I worked remotely from a friend’s house — and my boss says I have to count it as vacation days

A reader writes:

I work as a development director for a nonprofit for a specific region. I have been in my job for four years and have been very successful in my role.

I have worked primarily from home because I write a lot of grants and reports, and my office doesn’t have private spaces or designated work spaces. I do go into our small office one half day each week for team meetings, but the rest of the time I have always worked from home or am out visiting clients, attending conferences, etc. The only other office worker on our local team (most of our staff does field work) does the same as me — goes in for half a day and the rest of the week is working from home.

We have a policy that if you are not working in the office, you must have a workspace with a door, etc. I always follow this guideline.

My CEO is very concerned when people work in different locations if they have connectivity issues. I was working remotely one day at a friend’s vacation home and the internet did not allow me to join a team zoom meeting. After not being able to join that meeting, I was told I had to take a vacation day for that entire day. I did because I just didn’t want to argue about this.

This week, I worked at another friend’s home in another city but this time the internet connectivity worked fine and I joined all the zoom meetings, etc. If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state, they would not have known.

Well, today, the third day that I have been working from my friend’s home, I got an email from my manager that I was supposed to have had this request to work from a different location approved before I did so. And that they would tell HR to make all of my days this week be designated as vacation days on my timecard and I would lose three vacation days from my accrued vacation.

Is this acceptable? I simply want to quit, but I can’t because I need the money and would prefer to line up a new job before quitting. I feel like my employer does not trust or value me when I have been a high-performing employee for four years. My location had zero effect on my work.

Do I have the right to refuse to accept that decision and insist that I not be required to use vacation days for the three days I already worked this week?

Your employer does have the right to tell you that you can only work remotely from your home and that you can’t work from other locations. We can debate whether or not that’s reasonable, but they do have the right to make that their policy. (Some things that would make it reasonable: if there’s a higher incidence of connectivity issues when people are other places, and if your work has strict confidentiality requirements.)

But the way for them to handle that is for them to tell you that, proactively. If they’ve never said this was prohibited, then they’re wrong to say they won’t count those days as work days and will deduct them from your vacation balance. Your manager should have contacted you and said, “This is the policy. We’ll make an exception this time since it sounds like it wasn’t clear, but going forward you cannot work remotely from anywhere other than your home (or your local area, or whatever they want their policy to be) without prior permission.”

And you should approach it that way from your side now. Go back to your manager and say this: “I hadn’t been informed of any policy prohibiting us from working from other locations. I’ve only been told that remote work spaces must be private and have a door, and I’ve followed that vigilantly. If this won’t be allowed going forward, I will of course comply with that but I don’t think I should be held to a policy I wasn’t informed of, especially if it means losing valuable vacation days when I did X hours of work during the days in question.”

If they dig in their heels, you might point out that you’ve always gone above and beyond and been lauded for excellent work, and this is highly demotivating. If you’ve ever done even a small amount of work while you’re on vacation (checking emails or returning a call), this is a good time to mention that, and note that they’re removing any incentive to be flexible that way in the future.

If they still won’t budge, legally you probably don’t have any recourse. The legal requirement is that you get paid for the days you worked — but the requirement is only that they pay you, not that it can’t come from your PTO. (Caveat: if you happen to be in California, that would change things. In California, if you work during a vacation, your employer must count that as time worked and can’t dock your PTO for it. It’s possible a small number of other states might have similar laws; I haven’t found anything, but it’s worth you checking for your state.)

But that’s just about what’s legal, not about what’s reasonable. A reasonable employer won’t hold you to policy you’ve never been informed of, and it’s worth talking to HR if you don’t get anywhere with your boss.

{ 413 comments… read them below }

  1. L-squared*

    I have to ask, did you know that you were supposed to get approval and just decide to “ask for forgiveness, not permission” after the fact if caught.

    I used to work someplace like this. We were technically supposed to submit a form to work from another location. I will say, while I knew that was the policy, I didn’t follow it all the time, and neither did many of my colleagues.

    So while I may think the policy is stupid, if you chose not to submit for approval while knowing you were supposed to, that is kind of on you.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It does kind of sound like this was a “second strike” for OP after having this happened a previous time (which they chalked up to the internet connectivity, but it’s not clear to me that this was the whole case).

      1. The Username Lost to Time*

        This is what I was going to comment. If OP has diligent (but not kind) HR, a prolonged back and forth will almost certainly end with the decision to not return those three vacation days. Lawful Evil and all that.

    2. sdog*

      Yes, I wondered this, too. Like maybe the policy doesn’t specifically state that PTO will be taken, but does it state that you have to work from your home address? That’s what ours says currently, and that’s also what my prior work policy stated, as well. So while it’s not always clear to me that it’s necessary, I do not believe that such a policy is that uncommon. It really does boil down to what was communicated. If the only req. specifically stated in your policy is that you need door, etc., then I agree with Alison.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I think OP needs to go back to both the handbook and to any previous emails on the matter. I’d plead my case for 3 days of PTO but recognize that they may still take it. I think a warning should have been given, but I don’t know from this if a warning was included in the previous incident.

        Some companies may be worried about taxes. We were unable to rehire an intern because they wanted to stay remote and there was a whole tax situation involved with having someone physically in that state.

        If there was no clarity other than a closed door, I’d definitely talk to HR about it.

    3. Mockingjay*

      OP made two significant mistakes. First, she worked in a location with inadequate internet, so she couldn’t fulfill her job requirement. Second, she worked in another state, triggering an issue with business nexus.

      Does the policy need to be clarified a bit? Probably. But OP is using a somewhat specious argument: well, the policy didn’t specifically forbid it! As a director, she should be aware of the difference between WFH and remote work (and the requirements for each, including adequate internet connection and data security), and how the latter (“work anywhere!”) can trigger business nexus.

      I knew where this was going as soon as I read the headline and all I could think: “this is why we can’t have nice things.” I and most of my team also work from home, in locations across the country, and we are very conscious of extra scrutiny by upper management to ensure we are doing things “right,” even when not specifically spelled out in the company handbook or telework agreement.

      1. JM60*

        I’m not a lawyer, but I believe you need to be in another state for at least a few weeks for it to be a nexus issue. Working while briefly visiting another state doesn’t make someone an employee stationed in that state in the eyes of the law.

        1. J*

          For me, if I spend even a day in the state where one of my company’s corporate offices is, I have a nexus. It absolutely can be that fast and does vary by state and physical office locations.

          1. JM60*

            If that’s true, then merely attending a conference in that state as part of your job would be a nexus issue. After all, that is working.

            1. Ess Ess*

              In my company, if you are producing work products (such as writing code or other business documents) in another state even for a day, that causes issues. If you are involved in training or meetings, that does not.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                So if you are on site in another state for a national conference, you can’t do any other work besides checking your email? That seems ridiculous to me, but I am aware that things I think are silly could still be the reality.

                When I go to conferences and trainings out of state, I am very much still expected to be available for producing work products related to my current projects. Rather than prohibited, it is actively encouraged that I use “downtime” during the day to work on my projects.

            2. Mockingjay*

              This might be why (speculation here) hotels ask travelers: business or pleasure? When I travel for work – I usually go to the same city, the hotel bill includes three taxes: two hospitality fees (local taxes – city and county), and another tax, which is rather hefty, labeled only: taxes.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          It really depends on the state in question. Some of them have incredibly low thresholds – Arizona (I think) is physical presence for two days in a year.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            How does that work for things like professional conferences? I went to a three-day conference in Phoenix once – does that mean my employer was supposed to file some kind of taxes in Arizona that year? (And same with all the other out-of-state conference attendees?)

            1. Tiger Snake*

              You’re actually now asking about tax withholding, and I think that each state has their own laws when it comes to tax withholding on for very temporary travel – some note exemptions for conferences shorter than a certain timeframe and others don’t.

              I have no idea why I know that Arizona has legislation on withholding exemptions, that come into play when you have a non-residence that was only physically present in the state for less than a certain number of days. But I do. Your taxes are weird.

    4. Tiger Snake*

      I’m a bit surprised if it’s not stipulated in their WFH agreement. I’ve gotten pretty used to all those requiring you to specify the details of your work from home setup and the remote work policies specifying that this enables work from home.

      Given there needs to be a request to work from different locations, it seems like it would be the same as what I’m used to. But by very nature of requiring you to provide information on your office setup, very clearly infers that you’re only approved to work from that one location you’ve originally specified.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I’ve worked from home only since 2020, but for two different places and neither specified anything about it having to be from home. A private space? Yes. A dedicated space with a solid internet connection? Yes. But no one cared otherwise. I have a coworker who worked out of state for months in a place where we do not have an office and no one seemed to care that she was at her parent’s home instead of her apartment in our state. I’ve not seen a policy that specified whose home it had to be, so this is all very enlightening for me. I’ll need to pay close attention if I change jobs in the future for sure!

        1. Tiger Snake*

          Your companies are very different from the ones I’ve worked at, then. And I’ll be clear; in the last three years I was a very in demand contractor – I was working in a lot of different companies at once before coming back to my original role to roost. Perhaps other people have experiences closer to you, but I was seeing a lot of these policies and the WFH agreements being specific about location.

          Workplaces need to understand your home setup for a lot of reasons. Some are security. Others are legal – they need to have received an adequate level of attestation that your home setup is safe and ergonomically suitable for them to not be responsible if you get hurt while working from home. Other reasons still are financial, especially in places like US where income tax differs based on state.

          At the end of the day, companies want to offer WFH to give people flexibility as a perk. But just like its not ‘work from home WHILE taking care of your three toddlers’, it is not, and reasonably should not be, work from ANYwhere, where you may have further distraction.

      2. WFHUsuallyMeansWfAnywhere*

        You’re assuming there was a work from home agreement. I’ve been working hybrid since the 90s and primarily or exclusively WFH since 2015 or so. I’ve never seen or heard of a work from home agreement before. Furthermore, work from home is work from anywhere – it’s totally okay to work at a cafe or a library or a friend’s house at their kitchen table or wherever.

        I hope I never run into such restrictive companies. Wow.

  2. Alex*

    Not in the US but when similar things have come up in the past the tax liability of working in a different state often comes up. By classing the time as PTO are the company trying to distance themselves from the fact that business occurred in a place that they are not set up to do business?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Typically it’s okay to work from a place you aren’t set up as long as it’s temporary, in the US. Our cap is 30 days, I’m sure policies vary. But a very conservative company may say zero work where you aren’t set up.

      There can also be concerns about the security of the network you’re on, or connectivity issues as Alison says. It sounds like with the closed door policy OP’s company has some undercurrent of security concerns so I’d be inclined to think that’s their motivation.

      Still though, it’s not hard to tell people that.

      1. Rosyglasses*

        It depends on the state. Some states, like NY have a zero grace period – you work there 1 day, you’re liable for state taxes. But most states are around 2 weeks.

        1. Fierce Jindo*

          Huh. My field often has a national conference in NYC—are we technically supposed to be liable for state income taxes? It seems hard to believe!

          1. AntsOnMyTable*

            22 states require state taxes to be paid on the first day of work unless there is a reciprocity agreement between the states. So, yes, state taxes probably should have been filed. Now the odds of people getting caught are slim of course.

            1. BronzeKat*

              I’d super appreciate a source for those 22 states…my searching skills are evidently not up to the task

              1. Aitch Arr*

                Not sure if this is what you are looking for, but Google “tax residency rules by state” and click on the link to an Investopedia article.

                I’d post the full link but it will get caught in moderation.

                1. BronzeKat*

                  In case anyone else was looking for this – nonresident tax rules by state gives a better source! Nonresident, the word I didn’t knew I knew until I saw it.
                  Thanks again!

    2. RandomNameAllocated*

      Seems a bit draconian for a single day here and there, but I know the IRS has a fearsome reputation!

      1. Janet Pinkerton*

        IRS is federal so they wouldn’t particularly care about state taxes. And they’re not actually as fearsome as their previous reputation might indicate! Alas reputations are slow to change.

        1. Monday Sick Day*

          I messed up my taxes some years ago and it’s been a hellish slog trying to fix it. BUT, the IRS was incredibly easy to work with, much more understanding and sympathetic than I ever expected. They just want their money, they don’t want to make your life harder or make you feel bad.

        2. HBJ*

          Eh, they can make your life stressful. Long story short, they sent us a letter saying we owed them money. We sent back a letter and proof showing they were wrong. They refused to accept the proof, which had literally been provided to us by our accountant. We were busy, calling on the phone resulted in messages that said “we have too many calls today, try again tomorrow” and then hanging up on us (I’m sorry, what?!?!) or long hold times. So we kinda just didn’t get around to dealing with it for a long time. Six months later, we get a letter saying, you don’t owe us anything. It’s been resolved. So apparently someone finally actually looked at our proof and realized we were right all along (duh).

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            I think that is evidence that they were understaffed, not that they are fearsome. And there was budget made to staff them up better now!

            1. Michelle Smith*

              This isn’t the person who called them fearsome though. They said stressful and a situation like that where you can’t reach anyone to appeal your issue is definitely stressful.

      2. Rebecca*

        I regularly worked with the IRS when I worked in banking, and they really are the easiest to deal with of all alphabet agencies (a close second is the Postal Inspectors, strangely, also a feared agency). Responsive, polite, and genuinely just doing their jobs. They just want their money, and they’ll work with you. They don’t deserve the reputation.

        The worst agency, hands down, is DHS. I’d rather have a root canal than have to deal with DHS. They’re just awful.

        1. Jelly*

          Seconding about the IRS as a consumer. I had a situation several years’ back that wasn’t unlawful or anything, but I did owe on my taxes, spoke to a couple of different agents, and they couldn’t have been more understanding and patient.

        2. Kevin Sours*

          The Postal Inspectors are feared because they are widely regarded as the most professional, competent, and above all effective Federal law enforcement. It doesn’t surprise me much that they aren’t difficult to work *with*

          1. Not that other person you didn't like*

            We had an issue with mail going missing out of our box and ended up working with a postal inspector. She was lovely and very helpful. Eventually, she said the situation had been resolved. The next day we had a new mail carrier… and then for a year we suffered retaliation by our local post office. We ended up getting a PO Box for a while in order to mitigate the constant delivery issues and finding our mail in the street and similar hijinks.

            1. LJ*

              It’s always fascinating to think about the power that a local post office/postmaster wields as an independent entity and not just as a cog in the postal machine. Like, someone actually remembers your address and is committed enough to do hijinks

        3. Clisby*

          Yeah, I’ve had to deal with the IRS several times, and it always went smoothly. (Sometimes it took longer than it should to talk to an actual person, but once I reached that person, the problem was easily solved.)

        4. Too Many Days*

          Both my father and I have had at various points to do very complicated things with the IRS, and it was indeed truly incredible how easy they were to work with.

          (Note: we are both white US citizens with names and accents that accord with this. I, uh, am willing to believe there’s a decent amount of privilege baked into how patient and professional the IRS was with me.)

        5. Am I On Candid Camera?*

          I’ve had some dealings with the IRS and they’ve mostly been very helpful. My most bizarre encounter was the local office when I gave up getting a resolution over the phone. I walked in – completely empty waiting room. Small space, a half dozen booths with space for an employee on one side and a couple of chairs on the waiting room side, and clearly a “reception” area, but no employees in sight. I looked around me and stepped a little towards the back, then finally said, “Is anyone here?” A guy popped his head up from somewhere and said, “Take a number!” I literally turned in a circle to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, then surreptitiously looked for a hidden camera with the thought that I might have walked into the middle of a prank. I took a number. I stood in the middle of the space for another couple of minutes, and then the same guy who had popped his head up (I’m guessing the only person in the office), walked up to the number dispenser and CALLED MY NUMBER. Then he proceeded to hold his hand out for the ticket (as if I was jumping the line?). I was sure by this point that I was in some sort of performance art exhibit, but bemusedly walked over to the booth he indicated and sat down. He walked back around the counter and sat on the opposite side, then figured out my problem and corrected it in about 10 minutes. Perfectly friendly once I started telling him why I was there. I’ve always wondered if that guy was ok – guessing he wasn’t.

