ability to troubleshoot or come up with solutions unless they were written down in a script. Which you can’t do at 2nd or 3rd line!

    I could teach them our specific technical systems, some of which are bespoke, but it became clear later on that while they absorbed the knowledge of how to *use* the systems they couldn’t wrap their head around how to *fix* any of them. Perfectly lovely and pleasant person, just couldn’t do the kind of ‘well that didn’t work let’s try something a bit weird’ thinking that we needed.

    Tried wording things like ‘you do need to be able to solve, or at least show the steps you’ve tried to solve, the problems that come in. At this point I expect to see a dedicated amount of time trying out your own solutions before passing the call over as ‘unsolveable’.

    Made a big thing about needing to see the steps. Like a maths exam – I wanted to see the thinking here, not necessarily the result.

    They tried, but we ended up parting ways by mutual agreement that this job wasn’t in their wheelhouse. If you can’t troubleshoot by nature I think it’s an incredibly hard thing to train, if not impossible.

    1. OP3*

      OP3 here —
      Thank you for your thoughts. Like in your case, Jane can answer questions that are well documented or scripted, but she can’t move on to the next step. I don’t want to get into to many specifics about our industry, but one of the problems we have is that if Jane solves a problem the wrong way, or gives bad advice to a client, in many cases we either won’t ever know, or we won’t know until it’s far too late to fix it. There’s often no endpoint where it’s obvious to all “this is solved” or “this is not solved”. Since she doesn’t know when she needs help, I essentially can’t trust any of her independent work. This is a burden on the team, as well as on my management time.

      1. Rick Tq*

        If you can’t trust her work after this many months Jane is in the wrong job and needs to be reassigned.

  20. cabbagepants*

    #3 language to use describing critical thinking… I see critical thinking coming up mostly with decision making.

    “Challenges assumptions and seeks additional information when needed to make the best decision for the business.”

    “Can identify and resolve ambiguity in a way that satisfies the company needs, including identifying and weighing all available options and taking input from the impacted stakeholders.”

    “Understands the impact of potential decisions and issues and can prioritize among multiple conflicting needs in a way aligned with the needs of the business.”

    1. the Viking Diva*

      yes to this! Training and reading can get someone up to speed with the domain-specific knowledge (what are the decisions about?) but the decision-making itself is a different skill.

      I had to let a new hire go after figuring out they could not do the postdoc-level research they were hired to do. Could not find papers relevant to our problem, summarize or analyze the ones I provided. Could not identify what info was or wasn’t relevant to our goal. Could not generate ideas for how to do these things. I thought hard about communication differences, neurodiversity, my assumptions. I spent a lot of time trying to find structures that would make the tasks click – templates, models, choices, diagrams, deadlines. Maybe our planning conversations are too much of a verbal blitz? Then let’s write down the takeaways and to-dos. My written version doesn’t match your memory? OK, you write it and I’ll confirm. Nothing helped.

      HR was dubious about the termination decision: what training did I provide, how did I know that was sufficient, don’t some things take longer to learn? I questioned myself too, was I being unfair? If somehow this person had missed those opportunities in their education, was it my obligation to provide them? But I had seen undergraduates succeed at those same tasks, with appropriate scaffolding. I know how to teach those skills to students, and when I hire a student, I expect to need to do that – like the OP used to, I hire them for aptitude, not experience. But when I hire a more senior person, with the right degrees and experiences (on paper…), I expect them to have those skills already and bring them to my problem.

      It was an eye-opener and one that still makes me sad. We have added some steps to the hiring process since then..

      1. cabbagepants*

        Some people either can’t or won’t resolve ambiguity. Maybe they have spent too much time in a highly structured environment where any ambiguity indicated an error than management (or a teacher) fixed for them. Maybe they had a past experience getting in trouble for making the wrong decision. Maybe their brain doesn’t compute ambiguity.

        As you know, sometimes you can unlock repressed critical thinking with training and a safe environment; but sometimes, you just can’t.

  21. 143*

    OP3, I feel you! I used to manage a team of investigators in a specialist field, and we had this problem a few times. It’s tough.

    If you haven’t already done this, I would definitely recommend providing Jane with examples of reports and investigations that were done well, with notes as to what you believe were their good points, and why you have that opinion. I’d also provide her with some copies of her own work, with notes included as to what about it she is doing well, or has done well, and why you thought that work was strong, as well as notes on what you think she can improve on, and why. And then some comparison notes.

    So, in practice, if one example of a good investigation report is Report A, provide an annotated copy of it, with notes like, “this report is a good example of detection and analysis of Problem 1, because they step it through by doing XYZ. This is important, because Problem 1 is so common”. And with one of Jane’s reports, you could put, “locating this evidence of Problem 2 by looking through [place it isn’t usually located] is really good work, because so many people would have missed that” and then “your analysis of Problem 2 in this instance is good, but to ensure we have a strong case, we need more information. I’ve provided you with 3 examples of how we can do this going forward in Report A, Report B, and Report C”, and then provide additional notes in those 3 sample reports.

    This is the type of approach I took with any investigators who needed additional support, and it always worked really well. People love examples of what their work should look like, and explanatory notes and highlights provide more clarity. But always try and find at least something in their own work that you can praise. It really helps.

  22. Kiitemso*

    #2 What I might do depends on how big a problem this is in the scale of things. In my line of work, if you have an annoying caller who calls 3 times a day is taking significant time away from people who might be calling with actual new business, because the phone is pretty much constantly ringing and if the receptionist is on the phone, then the other calls won’t get through (or will be in queue which annoys people). But if the phone only rings approx 10 times a day and this guy is two of those calls, then you just deal with it.

    I wouldn’t prolong the calls or the pain of them by pretending you don’t know who it is. “Is this Mr Smith? Okay, let me patch you over to Fiona. Oh she didn’t pick up? We can try her again or [another solution].” The pretension of not knowing who it is again will only annoy him more and make the next calls more annoying to deal with.

    Another thing we do is just say, “I’ll let them know you’ve been in touch” and leave it at that. No explanations, no promises someone will get back to him when there’s no updates.

    1. tw1968*

      Was thinking the same thing…maybe start logging calls and time used from this person so you have hard data of how much time it’s costing you.

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        If the things they sell are custom commercial/industrial equipment (and it sounds from the time scale that they are something in that range-nobody is waiting two years for a smoothy machine), the things probably cost 5, 6 or 7 figures each. Nobody is telling Annoying Bob, who regularly buys $175,000 machines, that he has to go away because he is wasting $20 of the receptionist’s time every week. Drop in the bucket.

  23. April*

    Re: letter #2:

    I work at the front desk of a retirement community, and JUST TODAY I had one of those people who answers my greeting with “I have a question about [non-urgent subject] and I don’t want you to transfer me to a *voicemail* I want to talk to a *person*”

    And all I can do is those situations is put on a voice that’s so smile-y it borders on audible sarcasm and reply “Well, I’d love to, but I’m in a totally different part of the building, and I can’t make anyone answer their phone! But I can transfer you to the phone for [person who knows the answer], is that okay?”

    Like, what do they think it’s going to accomplish? Why on earth would someone think the receptionist can force someone in another department to answer their phone?!

    1. Allonge*

      The type of person who does this in my experience does not think about what calling (for the 43rd time) will accomplish.

      They know the status of “things are the way I want them” and the alternative “things are not the way they should be” and whenever they meet the second situation, they feel an urgent need to Do Something TM about it. Or make others Do Something TM, whether or not that makes any sense.

      Indeed a very annoying trait. In my family the appropriate response is to say ‘shall I run in circles?’ – the point being that it will not help, but it certainly looks like I am doing something.

      1. OxfordBlue*

        A novel I read recently had one character tell another character a little rhyme for exactly this sort of situation.
        “When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Was it by Spider Robinson? I recall that line from one of his books, but I suppose it’s not unique to him.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        I get all the time. Someone will email late at night, then call first thing in the morning because they haven’t heard back yet, then call 3 times in a row if I don’t pick up. Hello, if I haven’t picked up the first two times, I am not picking up the third time.

        Fortunately, I can be picky in the clients I take. Persistent calling is a no-no. They get a polite rejection of I am not taking new clients at this time. if it is a current client, I tell them politely that calling and emailing multiple times will not get a faster answer. I have also told my clients up front that 1) email is the best way to get hold of me and 2) I respond to non-emergency emails usually within 2 day business days (its usually 1 but sometimes something happens so i give the leeway). So they know the expectation up front. Some of them do not care. I then tell me that emailing me for status updates weekly will not move the case along any faster.