          1. Boredom is boring*

            Our local BMV is like that. Even if no one is in there, you must take a number. And they will then call the number even if no one else is waiting. It’s weird.

          2. Hamburke*

            I think that’s better than our PO that has the number carousel out but never called or advanced any numbers, just yelled “next” and the customers in the room had to figure out who was next. half the customers picked up a number, half didn’t so it wasn’t even particularly helpful to have a number.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        The IRS conducted a few highly-publicized tax raids in the 1990s and have spent a lot of time living down that reputation (and some of the photos). Right now, the biggest issue with them is that they are severely underfunded, so getting a human on the phone can take a long time. Generally, they’re pretty agreeable if you show up and want to make amends – less work for them.

        I have relatives that had what I will politely call a “tax situation” with a small business, and the IRS was a breeze to work with, especially because there was no malice or criminal intent. The state department of revenue/taxation was absolutely awful to deal with, including freezing personal bank accounts with no notice and threatening jail time to people who self-disclosed and were cooperating with fixing the admittedly substantial screw up.

    3. Butt in Seat*

      This was my first thought. If the employee didn’t get paid for Work from that state, then the employee didn’t Work in that state, and the employer doesn’t have to pay unemployment insurance, etc in that state. Employer logic.

      (Here’s looking at you, NY, with zero grace period for people working temporarily from your state…)

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        LW, if this is the response that your Employer gives after you ask for an explanation, ask for additional PTO to cover your lost days instead of trying to get paid for the remote work at issue.

      2. Sloanicota*

        I think this could be a factor, but to be fair, it’s never clear to me who is going to “catch” the OP having worked for a single day in another state. The IRS is not going around verifying daily IP addresses for all employees.

        1. B*

          That’s part of why OP should have never mentioned it.

          Whether it’s tax issues or internal policies, minor deviations from requirements might be permitted on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis. But that means you DON’T TELL.

        2. Starbuck*

          Yes, there’s no way just a day or two can matter – people go to out of state business conferences pretty often and it’s not seen as a huge logistical tax hurdle to do that.

        3. Don't Y'all Remember?*

          I just wanted to share, there are people who believe that 87,ooo IRS workers in the US have been hired and armed to confront tax payers about not paying their taxes or something….

      3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        I’ve been on business travel to NYC for meetings at the New York office any number of times, for multiple different companies, and it’s never been a problem. Does this rule only apply if the company you work for doesn’t have an office in the state?

        1. Doreen*

          Most of the issues that affect only the company only apply if they don’t already have employees in that state – if your NY company has an office in NJ , then allowing you to work in NJ temporarily won’t give them a sales tax nexus / require them to get NJ workers comp insurance etc because the office in NJ already triggered those things.

          1. Helewise*

            Right, but what about business travel then? It seems like if you’re based in one state and visiting a client facility in another it would be the same as working from a friend’s house for a few days. I’m not very knowledgeable about tax issues, but it seems like there must be some kind of loophole or understanding for when an employee needs to visit another state without having an office stablished there.

            1. GythaOgden*

              I wonder if NYC is strict because it hosts more people who choose to live elsewhere, thus it loses out on revenue that it would collect from residents.

              There is also the fact that companies can have policies stricter than the letter of the law to make sure it doesn’t actually come up very often in normal business. For instance NY might not strictly enforce the one day rule, but the company doesn’t know how stringent they actually are in practice, so it makes a policy that means it’s not suddenly responsible the once or twice it is enforced, or so they know that they’ll have people go to NY on business and can plan to be responsible for taxation there but they don’t get a nasty surprise when something emerges that they didn’t foresee.

        2. Rosyglasses*

          Your business doesn’t have to be located within the boundaries of the state to be registered as a business and submitting taxes based on whatever laws they have (paying into Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation coverage, etc). Every state has different rules, penalties, etc.

        3. J*

          Have your companies done an analysis? Because it’s usually more of ignorance that they don’t advise rather than an exception. I purposefully do not travel to my company’s east coast HQ because I’d trigger a nexus, but I would be open to travel to our other 3 HQs because they don’t have an immediate trigger.

    4. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      I would assume that is their reason for the policy, yes.
      I also think they should have informed the OP about the policy at some point beforehand and show some flexibility now. Because unless it is specifically stated in a (not too lengthy) employee handbook, how was the LW to know about it???

    5. Leah*

      I’m pretty sure it goes by the employee’s home address. Working a few days from another state shouldn’t affect a company’s tax status.

      1. Ssssssssssssssssss*

        Athletes who play in different states, as they all do, I read that they would owe taxes to that state where they played and for sure, it wouldn’t be more than a few days each time. Regardless of their home address or home state.

        I assume all pro athletes have excellent tax preparers.

        1. Antilles*

          Interestingly, in many states that’s the case because there’s a specific carve-outs for athletes and entertainers.
          Presumably it’s a mix of “nobody is going to feel bad for LeBron or T-Swift” and also simply the sheer numbers of what you get from two days of LeBron’s taxes versus two days of a teapot designer’s taxes.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        You’d be surprised. My wife got dinged a couple of times for state taxes working for a couple of weeks at a satellite office in a different state. States have gotten a lot stricter about things.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this is at odds with the frequent expectation that employees will check email for anything urgent while on vacation. When the company is saying “Well don’t unplug all the way–we need you if something goes wrong with the Murchison account” it’s totally fine for the vacationing employee to weigh in from Fiji.

      How would it apply to a person on a business trip who responds to emails about projects not directly related to that trip?

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Well then fine, if you expect me to check emails on vacation, then PAY ME. If you aren’t then I am on vacation. Not checking emails.

        Same here. If its a connectivity issue or a confidentiality issue — sure. I can see, don’t work out of a coffee shop if you have meetings or are working on confidential things. Other than that, knock it off. All it does it turn people away who have options. Its 2023, not 2003 folks. Remote work is thing. Adjust accordingly.

        1. Deborah*

          And if the reason that they can’t do remote work is because it’s in a different state, then all future vacations are in different states and thus there can’t be any work done, the taxation consequences are too complicated.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Unless the Murchison account has something go totally sideways and requires you to come off vacation to work, the mere checking of and responding to a few emails could be considered de minimis.

    7. KHB*

      A lot of people are speculating about this, but I’d be interested in hearing from somebody who knows for sure: Do tax nexus laws really kick in for just a few days worked here and there, or are they just for the state of your primary residence? I mean, I’ve gone to conferences and similar events in other states where I know for sure that we don’t have nexus, and I count those days as regular workdays. This seems pretty similar to that.

      Of course, the employer may be worried about the slippery slope where “working a day or two here and there” turns into “whoops, I moved to Cleveland and didn’t tell you,” as happened in a letter a while back.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Sadly, as in many things here in the US, I believe it depends on the states in question. Sure would be nice to have clearer answers!

      2. a clockwork lemon*

        It depends on the state! As people in this thread have mentioned, some states have no minimum threshold, others don’t, which creates a huge payroll headache on the back end (and, honestly, a big hassle when you actually do have to prepare your taxes.) In general it’s a bit of a “how would they know” because state agencies don’t have the resources to, say, check your login records, especially if you connect through a VPN, but it can be a huge headache if it happens a lot. Depending on the type of job it may be a bigger deal–if you’re working remotely in one state and meeting clients who are also located in that state it definitely creates a nexus issue.

        It sounds like maybe the bigger issue is that OP is visiting friends on a regular enough basis that they’re logging in from other people’s homes where the internet is unreliable AND they work in an environment where there seems to be a pretty high degree of privacy concern (workspace with closed door required in-office + a job that seems to deal with at least some amount of confidential internal data).

        1. Dancing Otter*

          Yes, one year we had to file returns in four different states. Major, major headache and expense for no tax owed in three of them.

      3. kiki*

        Yeah, I’d also be interested in somebody who knows for certain how this works. My current company has made their work from home policy much stricter recently, requiring us to work only from our home address, an office, or get special permission to work at a different address that will only be granted once per year. It seemed excessively strict to me– could my company really get in trouble legally or tax-wise for me working from my parents’ house in another state for a few days around the holidays? People travel for conferences and are technically working from out of state– is that significantly different? But I don’t have the background or knowledge to know for certain if this actually poses an issue

        1. Llama*

          Workers compensation is also an issue. If they have insured your home address then it makes sense that you can’t just work at some other location.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          I wonder about that. I’ve worked in a lot of different states and even in two different countries. One country was long-term, so there were definitely tax issues there that my company resolved (paid the difference in taxes form the other country to what I’d owe in the U.S.) while the other country (5 weeks in one year) was never discussed.
          The different states I’ve worked in (3 different offices of our company) I’ve never seen state taxes taken out, and I’ve worked numerous weeks in each of those offices. But at least my company had an office there.
          I recently went on vacation but I was asked to work a couple days before starting my vacation, even though I was in a state which I’m pretty sure in which my company doesn’t have an office. But that was basically a “just go ahead and work from there” so I could already fly to the location and relax during the non-work times.

      4. ecnaseener*

        What I’m wondering is, if tax nexus does kick in, would logging it as vacation even help? They’re not denying that LW did work for them in another state, they admit in writing that the work happened.

      5. Jamie Starr*

        I think it also depends on what type of business you’re conducting — at least for nonprofits. Like if you are soliciting funds while in another state, then the org probably needs to be registered to do business in that state. The LW says they are in development/fundraising so maybe that’s part of the reason the employer is being strict. But if you are doing something like admin work remotely, then it’s different. It has to do with what state they incorporated in, iirc. (Also tax exemption status (for the org) is state specific.)

    8. LinuxSystemsGuy*

      In the US at least, and presumably in other places, you’re allowed to work in other states for a short period of time (usually a week or three) without tax implications. Otherwise all conferences, sales trips, on-sight integration or tech support, even company retreats or reward trips would have to be tracked precisely and taxed in all kinds of weird ways. Business travel would grind to a halt.

      In practice even that week or three is just a technicality. Unless you’ve permanently moved to another state, it would be all but impossible to prove that say, you’ve been working from Vegas for the last month. Your company could probably tell by looking at VPN logs, but unless they had a reason to check 99.9% of companies wouldn’t think to. And certainly no tax authority is goin to go to the trouble of getting those records on the off chance that some random might owe them a few hundred dollars in taxes.

    9. RIP Pillowfort*

      It comes down to residency at it’s basic point.

      And residency has a time period requirement. I know in my state working a week while on vacation or at a conference isn’t going to trigger needing to file taxes here. You have to be living here over 100 days for the state to consider you to have residency for tax purposes. But this is a state by state decision and it can be more stringent in other states.

      1. alienor*

        Residency is very much set up in the state’s favor, no matter the situation. My family moved to NY state a few years ago, and my college-student child had to pay nearly double out-of-state tuition for a full year before she could be considered a resident, even though she and her parent (me) had both permanently relocated, gotten new state IDs, changed our addresses everywhere, etc. But, do even a few days of work in this state and you’re on the hook for taxes just as if you were a resident. It’s bonkers.

      2. Doreen*

        It depends on the state – most states tax non-residents working in the state under at least some conditions. There might be a minimum amount of earnings before a non-resident is taxed or there might be an exemption in the state of residence for income taxed by another state but the laws that require pro-athletes to pay taxes in all those states actually don’t only apply to pro athletes . There are some jobs where Federal law specifically prohibits states from taxing the income of non-residents but that isn’t most jobs.

        1. doreen*

          Worded that poorly – there are probably some states where those laws are written to only apply to athletes/entertainers but there are others with income thresholds that apply to everyone in theory – but only athletes and entertainers are likely to meet the thresholds with a couple of days/weeks of work.

    10. Heather*

      Depending on where you were working from, this could cause tax implications to your employer. This why you should have it approved before doing so. Although this should be something you’re told upfront and is written in their policy.

    11. My dad is a CPA and expert on state and local tax and nexus*

      Nexus and non-resident taxes are separate things.
      If a company has nexus (presence) in a state, they are required to file returns with that state and possibly owe the state taxes. Generally presence means physical stores/locations, shipping goods into the state, or having employees reside in the state.
      If a person works in another state for a certain amount of time, they are required to complete a non-resident return. Some states have no grace period, Colorado is one of those and NY as people have mentioned. That means if you work remotely for one day in Colorado, you should file a non-resident return. In practice, they don’t really enforce this with regular people. Especially when it’s not a lot of time. I’m originally from there and have worked remote from my parents for a week and never filed a return.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I didn’t realize Colorado was in that category. Yes, in the past when I lived outside of Colorado and visited, and did work, I never filed a return or was told about that requirement.

    12. Tiger Snake*

      Security is a big thing, yes. This is also why so many companies say you’re not allowed to connect from public Wifi. The eavesdropping risk and potential keylogging makes me teeth itch.

      Workplace insurance got a bit weird when work from home became common, so that might be a part of it behind the scenes. If LW gets hurt because of their friend’s workspace setup while working for LW’s company, that’s going to get interesting. If she gets hurt at her own home, making sure it was safe for working as a part of her responsibilities and something insurance has some clearer guidelines for.

      1. Federalworker*

        that’s definitely the case with the federal government I can have a primary and alternative site approved if i want to work elsewhere even for a few days it needs approved.

  3. interplanet janet*

    I feel (a little controversially, perhaps?) on the employer’s side here. I’m fully on Alison’s side re: being reactive rather than proactive but I think it’s reasonable for an employer to want to know that their teleworking employee is doing it somewhere approved – namely, somewhere with a secure and stable connection. And of course the potential tax implications if someone is picking up and working from another state willy-nilly.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I’ve seen this both ways. I’ve certainly been the coworker of people who are “working” but clearly not really working – joining Zooms from their phone and being kicked off for bandwidth issues, barely answering email/slacks, and visibly being in Florida the day before a long weekend, and it is annoying. That said, it’s also part of the flexibility calculation, where as others have said increased connectivity is expected both inside and outside of work hours. My boss knows I’m probably not to sick to join an important zoom call even if I’m taking a sick day, and doesn’t hesitate to text me outside of work hours if she needs something.

    2. Annony*

      I agree. This sounds like the OP may have been given the information but misunderstood. They should definitely look over the information they have on their company’s policies relating to remote work before deciding how much to push back.

      1. NonprofitED*

        I agree as well! The manager had a problem with it the first time it happened so I think that was a red flag that did not like the fact the OP was working somewhere else. Missing one meeting cost the OP a vacation day. I think that indicated that the OP should have cleared it first just to be on the safe side because they could have had anything come up at the friends house as well.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Which to be fair is silly as OP could have connectivity issues at home too (or in the office, for that matter). But, these things are partly about perception and can play out in weird ways sometimes.

          1. GythaOgden*

            It’s not silly. OP should have clarified with her employer if she was planning to do something that involved going elsewhere.

            It’s like I’m leaving my in-person job on Friday, and am steadily clearing out my desk. Maybe I should just leave my drawers in chaos — after all, if I were hit by a bus then they’d have to do it. But I probably won’t be, so I might as well proceed as if I should do it myself so I leave on decent terms with the people I’ve worked with. They’re apparently not replacing me yet, but I’m sure most of the stuff in them can be just thrown out, and I’ve got plenty of time on reception anyway.

            Likewise, sure, OP could have had issues at home, but she had issues away from the place where she should have been and thus effectively outed herself as having not been where she should have been. The second time she probably had a different background again in the meeting and still assumed it was ok to work from somewhere else. In a way, the connection problems were karma — she was doing something a bit dicey, they found out she was elsewhere based on the way the connection went out and that triggered disciplinary issues.