        OP, the only advice I have is ask your boss how they want you to handle the guy. It might be, just keep transferring them to voicemail. It might be that they tell you to tell the guy to stop calling and someone will contact him when there is an update. But like Alison said this is most definitely not your problem to solve.

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        “We have to do something!”

        “This is something, let’s do it”–with no consideration of whether the thing is likely to work.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      I suspect some of these people think you are deliberately and maliciously putting them through to a phone that everybody knows not to answer or something.

      There seems to be a subset of people who think there is some “hack” that can get you what you want and don’t ever believe that people representing companies are telling them the truth. Like there’s some conspiracy to deny them what they want or the people they contact are “being lazy” and “refusing to do their job” and if you just “call them out on it,” they will do things properly and give you what you want.

      Honestly, I think doing all that would be more work than just doing the job but I guess it comes from wanting to believe there is some way around the problem.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Ages ago, I worked in a place that had an empty office. If someone called and said they wanted to talk to a real person and not a voicemail, and we knew the person they were asking for was not available (and told them), we would just transfer them to that phone and let it ring. Generally that phone would ring for a couple of minutes, then the person would hang up, call back, and ask for the person’s voicemail.

      I mean, you’ve just asked for two incompatible things: we’ve told you the person you want to speak to and you’ve said you don’t want to leave a voicemail. What other choice did we have?

      The longest the phone ever rang was over 15 minutes.

    4. Seacalliope*

      As someone who has worked reception, but who had to call a doctor’s office twice a day about an issue they deemed non-urgent (an allergy plan that was needed for continuance of daycare), I get both sides of this issue. It is exhausting because both sides are facing sheer helplessness. As a customer, there is no way for me to actually get help and my needs were perceived as unimportant, even though the matter was quite urgent for me. As a receptionist, there was absolutely no way for me to get help for the customer.

      Some customers definitely need to temper their expectations, but we also need to extend some grace to them, since helpless is not a good feeling.

      1. WellRed*

        As someone who bought a car last Thursday only to have it be all but undrivable on Sunday from a large reputable dealer, I found it frustrating to have to wait 12 hours for them to simply confirm pickup of the vehicle or acknowledge the delay.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      They unfortunately think you’re not transferring them to an actual desk where human may or may not answer. They think if you transfer them and it results in voicemail that you sent them directly to a voicemail box. So they think announcing this is somehow making you aware they’re “onto you” and will make you do otherwise, rather than the more obvious answer: you sent them to the right person and have no control over said person answering or not.

  24. Ellis Bell*

    OP2, I used to have a similarly needy customer and they genuinely believed that they more they asked for, the more they got. I think my main tactics were: 1) infusing warmth and concern into my voice, so they didn’t have to ‘persuade’ me to care. 2) treating every discussion like we were scratching an unavoidable itch to check on things; as that’s the only palpable benefit to the calls that I could come up with 3) Being open to the out of the box ‘brainstorming’ mode that your customer is in, so in that you’re not (internally) shooting down ideas for being stupid as in “No one’s paging anyone, dude, it’s not 1980”, but more “Pagers, huh? It’s been considered, but actually people respond so much faster to email that there’s no need for a paging system”. I don’t think you’re failing to explain anything, it’s just that the long wait times, even though unavoidable, are probably genuinely irritating and creating this unavoidable itch to check. Just tick the boxes of making sure they know everything that can be done, has been done: “I’m in a different location entirely, so I can’t summon anyone and there’s no usable paging system, but I can send my own email on top of yours if you think that helps”, and “I know the timings of these things are really frustrating, but from what I can see there hasn’t been any unusual delays” or “Were you expecting an update this week? If I know why you were expecting that it might help me find the right person” or “I can forward your call to X number if you think that will help, but I think you have the direct line already.”

    1. Emily*

      Frankly, I think this is WAY too much interaction. People calling this much are not being at all reasonable. This person is aware there is not a pager system, and engaging with them about it is just allowing them to waste more of your time.

  25. Big Pig*

    LW#5 makes me thankful for PAYE here in the UK, it isn’t perfect and I don’t fully understand it but I don’t have to file my own taxes thank goodness!

    1. Mercurial*

      Right?! I was reading and feeling incredibly grateful this isn’t a thing here unless you earn over a certain threshold (I don’t!). But any tax mistakes and problems are just as headache-inducing, so much sympathy to that OP.

    2. londonedit*

      It’s still possible to end up on the wrong tax code here, though, and then it becomes a nightmare trying to contact/deal with HMRC to sort it out. But I agree, it seems to me that having everything deducted at source (unless you are a company director/have other sources of income/are self-employed etc) is far more straightforward. Then again, with different states having different taxes and laws etc in the US, it’s all a lot more complicated anyway! Here, everyone pays tax to HMRC within the same parameters, so it’s all easier to administrate (even if HMRC do seem to find myriad ways to balls it up).

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yeah, my mom worked in MA, but we lived in NH. NH has no income tax, MA does. But she worked for the state university, and they had a weird agreement which meant that she paid tax in MA, and it came back to NH but the government got it, not her. I don’t actually know why that was, I just remember her talking about it. Complicated!!

  26. Despachito*

    OP1 – I know this is a tricky one, but if you had no idea whatsoever until it was revealed to you, does it not mean there was no favoritism to speak of?

    If both the boss and the boyfriend were able to keep it on an arms-length basis all the time, was it really a problem? (I know this situation CAN lead to favoritism and is tricky as such, and that people are often delusional and think they can make it work while they in fact can’t but definitely there are some who can)?

  27. Harper the Other One*

    OP 3 – one question I’d have is whether the problem is critical thinking/problem solving, or whether it’s a lack of confidence in implementing solutions she’s thinking of. This was a big challenge for me in my first job!

    A way I thought of that you could untangle that is to have a PIP metric be something like “when you approach me with a question/issue you will also present a proposed answer/solution for discussion.” If Jane does that and the solutions are good, then you can make the new goal to implement without checking with you! If they’re not, you’ll know it’s a true problem solving issue and you can consider things like working through problems with her etc.

    1. OP3*

      OP3 here–Jane often will say something that seems pretty confident (e.g. “There’s something wrong with Report X. I’ll fix it.”) but I have learned to question everything at this point. When I ask “What exactly is wrong and how are you going to change it?” the answer is completely off base. Either there was no problem to start with, or her solution would make things worse. After, we do work through the problem together.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Can you find some sample cases, either hers or others’, and work through them as training exercises to see where she’s missing the skills? Is it in diagnosing the problem, knowing what’s the highest-priority issue, or not understanding how the parts fit together?

        Some people are just not going to get it, and you’re right that it’s harder to PIP more qualitative skills. I love Alison’s advice on looking at your most successful people and breaking down what they are doing that is working for her objectives.

      2. Rick Tq*

        It sounds like Jane needs to be reassigned. She doesn’t appear have the knowledge base to understand correct vs incorrect nor the ability to predict corrective actions.

  28. Briggs Myer is nonsence*

    Got to love it when your work is super casual with your tax or student loan repayments.

  29. Irish Teacher*

    LW5, I guess this doesn’t exist in the US or Alison would have mentioned it, but just in case: do ye have any companies that will check your taxes over the previous number of years to see if there are mistakes and will sort it for you? In Ireland, there are companies that will go through your taxes and see if you have overpaid and get it sorted. I think they do it on a no-win-no-pay basis, though that wouldn’t work if your taxes were underpaid.

    You’d probably need to get a recommendation as I’m always a bit worried about scams with stuff like that, but I know my sister got money back on taxes with one of those organisations. (Here, it is quite common to be unaware of things you can claim for.)

    LW2, I think some people just do stuff like that. Not related to work but I remember in our last election, there was somebody running as an independent somewhere in the country who was reasonably well-known in a specific type of online activism and one of my facebook friends in the UK knew of her through this and messaged me before the polls even closed to ask me if this candidate had been elected. I told my facebook friend that the counting wouldn’t even start until the next morning and with the system we use in Ireland, the count takes days and it would probably be two days before we knew whether an independent took say the 4th seat in a constituency or not and could be longer if there were recounts. She still kept messaging me, asking for the results when the answer was “that constituency hasn’t filled even one seat yet and there are a couple of candidates representing the large parties who are bound to fill the first seat or two; there isn’t going to be any news for quite a while.”

    Plus, as somebody above said, there are people who think that annoying a company will make them work on that person’s order first, but even when they know the person they are asking has no power to do anything, some people keep asking just because they hope to hear something or think “well, you’d never know.”

    I’m not sure this is much help because given what you’ve already done, I’m not sure what else you can do to discourage him.