            Chicanery and semantics and rules lawyering like this will get you so far but I’m not sure OP was reading her company handbook properly and certainly should not have pushed the boundaries of it after being told off the first time. Most employers can tell the difference between connection issues in a place you’ve been authorised to work from and connection issues elsewhere. They’re not playing with semantics — they’re making judgements based on the facts at hand.

    3. Sales SVP*

      I was thinking this too, but then I was also thinking…how does my employer have any idea whether my home internet connection is secure? And occasionally both my home and our office internet is unstable. And also, unless they do video inspections of where you’re working (“now show me the door with a lock” “now show me the entire room so I can see it’s a dedicated work space” etc.), their policy is really just trusting their employees, which is not different if they’re in a different location.

      I do think the tax issues are important, though not for a short trip.

      1. Viki*

        I can technically work anywhere in my country, because the cyber security laws are the same. However, the cyber security laws in different countries, can be different or lapse.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yeah, my employer might try to make noise about this, but they don’t pay for or inspect my home internet in anyway, and in fact they didn’t provide me with a company laptop or phone so I use my own devices that they know nothing about – so it doesn’t feel genuine if they’re suddenly very concerned with data security.

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

        They are trusting their employees to follow the policies. Yes, they should put this “no traveling” policy in writing. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with having policies in the book that they don’t or can’t 100% enforce.

        can you imagine the uproar for lw and here among the commentariat if employers started demanding live video of locking doors at random moments?

        1. Sales SVP*

          We do have to do a video inspection every once in a while related to our licensing, but that’s a little different.

          If your policy, though, is that you need secure internet, and we assume your home internet is secure but nothing else is but also don’t provide any tools or ever audit … you’re setting up nonsensical policies. So, I’m ok staying offline at airports/on the train/at a hotel during business travel, then, right? Which is totally fine as a policy, but magically, only someone else’s home internet is suspect is a policy that is just silly.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Ok, that’s fair. The employer wants to have tangible proof that employee is fully able to work and is working.
      In OP’s case, they have three days’ proof.
      Company: you must have X, Y, Z.
      OP: I worked within X, Y, Z.
      Company: great.
      OP: Yes, my vacation location is great.
      Company: not like that.
      But I do wonder if, as someone writes above, it WAS like that, but manager soft pedaled, “you really can’t work outside your home because things like bad connections happen.”
      And OP thought, “No problem, I have a great connection.”

    5. a bunny*

      Meh. I’m sympathetic to the employer for the policy, but not the response. It sounds like they happily accepted the work product (at least for the three days with an adequate Internet connection) but now want it for free. It’s entirely reasonable for the employer to have a place of work rule, but their remedy is to discipline and ultimately fire a non-conforming employee, not to take their time without payment.

      1. alienor*

        Well, it’s not exactly without payment. The company does still have to pay the employee and the employee does still get paid, it just comes out of the vacation pay bucket instead of the regular pay bucket. But I agree, if the employee worked those three days and the employer was satisfied with the amount of work they did, then they were not on vacation in any sense of the word apart from being in a different location, and they shouldn’t have to use their PTO.

        1. Your local password resetter*

          PTO is part of your compensation though, so this is cutting part of their compensation. Same as if they expect their employees to work during PTO.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Legally, that’s true in California. Elsewhere, it’s not. Hence the note about California, which considers PTO earned income.

            What happened in the letter falls under “it’s crappy for them to do, but you should’ve known better too”. Like normally if you work somewhere you weren’t supposed to, and create tax nexus issues or otherwise, they still have to pay you for the work, but they can also fire you for it.

            So while it’s not great for them to deduct the PTO, if they’re not in California (or some other state that prohibits it), the docking the PTO is legal and what the employer is considering the consequence for breaking the policy. Is that great? Not really, but it’s probably preferable to “ok, it’s wages, not PTO, but we’re also firing you over this”.

          2. Miette*

            Yep, and I’d be clawing that time back over a few weeks if I were OP, that’s for sure. It’s not exactly the same as entire days of PTO at a time, but IMO OP was operating in good faith here. Just because they weren’t specific about what they were/weren’t told regarding this policy last time, it doesn’t mean it’s been stated to them or anyone in these terms. If the policy is “You Must Work From Home Always,” then so be it–it doesn’t sound like that’s what OP or anyone’s been told, though, and I’ll bet OP’s co-workers will be surprised to hear about it.

            1. HateCultureKillers*

              They definitely didn’t think they were wrong because they openly told their team and boss about it!! I’m guessing they’re definitely not going to be sharing openly at work again. Such a culture killer and for no reason.

    6. Anonymous 75*

      same. I’m not loving the way they responded but it’s not exactly accurate to say that there’s been zero impact because….there has been. who knows how important the zoom meetings are, maybe they’re really stupid or super important, but the employer had it that the LW be on them and they weren’t able to and not for some weird one off at their house but because they went somewhere else that didn’t have great connectivity. probably want the sprayer idea to try it again since, like others, I get the impression that by the second and third go around, they knew they should have gotten prior approval.

      1. amoeba*

        That was not this time though? The LW did take the PTO without complaining to the employer in the case where there were actual connectivity issues. This time around, no issues, worked as usual, the only way they know they were working elsewhere is because they told them.

    7. PotsPansTeapots*

      Same. I get the vibe that the employee’s boss has a very different read on their conversations.

      They obviously shouldn’t have docked OP vacation days and it may make sense for the company to have a more expansive policy on what constitutes work from home. But I feel like the OP may have overstepped a bit.

    8. Beth*

      See, I don’t agree! I think it’s reasonable for an employer to put work related conditions on remote work, like “you must have a secure and stable connection” or “you must be in an environment where data confidentiality will be secure” or “you need to be focused on work during core hours, not providing childcare to a toddler/drinking on a beach/sending two emails in between long stretches of vacation activities” or “for tax reasons we can only allow you to work from outside your home state for X days per year”.

      But I don’t think it’s reasonable for employers to say employees can ONLY work from home, or even that they need to get pre-approval for every location. For example, my aunt lives in my state, has a guest bedroom with a desk and a fully closing door, has reliable internet, and is good about letting me work during the day and socializing after; I don’t see what business it is of my employer’s if I work from there vs my home. I tell my manager when I’m traveling because we talk and it would be weird not to, but it’s usually just conversation. I only ask approval if I’m trying to do something that might actually impact business needs–take PTO, flex my hours for travel time, work from a different time zone, etc.

      1. Beth*

        That’s not to say that OP handled this perfectly. Once they had a sense that their boss didn’t like them working from other locations, it would’ve been smarter to at least ask for clarification of the policy–or just ask permission to work from the new location–than to try and sneak around it. Sneaking is asking for trouble, even if the policy you’re sneaking around is unreasonable.

        But in general, I think that companies with remote employees need to accept that their employees are not tied to a single location. It’s fine to lay out your business needs and expect employees to meet them, but if you’re treating remote work as a perk (which most businesses that offer it are, these days), then location flexibility is part of that.

      2. KHB*

        When it comes to rules requiring employees to ask permission rather than forgiveness, I can see the rationale of wanting to set a threshold that’s stricter than what’s strictly required for business purposes – the point of the rule would be to make sure that the employer finds out about a developing situation before it becomes a legal/tax headache, not after. Maybe some employees can be trusted to check out the internet security/stability and tax consequences of their aunt’s spare bedroom in advance, but I wouldn’t be super confident that everyone will be as careful as you.

        1. Beth*

          If a company doesn’t trust their employees to follow clear policies like “Working remotely means you need to have a reliable internet connection,” that feels like a them problem to me. I think most adults are capable of that, and I wouldn’t want to work for an employer that sets up policies that are way stricter than their actual needs just because they can’t figure out how to hire people they trust to act like adults.

          1. KHB*

            I mean, every internet connection is reliable right up until the moment when it isn’t, and everyone can be trusted to follow the rules right up until the moment when they can’t. Mistakes get made in hiring all the time, and sometimes even generally-trustworthy people will start cutting corners if they think they can get away with it or don’t realize that the rules are important (or even if their interpretation of “reliable” is different from their employer’s).

            At my job, we have a “no surprises” policy: If something out of the ordinary is going on, even if it seems like no big deal and you can totally handle it yourself, you need to loop in the boss sooner rather than later. Because even if we all exercise our best judgement, sometimes our best judgement is wrong, and the first the boss hears of a developing disaster should never, ever be after it’s already reached the crisis point and blown up in everyone’s faces. Is that “not trusting us to act like adults”? Or is that a reasonable failsafe measure?

            Also, it’s worth noting that OP had already been caught working from a location without a reliable internet connection – so by your own criterion, she wasn’t “acting like an adult.” What should the employer have done, fired her then and there?

            1. Beth*

              If OP’s manager was the one writing in complaining about OP working in non-home locations, I would have said two things. 1) I’d say that they should be treating OP choosing locations that make work impossible as a serious performance issue. They should be having some very clear conversations with OP about where it is and isn’t possible to work from, and about what the consequences will be if they continue showing poor judgment on this. Understanding and working with this is an essential skill for remote work. But also, 2) they should make sure that their policy focuses on the actual space needs. I know making strict policies can feel like the easy way out on this, but people who look for remote work tend to value it for its flexibility, and taking that way with no better reason than “because I said so” is likely to cause resentment. It’s generally a better idea to treat your employees like adults.

              In regards to this actual letter, I did say that OP shouldn’t have snuck around–sneaking is generally a bad idea and often backfires. But that doesn’t change that I think the policy OP is sneaking around is unreasonable.

              As for internet reliability–yes, all internet is reliable until it isn’t, but that’s as true of home as anywhere else. (It’s also true of offices–if anything, outages are more extreme in-office, where the whole company basically shuts down for however long the outage lasts!) Most of us who work full-time remote are used to planning for this. I used my personal hotspot from my phone for a zoom call last week because my internet went out just as I was supposed to be in a client meeting. My coworker worked from the library for a day a while ago because her building had an unexpected power outage; she let us know she’d be focusing on things that required less data security, but otherwise I would never have known, because she was fully as productive as normal. The genuine work issue I see with OP having experienced connectivity issues is that they didn’t have a plan B.

            2. Busy Middle Manager*

              “I mean, every internet connection is reliable right up until the moment when it isn’t,”

              I’m noticing everyone is framing this letter as a trust issue, when I as a manager see it as a logistics issue. I generally trust everyone *, but yes, logistical issues happen and when they happen, the trust issue is irrelevant. I also notice comments framing this as worrying about things that don’t happen when we as managers have absolutely seen people do this. We just don’t tell their coworkers that they slacked off for a week because that’s bad management.

              *sometimes I notice comments want us to give every person blanket trust, but why is that? I generally trust our entry level staff but don’t trust them to deal with regulators, for example. I don’t know where this concept of “everyone should be trusted to do everything ever the correct way” is coming from in some of the comments.

              1. Boof*

                Trust is such a loaded word, but I agree “trust is earned” – not in a adversarial way (the dichotomy is not “trustworthy/untrustworthy” but rather “trustworthy/not enough info/untrustworthy”) – if you have no track record with someone, there’s just no way to know how much you can rely on them. Maybe some would like “reliable” more than “trustworthy”?

    9. Indoor Camping*

      To me, it seems like this CEO is just uncomfortable with LW working during part of what is presumably a vacation. In the abstract, I don’t fault her that, but she should articulate a specific policy about that for the future. My company, for example, doesn’t like “working vacations” either, so we just have a policy that says people can’t combine vacation days with remote work days from the vacation spot. Framing it as an internet connectivity issue, then framing it as a hitherto-unmentioned working-from-an-unapproved location when internet connectivity isn’t a problem but she still doesn’t like the situation seems petty. And retroactively docking vacation time for days worked seems like an overreaction. But on the other hand, I can still appreciate why the CEO is miffed that LW apparently took a working vacation without saying anything, whether or not there was a policy in place.

        1. Indoor Camping*

          The biggest one for us is optics. We’re a fairly well-known law firm, at least locally, and management wants to head off any potential “Look at these slimy lawyers ‘working remotely’…from Tahiti!” situations. They allowed it for awhile during the height of the pandemic, but from 2022 on, they decided it was best for all concerned if there were just no half measures allowed where being on vacation was concerned.

          1. allathian*

            I do hope that people are still able to take vacations if this means that they’ll be completely unavailable to do any work, even in emergencies.

            I don’t travel internationally for work, and this means that I’m not even allowed to take my work phone outside my home country. Coworkers who do travel abroad for work require special permission that they have to renew before every trip.

    10. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree that it is reasonable to want to know where they are working and to disallow it in some cases–but if your issue is that you don’t want them working in unsecured location or that you want them to have stable and secure internet you will not fix that by docking their PTO after the fact! They either worked or they didn’t. If they did, then they shouldn’t have to use PTO.

  4. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Push back on this. I would specifically ask what legal basis this policy is based on. I would do it via email. Once I got a response I would consult with an attorney in your state.

    Start job searching. Hitting peoples PTO for this is absurd.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is good advice, but to set expectations – they don’t need to have a legal reason to have this policy, and are legally entitled to have any policy around remote work they want. A note on lawyer letterhead might get the PTO days back just due to fear/hassle, but it would probably work exactly once.

    2. KHB*

      I’m not a lawyer, but that’s not generally how employment law works. There doesn’t need to be a “legal basis” (i.e., a law that specifically permits the employer to do the thing that they’re doing). As long as there’s NOT a law that says they CAN’T do it, they’re within the bounds of the law.

      And as Alison said, most states don’t have laws that say employers can’t do this. So going in guns blazing about the “legal basis” of this or that is just going to make you look silly.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I constantly have to remind myself – for the most part, US companies don’t have to provide any vacation leave at all (even sick leave isn’t a sure bet). So they can almost always require you to use vacation hours however they want, as long as they’re paying you for time worked – which they are, through vacation leave. It’s counter-intuitive for white collar office workers who typically view PTO as it’s own form of compensation.

    3. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Because they don’t need a legal basis to make this policy, this could potentially be seen as an overly aggressive step by OP (as they would be demanding something that isn’t required). OP may be at that point where they’re willing to show aggressiveness, but it could backfire.

    4. Lilo*

      This is a bad idea. They have the right to set this kind of policy. The only way they’d rub into issues is if it was applied in a discriminatory manner.

    5. Firm Believer*

      Seems incredibly aggressive for this situation. Never a good idea to look litigious unless there is a real case there.

    6. a clockwork lemon*

      For what it’s worth, there actually are MANY laws that govern where employees can and can’t work, for what time periods, etc. Depending on OP’s job there may or may not be an actual regulatory concern about them working remotely from a friend’s house in a different state, and a lot of these laws are very strict so “I wasn’t aware of the policy” isn’t an excuse, even if the employer may separately get in trouble for insufficient training.

    7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      My question, that is law adjacent, I think. Alison always writes that one must be paid for time worked. OP worked three days.
      Is it different for salary?
      Is it different because it’s offsite?
      Is it different if OP is salary vs non exempt?
      Is this some new late stage capitalism, the employer gets to decide if it’s work or not?

      1. Doreen*

        US laws generally dictate when you must paid , not when PTO can be deducted. And if the OP had vacation days deducted, they were paid.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            I hope we don’t make “I’m so glad I work in California” the new “I’m so glad I don’t work in the USA” comment on AAM.

      2. goducks*

        The law (in most instances) just cares that employees get a paycheck that is suffient in dollars. For nonexempt, that means equal to all hours worked plus any OT. For exempt that means equal to the full weekly amount. As long as the total dollars meet the requirements, the law really doesn’t care what “buckets” of money it comes from.