  30. Eastern Shore*

    Something similar with tax issues happened to my husband this year (in Canada). Our accountant realized my husband’s work’s accounting department was not taking off enough taxes at source, so he owed a lot (we’re talking 5 digits—not cash that’s lying around). Luckily he’d put enough in RRSPs away that the return just barely covered the missing taxes. But those RRSPs were a carefully saved investment, so we’re out money we had plans for.

    Now his company’s accounting department insists they’re taking off enough at source and won’t change, and our accountant is livid that we have to keep saving to pay off the gap. And we have no clue how to make it right! Ugh. These errors affect people’s lives and I wish people took this more seriously.

    1. Thatoneoverthere*

      I am in the US, but I filled out something incorrectly on my new hire paperwork when I started a new job. IMO its complicated, but I am not an accountant. I accidently had no tax withheld for an entire year and had to pay it all back. It was awful. I still don’t really know what I did on the paperwork. Either way it was a mess.

      1. Captain Swan*

        You likely messed up the withholding (easy to do).
        They easiest way I have found to fix it is divide however much you owed in a given year divide by the number of paychecks to figure out the amount per paycheck. then tell your payroll to take out that amount. That’s how we fixed ours when our companies weren’t taking out enough over the year.

      2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        My mom did something similar too and so had to pay in. It was a ridiculous amount, like $10 or something. So she changed her tax forms so they withhold an extra amount every paycheck. So basically she is overpaying on her taxes monthly but gets that back with her refund.

    2. OptionalPossum*

      If your husband’s employer is refusing to increase the tax taken off at source, and you have tried giving them a new TD-1 with the increased amounts, I would go straight to calling CRA. Specifically the line the handles employee/employer deductions. I don’t think an employer can refuse a request to increase the amount taken off. Make sure you mention that they are under deducting to begin with. Most of the time it is because they have something incorrect in their payroll software, like they forgot to account for a bonus, or they chose the wrong pay cycle setting.

    3. Rick Tq*

      If you KNOW your husband’s employer isn’t withholding enough taxes you should be setting that money aside yourself now. Between commission checks that are under-withheld and taxable earnings on inherited money I have to track, budget, and save to make quarterly payments during the year.

      Does Canada have the concept of quarterly estimated tax filings?

  31. Enn Pee*

    From a payroll perspective:
    There are some states (New York, for example) that have convenience of the employer rules. In New York, that means that if you are working remotely for your own convenience in another state, but the company you work for is based in New York (and they are directing your work from New York), then your employer is instructed to withhold New York taxes, as if you were working in NY.

    It doesn’t sound that it’s the case for LW5, but these situations can be more complicated than they appear. A good employer should be able to explain them up front.

    Something one of my previous workplaces did was to do a 30 minute post-hire interview with HR 30 days after hire. This allowed them to make sure that things were going ok, but also to ask basic “have you reviewed your paystub?” questions that would prevent this type of mistake from occurring for a long time.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Yes, this. So you’d be responsible for filing in two states – the one you reside in and the one you work in, in this circumstance. NY will refund you for everything withheld, and, in theory, you could use this to pay your state of residence taxes. Best in these cases to do so early so you get the refund before April 15.

      1. doreen*

        I think in the case of NY specifically (don’t know about other places) , you wouldn’t get it all refunded by NY. There was a case of a law professor (Zelinsky?) at a NY law school who worked at his Connecticut home for his own convenience, and he ended up having to pay NY income tax on all of his income from the law school. ( He has apparently filed another lawsuit since during COVID his work from home was not for his own convenience)

  32. Melonhead*

    It’s ultimately each employee’s responsibility to look at your pay stub, every time, and make sure things are being accounted for correctly.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is true (and one of the reasons why employers are legally required to provide paystubs).

      Sadly, a lot of tax situations are so complicated that a lot of people are not able to look at their tax stub and realize if there has been a mistake or not. I’m beginning to think that this is a feature and not a bug.

      Fortunately, local libraries often have some good information on taxes. I highly recommend doing all you can to educate yourself.

    2. Anon4This*

      Doing this will also make the employee’s life much, much easier if there is an issue, too.

      My spouse works for the US federal government. We live in the DC area where it’s very common to live in one state/district/commonwealth and work in another. There are tax reciprocity agreements. About 7 years into his permanent, full-time employment with them, they randomly relocated him to New York, where we do not and have never lived, and started taking out/paying NY taxes – there was literally no reason to change his pay status, he was not due a grade/step increase, was not taking a new position, nor did he submit the triplicate forms required for a change of duty station.

      I caught it because I strongly feel that any time there is extra money or not enough money in your paycheck, you should find out why. NYC locality pay is more than DC’s, so I called to ask why his check was more. That’s when we realized his duty station had been changed to NYC. He called OPM to move him back, and three pay periods later, they started paying taxes in one of the other two DMV jurisdictions in which we did not live.

      All in all, it took nearly three months, seven paychecks, at least a half-dozen phone calls, and an escalation to get him set back to where he was before this all started. We tracked the taxes paid/owed, and OPM disagreed with our assessment and refused to do anything further to rectify the issue. I still think we overpaid our home state taxes that year because of their withholding/paying taxes in the wrong state errors, but OMP was decidedly uninterested in even explaining to us where they came up with their figures.

      TL;DR – check your checks in real time.

        1. Anon4This*

          Not to sound like a stalker, but I did check the open records databases on government pay and the only other fed I could find with the same name was a guy in Missouri three GS grades lower on the pay scale and working for a different department (like State versus Justice versus Interior) entirely.

          I would really love to know what happened, it was so random, and OPM refused to provide any explanation.

  33. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    #2 – use him for good. Every time he calls put a quarter in your splurge jar (could be mental, could be physical-at-home) and then use it to get yourself a treat :P

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      This is really the only actionable thing. LW has no control over this guy, can’t fire him, can’t make his orders happen any faster. At least this way, LW can get something out of it.

  34. State Taxes?*

    For LW5: I have been one of those people who has (in the past) neglected state tax filing for years. Far as I can tell they never noticed. (On the other hand, neglecting to file federal would likely be noticed sooner.) I think it wasn’t a problem because the taxes were being withheld, and I never owed more than what was withheld. So the state didn’t care I didn’t file; they probably came out ahead. I mention to alleviate the worry that you’ll get in trouble for not filing or paying. You could, but it’s not likely.
    This is not your same situation, but, it looks like you have two problems. (three, if you count getting your company’s payroll company fired for incompetence.) 1) you paid what you don’t owe to the state you work in, 2) you haven’t paid what you do owe to the state you live in.
    I recommend treating these separately. Do what you need to to get the money back from your work state.
    Then, consider consulting a lawyer first about your home state. Does your state even know that you have a job? They are not missing what they don’t know about. Once payroll starts withholding correctly for your state, file for that year. Then, depending on what the lawyer says, get in touch with the state tax agency to resolve what to do about previous years. You should have money back from your work state by then. In your place, I think I might not do this at all. Just get it right going forward and let the past be water under the bridge. IANAL but I think you don’t have an obligation to report to the state that you’ve committed a crime. (In this case, not intentionally.) The risk is that they will discover it and then you would not have an ignorance excuse if you already got your money back from the work state. Depending on how busy and overextended the tax agency is, they’re a good chance they would never notice. It might have other unintended consequences, though, so proceed with caution.
    If you and other affected employees all live in the same state, maybe you could get a lawyer as a group. If your home state makes it difficult or costly (fines and penalties), you might even have standing to sue the payroll agency. But again, IANAL. I hate dealing with this kind of paperwork and bureaucracy myself, which is why I’ve procrastinated my way past state deadlines so much, but if I were forced to take care of all this, I might think a bit of paperwork to put that bad payroll company out of business would not be much more trouble.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Whoa, let’s NOT suggest that failing to file state taxes is just an, “Oopsie! Shrug!” moment.

      1. whatchamacallit*

        also, if the state really was coming out ahead, YOU ARE LOSING MONEY THAT IS YOURS. and the problem is that taxes are being withheld for the wrong state. The other state still isn’t collecting any taxes. This is not a situation where the state is coming out ahead so they don’t care, because they aren’t collecting anything.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Noooooo, do not cheat on your taxes, it’s not worth it (unless you are both super rich and have no conscience and can pay lawyers to get you out of it when it all comes crashing down on you).

      A lot of places will waive penalties and work with you if you come forward about a mistake of your own volition, but they won’t be nice if they catch you.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is astonishingly bad advice unless you are a well-off white collar criminal that can spend more on lawyers than the actual taxes would have been to bury your local department of taxation and revenue in legalese.