    8. Maggie*

      Not all policies need a legal basis. OP did the same thing 2 more times after they were told it would be a vacation day. They said it didn’t affect their work but they couldn’t join work meetings due to their actions. The company should have been proactive in making the policy clear though. Consult an attorney for what? No illegal action has been taken against OP? No employment attorney is going to take a case where winning would be getting 3 PTO days back or the payout for 3 PTO days. OPs rights haven’t been violated and they have no damages. Im confused by your comment

      1. The Username Lost to Time*

        Yes to all that except I read it as OP worked the three-day period without any connectivity issues. Lots of folks are upset because there doesn’t seem to have been any difference in their quality of work for the three-day period.

        “I worked at another friend’s home in another city but this time the internet connectivity worked fine and I joined all the zoom meetings, etc. If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state, they would not have known.”

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I suspect the ‘another state’ part might have something to do with the employer’s response.

          1. The Username Lost to Time*

            Sure thing. I was replying to Maggie’s actual comment since it looks like several commenters are assuming OP also had connectivity issues during the 3-day out of state period. Administrative, tax and legal consequences of working in another state are being debated, but the spirit of the letter is that there were no actual performance issues during the 3-day period that OP worked and was then charged for vacation time.

  5. Antilles*

    Clearly, the lesson here is that the company doesn’t want you to work one single second when you aren’t officially working at your house or the office. So if making the case (as AAM suggests) doesn’t work, I would hold to that firmly.
    Not. One. Second.

    1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      That’s what I thought, too.
      If they can’t allow you a single moment of working from somewhere else than the office or home office – and are not even telling you about this beforehand – then no more checking of emails, answering the phone, or even thinking about how to solve a work problem once you’re outside of any of those offices.
      This doesn’t lend itself to stellar performances but seems to be what the company actually wants.

    2. HR Friend*

      OP worked at least a couple days from a state that’s not their home state. Depending on where they are, OP may be required to report income tax in both states – thresholds vary. Some states it’s as little as 1 day of work, some states 30 days, some states it’s based on income earned. Before OP reacts like this with defiance, they should ask. Because I’d bet the employer’s rule isn’t about OP’s house specifically, but about working across state lines.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Do we know it’s not their home state? All we know is “vacation home” for one and “another city” for the other.

        1. HR Friend*

          “If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state, they would not have known.”

        2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Exactly. Could all be in the same state. Heck where I live, you can work from one person’s vacation home in the mountains, and another friend’s vacation home on the ocean — all on the same day if you don’t mind taking a big break in the middle. Same state.

          I get connectivity issues. But this is just we don’t like it that you might possibly not really be working but instead having fun so we are going to charge your PTO for the fun — which wasn’t happening because the LW was actually in her meetings and her work got done.

        3. Myrin*

          We don’t know in the first case but in the second one, we do: “If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state“.

      2. Antilles*

        But if that’s the case, then the company should still be willing to figure it out. For example, by letting OP to take a few days off the rest of the year without counting against her PTO balance or by giving a few extra days PTO next year to square things.
        OP should try Alison’s discussion first, sure, but if they don’t seem interested in making good? Well, then I guess (in)flexibility goes both ways.

      3. amoeba*

        I mean, if that were the problem, why not just… tell them that? It’s fine if that’s the policy, but that needs to be made clear. Guessing that that may be the employer’s reasoning when they haven’t mentioned anything about it at all comes across as weird to me.

        For all we know, the employer could already be operating in that other state and the LW might know that and hence not worry about nexus issues. Or they are actually aware of the rules of the other state and it’s not one of the super strict ones but only requires taxes after a month. Fixating on this as the only logical explanation and assuming the LW must be in the wrong seems unkind and takes away from the actual situation we do know about – they were apparently “in violation” of a policy they were never informed about.

        For what it’s worth: I’m sure it strongly depends on the field and specific company – for us, it would be extremely unusual for an employer to care where you’re working from when we’re remote. The only rules we do have are about which country we’re allowed to work from, and those have been made very clear to everybody. Might be different in other places, but it’s certainly not inherently naïve of LW to assume that if there’s nothing against it in the policy, working from a friend’s place is fine.

        Also: there is a policy. It gives rules for what kind of place they are allowed to work from. Door, stable internet connection. I mean, if the rule actually was “only ever from your home address”, that would certainly be written there? If it’s not, I see no reason to assume that rule exists.

    3. Sloanicota*

      Yep. When companies get picayune with me, that calls for malicious compliance. No flexibility on their end means no flexibility on my end – we’re all nickel-and-diming each other now.

  6. Jelly*

    I don’t agree with your company making you use vacation days – I don’t get the connection – but your company is right to require prior approval for working elsewhere other than at your own home.

    1. Starbuck*

      Yes… thinking from the manager’s side, I would at least want to know which days an employee was working away from home, so that if there was a pattern of worse connectivity or signing in late or being less productive, I would be able to pick up on that pattern and what was causing it – if I otherwise couldn’t tell that the person was working somewhere else.

      I agree that if there are no problems, people should be totally free to do this – but I think it’s very reasonable for there to be, at minimum, some notification required.

    2. amoeba*

      Well, yes. But then that needs to be in their written policy. Which according to the LW, it isn’t (and we’re supposed to take them at their word, right?)

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I don’t think OP is disputing whether that is the written policy, just that being docked PTO after the fact seems unfair.

  7. Yup!*

    The extent to which some bosses think any employee not constantly supervised will just… stop working… is just so frustrating. The vast majority of employees want to work, and do good work. A bad remote employee would have been a bad in-person employee.

    The largely uncalculated cost of this is that employees end up feeling scrutinized, unappreciated, doubted, and under constant supervision. Which takes a toll on motivation, which in turn takes a toll on what they are willing to give to their employer.

    The more flexible you are with employees, the more flexible they will be with you. What counts is the work they do.

    1. i drink too much coffee*

      This is SO true. When we all got sent home for COVID, after it was clear this wasn’t “temporary” the higher ups started having meetings about employee productivity, etc. Every manager I know who was in that meeting all said the only employees they’d had issues with since working from home were employees they already had issues with in the office.

      1. I Have RBF*

        … the only employees they’d had issues with since working from home were employees they already had issues with in the office.


        People who slack off in the office will slack off when remote. It isn’t an excuse to treat all employees like slackers.

    2. Veryanon*

      Exactly. I’m currently considered a hybrid employee, but sometimes I work from home more days than our policy strictly allows, because most of what I do is highly confidential and it’s difficult to find a private space in the office (we’re all in cubicles). I used to tell my manager when I was working at home, and she finally told me I didn’t need to inform her anymore, since she trusts me implicitly. That was really good to hear, since I often attend meetings or do other work outside of normal working hours and being able to do that at home is much better for my work-life balance.

    3. Problem!*

      Yes. I recently transitioned to a WFH job without the Green Dot Police monitoring your Teams status all day every day. It’s so much better. They honestly don’t care where or when you work as long as you’re reachable in some format during business hours and don’t miss meetings or deadlines. I find I’m more efficient and turn in better quality deliverables when I’m free to get up and leave my desk for a change of scenery without an interrogation when I return.

    4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      ” A bad remote employee would have been a bad in-person employee.”

      Louder for those in the back. A bad employee is a bad employee. Stop punishing the good ones because you can’t figure out what to do about the bad ones.

    5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Downthread, pp are advising that the OP should compensate herself by taking “secret PTO days” while supposedly wfh.
      That’s exactly what some managers fear: either an employee will always just pretend to work some days, or that some normally good workers will do so if they feel unfairly treated.

      A lazy worker can produce poor work in office, but would at least be noticed if she isn’t actually there for a few days. It;s easier to skive off remotely.
      More closely monitoring work output helps avoid this, but does take more managerial effort, skill and more tools remotely.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I’m not going to pretend this isn’t true, and I think particularly for new and entry-level employees it’s important to set a good tone. But OP has been producing high-quality work for four years, in a field where the results are obvious (development). So whatever she’s doing, it’s working to deliver the outcome the company needs. By being petty, they will lose all that development money because they’d rather count hours and play games with vacation time – they will lose a good employee and rightfully so.

      2. Fikly*

        Well, yeah. You punish someone who didn’t actually do the thing the punishment is for, and you incentivize them to do the thing, because they got punished anyway, so why not do it?

        They’re paying the price without getting anything, so why shouldn’t they, at this point?

        1. fhqwhgads*

          My main question is: do they have nexus in the state where the friend’s vacation home is?
          If they don’t, then they’re not punishing her for presumed-slacking-while-claiming-working, they’re punishing her for creating legal liability for them.
          If they do, then yeah, they’re incentivizing the wrong thing.

    6. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      In this case, the employer was unfair and incompetent not to warn everyone in advance and in writing that they require specific permission to work remotely from outside the home or a place of work such as at a client or conference.

      They should return the OP’s PTO and also EM everyone their remote working requirements.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I don’t know. There’s no mention that OP checked the company handbook or other policy document, and as someone on the verge of going remote, that’s something I’m doing this week as my in-person job winds down.

        OP seems like they didn’t check that beforehand and was surprised when the employer enforced their policy.

        1. MathBandit*

          I don’t think its a policy issue for OP; it’s an “their employer decided to steal their work by retroactively deciding OP worked for free for 3 days” issue.

          1. GythaOgden*

            No, it’s really not. OP was informed of the policy after day 1. On days 2 and 3 she should have been clued in to the fact that her employer didn’t like it and she shouldn’t be doing it.

    7. kiki*

      Yes, the employee who uses consistently uses WFH as a way to get away with not working is the same employee who would find ways to not do work around the office. The focus needs to be on output– if an employee is struggling to perform, THEN it makes sense to look into the other stuff. But if an employee is achieving what you need them to, trust that they’ve found the way that works best for them to do so.

    8. Busy Middle Manager*

      From a management perspective, I think this is the wrong take. I’ve definitely had two people try to work from remote third locations and get nothing done. Fortunately they both had weeks of PTO so I just nudged them to use it and it worked out. You’re conflating intent to work hard with results, some jobs have metrics and you can see if an employee isn’t getting anything done. It doesn’t mean they aren’t a good worker at home or not a nice person.

      It also gets awkward fielding requests they should be handling or complaints from their coworkers, people forget that part. I am also responsible to your coworkers and if you “work” from Tahiti and end up getting nothing done despite being online for a few hours per day, your coworkers are coming to me with questions you should be handling.

      This has literally happened to many of us managers since covid, it’s not a made up thing to control people

      1. I Have RBF*

        You manage the underperformers like any other underperformer, though. You don’t punish everyone because of one flake. You are looking at output, not location.

        1. Bast*

          This. And my former office had a HUGE issue with punishing everyone for one person misbehaving. Oddly enough, the people who really wanted to waste time found ways to do it whether they were in or out of the office. I’m not arguing that some people perform better in the office than out (and those same people usually hated WFH anyway) but those that genuinely did not care didn’t care whether they were in or out of the office. Maybe in office they had to be slightly more covert about it, but they just wasted time in different ways ie: we had one dude who would WFH and disappear for hours at a time — pretty sure he just would up and leave. He could not up and leave in the office, but he’d spent copious amounts of time wandering around, making coffee, going to distract others, hiding in the bathroom to talk on the phone, etc. You could almost never find him at his desk — and if he was, he’d be browsing the web, watching Youtube videos, etc. Instead of addressing this head on with him, upper management beat around the bush and tried to take away WFH from EVERYONE, despite the fact that he was a bad employee in or out of the office. The numbers for everyone else were consistently at least as good as in the office (better for some, without the distractions).

        2. Busy Middle Manager*

          My comment was pointing out that some people can be excellent workers at their home and not great when they work from another location. If you have PTO and are visiting a friend and have internet connectivity issues, use PTO. In that case, no one is getting punished for anything, certainly not the misdeed of others.

        3. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, but BMM should also make sure it can’t happen again, otherwise they’re just going to be playing whack-a-mole when their job is really not to be doing that.

      2. Beth*

        If someone isn’t getting anything done, though, isn’t that an easy entry point to a conversation with that specific person? I absolutely believe that some people plan to work while traveling and then find that reality isn’t lining up with their plan–but that doesn’t mean that working from a third location is doomed to failure as a concept. It just means that that specific person needs to either buckle down and focus or take PTO for the rest of this trip, and probably take their new knowledge about their capacity into account when they plan future trips.

  8. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I’d ask where it says that I can’t work elsewhere. Here it would be specified in the employment contract. Since you don’t have them in the US, would it be in a policy handbook or something like that? The same place where it says you need a door on your private office I suppose.
    Of course if they can they will, but at least for the day you worked, I would push back and refuse to have them take it out of my leave. It’s unfair because nobody told you beforehand, and worth kicking up a fuss over.

    1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

      In the US. Policy handbooks or employment handbooks are not considered contractual. Sadly.

      1. GythaOgden*

        WFH policy isn’t in my contract here in the UK. It’s in the company policy database like our sick leave policy etc. It doesn’t have to be contractual to be enforceable by the company.

  9. Harried HR*

    There is a chance that this policy was written to avoid any Tax ramifications from working in different states.
    State Income Tax policy is incredibly complicated and not only varies State to State but sometimes County to County and individual Cities.

    It’s badly implemented but probably has a decent reason behind it

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      My read of the letter is that this isn’t written down in the policy anywhere. LW says that the policy requires privacy with a door that closes, but doesn’t mention anything about it having to be at the employee’s residence.

      I get why that would be the policy, with the complexity of taxes. My problem is that it appears this was not communicated to the LW in advance. They thought they were within the rules and are getting docked vacation days unexpectedly. I’d be super angry if my organization decided to treat 3 days of work as if I hadn’t put in full days.

      The right thing to do would be to be clear with everyone about what the rules are and just start from now.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        On the other hand, tax law is tax law, whether you know what it is or not? I’m not sure it’s reasonable for them to expect a remote employee to know the tax law, but if the tax laws are the reasoning, I’m not sure it needs to be written down in the employer-specific policy. I also constantly see policies that just say vague things like “X is policy except where prohibited by state law” or similar. So if the “policy” says something like that anywhere, they’re basically saying “but we told you we intended to comply with state law, and what you did doesn’t”. that sort of thing.

        1. Middle of HR*

          Tax laws don’t stop applying just because someone uses PTO. That just doesn’t fit as the reason for that specific requirement. That’s the company wanting to punish the letter writer.
          “Except where prohibited by state law” is not really for that. That’s to cover the company’s butt for having a policy that’s illegal in some states/ cities.

  10. Hills to Die on*

    If I didn’t get anywhere with your boss 0r HR, I would be taking secret PTO days from home until the company ‘paid me back’ for that. Your boss is a turd.

    1. Lainey L. L-C*

      That was the same thing I thought. If I have to take vacation days for days I worked, they are paying me back for the time I worked and didn’t vacation!

    2. Patient X*

      I was thinking much the same thing. I would have three days where I logged in and then just read a book for eight hours.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      If you mean not doing any work on some wfh days, then unless they don’t monitor how much work she gets done, that could get the OP’s wfh privileges revoked completely and possibly get her fired.
      It would likely get everyone else more closely monitored on wfh too, or even cause it to be banned.

      Please don’t feed the idea that wfh means employees can take “secret PTO days”. That is exactly what many employers fear.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        Of course, they should have warned everyone in advance – in writing, in contract/offer letter/handbook – if wfh really means only at home and they shouldn’t penalise the OP now.

      2. Properlike*

        I think it would be half hour here, fifteen minutes there, over the course of a few weeks until the time gets made up. But then I’m not known for good ideas when it comes to potential career blowback.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          Exactly. As available. Half day here, 1 hour there. If I had to do it in 2-minute increments I would get it out of the boss. On principle.

      3. amoeba*

        Eh, depends on the type of job! In mine, the deadlines are typically so long that nobody would notice if I didn’t work on any specific three days, as long as I get the work done in the long run. And well, the LW *did* in fact already do those days of work, so in the end they would have the correct amount of hours worked (while right now, they would have 24 h too much work for the period!)