      Filing state tax returns are typically easier than federal and they are either included or can be added on for like $20 in most of the home tax programs. I spend hours entering everything for my federal taxes and like 5-10 minutes finalizing my state return in TurboTax. If you are paying more taxes than you owe and never filing a return, you’re basically giving the government your money and failing comply with state laws that require filing of returns over a certain income level (which, absent a crappy payroll company ARE reported to the state, and if they correct their sloppy work, your state’s going to get a whole bunch of your job/salary/tax info all at once, which will draw attention).

      I know, based on a good friend’s recent experiences with them, that our state tax office is aggressive about negligence and malfeasance. Her soon-to-be-ex effed around with their taxes and both of them are now finding out. The IRS was far more pleasant and flexible, provided appropriate penalties were paid on the agreed-upon plan. The state tax office is threatening felonies and jail time.

      1. State Taxes?*

        I should clarify. I am not advocating tax fraud. I am advocating checking with a lawyer about how, when, and whether one should admit past tax mistakes that may or may not constitute fraud. And, to get the overpayment back from the overpaid state before trying to correct with the underpaid state.

        Yes, it was a mistake for me not to file state taxes several years ago. But for me, that was just a mistake where I undoubtably lost money. Would not have been fraud unless I owed money. (It seems like I would have got a letter if I owed anything.)

        For the LW, if there might be legal liability, it would be best to get legal advice before going to a state agency and admitting to what may be a crime. I don’t advocate crime but I also don’t advocate turning yourself in if you’ve done one, unless it is the best strategy for you legally. In this case, it probably is. My suggestion is to find that out first.

  35. Student*

    -Make sure they fix it going forward.
    -You likely need to pay quarterly taxes to your state to handle this year’s taxes without a penalty.
    -If it were me, I’d report the company you work for and the payroll company both to your state’s tax collection authority. There might be a state labor board or something that you can also report them to.

    When taxes are your business, like the payroll company, nobody just “messes up”. They knowingly commit tax fraud. This scheme is probably saving your company, or the payroll company, money in some shady way. And it’s probably not the only outright illegal tax maneuver they’re doing. Let them get audited now, so that they change their ways now. The longer stuff like this lingers, the more likely it is to blow up the company down the line.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I don’t know. I think Hanlon’s razor applies here: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

      But I do agree that this should be reported. This is a HUGE error, and whether this company is malicious or just incompetent, they are probably making other errors. When you mess with somebody’s ability to pay their bills, that’s serious business.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I think the most likely scenario is that the payroll company doesn’t know (or incorrectly entered) the state the employees are in.

        1. ABQ Today*

          The other scenario that occurs to me is that the company doesn’t want to be set up as an employer in the various states that their remote employees are in due to various requirements. For example, if there’s a remote employee working in California, there are a LOT of additional obligations for legal employers operating in California. This may be the company’s attempt to get out of being “in business” in states where they only have employees, but no offices.

          1. doreen*

            Not even just states where there are additional obligations like California. The payroll company likely doesn’t know where the employees live because the employer hasn’t told them and the employer probably didn’t tell them because they don’t want to deal with unemployment, workers comp etc for multiple states.

    2. Tasha*

      “You likely need to pay quarterly taxes to your state to handle this year’s taxes without a penalty.”
      This is not bad advice, but it’s the kind of thing that a person who’s familiar with the tax process says. It sounds like the letter writer would have no idea how to do this.

      1. Student*

        You’re right, they might not know how to file quarterly taxes – but I’m confident they can either learn, or find someone more appropriate than me to teach them.

        I’m not sure what else you want from me here. I don’t know (and don’t want to know) what state they’re in, so I can’t give them a link to follow. I’m giving them a lead on how to minimize the immediate impacts to themselves.

        They can go look up the key words on the internet, check their state’s treasury web site, talk to a local tax preparer, etc. I’m confident they can work it out.

      2. Celeste*

        The website for their state’s department of revenue likely makes this easy – they want people to pay their taxes.

      3. JustaTech*

        When we’ve had to pay quarterly before it wasn’t a choice – the Feds said “you will pay our estimated taxes quarterly” and we did. Heck, we still do!

        At least if you’re paying quarterly you’re much less likely to end up with a giant tax bill at the end of the year.

  36. AussieMe*

    God, the US does makes things so unbearably difficult. In Australia, we do have laws at local, state and federal level but key things like income tax are federal. Work in Australia? Pay Australian income tax on the sliding scale.

    1. Littorally*

      I’m curious how that works — does the Australian federal government then remit tax income to the states for each state’s financial needs? Or do the Aus states have relatively little financial independence of each other? How is it balanced if one state wants or needs higher revenue than another state?

      In the US, the state income taxes are relatively low compared with the federal-level income tax, but they allow states their own revenue set by their residents for things that are administered on the state level.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        Can’t answer for Australia, but in most countries there is just one income tax, and part of the income tax is redistributed down to the smaller administrative entities (regions, states, counties, cities, whatever it may be). Mostly proportionally to population, but systems may be very complicated. States simply don’t get to decide their own taxes for the most part (sometimes they get to decide some taxes, such as corporate taxes or real estate taxes).

        It also highly depends on how the country is organized, how federated vs. centralized. The smaller administrative entities may not have to finance much, relatively speaking, and not have much decision making power at all.

        The US is pretty far, far on the federated side. Reading about your tax system here pretty much blew my mind.

    2. Retired Accountant*

      The U.S. has more than 10x the population of Australia in a much less concentrated (around the coast) distribution. Different things are different.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Yeah, but it really does seem that the US has unprecedented levels of complexity that other, even more populous countries than Australia, have somehow managed to avoid. The size of your population or their location really makes no difference.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          My understanding (as a US-ian) of why US taxes are so complicated is that (1) some politicians want taxes to be complicated so people hate taxes and politicians can run on the promise of reducing taxes and (2) tax software companies want taxes to be complicated so people will pay to use their software.

          1. Retired Accountant*

            Certainly part of it, also the U.S. does a lot of social engineering through the tax code. Also, different states do things differently for reasons.

            1. Prospect Gone Bad*

              And many exemptions for the poor and middle class and parents or people saving for college or buying a first home. Don’t forget that. I get such mixed signals from this site on things like taxes. I am from a very blue area and the MO is to put taxes on as many things as possible and then carve out exemptions and minimum income thresholds to not have to pay the tax or fee. These are meant to pay for all of the services people here and in real life want. So it’s a bit grating to hear people clamoring for more social services and public works, and then complaining about the mechanism used to pay for all of it, in a pretty fair way

          2. Hanani*

            3) a more complicated tax code means you can build in lots and lots of loopholes for very wealthy people, many of whom donate large sums of money to politicians or are politicians themselves.

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Do those countries have a federal democratic government like the US?

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Germany has a federal democratic government and manages to make income taxes fairly easy for individuals, and centralized. No complications with living/working in different Länder.

            And while Germany does not have the population of the US, I don’t see why that should make a huge difference. The real difference is how things grew, historically. Very difficult to change a running system.

            From descriptions here, I feel like cross-border taxes involving different *sovereign countries* in the EU are about the same complexity as cross-state taxes in the US.

        3. Lurker Cat*

          The US is much more like the EU than it is like Australia. We started as a collection of independent states each with their own government who agreed to come together into a collective for economic reasons and to have a structure to mediate disputes between states (simplistically). This model has continued as the country grew. So each state sets its own laws and tax code, independent of but subordinate to the federal laws and tax code.

    3. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      I wish it was that easy here! I worked for a company that was acquired by a company out of state. In my state, school district taxes are a thing, they were not in the state of the corporate overlords. It took SEVENTEEN MONTHS for our payroll taxes to be done correctly. You see, they had fired the office manager that handled our payroll and just assumed that payroll is payroll, without understanding the nuances state to state. It was two years of tax returns that were awful and required so much oversight and communication with local government tax departments.

      In one of my first jobs outside my small town, they paid school district taxes to a neighboring state because they put in my home address wrong. Unfortunately, there was a town of the same name in both states and it was a weird mess up. Having your payroll taxes right seems like a low bar, but unfortunately it’s often missed in the US.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Judge Judy,

        Were the two states separated by Mississippi River? If so, I lived in the more eastern town.

        GRIN. (and heaven forbid that there should be two pairs.)

    4. Nancy*

      That’s nice, but different countries do things differently. In the US, states are allowed to set their own state income tax rates and collect tax if they want.

      1. LJ*

        That’s nice, but I understand the other poster’s point that it is quite difficult. There might be reasons steeped in history that led to this difficulty, but it is difficult.

    5. Punk*

      Generally speaking, people in the US would not be happy with the degree to which other countries’ governments are involved in business. US citizens often earn income that is not reported to the IRS until we do our own filings.

      People sometimes forget what “United States” actually means. The problem in the letter isn’t even a federal one – it’s a state one.