  11. Debby*

    “If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state, they would not have known.”

    Yes they probably should have warned you not to work from other states, but if they are not legally set up to do business in that state, taxes, unemployment insurance, etc, then they definitely have a legal reason why they do not want you to do it, in addition to the fact that they do not *need* a legal reason to tell you not to do it.

    1. Bast*

      They may not “need” a reason, but if you’re going to make it a rule, TELL PEOPLE. Your employees are not psychics. They do not “just know” about tax ramifications, insurance, etc., or otherwise just arbitrarily instituted rules unless you make them clear. WFH is still a new territory for many, so I don’t believe it “goes without saying” and frankly, even many things that some feel should “go without saying” are worth saying because what’s fine in one company and considered “common sense” is completely different in another company.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        This. It sounds like there are probably very good reasons to insist that people don’t work from other states. If a company wants to prevent it from happening, that’s fine. But they have to tell people that’s the rule and not take their PTO retroactively. Especially when there is a policy that the LW was doing their best to follow.

        Clarify the rules going forward and don’t punish a solid employee because the company wasn’t clear.

        1. Busy Middle Manager*

          Agreed. I’m just noticing a certain air of mixed signals in some of the comments. Everyone wants to be treated like a seasoned professional but it helps when one also behaves like one. A reasonable seasoned professional knows you mention “hey I’m working from redwood forests at a friends cabin” before you just go.

          then you can have the conversation beforehand. Depending on the employee, I’m going to say “cool” or “why don’t you just use PTO.” Because some people work awesome from everywhere, others I know who work awesome at home will just be scrolling the internet and going on a long lunch and leaving before 5, because it happened the last time.

          I think the problem is when people take this as thinking we don’t trust people, rather than just being a sounding board to nudge people to do the right thing, using the specific employees’ past behavior as a guide. Assuming everyone is a highly productive robot only works if they, you know, actually work like that. Otherwise this can turn into letting people not use vacation time when they are essentially vacationing, which then leads to them just stockpiling PTO they never use, which always felt pointless.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Based on the letter, it doesn’t seem like the LW is like those people who don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. When they were told there was a problem because of the connectivity issue, they seem to have made sure it wouldn’t happen again. They know the rules about private space and a closed door and abide by that. I don’t think we should read in a backstory of poor work ethic with no basis in the letter.

            Plus, none of it means that it’s acceptable to retroactively make someone use 3 days of PTO when they were not made aware of the policy. That was the big question in the letter. The LW didn’t object to the rules themselves, just being punished for breaking a rule they were not aware of.

      2. Ahnon4Thisss*

        They may not “need” a reason, but if you’re going to make it a rule, TELL PEOPLE.

        TBF, they did tell LW the first time. I’m not saying that them making her use vacation time is right, but they DID tell her.

        1. Baunilha*

          I took it as they were concerned about the internet connection, not so much about not working from home.

            1. Bast*

              This was also my understanding — that the issue the first time was more of an internet connection reliability problem as opposed to a location problem.

      3. goducks*

        After a long career in HR, I can say this: time and time again employees assert that they were never told a thing, but I can point to the employee handbook which they read, emails specifying the thing and direct conversations stating the thing. Yet they’ll continue to assert they “didn’t know”. I don’t know if they LW’s employer did or didn’t previously communicate this policy, but I can say that it is universal across organizations that employees will claim that they were never told things that they were absolutely told.

        1. Bast*

          While I absolutely agree that this happens, (and have dealt with it) in many places, WFH is still somewhat murky as to precisely what is and isn’t allowed, and some companies have fairly ambiguous policies. The LW makes clear other conditions that need to be met in order for the company to approve WFH, so I find it odd that this one was not specifically mentioned if it were an issue. From what I gathered in the letter, you needed to have a stable internet connection, and be able to be enclosed in a room with a door and have some degree of privacy. And, obviously, you needed to get some work done. LW may genuinely have thought they were checking all of the boxes only to have the rug pulled out from under them. If there is nothing about “you must be working from your home address” I completely understand why someone may be annoyed — I would be too. And if the policy has been revised or updated as have many policies and procedures put into place as Covid guidelines have shifted throughout the years, this needs to be an email or meeting to staff and not just an assumption that people will regularly be reading a staff handbook for fun. At the very least, for a decent performer who was clearly working and not goofing off on the clock, LW should have been pulled aside and told that they were not permitted to work from another location other than their home, and if they were found to be in violation of this, then the result would be X.

    2. Sara*

      The OP is also not considering that the IT person may very well have been able to tell that they were working out of state.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Sure, but the LW believed that they were working within the company’s rules. I understood the LW’s comment to mean that they were performing their job to the same standards they did at home. Like, they were equally reachable and responsive, got an appropriate amount of work done, etc. I think they were trying to communicate that there was no issues with their performance while working from a friend’s house.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          This is neither here nor there for the OP, but any time I log on from anywhere besides my normal location (including places we do have nexus and I am very much allowed to work), I get a slack from IT within 5 minutes because they’re trying to confirm it was really me and not a bad actor trying to use my creds. They’re not looking. They’re automatically notified based on rules they’ve configured for what constitutes “unusual” and supposed to follow up, and they do. If I said “yup, was me” ad it turned out I wasn’t allowed to be there, I’d be reprimanded by my management. Never actually happened to me due to being somewhere I wasn’t supposed to tho. It’s almost always when I’m doing maintenance on a remote server (which is part of my job). But it flags as unusual for them because the monitoring software can see that I logged in from my physical location and five minutes later logged in from where the server is. So it’s triggering under a “can’t be in two places at once” premise. Anyway, point is, “they have no reason to look” can be very different from “they’ll never notice”.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Not true. Laws vary by state and municipality since it’s state or even more local tax laws that you run afoul of by doing this.

  12. Lola*

    “The legal requirement is that you get paid for the days you worked — but the requirement is only that they pay you, not that it can’t come from your PTO.” Wait, so it would be legal for an employer to say, after a normal week, “this week’s pay will be in PTO instead of money, everybody loses five vacation days and gets no paycheck!” I mean obviously people would quit, but it seems pretty bonkers that it would be allowed.

    1. Butt in Seat*

      I think the “comes out of your PTO” is “you are still paid, but your PTO balance goes down by 5 days”.

    2. Patient X*

      There have been more than a few letters here where employers dipped into PTO for various reasons.

      Legal? Yes.

      Does it suck? Oh, yes. Most definitely.

    3. i drink too much coffee*

      Oh no! They’d still get the paycheck. PTO literally means Paid Time Off :) they would just lose the vacation days, essentially.

    4. Eldritch Office Worker*

      In the US, in most states, there’s little to no obligation to provide PTO at all, and employees don’t have contracts that would bind how PTO is used, so yes it would be legal in most cases.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Oh I missed the paycheck part they still have to be paid their PTO balance would go down

    5. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Legally you have to be paid minimum wage. So you couldn’t be paid in PTO days instead of money. But they aren’t legally obligated to give you PTO days (the laws vary here), so they can take away from your PTO.

    6. Persephone Mulberry*

      Yeah, I’m a little confused at this part of Alison’s response.

      If an employee is *exempt*, they have to be paid for the entire week if they worked any part of it, but the *non-work* hours can be deducted (e.g. ” paid”) from the employee’s PTO balance.

      But that’s not the situation here. The employee *did* work on these days, so how is it legal for the employer to declare retroactively that the employee was not working and deduct their PTO instead of paying their earned wages?

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        The same way they can charge you a whole day of PTO if you take an hour off for an appointment and work the other seven hours. There really aren’t legal protections around this.

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

          does that mean that even in the many states where the employer must pay out your PTO balance only if it’s in the handbook, there’s nothing stopping such employers from saying “we have determined in our sole discretion that you didn’t work hard enough this past month. we have docked your PTO balance down to zero, and you’re fired!”

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            If it happened quite that suddenly you may have legal pushback, but there are easier ways around that typically. Like just saying you have an unlimited (or “flexible”) vacation policy and then putting internal rules around how it’s used. Same amount of allowed PTO per year, no accrual for payout. California is the only state so far that has addressed that loophole.

            You can also get fancy with how you allocate “sick” vs “vacation” time in states that don’t require sick leave pay out. There are ways for bad actors to work around the spirit of the law, even when there are laws in place.

          2. Starbuck*

            I don’t think they could extend it beyond the current pay period, since then they’d be changing it after the fact. But most states have very little regulations on how PTO balances can be used (or not) by employers. You should check, if you’re in a state that requires PTO balances to be paid out on separation, see if there are any other regulations on PTO. It’s state by state.

      2. Bit o' Brit*

        To an employee, PTO is “days I don’t have to work”, but to the business PTO is a number on the “liabilties” side of their balance sheet. Whether work happens on that day is irrelevant (barring specific laws like the California one).

        1. GythaOgden*

          Indeed. I don’t generally get personal days, only quite a decent amount of annual leave, so I’ve retroactively had to sub in a day or two of AL after my husband’s cancer diagnosis knocked us both for six. I wasn’t at work but I wasn’t sick, so it had to go down as AL on my monthly record.

          One blunder I can understand, but OP did it again twice and IMO she is on very thin ice here. We’re generally in agreement that managers have better things to do with their time than keep track of their employees, so someone doing things like this even after being warned about it risks a company deciding that it’s too much hassle to micromanage its WFH employees and rescinding or further restricting the policy. (Because knowing who is and who isn’t slacking would require more time to individuate records, and thus it’s not generally the case that only the people directly abusing the policy should be fired, but reducing the opportunity to abuse the policy going forward is also something that frees up management to do other parts of their job.)

      3. Kevin Sours*

        In short your only recourse to having your PTO taken away for any reason (other than finding a job that doesn’t suck) would be to find some kind of contractual or other promissory cause of action. As far as the employment law is concerned it is voluntarily given and can be taken away at will.

      4. Starbuck*

        Because they are still paying the equivalent of earned wages? I don’t think it’s that complicated, unless they are hourly and worked over 8 hours and would be owed overtime pay, paying me a $160 PTO day is the same as paying me $20/hour for 8 hours worked.

        1. Aitch Arr*

          Overtime is only calculated on actual hours worked. If an employee worked 40 hours regular time and took 8 hours of PTO during a week, they would not get 8 hours of overtime.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yes I know. Why I said “and would be owed overtime pay”.

            I meant to imply they worked over 8 hours on a day when that week they were already over 40. Like a scenario where you worked 8 hours on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, then worked 9 hours on Friday. They can’t just turn that Friday into a PTO day and not pay you time and a half for that extra hour. That’s the only scenario where legally it would be an issue of pay if they decided to charge your PTO instead of paying your actual hourly wage. (If it’s a state that doesn’t regulate how PTO is used).

    7. Kevin Sours*

      Basically yes. There are almost no legal protections for PTO aside from some things state laws California views accrued PTO as earned income but they are very much the exception (the “unlimited” PTO policies are largely attempts to work around California law — there isn’t any accrued PTO to protect if PTO doesn’t accrue).

    8. Starbuck*

      No, they couldn’t add 5 days do your PTO bank in lieu of paying you as scheduled for that week’s work.
      Yes, they can give you a paycheck that matches what you normally would have earned, but deduct from your PTO bank 5 days.

  13. Lainey L. L-C*

    If OP attends conferences, how does the company handle that? I have attended multiple conferences, and none of them have been in my area, and only 1 was in my same state.

    I don’t understand how legally they can make you take PTO for a day(s) when you worked. Paid time off is for time when you don’t work, so how can they legally use that if they also made you work?

    As I said upthread, I’d be getting my time back somehow.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I made a comment to the legality right above, but in terms of conferences they may set it up as you’re attending this conference on your own time, we’ll pay for it but since you’re not actively working your assigned job it’s PTO. It’s a bad practice but it happens. If they’re NOT paying for it then it becomes even easier to say use PTO, which also happens.

      Working from another state for the duration of a conference would almost definitely not be a legal issue in terms of needing a nexus to work, that doesn’t kick in after just a few days, but this company may be more cautious with their tax liability than most based off the information OP gives us.

    2. Punk*

      The tax rules have to do withe whether and how income is being generated. A company can’t make revenue in a location where it’s not set up to pay the local taxes. Conferences and professional development are not in that category.

    3. Bast*

      I’d give no outward sign of my upset, but I would be making extra effort on Indeed, LinkedIn, etc., on my phone under the desk and surprise them all by quitting as soon as I could. Once you bomb out on employee goodwill, it is VERY hard to make a comeback, and a pizza Friday just won’t cut it. Taking my PTO for a day that I actually worked a full day would have me so PO’ed that I’d be done.

      1. Jelly*

        But people have bills to pay and kids to feed. Health insurance needs.

        I mean, this wouldn’t bode well for me personally in terms of how I’d view my employer, but to quit over this one PTO requirement? How in the world does one explain that in an interview?

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          So Bast explicitly said they’d be looking for another job and your response implies they would quite with nothing lined up.

          You explain it the same way you explain any other job you quit because you had it up to here. You use professional but vague phrases like, “Looking for growth opportunities” and “Ready for my next step.”

        2. I Have RBF*

          “They had policies around remote work that were very one-sided.”

          But after four years? “It was time for me to learn something new, and grow in my career.”

        3. MathBandit*

          “I left my last job because they stole from me by retroactively not paying me for time worked.”

    4. RagingADHD*

      The letter makes it sound like the organization has never actually thought through and expressed a coherent policy, but is reacting to different situations on the fly.

  14. Knope*

    I once went on vacation and, while away, a major work emergency came up and my boss threated me with my job if I didn’t handle it so I ended up working every single day of my vacation. 12+ hour days each day. I never saw the outside until I left for the airport to fly back home. It was infuriating and I was ready to quit as it was as the expensive vacation was ruined. But, when I got back they still made me enter my time away as “vacation time.” I filed my resignation immediately and have never looked back. OP, do not work for a company that treats you this way!

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Similar but with a plot twist of an ending. It wasn’t the whole thing, but they also proved themselves reasonable and I did not get charged the two days I worked as vacation, they were as hours worked.

      The boss then further explained to our office manager who attempted to override the normal hours on my timecard (note: this is ridiculously common and extremely infuriating in my industry. Manager and Grand-Manager approve something, office manager tries to ding vacation hours “because its not policy”. Why???? There’s no policy on it and the people in charge of me say its just fine…all the way up to the owner, in this case.) that it needed to be fixed, immediately.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Ugh, that sucks and your boss sucks. And I’m assuming that their boss sucks, too, since you didn’t go to them to ask WTF. Glad you’re out of there!

  15. Aunt Vixen*

    I’m a little puzzled by “policy that if you are not working in the office, you must have a workspace with a door, etc.” given “office doesn’t have private spaces or designated work spaces” – I’m not an office manager of any sort, but a policy that requires a remote space to have features not available in the office seems unreasonable to me on its face. On the other hand, what is the remote workspace required to have besides a door? Reliable internet, evidently, if remote meetings are a thing, but I feel like “etc.” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      If you’re in an office, the people who can overhear you are people also employed by the company. In terms of confidentiality they’re probably worried about non-employees hearing that information.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Yes, this is an issue for remote workers in healthcare who work with patient info. The requirement to work in a private space with a door is common. I’ve also seen “a door that locks”, to protect any data.

    2. rollyex*

      The employer is terrible.

      But even in an office with no internal doors there is still a barrier between work and non-work: the door to the office. The employer seems to be saying they want such a barrier.

    3. Jenny*

      I assume they don’t want kids/significant others to be in that work space. It’s kind of a dumb way to get to that, but again it seems pretty reasonable that someone working from home should have a dedicated space free of distractions and other people. If it were me, I wouldn’t worry too much about that unless I did have those distractions.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        There are also confidentiality rules at play. If I lived with a roommate, I’d have to take some meetings from a private room/with headphones, because some things discussed are proprietary information. Luckily it’s just my cats so it doesn’t matter, but you have to be mindful of who could hear information that is not for public release if you’re taking meetings or working at a location not your in-office space or private home office.