    6. music*

      Yeah because Australia has no problems whatsoever with entrenched racism, terrible internet speed, climate change, etc. They are the most perfect continent to have ever continented.

      (Look, I like Australia a lot but these types of comments are not at all helpful to the discussion. And I don’t blame myself or other Americans for being tired of them).

    7. Critical Rolls*

      There is a lot of complicated history in the relationships between U.S. states and the federal government, and the variations in tax are one of the outgrowths of that, and of our founding in a fundamentally different era than Australia. Nobody sat down and decided to make things difficult — nobody had the power to do that if they wanted to — and the implication that the whole nation is backwards and contrarian for funsies is obnoxious.

  37. Peanut Hamper*

    LW#2: This was my old job. My boss wanted constant updates and I was the one who had to make the endless calls. It got to the point where I would just tell him “It’s the same as last week: the order will be done on “.

    We actually had a couple of suppliers who did tell us they no longer wanted our business. That’s when he eventually figured out that constantly bugging people doesn’t speed the order-fulfilling process along at all.

    tl;dr: It might not be this guy who is so needy; it might be his boss.

    1. not a hippo*

      Then it’s in the person’s best interest to be like “I know this is outside the timeline but there’s a lot of pressure to get this job done on time ” or something like that. People will hate you less if you’re nice about why you’re being a pest.

      Source: being the person that’s had to be a pest because of the ridiculous deadlines other people imposed.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        Agreed. But it’s possible he’s absorbed some of his boss’s toxic behaviors.

        I was not sorry to leave that job.

  38. L-squared*

    OP 1, I can see why the CEO is upset. At a director level, in HR, it should be disclosed. If I worked there though, I don’t know that I’d be personally bothered by finding out, since it seems, by all accounts, he was a good employee. It would be far worse if he was an awful employee that everyone knew was bad, but he just kept getting away with things.

    While I’m not bothered, I just don’t think its a good idea, from either side. If I’m the boyfriend, there is no way I want my girlfriends mother in charge of my livelihood. From the mom’s side, lets say the worst happens and he cheats on your daughter, but is also a great employee. Are you going to keep a good employee, or punish the guy who broke your daughters heart? Just seems too rife for issues. But I don’t know their situation, so maybe it was a time of desperation for him.

    I’m happy it worked out for them both.

  39. I should be working*

    I feel like LW2 needs to have a conversation with their manager.
    I get the sense that LW2 is a good employee who is trying to be independent and problem-solve. But as Alison mentioned, solving this problem is really outside of their job duties.

    when I’m in a similar situation (i.e. something comes to my attention that it’s not really my problem to solve, so I don’t want to spend time on it), I will often have a quick conversation with my manager to let them know what’s happening and make sure they agree with what I’m doing. it also helps me avoid being asked why I didn’t do ABC task down the road. so even something like “Bob calls multiple times a day to ask for an update on his order. I just transfer him to his sales rep like he asks, but if I should be handling his calls any differently please let me know”.

  40. Thomas*

    OP#1: Allison seems to have overlooked this.

    “The boyfriend was originally hired on a short-term contract through a wage subsidy program and there was no formal recruitment process.”

    Even if your company has no anti-nepotism policy, the wage subsidy program probably did have rules about the hiring process for the subsidized positions. You definitely need to check that; you could be looking at your company having to pay back the subsidy if found out, or in the worst-case scenario criminal charges against the company or individuals.

  41. Falling Diphthong*

    Simply call each state’s treasury department, but I am wary of accepting tax advice from whatever random person answers the phone.
    Your state treasury department employees are the opposite of a random person. I would expect the advice from whomever you were transferred to there to be more useful than, say, calling the payroll company and taking advice from a random person there.

    As the thread attests, “my withholding was messed up” is not a novel situation your state’s treasury department never heard of before now.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah, of all people to accept tax advice from, the person who answers the phone at the literal treasury department help line is right up there.

      1. Rick Tq*

        Except the IRS. NO answer from the IRS is binding in any way, shape, or form. Not even a Tax Court finding. That’s been proven time and time again.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          If you are at the point you are looking the cite precedence from the Tax Court, you need a tax attorney. Actually, I would be leary even if you were citing the Pubs and Regs.

  42. HonorBox*

    OP2 – I’m going to disagree a little with Alison and some others commenting. While there’s nothing you can do to change this caller’s approach directly, I’d suggest keeping a log of calls from this particular customer. How many times is he calling? If the sales rep isn’t calling him back and he calls back because of that, keep a note of that. Then have a conversation with your boss. If the sales rep isn’t calling back and the customer is calling in multiple times a day because of that, there is action that can be taken. Your boss can address it with the sales rep. Maybe they don’t want to call the customer back because it is the same conversation you’re having with them, but it is their job. And maybe they need to be more direct with the timing expectations and clearly state how the communication will flow. If the customer is nasty to you, your boss should step in and address it with the customer. If you can show how much time is being spent answering this one person’s questions, where there’s never going to be a different answer and they’re just simply impatient, someone should be able to step in and assist you. That’s on the sales rep or your boss. You don’t need or deserve to be caught in the middle of this needy person’s neediness.

    And perhaps at the end of the day, because they’re not understanding the timing and processes and becoming a nuisance, you let the boss decide that the customer isn’t worth keeping.

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      This may be what the boss concludes, but it may well not be.

      The sales rep may be spending his time bringing in new business. That’s more valuable than taking calls from this difficult customer, especially if there’s nothing much to say beyond “it’s coming.

      That’s why companies often pay someone to manage incoming calls, customer queries etc. Sales colleagues, account managers, client reps are paid to be selling or upwelling.

      Depending on what sales reps vs LW get paid and what their job description is, it may well be the case that it would be a highly inefficient use of the sales rep’s time to be managing calls like this – and that’s part of why the LW is paid to do what they do.

      1. Boof*

        Yeah, LW should check with their boss if they want any particular management plan if a customer is taking up a LOT of extra bandwith, but unless the customer is so obnoxious they are going to be dropped (seems unlikely) the LW probably has two main coping strategies 1) make the calls as unrewarding as possible “sorry, there won’t be any updates until [end of the month] as usual” (now, if it’s actually 6 months between updates, it may be well worth some kind of monthly status update email/call/whatever) or 2) always sound soothing and concerned and let them have a sounding board for up to 5 min as long as they are overall polite [never tolerate abuse!] and/or transfer them as requested every time.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      I would hope the boss would not find any fault with a sales rep not returning the multiple daily calls from someone whose order was quoted as taking at least six months. There is no reasonable scenario in which status updates of this nature would be useful. If the customer genuinely misunderstands the timeline, the customer is incompetent at his own business and it’s not the vendor’s problem. It’s very much a “that’s not how this works; that’s now how any of this works” situation and putting more time into this person – be it directly or by putting more effort into to tracking it – is unlikely to be in any way beneficial.

  43. Littorally*

    1. The daughter’s boyfriend

    As getting legally married is becoming less common and long-term cohabitation more so, I wonder if we’re going to start seeing wider-spread changes in language where marital-like relationships will be directly acknowledged — because yes, in this case it absolutely seems like the boyfriend should have been treated no differently than a son-in-law in this case. I’m glad you see that there’s a need for policy clarification to be implemented upfront, but I agree with Alison that particularly in a position of overseeing HR, the director should have recognized the potential conflict and raised it upfront.

    I don’t think this would quite be considered standard for CoI, but it absolutely would fall under a sensible and well-articulated policy regarding the hiring or management of relatives. With policies like that, in specific, you wouldn’t want to limit it to family relationships — it would be nearly as problematic if the director had hired, overseen, and promoted her best friend, too. An expectation that hiring managers should proactively raise and discuss any personal connection to a candidate, and at a minimum bring in a second hiring manager (ideally, recuse themselves entirely from the process, but that depends on position and how large your company is) is important.

    1. Calpurrnia*

      For stuff like government security clearances, they make no mention of “family” relationships – just “close and continuing relationships”. I feel like that’s the way to go as far as wording a conflict of interest/disclosure policy.

  44. Peanut Hamper*

    Am I correct in understanding that state payroll taxes in the US are owed to the state in which the work was performed, regardless of where the company’s headquarters or the employee’s residence is located?

    Live in State A, work in State A, pay taxes to State A.
    Live in State A, work in State B, pay taxes to State B.

    Is that summary correct?

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Your first statement is correct. Your second statement depends. People will always owe taxes to the state they live in (unless it’s a no income tax state), but they might also owe a tax to the state they work in.

      1. new year, new name*

        Right, many people (including me) experience some variety of “Live in State A, work in State B, pay taxes only to State A because States A and B have an agreement that covers people in your scenario.”

      2. LilPinkSock*

        Well, except for people in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.

        1. JustaTech*

          And if you live in Washington (no state income tax) but work in California you pay California taxes.
          But if you have more than one job and only one of them in is California it gets more complicated because of figuring out what rate you pay at (total, or just what you earned there?) and how much you pay *on* (total, or just what you made there?).
          Also, if the company you work for is headquartered in California but you physically do your work in another state you (probably) don’t pay California taxes unless you’re physically working in the state more than X days.

          At which point it may be worth the cost to get an accountant (at least for a year) to be sure you’re paying the right amount. A good accountant.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s more like:

      Live in State A, work in State A, pay taxes to State A.
      Live in State A, work in State B, pay taxes to State B, pay a reduced tax to State A.

    3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      I think it depends on the states involved. For example if you live in Minnesota and work in wisconin you will have to file for both states. At least that’s how it worked for me for the few years I was living at home in MN but going to school and working in WI (which was over 10 years ago). Also some states have reciprocity, so you only file in one state or something.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      It depends on a lot of factors, including reciprocity agreements between jurisdictions.

      I work in DC, and I live in Virginia. I pay Virginia taxes and do not file a return in DC at all.

      My spouse works in Maryland. He pays taxes in Virginia, and we also do not file a Maryland return.

    5. J*

      I know you’ve gotten an “it depends” but for me it’s even weirder. Live in state A, work for a company in State B but has payroll for remote employees in State C and I pay taxes to State A only, unless I ever go to the office in State B in which I pay State A and State B and no reduced rate for either, but I never pay to State C. So you might imagine why I don’t travel to my company’s HQ and the finance team doesn’t warn travelers what they will be hit with if they come.

  45. Juicebox Hero*

    Oh, I feel for LW2 because I get those people, and I also get them in person. I collect property taxes, and the bills come out at the same time of year. The billing schedule, office location, hours, and phone number have been the same since at least 1972.

    Yet every time I get people who have owned property in town for decades wanting to know WTF is this bill?! Why is it so high? (I offer to give them the taxing district’s contact info, yet somehow they never take it). Why do I have to pay school taxes when I don’t have any children in school? (If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard that one, I’d have one hell of a lot of nickels.) Or the ones who believe, with the faith of Abraham fixing to sacrifice Isaac, in a third-hand rumor about tax reduction that they partially overheard in a noisy place, and then getting pissed off at me for lying to them when I tell them there is not, never has been, and there are no plans for such a reduction.

    Oh, and the excuses for paying late or not at all. There was one old fart who made almost a career out of that. Never got his bill. Why didn’t I try to forward it? Well then, why didn’t I call his neighbors (!) and ask where he was? Surely there was something else I could have done, so why didn’t I do more? Argh!

    I can usually get rid of the ones on the phone by claiming there’s a call on the other line or a customer at the window. The ones in person are harder to shake, though I do have a panic button to the police department if they get abusive/violent. Sometimes my coworkers will come to my rescue but mostly they just lurk in the background and giggle.

    So I have no concrete advice, but you are far from alone :D

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      I should add that I have all the time in the world for new property owners, the bereft who suddenly have a mess of paperwork to figure out, those whose partners/relatives always paid the bills and don’t know what to do now, and the hopelessly confused but willing to listen.

      And I also lurk and giggle when one of my coworkers gets a live one.

    2. Littorally*

      Ohh, I love that school tax one! Personally, I’m very invested in my eventual nursing home having actual trained/educated staff and not just a pill minder strapped to a roomba.

  46. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    LW5, you and your co-workers may have a viable suit against the payroll company for any expenses, penalties, etc, that you incur. It would probably be worth it to group up and consult an attorney, who may be able to get a settlement for you all.

  47. Not Your Sweetheart*

    LW 2: do you work for one of my company’s suppliers? I work for a small company, and my desk is just outside of the president’s office (his door is always open). He often calls people multiple times in a single day, and gets increasingly irrate when they don’t answer or call him back. I once suggested that the person took a day off, and President got more upset at that possibility. The VP is much more reasonable and understands supply chain issues, and the fact that his contacts may have other things to do.
    We’re all waiting for President to retire.
    LW, I wish you patience with this customer.

  48. Just A Job*

    Can you ask your team if they can provide regular updates to clients and not just when it’s shipped?

    I’ve been that program manger who calls every week to see how it’s going to the timeline. I’m sure they rolled their eyes but it was my job to stay on top of things. I’ve seen countless teams be surprised when two days before the ship date the date slips 3 weeks. Rarely is there a catastrophe 2 days before that creates the issue. Usually it’s a few slips here and there and people assume they’ll catch up.

    The earlier I know about a risk the better I can plan, manage downstream effects, and discuss alternatives (the silver silvery pigment you were sent was bad but you have silvery silver…)

    1. not a hippo*

      Agreed. One of my main jobs is keeping track of the parts we order so we can then manufacture our product.

      A vendor nearly lost their contract with us because they kept losing orders despite my follow ups. Occasionally they’d reply to the ORDER EMAIL and say they never got it (whut?)

      The solution was a spreadsheet with the order info and a delivery ETA that’s updated when they receive the order to confirm receipt, when they have an ETA, & when the order is in shipping.

      It seems like a lot of work but it isn’t, as we do the exact same thing for our own customers.

      Mind you, I’m not emailing our vendors for daily updates. Just if something looks wonky (it’s been 5 days and I don’t see this order on the report, can you confirm receipt?) Or if an order is late (your turn time is 5 weeks, it’s been 6, what’s the hold up?)

      It’s also possible this dude is just highly annoying. I’ve dealt with those customers too.

    2. fhqwhgads*

      If your order was quoted as expected in 12 months and you ask for monthly updates, that’s reasonable. If your order is expected in 12 months and you ask for updates daily or even weekly, that’s probably not reasonable.

  49. whatchamacallit*

    #5 happened to me. Despite filling out all the correct paperwork when onboarded our payroll processor inexplicably withheld from the state our office was in for everyone, even if they lived in a different state. I lucked out in that I noticed first and our compliance firm reimbursed me for my state tax bill as a gesture of good will, however later was when we discovered it was wrong for everyone living out of state. The payroll firm also continued to do it wrong after it was raised. We ended up firing them because they more or less said it was too complicated to withhold in a different state. (It was ADP! A big national company!) Anyway, you could always try telling them you’re no longer using them unless they make things right and see if they provide any help. But they will probably say it’s not their problem and you should just fire them anyway.

    1. Rick Tq*

      Was ADP making the mistake or was it your payroll department?

      My small employer now has remote people in at least 5 states and ADP seems to be able to handle things correctly, including when a remote person has to work in a different state with income taxes.

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      ADP has some weird rules in it about how companies are set up. My current company has locations in many states and at the time (during the pandemic) I was basically living between 2 different states where my company did not have an office. If they listed me as residing in State A they would apparently have had to set up a whole other entity to pay me out of, but this wasn’t the case with State B because State B bordered one of the states they did have an office in so they had already set up whatever they needed for that state. This would have also impacted my insurance for some reason as well.

  50. Cranky-saurus Rex*

    I have a story related to #5
    I do consulting work, so I’m a W2 employee of a consulting firm but contracted out to a customer. In 2019 I switched consulting firms and for the first time had a contract that wanted me on-site only rarely. I live (and was mostly working) in WI, but frequently had to go to the customer’s primary site in MN (no reciprocity agreement) and even more rarely to their sites in AZ and FL. The consulting firm was based on the east coast but had a physical location in MN, and they also used a payroll company, whose location I don’t know.

    After my first couple pay stubs, I realized they were ONLY withholding taxes for MN. I reached out, told them it was wrong. They fought me tooth and nail, and eventually agreed to ONLY withhold for WI. By the time they fixed it, the percentage of the year they’d withheld for MN matched the time I spent in MN for the full year. FL has no taxes, and AZ I worked one partial week in (and I looked — my total pay that week didn’t meet the minimum to require reporting to AZ).

    In 2020 they suddenly sent out an email reminding everyone that with the reduction in travel, we needed to be taxed where we were physically working and I steamed…. I no longer work for that firm

  51. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

    #2 you need to talk to either your boss or sales team about how they want you to handle it. Do they want you to transfer him to voicemail? Ask if he’s called and left a message?

    I’ve been in this situation before and sometimes I had a good manager who had my back and sometimes I didn’t. Explain to your boss that this is causing issues. Even you being annoyed is an issue because honestly, you shouldn’t have to deal with this guy, becuase it’s not really your job. He has the contact info of the sales team. And depending on how bad he is it can cause anxiety. If you have any software that allows you to notate the account put a note dating when he called. Otherwise keep a document for yourself showing when, how long, what he said, if he was abusive, etc. Show this to your boss and say you need some help with this.