    4. Starbuck*

      Because being overheard by strangers or even family/friends is different than being overheard by other employees at the same company. This is totally reasonable.

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

      My employer technically requires a door but does not deal in confidential information. I believe it’s just an attempt at ensuring productivity equal to that which would have been obtained in the office.
      That said, the policy is not enforced nor even invoked, as far as I know.

    6. HR Hera*

      I think generally that would be because of sensitive/proprietary information. If you’re working in the office, the people working around you are almost certainly working for the same company (or are on business), so it’s not an issue if they see or overhear non-public company information. If you’re working from home, you might have a spouse, child, roommate, or other non-company affiliated person who could eavesdrop/see your screen. Of course, you could argue that a door doesn’t necessarily prevent eavesdropping or that you live alone so it’s irrelevant, but I think it’s more of the principle of keeping work private (likely a door, but whatever that means)

  16. Smarmboy*

    “No. I worked those days and I will be paid for them. Do not bring this up again. If you do, I will bring it to your supervisor. Are we clear? Thanks.”

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      It’s not clear whether OP’s boss has a supervisor or not but even so I don’t think this phrasing would go over well with a supervisor. However, OP could and probably should speak to HR about this, because presumably HR knows the rules of the company and how payroll works, likely even better than OP’s boss does. It’s definitely worth pushing back on if a conversation with the boss doesn’t get anywhere.

      1. Dr. Rebecca*

        This. I would *love* to know where Smarmboy works that they think talking to one’s boss in such an aggressive manner is acceptable and/or would work.

        1. MathBandit*

          Not Smarmboy, but if my boss did this and I responded with what Smarmboy said, the company response would be HR bending over backwards to apologize to me and offer me whatever they need to to smooth it over, while my boss would be looking for new work.

    2. kiki*

      I mean, I guess it’d be cool if that works? It doesn’t sounds like the LW has power to just declare this to their manager. Especially since it is legal, as Alison mentioned in her response.

    3. Managers can be aggressive too*

      To supervisor, OP: Don’t worry, I’ll save you the trouble. Supervisor, OP knowingly violated our policy on working from an unapproved location. I had warned them after a previous offense but let it go since it was the first time and the location was in-state. This time was over a period of 3 days from another state, which exposes us to tax liabilities that our payroll company is unable to resolve cost-effectively. I informed OP that we would unfortunately have to record that time as PTO in this case. Their response is below, please let me know if you have any follow-up on this matter.

      To OP only: Sorry if I didn’t explain the reasoning to you, but I was dealing with an urgent and potentially costly payroll issue that you caused. If I hadn’t caught it you and I would both be in a lot of trouble. Now that it’s resolved I had wanted to talk to you about working out some comp time, or maybe letting you take a future vacation from your sick time bank instead of PTO to make it up, but your weirdly combative response has put me off on that. Please adhere to the policy from now on, thanks.

      1. John*

        This response is just as aggressive as Smarmboy’s suggested one, just veiled in more legalese and corporate buzzword speak.

        OP worked 3 full days. To take that time out of PTO is wage theft, whether or not it literally violates the letter of state law or not.

        1. Sneaky Squirrel*

          In many states, PTO is considered a fringe benefit which does not have an effect on an employee’s salary or wages (though I’m not disputing that it does have a value), and is not considered compensation. Therefore it would likely not be considered wage theft.

        2. Starbuck*

          Yeah, that should be legally how it’s seen. Sadly in so many states it’s not regulated that way.

        3. Fluffy Fish*

          The point was should OP try what Smarmboy suggested they would likely be met with an equally aggressive response – not that management would be “right”.

    4. Maggie*

      Their supervisor is probably the one making them enforce the policy on their employee. Also a good way to ensure they begin the process of firing you

    5. Starbuck*

      This isn’t going to help LW because they ARE being paid for those days, it’s just that their PTO bank is going down. Everyone who says this sucks is totally correct (and in effect it does reduce their overall compensation because they’re losing a benefit) but I don’t know where people are coming up with that they’re somehow not getting paid for those days.

  17. Lilo*

    My work had a policy that if you want to work from an alternate location you have to submit the address in advance (thought they’ve waived that for emergency situations and things like funerals) and you have to ensure you have a sufficient internet connection and that your internet is secure (no coffee shop wifi).

    My org allows telework from all 50 states so no tax issues there.

  18. watercoolerfodder*

    I’d also want to leave over this (and have in a previous job). If they remain unreasonable, I’d for sure go the malicious compliance route as I job searched. Not ONE second of work outside of my work hours or home. I hope they’re reasonable, OP!

  19. Jenny*

    This probably won’t be a popular view, but I sort of side with management here. First, you’ve already had connection problems once while not working from home. As a manager, this would irritate me. Of course, you could have connection problems at home, but it’s likely that you’d have a more stable situation at home. In addition, with the way the question is worded, it sounds like you already knew that working from an alternate location was something that management didn’t like. Obviously, you can (and should) push back if you haven’t been told specifically not to work from a different location. But it seems pretty obvious that you know they don’t like it.

    I work from home 4 days per week and I love it. But I do get annoyed with people constantly pushing the envelope and ruining it for everyone. We are allowed to work from different locations, but we’ve got to tell people when and where we are doing it and it can’t be a long-term thing–3 days would be pushing it. (I was able to work from my parents’ house when I needed to take my Dad to the doctor, but my manager knew that ahead of time.)

      1. Jenny*

        Right. And I’m not completely sure that the system was abused here. But it was right on the line and that’s the kind of stuff that makes management decide it’s not worth messing with.

    1. Lilo*

      I’m actually with you here. My employer allows temporary alternate workmates, but they require you to certify it meets certain requirements. LW here already demonstrated the issues with bad connectivity, and the employer may need to know when someone’s going to be unavailable.

      There is no legal requirement to allow this kind of telework, so OP needed to cross their Ts here or risk getting this revoked entirely.

    2. Lainey L. L-C*

      I’m fine with the management not wanting them to work anywhere but home for fear that Cthulhu will eat their soul or whatever, so long as it was communicated to the employees.

      It’s the 3 PTO days for days worked that’s hanging me up. I’d almost rather they word it blatantly as “you’re losing 3 PTO days for disobeying our work-from-home rules” rather than this “well you still have to use 3 PTO days for those 3 days you worked because you did it outside of your home.”

    3. EA*

      I agree with everything in this comment. If the OP truly didn’t know the policy, then I think she has leeway to push back only in this instance.

      But it really isn’t unreasonable or being a terrible employer for the company to make policies that encourage you to work either from your well-equipped home office or their office, and request prior approval for changes to your work location. I have definitely been on vacations with friends who are “working remotely” and basically just have Slack or Teams open on their phones.

    4. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I get where you’re coming from. My biggest issue is that this wasn’t communicated properly to the LW in advance. There weren’t any connectivity issues at the spot out of state. It sounds like the LW did everything expected of them over those 3 days (this is how I interpret the comment about how nobody would have known they were in another state if they hadn’t mentioned it). They made sure they were compliant with other parts of the policy around privacy and closed doors. It sounds like they made a good faith effort here.

      The thing to do here is to not punish the LW for breaking rules that they didn’t know existed and to clarify the policy for everyone moving forward. Especially given how little PTO a lot of American workers get.

      1. Managers can be aggressive too*

        I’m the kind of person who really likes to know the “why” behind every rule, so I get the impulse. But imagine the employee handbook that goes like: we have to approve remote locations in advance. Reasons: a paragraph about privacy, a paragraph about confidentiality, a paragraph about security, a paragraph about tax liability (with footnotes to federal, state, and local tax codes). And then I feel like that opens the door for “rules-lawyer” types to say, “bwaha! But you said security was the reason we had to approve remote locations, but I used a VPN so nyah! If you had said it was for tax reasons I would have complied but-” If you don’t understand the policy, ask someone, the explanation might actually make sense, and at least you can understand the real risk you’re taking by gambling that they just won’t find out you were working from another state.

        1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          FYI, you’re making the mistake of thinking that whatever is already written is clear enough, no explanation needed, and then creating a doom scenario to justify continuing not to explain. But if there is confusion, it obviously isn’t clear.

          The why doesn’t have to be that extensive. It could be “for tax reasons, if you are working out of state we must approve the location in advance.” Or you leave the written part “we have to approve remote locations in advance” and then managers can verbally explain the why of it to new employees during onboarding. In this case, an email would go out – “We realized the policy may be unclear: for tax reasons, if you are working out of state we must approve the location in advance.” Or whatever the reason is.

          Don’t waste your time or energy on potential maybe future someday rules lawyers. If it happens, deal with it then. Don’t make your policy around rules lawyers.

          1. Starbuck*

            “But if there is confusion, it obviously isn’t clear.”

            Well, not necessarily. Some people, you can tell them things, you can put things in writing, whatever – and they will still be “confused” about a rule just because they don’t like it and don’t want to follow it, not because they truly don’t understand it. The difference between “I don’t understand why I can’t do X” and “I legitimately didn’t know X wasn’t allowed.”

            But if it’s a pattern with lots of people, sure.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          My read of the letter is that there was nothing in the policy about needing that pre-approval, though. The LW thought they were following the rules properly. That’s why they’re upset about it.

          1. Jenny*

            Yeah, but the letter writer KNEW that they didn’t like it. She stated that her manager didn’t like it and “very concerned with” working in different locations. She also knew they didn’t like it because they made her take PTO when she had connection problems. Based on those two things, I sort of feel like she could have assumed that working from a friend’s vacation home for 3 days wasn’t real great.

            I think making her take 3 days PTO is crappy (if there is no policy right now), but let’s not pretend that she didn’t know they wouldn’t like it.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              This is where I come down too. It sucks to be told you have to take PTO for days you worked, BUT, your own history would dictate that it was a dodgy idea at best to do what you did. So take the loss, ask them to clarify (to everyone!) the policies and consequences, and move on (however that looks to you, forgetting it happened and not doing it again, job searching, whatever it is that makes you feel happy).

            2. PotsPansTeapots*

              Yeah, this is where I come down. The OP is at a director level, but the letter comes across a bit like she’s trying to rules-lawyer herself out of a foreseeable consequence of her actions. That’s behavior I expect more from a relatively young employee.

              She should still be refunded her vacation days, but she’s not blameless here. She was cutting a few corners, knew her boss would probably think she was cutting a few corners, and didn’t ask for clarification.

  20. Person from the Resume*

    “I was supposed to have had this request to work from a different location approved before I did so.”
    This sounds to me like the boss thinks the employee is aware of this policy. The LW doesn’t say if she was or wasn’t aware.

    My employer has this policy. Yes, it means I can’t work from vacation without permission. Generally I prefer that. Yes, it also means I can’t work from an RV as you travel the country which I am totally okay with.

    That’s the policy. Going forward, LW needs to accept that and stop trying to work from personal vacation locations. And if she disagrees, follow the policy until she can find a new job.

    I may try a push back if she genuinely did not know the policy because she did work from vacation, but why did she remain unaware after the first incident?

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      So I can see where the first incident was different enough (the wi-fi not working was perceived as the issues vs the working from a different location).

      And they should absolutely discuss with their boss so they know the policy and to ask for a correction on the leave docking if there wasn’t a formal policy. Alison’s advice was great per usual and there’s really not other reasonable tactics to take here.

      That said, I’m surprised multiple people are suggesting aggressive tactics.

      While it’s great to fantasize about telling your employer to proverbially shove it, realistically it’s supremely unlikely to help the situation at best and could make things much worse.

      Most people aren’t in a position to suddenly be without a job – making recommendations that can help them end up in that position isn’t helpful.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        That was my read as well. The problem with the first location was the poor connectivity, which meant that the LW was not able to do their job to the fullest. In contrast, while out of state, they were performing up to expectations.

        My suspicion is that this rule isn’t part of any written policy (though I acknowledge that isn’t 100% clear; it could be written down, but never enforced). Regardless, for a good employee, it makes sense to communicate clearly about the expectations going forward, make changes to the policy documents if needed, and not dock PTO for days they were working.

  21. HonorBox*

    I’m sure there’s good reason behind the policy, as others have cited above (taxes, etc.) but unless it is communicated in advance, I find it really difficult to enforce. As Alison states, pointing out that nothing was communicated in advance would be the best course of action. They shouldn’t be penalizing you for something you weren’t aware of.

    1. Jelly*

      By that logic, people should be able to get out of speeding tickets because they didn’t know the speed limit (which is 35 mph in a neighborhood if not posted otherwise; it’s in the driver’s handbook).

      Doesn’t work that way.

      1. Dinwar*

        There’s a fairly significant difference between not knowing speed limits (which are supposed to be posted, and which anyone with a license has had training in [whether you remember Driver’s Ed or not is a different matter]), and random company policies.

        Further, the LW has obviously received some discussion on company policy–such as “Your work space needs a door”–so the instructions must have been inadequate to convey the full extent of the policy. Or, at the very least, the first thing I’d be thinking is that this is the case. I always try to figure out how *I* screwed up first, and this seems like a fairly clear omission on the part of the manager.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Right but that’s the thing, it’s not just random company policies. HonorBox noted the reasons are likely taxes, which are based on local laws. Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse. So it’s very much akin to the not-knowing-speed-limit excuse. Doesn’t work that way.

          1. Dinwar*

            As others have pointed out, that risk is almost certainly being overblown in this case and not the justification for this policy. At the very least it’s FAR more nuanced than “You worked in another state for a day, we’re all going to get sued.” Further, it’s the manager’s job to fully explain the policy before requiring someone to abide by it. And we know the LW has read the policy–they cite the stupid thing–so we can safely conclude that the policy is either unclear, or that this rule is unwritten.

            So this is more akin to the sign saying 55 mph, but the cops deciding that 35 is actually fast enough and here’s your ticket. (I actually saw a cop do this. It did not end well for the cop.)

      2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        You just contradicted yourself. It’s in the drivers handbook, so they do know the limit.

        The correct logic is – “why is my car made to exceed every legal speed limit in the country and yet I am penalized when I use the car the way it was made?” If we really didn’t want speeders, cars wouldn’t be able to do 12o.

  22. kiki*

    Unless this policy was explained clearly to LW in advance, I think making them take PTO for this first offense seems unfair. LW already did the work– I know it’s technically legal, but telling somebody after the fact that their work day was PTO is so demoralizing. LW can’t go back in time and not work that day. They’re not getting the time away from work PTO is supposed to provide.

    1. Jenny*

      Agreed, but the letter writer already knew they didn’t like employees working from different locations. And the letter writer didn’t tell her manager where she was working from. This all sounds to me like someone wanting to quietly get away with something. No big harm, but occasionally you get bit by doing that.

      I agree that the letter writer should push back. But I do think they knew they were trying to get away with something.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        An employer not liking something isn’t the same as knowing that there will be pretty harsh consequences for doing something.

        And I could see how the LW thought the issue was poor connectivity, rather than the specific location.

        1. Me...Just Me*

          If they genuinely thought it was connectivity and not location, why wouldn’t OP have given the boss the heads up that they were working from a different location? — I suspect that they knew that it was a bit of a no-no and were hoping to fly under the radar. “Working from my friend’s vacation home” reads like, “I’m on vacation but don’t want to take PDO.” — and let’s be honest, we all know folks doing things like this (which is why businesses are clamping down). Logging into a meeting or two while on vacation happens and needs to be negotiated with work on how that’s going to be “counted” (PDO vs regular salary, etc) but doing it on the down-low is likely to garner a not-so-positive response from the powers that be.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            They’re a director, so I’m assuming the boss is some kind of executive. It makes sense why they wouldn’t want to bother someone who’s probably super busy with something they thought was totally within the policy.

            Based on the letter – and we’re meant to take the LWs at their word – they did all the work stuff they would have done if working from home (this is how I interpret the comment about nobody would have known they were away if they hadn’t mentioned it). If they didn’t get their work done, that’s something their boss should discuss with them as an issue. Like, if they went off the grid for 3 days, someone would notice.

            My bottom line is that they can have just about whatever WFH policy they want. They just need to make it clear what the rules are.

          2. kiki*

            I mean, it depends on your relationship to your boss, how often you update them, how much autonomy you have. It sounds like LW was forthcoming enough about their travel that they told coworkers– they weren’t trying to hide it. LW is director-level, so I imagine they generally have a lot of autonomy in their work. I could easily see somebody who generally operates with a lot of autonomy not feeling like they need to keep their manager abreast of the minutiae of where they’re working from if there aren’t any issues. It turns out is important to LWs boss and the company has a policy about it, so LW should carry that forward, but there are a lot of offices where it would be very normal for somebody at LW’s level to not keep their manager in the loop about something like this.

      2. John*

        The first time they worked remotely from an alternate location, there was an issue that affected their ability to do their job.

        I think it’s reasonable for OP’s takeaway to be that they need to make sure any alternate location they work from is 100% conducive to work, not that they’re not allowed to work remotely.

        And I can say this because my wife’s company has exactly that opinion – they were upset when she was working remotely but her connection didn’t allow her to be on video, but have had no problem with her working remotely from any number of states for 2-3 days from the hotel.

      3. Pescadero*

        “Don’t like” is irrelevant.

        Is it against policy or not? If it’s not against policy – it shouldn’t matter one bit if they don’t like it. If they don’t like it, they should change it.

  23. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    OP – I do not blame you for how you feel. We get little enough PTO in the US as it is. To have it docked when you actually worked over a policy that was not known is unfair. It might be legal, but unfairness affects morale just as much as it it were illegal.

    Start looking, then hand in your resignation with only a week’s notice, if you can afford it. Point out you would have given more notice but you don’t have the PTO days to do it. Make it abundantly clear on the way out the door that nickel and diming people’s PTO is exactly why you left.

    1. Oreo lover*

      Yeah, I would look for a new job for sure. If the policy wasn’t stated, it wasn’t right to dock the OP three vacation days. People can talk about optics, but there are also ethics.

  24. Rachel*

    My organization has this policy for full time remote work. There are legitimate reasons for this policy that other people mentioned above.

    Something else to consider: optics matter. I understand the system many people want is one where doing your work is the only thing that matters. I understand that.

    The system that we have, though, is one where sometimes how you look matters, too. Your management doesn’t like the way it looks that remote work means wherever you happen to be.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      The problem and objection to this is that often, when “how you look” matters, “getting your work done” does not. I’ve run into this before.

      1. Rachel*

        I agree that is bad management.

        In this particular letter, the contributor lost a lot of ground when their connectivity was out when they were working elsewhere. That means, at least some of the time, they looked bad AND didn’t produce work product.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yes, one time. And they seem to have taken steps to make sure it didn’t happen again.

          Personally, the optics of their decision to punish the LW on day 3, when their work was unaffected, are arguably worse than being flexible. I certainly wouldn’t want to work there.

  25. rollyex*

    ” and ruining it for everyone. ”

    It’s weird that someone performing well overall is considered to be ruining it.

    1. KHB*

      Everyone thinks they’re performing well overall (and I take LW at her word that she thinks she is too). But statistically speaking, probably not everyone is.

      1. rollyex*

        “Everyone thinks they’re performing well overall”

        Not true.

        There may be low performers who think they are performing well, but this is really not true.

  26. NotMyCircusNotMyMonkies*

    If they did not inform you ahead of time and attempt to do this, to me, this would call into question their integrity as an organization. I understand that you would like to quit, so start interviewing elsewhere, and simply reclaim the purloined three vacation days while on the clock – a truly paid vacation. Just stop working. If you’re working remotely, spend the time interviewing elsewhere and filling out applications. It is highly unlikely they would be able to figure it out and fire you before you would leave anyway, so you would be honestly able to say that you resigned from the position.

    If a company treated you fairly and justly? Then it is an ethical obligation to treat them fairly and ethically. If they steal from you (which taking your vacation days from you, while you have worked those days most certainly is), then you have no ethical obligation whatsoever to that company. I’ve done similar things in the past when mistreated by a company, and it has worked out quite well.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      An example of how disgruntled or lazy employees can “steal” vacation days with wfh that they couldn’t do in office.

      Exactly why some employers don’t trust remote working, so it’s not great to see it actually advocated here.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        To be fair, Notmycircusnotmymonkeys is only advocating it when the company’s done it to you. I don’t run around punching people in the face either, but if someone punched me in the face, responding in kind would not be off the table to get them to stop.

  27. sofar*

    So, if your internet goes out at home, and you work from a friend’s/relative’s spare bedroom so that you can get your work done, do you still have to take a vacation day?

    The company needs to outline a policy, like, yesterday.

    1. Viki*

      I have to imagine that someone would text their manager to let them know of outages and what the plan is.

    2. Jenny*

      In that case, I’d think that the employee would talk to the manager and see if they were OK with it. Honestly, having a policy that if the employee can’t work from home they should come into the office is fair.

    3. Jules the First*

      Of course not. You come into the office and maybe the employer accepts that the result of this is sometimes a few hours less work in a given day than intended.

      In most organisations remote work is not work from wherever on the planet you feel like and as a manager, written policy or not, I would absolutely regard this as “we told you wfh was meant to be *at home*; you pushed that once at a friend’s vacation property and we told you not to do that, and now you’ve ignored the policy a second time to work out of state and so now there are consequences”.

      The LW should have twigged that there were limitations on the wfh permissions after the first incident and proactively raised “hey, I’m planning to do this” before the trip. That they didn’t smacks of “I know you’ll say no so I won’t ask and won’t get caught”.

    4. Glazed Donut*

      Agreed. A clear policy would make it so that even if LW chooses to go this route again, he’s clear on what the expectation and repercussions are.
      In my wfh city, if the power goes out due to a hurricane, my work would much prefer me work from a friend’s house rather than being OOO unexpectedly for a week or so (although our policy states that I could take last-minute PTO in that case). It’s all about communication of expectations.

    5. J*

      I know my employer has a sub-policy about outages relating to power/internet and one for if a storm is the root of the power/internet issue. In our case, we deal with PHI so we need privacy so no Starbucks or a big open space. It has a 90 mile limit in the same state for the first 72 hours after manager approval, then we’re supposed to have a coworking space with phone booths/conference rooms set up that’s been vetted by IT. But your point stands, a policy needs to be in place.

  28. Information Diet*

    Not taking away 3 whole vacation days AFTER you fully worked during those days?

    Never tell anyone anything ever. They can always use it against you. As long as you can sign on, blur your background, make sure your hotspot works, and do what you want.

    That’s what they deserve for being so obnoxious.

    Wage theft. Time theft.

    1. Dinwar*

      This is where I fall. If someone does the work they need to be paid for it. If I told one of my staff “Okay, you did the work, but you weren’t where I was expecting you so you get to burn PTO instead of charging the project” I’d be fired before the end of the day–it’s illegal in my case, in ways that people actually care a great deal about in my industry, as well as wildly immoral.

      There are a number of ways the company can handle this, from reprimanding the LW to firing them. But making the LW work for free is not among the reasonable options.

      I’d be VERY curious to see that institution’s books if I were the LW. When I’ve seen companies pull this sort of stunt it’s been because they were out of money, and since the money for PTO was already allocated it made the accounting look better. Something shady is going on there at any rate.

    2. Ferret*

      That is very risky if they are working in another state as LW was for at least one of these occasions

      1. Information Diet*

        What’s riskier than working for a company that may RETROACTIVELY decide that you took vacation? If this is how they operate, then they deserved all the lies that are coming their way.

  29. Rick Tq*

    There are some facts missing from OP’s letter that can make the Org’s stance more reasonable.

    We don’t know if the friend is located in the same state as OP’s normal working location, and we don’t know if that city has a local wage tax levied against anyone working within city limits. State, county, and city income taxes make working in random locations a nightmare for the employer’s payroll accounting.

    By charging the days as PTO the org avoids any tax implication and OP avoids needing to file income taxes for places she didn’t expect to have to file them.

    1. HR Friend*

      Thing is, we do know they were working from a new state. Most comments here are ignoring that very real concern in favor of being outraged. LW says: “If I had not told people I was at a friend’s house in another state, they would not have known.”

      There’s probably a policy for remote workers that they report movement across state lines. And – yes – I think you’re right that OP is being charged PTO because they didn’t do that and the business is in a tough spot as a result.

  30. Double A*

    This is only tangentially related, but since I’m seeing comments about how some states have no grace period for tax implications of working there and any work you do there sets up a tax nexus. Specifically people are mentioning NY has no grace period. But like, how would that work for things like conferences? Business meetings? People do work outside of their state all the time and NY is an especially big hub for this.

    1. LB33*

      Agree – unless someone provides a source, there’s no way working in another state for only a few days triggers that

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        From a quick google search, I was able to find that attending infrequent meetings, seminars, and conferences in New York is fine. I don’t know how the OP’s situation would be viewed by the New York government, but it clearly wasn’t a meeting, seminar, or conference.

      2. Doreen*

        You only pay NYS tax as a non resident if your NYS earrings exceed the NYS standard deduction which is about $3k for a person filing as single. Posting link separately

          1. doreen*

            That’s something different – the “convenience of the employer” rule has to do with what is considered NYS source income. For example, if I have an job based in NY and work from my home in Connecticut for my convenience , it’s NYS source income. And that person will almost certainly earn more than the NYS standard deduction because all of the income from that job will be NY source income. But if they only kept the job for a month and earned $5K, they wouldn’t have to file a NY return at all. And the same goes for a person who normally lives and works in Connecticut and works from their sister’s house in NY for a week.

          2. J*

            I’m fully remote but my “home” workplace is our western-HQ. But if I work for a day in NY at our HQ there, they swap my HQ under this rule. Many companies aren’t our size and haven’t done the analysis but that was the compromise we did for tax purposes. Most of our NY employees also get a tax break but only if they work in person so none of us remote workers ever want to visit them since we don’t get the break, just the penalty.

        1. doreen*

          Whoops- That’s filing as single who can be claimed on another person’s federal return for the $3K standard deduction.

  31. Database Developer Dude*

    With my firm, when working remotely, if you’re working from a different location than normal, you have to put the correct tax code in your timesheet. Having said that, if working remotely, as long as the internet connection is working, and you’re in the US, my firm doesn’t care where you work from.

    Others do, so much so that if you’re working down the street from home, that’s a problem. It’s those types of firms that I’d say go get a new job, because that’s not about legitimate issues like tax status, it’s about a power trip. I live two miles from a branch office of my firm, and could work from there anytime I wanted (and often do). I have a desk at the client site, but never need to be there.

  32. TeacherMan*

    I have nothing to add advice wise but I just wanted to share anecdotal from my experience.
    I’m a teacher. For 2020-21 school year we were fully remote.
    It was impressed upon us that we had to stay in area during the school week. This was after it was found out that several teachers in the district did decide to take this advantage to move or what have you across the country or world. Someone was in Italy!
    Interesting though is how many students were spread out. We didn’t enforce that though. Many went to live with relatives who could care for them better while parents worked. As long as their work was done, it was okay. I personally had students who were in Argentina, Africa, and Australia (nice alliteration there).

    1. Starbuck*

      Maybe short term travel doesn’t matter, but in my state after the first year being kind of a free for all (like it was for workplaces too), they went back to enforcing state residency requirements for the online public schools (when it wasn’t the case anymore that every school that was remote), since they’re state funded.

      1. TeacherMan*

        We were back to fully in person by the start of 21-22 (with a handful of exceptions), so residency was absolutely required at that point.
        I still remember the “wait, what?” of how we found out about one of the students who went back to Kenya for the school year (we had a high population of immigrants or first-generation kids). He logged in from a nature preserve, and while he was normally camera-off (most were, for many reasons we didn’t require cameras on), he just had to show where he was. Here’s the kid and a freakin’ elephant in the background! Really cool!

  33. GythaOgden*

    These sort of things are often in the company handbook. Did OP take a look before she assumed it was ok?

  34. Menace_to_Sobriety*

    I’m conflicted about this one TBH. I’ve worked while on vacay in Hawaii, but I sure wasn’t working a full 8 hours, AND I told my boss in advance that I’d be traveling but putting in a few hours here and there, and they were fine with it. I think if I’d have joined a call and he’d seen palm trees and bikinis in the background w/o knowing, we’d have had a discussion. It sounds like the LW takes a fair amount of vacations to visit friends and assumes that just cuz he/she is able to log into meetings, it’s fine and the boss fears that once the meetings are over, the LW is goofing off. I’ve been burned by employees who’ve told me they’re WFH, or another location and it was VERY easy to realize they were NOT. They’d log on in the morning and be unavailable the rest of the day so I had to institute a “you MUST be “on” and available on Teams from 8-3pm and responsive within a reasonable amount of time for lunch, bio breaks etc… with those people. I think the LW CAN go back and say, “hey the handbook doesn’t indicate that working from a different location is not permitted, and I WAS working; here’s my work product from that time frame. Can we agree that going forward, I *will* get advance permission, but not lose my leave over this?” But if the boss pushed the “No”, well… I think the LW might’ve been taking a teeeeensy bit of advantage of their teleworking permission so…

    1. Dallas Houston*

      I’m with you here. I suspect that we have a LW who thinks “I’m the greatest employee ever! No one should question where I do my work as long as it gets done” and a manager who sees the LW in a less rosy light and has concerns about their work habits. While I think taking away the PTO is draconian, I also think that LW needs to clue into their culture here and start obeying work rules to the letter of the law. Work remotely from home or not at all – not “I’ll work from wherever I want but just won’t tell anyone”.

      1. Indoor Camping*

        I’d call this more of a case of following the letter of the rules and missing the spirit of them. The letter of the rules was “Have a reliable internet connection and a dedicated workspace with a door.” The spirit seems to have been, “Don’t assume it’s now fine to do things that probably would have given everyone real pause in 2019.” I still think docking the PTO is a wild overreaction, but it does seem like LW missed some cues somewhere along the way.

      2. violin squeaks*

        Yeah, I tend to agree with this. I can think of a few people who exploit what they perceive as “not clear” instructions and think they have a right to do so because they are somehow smarter or better than everyone else. They really have no clue that they are not as slick as they think they are.

        Now, does the manager need to get real clear about the rules? You bet. Is taking away the PTO the right move? Nope, probably going to cause more harm than good. But I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s not a simple bait and switch with the remote requirements.

  35. WillowSunstar*

    Where I work, if there is an Internet or Power Outtage, to take as PTO depends on how long it is. If it’s less than an hour, we can count it as having technical difficulties. If it’s for the better part of a day, then yes, we’d have to take PTO.

    1. allathian*

      I have flexible working hours and if my home internet’s down and I can’t connect on my work phone either, I need to take PTO, primarily as flexitime. But if our VPN/company network is down and nobody can do anything, it’s administrative leave.

  36. Don't Live to Work*

    Somebody please help me out here…how is charging time worked to leave considered payment for work performed and in accordance with wage and hour laws? PTO is paid time OFF, not paid time WORKED. Thanks

    1. Ferret*

      Because the law cares about the cash in your bank account at the end of the month, not whatever company budget it comes out of. As most states have no PTO requirements in the first place businesses are pretty much legally free to adjust the time as they like – the ethics is a totally separate question

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, just to emphasize, the law cares about the paid part. The law is OK with a company using Paid Time “Off” to pay for time worked, as long as the employee is paid.*

        *Exception for California and possibly other states/cities in the US have protections specific to PTO, but most places in the US do not

    2. Rick Tq*

      Working in tax jurisdiction triggers tax liabilities, including the Org having to pay state unemployment taxes. Being on PTO in the same location does not trigger the tax or state fee issues for the Org or for the employee.