    If this is a big enough client maybe your boss can get on the sales team to answer his calls. Maybe they will have to be more strict with him. Maybe you can get permission to just automatically transfer him to sales team or someone else.

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      I’m curious as to why you say it isn’t LW’s job to manage calls like this? Their boss would know better than we would but it seems quite likely that this is part of their job. It’s tedious but it does arguably fall within their remit.

  52. merida*

    #2 one additional thought – I’m sure this is unlikely, but it’s possible that the needy customer is calling on behalf of someone higher than him who is overly anxious about the order and repeatedly requesting updates. I have been the needy customer in that kind of situation before (calling a vendor with ridiculous questions that I already know the answer to, but I’m low on the food chain and my boss won’t believe me and demands an answer from the source…). But even if it’s not the case, either way, I think being straightforward (as I’m sure you have been) with having no updates (“we currently have no further update since the usual timeline for this is X and it has only been X, but you will be notified as soon as there’s an update.”) is really the only thing you can do.

    And also, as Alison touched on, I’d loop in the sales rep if you haven’t already. If I was a sales rep and a customer was repeatedly calling customer service that many times, I’d want to know.

  53. CTA*

    For #5

    It’s amazing how much bad guidance we get on taxes.

    I remember at my first when I met we accounting to set up payment, they told me I didn’t have to check off the box “I live in NYC” on the tax form because “it didn’t apply to me.” I had to correct them. They didn’t realize my neighborhood on my address was in NYC.

    At another employer, they were transitioning to a new payroll provider and HR was onboarding everyone. I told them I was unable to fill out the NY state tax form online (the form wasn’t allowing me to edit it) and the Head of HR actually replied that I didn’t have to fill out the form if I don’t live in NY. I was filling out the form because I did live it in the state. I don’t know why she was making assumptions about where I lived.

    1. doreen*

      To be fair , Queens is the only NYC borough that uses neighborhoods in the address – and some of those neighborhood names are also the names of cities and villages in Nassau county and upstate.

  54. Just Another Zebra*

    I feel for OP#2 – I know getting frequent, repeat calls that you really can’t do anything to solve is frustrating. However… I really sympathize with the customer, too.

    I frequently order large, expensive things for my company. One of those things is trucks. I’m not talking your basic pick-ups. I’m talking $500k specialty vehicles that are critical to our business. They can take a year to produce, start to finish. We know this when we order.

    But then there’s a delay, with “no definitive eta”. How do you think my boss feels when I tell him that $250k deposit he put down last quarter is floating in some company’s pocket, and he has nothing to show for it and no eta when he might?

    Then material costs go up, because the truck takes so long to produce. Now the balance due isn’t $250k, but $300k. So now he’s especially anxious to get this vehicle.

    Then another delay, and another increase, and so the cycle goes. Frustration builds with my boss, and trickles down to me and I call for an update *even if I know I won’t get one*, because the alternative is that I get in trouble with my boss for not following up. I don’t really want to call either – it’s a waste of my time. But it’s part of my job.

  55. Critical Rolls*

    LW2, if you have receptive people to talk to, I hope you can suggest that there needs to be a strategy for reducing the impact your repeat caller is having. Failing that, get you a script and stick to it. “I can transfer you to Fergus’ line… I’m sorry, we don’t have paging, would you like me to transfer you?… I don’t have access to that information, can I transfer you to Fergus’ line?… I can’t help you with that, Fergus would handle it, would you like me to transfer your call?” If he goes off on a tangent, bring him back. “I’m sorry hear that, would you like to be transferred?” Become an NPC — minimal engagement and nothing he says gets anything except preprogrammed options.

  56. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    Ah, the difficult clients! That’s a nightmare. I’ve been in a role where it was more of a grey area if it was my job or not (I dealt with incoming client queries for my own division of the company, but clients from other divisions often bounced through to me too, as well as general annoying calls like sales people , job hunters, people rejected for jobs… one very aggressive man who said he was an excellent candidate and demanded to speak to our Managing Director, it was unacceptable that I only offered to take a message because we would lose out on his candidacy (there was no vacancy at the time).

    I would make sure your boss has a general idea of how much time this all takes, and, as neutrally as possible (ie not a complaint, because it’s very likely to be part of the job) check that this is definitely how they want you spending your time.

    Then it can be helpful to think “OK, this isn’t my time they’re wasting as such, they’re wasting the company’s time, because the company is paying me, my time can be spent on whatever it is spent on.”

    Sometimes I would imagine I was being recorded/listened to as training on how to deal with annoying calls, as it helped me stay professional. Sometimes I’d set myself explicit goals of being as super-polite as possible without being sarcastic.

  57. New Senior Mgr*

    LW3- everything Alison wrote. Also, make sure the direct report isn’t overwhelmed with a heavy workload. I watched a fellow manager overload her new direct report with work because they had been short staffed for awhile. Then fellow manager badmouthed direct report for not noticing trends and thinking critically like her peer (who later received a promotion basically for her critical thinking). Promotion peer had a little less than half of the workload as problem direct report. Promotion peer had the time and bandwidth to think more critically. Problem direct report was trying to learn and basically make it through the day let alone think critically.

  58. Observer*

    #5 – This is a mess, and it’s a big enough mis-step that I would go to my company’s HR / Payroll and ask them what they are doing to prevent other payroll errors and when they expect to switch over to a new payroll service. I’m not kidding.

    Payroll services have exactly two jobs that they CANNOT mess up. 1 – get payroll payments to staff on time, EVERY TIME, CORRECTLY. 2- Handle taxes CORRECTLY. That means paying the correct tax authorities and getting you the correct tax documents on time. Messing up either should lead to the service to be shifted to a company that can get it done correctly.

    But I do have a question here – did none of you get the tax forms? You should have seen where your taxes were going. Also, how did you guys file your state taxes? Your company and their payroll service messed up. But your home state is not going to be all that sympathetic to those who have gone several years without paying state taxes unless you go ahead and resolve it ASAP. They are going to say that you messed up.

    Also, I’m going to disagree with Alison, and say that you should absolutely get an accountant. Because it’s actually not so simple as just pay taxes here and not there. I live in a different state than the one my husband works in. And we wind up filing in both states.

  59. kiki*

    On the tax letter: I understand that LW is culpable and needs to take this tax issue into their own hands to resolve at this point. Trying to get somebody else to take responsibility for this is probably going to just lead to delays and more mess. BUT it seems wild to me that a payroll company can mess up something so fundamental and basic and not have any responsibility to resolve the issue, pay to assist in resolving the issue, or give a refund for their services to the company. I get that taxes are complicated and there’s always the chance even a professional will make a mistake, but this is extremely basic stuff.

    1. Hamburke*

      my guess is that they are either doing it manually (it’s actually not that hard to do the calculations – I created a spreadsheet that did all the calculations for an accounting class I took a few years ago) or are using a hybrid payroll software that does the calculations and assists with creating the filings but doesn’t offer guidance even when you’re doing something wrong (yes, these exist).

  60. Anxious Millennial Cowgirl*

    LW 2 – I had to be that caller on my previous positions. And it wasn’t because I wanted to be – it was because I had someone who ranked above me telling me I had to. If the people who ranked above me were out of the office, then I got a reprieve from having to be that person – but as soon as they were back, I had to be again.

    In the case of one of those positions, my manager was extremely high strung and one of the only ways to deal with it was to give him constant updates.

    So please keep in mind – your problem customer may not want to be making calls, but it may just be part of the scope of the job.

    1. Zzzzzz*

      Hit send by accident, from the DOJ, IRS and DOL (1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243)) websites: report your employer.

      The DOL is EXTREMELY responsive.

      Also be sure to say: I suspect they may be doing this to other employees. That will trigger them to open an investigation for the whole org. You would be surprised how quickly the org will fix their errors.

      “Employers are obligated to withhold state income tax from employee wages, unless the employee is not subject to state income tax.

      When employers willfully fail to collect, account for and deposit with the IRS employment tax due, they are stealing from their employees and ultimately, the United States Treasury.”

      1. LJ*

        I mean sure you can open a government investigation into your company, but don’t be surprised if you get a “move to our state or lose your job” ultimatum as part of the compliance effort

  61. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    LW I understand you don’t have time to teach critical thinking but do you have another team member who might be well suited to directing Jane’s thinking in the right patterns?

    EG Jane could try shadowing them for some of their tasks, or they could oversee certain elements of Jane’s processes, even just half a day a week? Not too time consuming but enough to give Jane a chance to understand how she might operate differently.