    3. Starbuck*

      Because you are still paid? Most states don’t have regulations on PTO; they don’t care if you’re paid a $160 PTO day vs. $20 an hour for the 8 hours you worked, because it’s the same in the end.

  37. John*

    I think this employer is a good candidate for the “Worst employer of the year” end of the year thing.

    OP literally worked 3 full 8 hour days (or whatever amount they normal work) and is having that taken out of their limited vacation time! That’s insane to me, I would be on the verge of quitting if something like that happened to me.

    1. Rachel*

      I think there are about 50 employers in line ahead of this one for “worst employer of the year”

    2. Menace_to_Sobriety*

      Well, to play Devil’s Advocate, we don’t KNOW that the LW who was ON VACATION at a friend’s house actually worked “3 full 8 hour days” or whatever. We know they called into some zoom meetings, but in between while on vacay? As a boss, heck I might be a little skeptical, too, that they were actually putting in a fully productive day. Especially after they’d been sorta warned about the boss’s perception of teleworking previously.

      Having said that, I do think the boss should NOT have docked the time unless there was a reason to distrust the LW that we aren’t privy to, of course. Boss should’ve instead said, “Going forward, I need to approve alternate work locations in advance, otherwise, I will presume you are on vacation and treat your time as such,” or something.

  38. Reality.Bites*

    I retired before regular work-from-home became a big thing, but I did do it on occasion. I considered it work-from-home. I would not have gone to a friend’s house or a Starbucks without clearing it, because from my point of view, my home was my workplace on those occasions and they had the same right to expect me to be there that they would to expect me to be in the office when working from the office.

    1. Dinwar*

      To give the other perspective: I’ve worked on vacation, in diners, had conference calls from flight lines, at multiple times have worked at airports while waiting for flights (personal and business-related). I remember one call I got on in a hotel room wearing nothing but a towel–I asked if I had time to dry off and the person calling the meeting said “Nope, just keep your camera off!” Basically the company I work for doesn’t care where are you, as long as you’re doing the work.

      Possibly it’s an issue of how the company is set up–I work for a huge company so we’re set up to function from everywhere. But I think the bigger part is attitude. The people I work for simply don’t care where you are, as long as the work is getting done. We’ve all spent years travelling and know that location simply isn’t important (if it was we’d have been fired already).

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Similar experiences.

        I once had to talk them out of demanding that I commit code while driving.

    2. Emily*

      The way WFH played out for many organizations was not “your home is now your office but everything else is the same”, but rather “now that you are able to work from other locations, we expect you to be more available.” If I’m being flexible by answering emails during the evenings/weekend, or on lunch break at a conference, or on vacation, then I’m going to expect that same flexibility from my employer regarding my work location when it benefits me.

  39. TG*

    I feel mixed in this; if you’re working and no one would have known you’re in a different location than why be forced to ask permission? It’s ridiculous in my mind. Your boss sounds like he just wants to be controlling.
    I’d talk to your boss and HR and from now on work from home but look for a new job as this place sounds unbearable.

    1. Ann Nonymous*

      Also, to employers: employees WILL find a way to “make up” getting paid for those hours or employ other well-deserved “petty revenge” to compensate for your mistreatment of them. Penny-wise and pound foolish for them (the employers).

    2. Dinwar*

      That part’s bad enough. But it’s common enough that it’s not something that can really be pushed back against effectively (though it’s amusing to see people attempting to justify it when any other question on WFH gets answered with “Companies that don’t allow remote work are evil and I’d leave them in a heartbeat”). What really gets me is that the company said “Oh, by the way, we’re docking you PTO for this.”

      Imagine if, instead of PTO, the company docked the employee the equivalent in pay. People would be furious. And since PTO is a benefit you’ve earned, there’s no difference between docking PTO and docking pay (morally anyway; legality is an issue I’m not competent to address). And people are apparently okay with this. Boggles the mind.

  40. Just Thinkin' Here*

    This really comes down to 1) is this in writing anywhere and 2) was that written policy ever made available to the employee? My workplace has us sign a written telework agreement that spells out where we can work (at home only – other options must be approved by supervisory) and even lists certain requirements for that location such as a stable internet connection and ergonomic safe working environment with no interruptions (childcare, seniorcare, etc). We have to sign this document before we can perform telework. This addresses both items above.

    If this is a small company, it could be this is company policy but employees are never informed ahead of time. Since the OP has been there 4 years I would think they would have been aware of a written policy. Push back on both management and HR if there is nothing in writing. And certainly the company should not be retroactively forcing use of PTO when OP has already worked those 3 days. This would be considered a loss of pay if OP left the company – OP should the local labor department for guidance.

  41. Statler von Waldorf*

    This would be illegal in the Canadian jurisdictions that I’m familiar with the employment laws on. Employers in Canada can force you to take vacation, but it has to be in blocks of at least one week. An employer can’t force an employee to take one single day of vacation.

  42. Anita*

    If a person is salaried, are remote working locations allowed to be dictated like this? I feel like I wouldn’t feel that I can indicate this as long as they are meeting working objectives.

    1. Rachel*

      I am salaried and my organization has used this policy for at least the 5 years I’ve been working there.

      It is not really that big of a deal or uncommon.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Yes. As Alison stated businesses can make up rules governing under what circumstances and employee can be remote. It has nothing to do with being salaried.

    3. Lilo*

      Yes, I’m a salaried employee who works remotely and there are multiple restrictions on what is and isn’t my primary and secondary workplace.

  43. Brain the Brian*

    This is a silly policy for a nonprofit to have. Vacation is usually a pooled indirect cost, while any time worked on a project would be a direct cost. Way to drive up indirect rates unnecessarily, management!

  44. learnedthehardway*

    I think that this is just a symptom of the issues the OP is having. I mean, a manager who is THIS uptight over where work is being done is likely penny/nickel/diming their employees in other areas as well.

    OP, if you put in a full day of work, then you should be paid for it, and not cheated out of your compensation.

    Sure, there are tax implications for someone who works remotely / out of the jurisdiction of where the employer is set up, but this is completely different.

    Personally, I have worked from home for years, and I have worked from various other locations as well. Arguably, I got more done when staying with my sister for a month, than I would have done, if I had been working from home (at that point, I had a baby in tow).

  45. KHB*

    INFO: Is this employer’s supposed policy that ALL remote work from a location other than your home must be counted at PTO? Or just remote work from a location other than your home that hasn’t been approved in advance? (The latter is far more reasonable than the former.)

  46. Trek*

    we had a controller at my last company who stayed with his grandparents for a few days but still worked full 9 hour days. when the new VP found out he chewed him out for lying about working and charged him PTO.
    A few days later in a meeting with higher ups they asked about an audit. Controller said it wasn’t done but would be soon. VP argued that Controller told him it was done. he responded with that since he lost PTO for those two days they lost all work product. They gave him back the , he turned I the audit. It wasn’t long before that department was back on site full time but there were other issues as well.
    Tread lightly is my advice.

  47. Delta Delta*

    I feel like there are 2 issues here:

    1. The WFH issue, which can have consequences tax-wise. It might make perfect sense where OP and the employer are both located to not allow out of state WFH for tax reasons.

    2. The shifting goalposts, which has more of a morale issue than anything else. It doesn’t sound like it was terribly clear to OP what the employer wanted. Incident 1 happened, which turned into, “oh, well now we want…” and then incident 2 happened, which turned into, “oh, and now we want this, too…” If the employer has a policy, or plans to make/change a policy, it needs to be communicated so everyone knows, not told later.

    My question about point 2 is – is this the only issue that’s been like this at this particular workplace or does this happen regularly with other policies? And how do you feel about it?

  48. FunkyMunky*

    I don’t understand – why tell anyone you’re not working from your home on any of those days? Why are people offering all this information to set themselves up for trouble? on a day the Zoom didn’t work – that’s not your problem, Internet can be an issue anymore. And this most recent occurrence – I feel like you need to be smarter going forward, don’t share this information with anyone inside the organization

  49. Megan*

    One thing that LW didn’t mention is whether part of this policy might be web security. We are only allowed to work from OUR home or the office internet, no other. We can make other arrangements if we need to, but that takes permission.

  50. Thinking*

    Unless you have some amazing setup, your company can always know if you are working from a different location because of the IP address you use to log in. They can definitely tell New York from Nevada. The company might not bother to look, but then again, they might have an alert to tell them such things.

    1. Starbuck*

      IP address used to log in… to what, exactly? How is that checked, by who? I think maybe you’re assuming a more high tech and corporate system than a lot of small places have.

      My org uses Google for files, calendar, email, meetings, etc. I wouldn’t even know how to get the IP address that shows up in my own account when I’m logged in. We don’t have any tech person who would be checking that as a matter of routine. I have my system set up to require extra 2-factor verification when a new device tries to log in, and in that case Google tells me the location of that device as I’m verifying, but that goes to me.

  51. Thinking*

    If the Zoom connectivity issue arises, know how to work with your cellphone as a hotspot. 90% of the time this will solve the problem. Obviously it won’t be helpful if you are in an area with poor cellphone coverage.

  52. Thinking*

    The comment about not using hotel wifi because of security concerns feels a bit off to me. People do business travel all the time and use hotel wifi for confidential information. I can see wanting to ensure you have a name-brand, high-quality hotel, but as a general rule, I don’t think people’s 4-star hotel room wifi is less safe then their home wifi. (This may change if you are in a different country, as I was not allowed to take my regular company laptop to China.)

    1. Jenny*

      You may be right, but we are NOT allowed to use hotel wifi. They want us to use our (company issued) phones as a hotspot in those instances. I’m kind of shocked that companies do allow employees to use hotel wifi for confidential information.

      1. SnowyRose*

        Same. If we are not on our office Wi-Fi (or home, for the few of us that are remote), then we absolutely must go through our VPN.

      2. J*

        Can confirm, we issue hot spots and such for anyone going on a work trip. A group tried to circumvent this by renting an Airbnb and we held firm on this. We also send a whole kit with connectivity supplies, extra chargers, and a screen protector. We really lock things down since we’re healthcare but the law firm I last worked at might even just issue you a travel laptop because we were so secure.

    2. Tiger Snake*

      To really simplify the issue: When you use someone else’s wifi, that means that you are sending all your information to that someone else, and they are then sending it through to who you want it to go to.

      Whoever is manging the wifi gets to see all traffic. Even if its encrypted – its encrypted to that wifi owner, gets decrypted, and then they re-encrypt it to send it on. You’ve created a perfect man-in-the-middle attack.

      Do not use public or provided wifi for anything that you don’t mind being publicly known. Use your own hotspot.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. That said, I’ve always found this rule a bit confusing because outside of the company LAN (Ethernet/Wifi), using our company VPN is mandatory. Even if someone decrypts the Wifi encryption, this doesn’t alter the fact that the connection’s still encrypted by the VPN.

  53. Funky Phenomenon*

    At the height of the pandemic when we were on peak telework I was able to work from my then-girlfriend’s family’s home in another state no problem. Since then, and now that we’ve started to come into the office a few days per pay period, my organization has become a lot more strict, where even my working from my parents’ home ~30 miles away was no longer allowed (despite the fact that some people were living or commuting even further distances). Technically it was because we should be working from our “primary work location” – our home address on file – and supposedly someone could stop by any time to audit our workspace, but there were also stories about someone who had been working across the country when their work laptop was stolen and when they submitted the police report a lot of questions were raised regarding why they were not where they were supposed to be, especially since it involved the theft of government equipment.

    Sometimes though it really was a lot more convenient for me to work at my parents’ place as I wouldn’t have to take the whole day off for an appointment, so I got the okay from our supervising manager that I could still work from there as needed as long as I emailed my team to let them know my change of location, but I try not to abuse the privilege.

    If it’s a matter of confidentiality, I could see the employer being upset about work materials being taken to an unauthorized location without advance notice, a closed door at a friend’s place notwithstanding. If I were OP I’d apologize and see if I could keep my PTO days (especially if the telework policy was unclear, and would encourage that it be clarified) and be paid as normal since I had actually worked during that time, but I wouldn’t push back if HR declined and just take it as a lesson learned.

  54. ijust*

    Well here’s a story about how those “policies” sometimes have unintended consequences—my friend’s company also miraculously revealed their policy about working only from your home address after they found out she had been at her parent’s house working while her mother recovered from a minor procedure. (she had never been told this before) They made her take
    5 days of PTO even though she had worked the entire time she was at her parent’s home.

    Later that year we had a weather event and her power went out. She called the office and told them she would be taking PTO because her power was out in her neighborhood and she had no internet. Her boss flipped out because she was supposed to do a presentation for a client and asked her to go find another location with power where she could work. (She did not have sufficient cell signal to use a hotspot)

    She reminded her boss about the previous situation and said she was not willing to lose any more PTO due to violating this “policy” so she would be unable to make the meeting.

    So after this she got an official letter from her company telling her that the PTO they had taken earlier was restored and she was allowed to work remotely from any location that complied with their connectivity requirements and privacy policies.

  55. Not work from home, remote work...*

    When my team were all working remotely they worked from all sorts of places. One worked from her parents’ beach house, one worked from her nanna’s house so she could help her stay covid safe…there were other locations that were not “home” but it was never an issue. My team met & exceeded all their KPIs while working remotely so all I asked of them was to make sure they calendar blocked a lunch break & actually took it, preferably going outside for some of their break & getting some fresh air & sunshine.

  56. Freya*

    I’m Australian, and docking your PTO (annual leave, sick leave, long service leave, whatever) like this is illegal here. If you’re working, you’re not on leave. You can only be directed to take leave when it is reasonable to require you to do so (eg end-of-year shutdown periods or if you have excessive annual leave accrued) and while you can cash out accrued leave (with limits), you cannot be directed to do so.

    For the purposes of Australian payroll tax, although it is by state, each employee can only have nexus for payroll tax in one state in any one month. Which state that is depends on a series of tests – if all your work is done in one state, obviously that’s where your employer will have to pay payroll tax (if they pay total wages for all employees across Australia higher than the threshold amount for that state). If you’ve worked in multiple states within the calendar month, then your employer starts applying the tests to see which state it is (if you get a definitive answer, then that’s your nexus and your employer stops checking and doesn’t go to the next test on the list).

    The first of these tests is your principal place of residence on the last day of the month. This means that if you usually work in the ACT, but live 5 minutes drive over the border into New South Wales, and one month you do a week’s work while in Queensland, then that month your employer would pay payroll tax in NSW even though you did no work there. Fun little quirk.

  57. Jackie Migliaro*

    The OP does not mention what type of business she works for. I know some companies that deal with sensitive information (Finance or Personal Health information, R&D with patent information) require their remote employees to be hard-wired into their Wi-Fi. Even if their job does not directly have interaction. Bluetooth connectivity, or shared Wi-Fi (as a hotel, or a different location) can be visible to the host, and leaves their VPN infrastructure vulnerable to cyber attacks. I am not saying that this is the case here, but I know a lot of companies that have adapted versions of this policy.

  58. enon*

    I would guess part of the employer’s response might be related to the fact that the LW is one of only 2 employees at her location who can work from home at all (with her stating that the rest do field work) and she is bragging to her coworkers about working from a friend’s vacation home. After she previously had connection issues working from a vacation destination. When it sounds like LW’s work is largely separate and doesn’t have a lot of day to day deliverables that would make it clear she was actually working versus just calling in for meetings.

    Maybe I’m wrong and LW does have the political capital in her job to push back on losing the PTO. But she may just want to chalk this job up to being not for her and work toward leaving with a good reference.

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