  62. Delta Delta*

    #2 – A thousand years ago I was a public defender. You think daily “when is my order going to be ready?” calls are annoying? Try repeated collect calls from jails. From multiple inmates. Who have nothing to do but call their lawyers. Multiple times per day. In the county public defender office where I worked we eventually had to tell our serial callers to knock it off because it was taking up a ton of time to answer the calls and process them (sometimes we accepted, sometimes we didn’t). That said, we found being polite and direct worked well, and for many folks was sufficient to get them to stop calling so much.

  63. Delta Delta*

    #1 – It seems like a nepotism policy is in order, with good definitions about what nepotism is. If you define it as “family member,” then this guy doesn’t fit. If you define it more broadly, it might get confusing. And also, you’d want to note what the hiring policy is. It could very well be that the daughter’s boyfriend is qualified and so it makes sense to hire him – would the policy permit that?

      1. Snell*

        Even asking at the onset to disclose “personal relationships” with current or former employees might do it. The employer can have a broad strokes policy about the obvious ones like direct family, spouses, etc. and individually evaluate whether a less close relationship might prove problematic.

    1. anonny*

      Or just have a policy on cronyism, which would include friends. I thought Nepotism was familial relations.

  64. RagingADHD*

    LW#4, creating a sense of urgency or scarcity is a sales technique that is associated with items that need psychological sales pressure because they are a bad deal that nobody really needs or wants.

    You do not want to give the employer that impression about yourself.

    1. Heidi*

      My employer has a funded training program that can only accept a couple people per year. There is a point at which candidates are too senior to apply. A lot of qualified applicants are encouraged to try again the following year when the limited spaces are given to those who are in their last possible year of candidacy. I can imagine LW4’s situation being sort of like that, where being on their last chance might actually be taken into consideration. But I also would not bring it up unless they ask directly if the LW intends to apply again.

  65. Jaina Solo*

    LW5, my company did something similar my first year there and thankfully my tax person caught it when she filed for me. We had to file for both my state and the company’s state which cost an additional filing fee. I don’t remember losing any money though since we did it in the correct tax year.
    All that to say, I did turn around and check with my boss’ boss on how to get reimbursed for the additional filing fee. It threw her for a moment but I was so matter of fact about it (“hey, my accountant had to file for 2 states because of payroll so what cost code do I put that extra fee under for my expense report?”) that she went with it. If they lost you more money than just paperwork/prep/accounting fees though, that’s likely not the route to go.

  66. B Wayne*

    #5, Payroll: I worked remote in another state and our paystubs were electronically accessible. The beginning of the year I’d check one or two paystubs online and then forget how. As long as I saw the same amount deposited every two weeks, I knew all was OK. Every once in a while something odd would affect the amount, usually a blip from the program quickly corrected by an apologetic HR.

    One year I looked later in the year looking closer than usual and noticed both company state and my state withholding taxes. I was being double dipped and didn’t notice. That is entirely my fault for not checking stubs. The screen clearly showed State Withholding X and State Withholding Y. I had not checked but immediately noticed when I finally looked. At the onset of a new year somehow company state was added for a few months worth of withholding. It was easily corrected and the company state withholding was refunded to the next paycheck. Federal and my state taxes withheld of course!

  67. Rick Tq*

    OP3, did Jane have X years of experience or 1 year of experience X times before coming on board? If she plateaued early at her previous job she may have done the same tasks for years, you might pull out her resume to see if it shows regular progression at previous jobs.

    My experience is critical thinking is Master level skill in an area, as in:
    – Apprentice: How do do the task
    – Journeyman: When to do the task
    – Master: Why do the task

    Jane seems to be stuck at level 2, until she gets to level 3 she doesn’t have enough information or progressive experience think critically about her assignments. It is also possible she simply isn’t capable of the highest level tasks of the position and should be reassigned.

  68. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    In the UK, some job application forms ask the candidate to disclose whether they are related to, married to, or have close acquaintances (can’t remember the precise wording) working at the organisation.

    I have never ticked ‘yes’ so I don’t know what happens if you do, but I imagine it is for a similar reason as a CoI/nepotism policy.

  69. Boof*

    LW5 – an accountant may be what you need, but I wouldn’t discount calling your state tax agency. IRS and, I presume, many state agencies can actually be very helpful especially when you are proactively working with them to check and solve problems. Plus it is free! (I can’t comment on how easy they will be to reach, though).

  70. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    #5 is awful when it happens. People are often very confused by tax laws and if you go to the big preparer chains, half of their preparers are really unqualified. So it doesn’t seem as ridiculous to me that their preparer missed it.

    But this is also why I am so annoyed that where my teenager works is making it almost impossible for them to check their paystubs. They are only accessible through the portal which is only accessible AT work when they punch in and out. She has worked there for almost 2 months and still doesn’t even know her payrate. (also because she is a teen and too shy to ask but old enough that mom just nags her, not the company)

    It does remind me though of a remote employee where I work last year screaming at HR and the accounts payable office because the country he lives in can get quite nasty if you don’t file your taxes properly and they hadn’t provided him the proper stuff. He never told them he had moved from Hawaii to . He didn’t think it mattered until he almost got thrown in jail for not filing taxes in that country for 3 years.

  71. Coco*

    LW 2: Someone calling for daily updates sounds like it extends beyond mere annoyance. How much time do you spend each day talking to this person? Is it taking away from your ability to service other clients or do other tasks? Someone (maybe the sales rep?) needs to put their foot down. It’s ok to set (reasonable) boundaries with clients. Explain to him these daily calls are detrimental and cannot continue. It’s clogs up the phone line and prevents people from serving other clients. Perhaps scheduling a regular check in (once a month?) would help.

  72. Fleur-de-Lis*

    LW5: I worked for years as a classical musician in multiple states, and I filed taxes in multiple states as a result. Three of the states had reciprocity agreements, so it wasn’t too difficult to manage. The lesson here for anyone who works in a state where their employer is not located: don’t count on payroll companies or the payroll department to flag your out-of-state address for payment of income tax to your home state! If your employer indicates that state income taxes should be withheld and paid to only one state, you need to manage two state income tax returns.

  73. One HR Opinion*

    The situation for LW #5 is precisely why so many companies are reluctant to let employees work from “anywhere I want.” There’s this idea be pushed out there that companies should let people work remotely and shouldn’t care where they work. Things like this are precisely the reason why companies care. It’s complicated to have employees located in multiple states, not to mention the huge number of local taxes out there in NY, PA, OH, etc.

    Your responsibility is to make sure that you file taxes correctly. So if you live in Missouri and your company withheld Massachusetts taxes, you have to figure out which state you really owe taxes to. And if the company withheld the “wrong” one you have to file for a refund from Massachusetts and pay in Missouri, for instance.

  74. notaCPA*

    LW5 – your company and their payroll agency is likely about to be in a bit of hot water with some state tax agencies, since the one team member’s accountant caught the problem and is probably filing corrections. If they haven’t been withholding properly from your paychecks, they most likely have not been contributing the employer portion either, or following local sick time, overtime, and other regulations for each worker either (which can vary greatly even by county). But they have an opportunity to enter a Voluntary Disclosure Agreement to get their house in order – and you should advocate that clean up of your back taxes be included.

  75. There You Are*

    I worked for the Fortune 1 company for a year back in 2019-2020. Five of us in Texas, where there is no income tax, were hired at the same time. Corporate is in Arkansas. All of us had AR taxes taken out of our first few checks. All of us contacted our manager, payroll, and HR. All of us continued to have AR taxes taken out of our checks for the next 6-9 months (depending on the person), despite continuously emailing and calling HR and Payroll.

    The company’s response was basically, “Sucks to be you. File with the State of Arkansas at the end of the year and request a refund.”

    So when the Fortune 1 company gets it wrong — repeatedly — it doesn’t surprise me that other companies do, too.

    FWIW, the company I’m at now gave me the 2019 W-4 form despite me starting in 2020 and completely messed up my 2020 payroll deductions. I ended up owing close to $5000 when I filed the following year.

  76. Hamburke*

    #5 – I do payroll for several clients using a payroll company. Sometimes the employee cannot tell on their paystub that their taxes were going to the wrong state – it just says “state income tax withholding” or “SITW” and would only be evident once the W2 arrived (yes, I’m thinking of a particular payroll provider that we refuse to use).

    I’ve also dealt with the ramifications of someone who doesn’t normally handle payroll taxes filing out the returns – I have one client who did manual payrolls and did not file or pay unemployment tax for 18 months – fitw, sitw, and fica were covered, but not sui or futa… $1000 in penalties and interest later…

    use the payroll company – they’ll catch most errors like wrong state or missing filings!

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