Can I Get out of a Relocation Repayment?

by Evil HR Lady on June 21, 2016

I assumed a position with my company. However, after my arrival, I have been handed a completely different job altogether – as have many others.

Moreover, upon my arrival most employees left in the first few weeks on the job because they’d been promised better positions – my top person was told he would assume my job before they hired me. Each one of these people approached me to assure me that they didn’t leave because of me.

The work environment is quite bad and my family life is terrible since coming here. I considered a leave of absence, but I’d like to leave outright. However, I have a year more of indentured time to get off the hook for relocation.

I have another position lined up and am weighing the options. Is there a positive course of action to take to be relieved of this obligation?

First of all, to not answer your question, hiring managers stop this. This is the second email I’ve gotten in the past 24 hours with the same problem–relocation to a new job and the new job turns out to be nothing like what was offered in the interviews. Stop it. Why would you lie to get someone to take the job? You want someone that wants this job, not just a person. This is what happens when you misrepresent a job.

Okay, and now onto the question at hand.

There are a couple of things you can do.  First, you can speak to your new employer about paying you a sign on bonus equal to the relocation costs you owe. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds–it happens quite a bit for high-level employees. That said, I’d be hesitant to do so for an employee because if they are willing to leave their last position in less than one-two years, what’s to say they won’t do the same to me? But, I digress.

Second, you can consult an attorney (www.nela.org will list the employment attorneys in your area), about claiming breach of contract. They said the job was going to be X, it turned out to be Y, ergo they lied to you. However, (and remember, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet), you’d probably have to prove they knowingly lied to you. Companies are free to change job requirements and responsibilities at will unless you have a contract, which you most likely do not.

Third, you can also ask this attorney to help you negotiate an exit from the company. You can do this on your own, but depending on your negotiating skills and the level of rationality of a bunch of people who mislead you and who has a habit of misleading employees, you probably want legal help. You can say, essentially,  “Look, I thought I’d be doing X, I’m doing Y. It’s not a good fit for me, and it’s not a good fit for you. Let’s talk about either getting the position in line with what was promised or working on an exit strategy. While I’d like to make it clear that I’m not resigning, I’m offering to leave with no fuss in exchange for you waiving the requirement to repay the relocation costs.” They may be willing to do so.

Fourth, you can negotiate a partial repayment. You said you had one more year left, so I’m guessing you’ve been there one year. They should be willing to accept a 50 percent repayment (and that should be in any relocation contract you sign in the future, as well as an agreement that you don’t have to pay it back if you are laid off), and may even accept a smaller amount–especially if you can cough of the cash now. As mean and nasty as HR departments are, they don’t like going to court to collect unpaid relocation debts either, and accepting a partial settlement may make everyone happy.

I’m sorry they lied to you. I wish companies would just stop doing that.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

C June 21, 2016 at 3:00 pm

You can also consult with the attorney as to whether the relocation repayment obligation is legal under the FLSA. We recently researched this at my company, and it is pretty gray area under the law. Granted, many companies do it, but you could attack the legality of it.

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Evil HR Lady June 21, 2016 at 4:16 pm

Really? I hadn’t heard that before. Fascinating.

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Elizabeth West June 21, 2016 at 6:33 pm

Wow, what a nightmare. I’m not likely to take a job where my relocation would be paid, but I dearly hope this never happens to me. I’ll keep it in mind, since I’m dying to get out of the area where I live–it would behoove me to remember to check everything out as thoroughly as possible.

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Jeanne June 23, 2016 at 4:18 am

Companies do this because they can get away with it. Most of us can’t just quit and walk away because we need income. We can’t just look for a new job because we’re unreliable job hoppers then. What can you do about it? You have little to no legal protections. You can leave a bad Glassdoor reference. Big deal.

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RetentionWoes June 27, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Wouldn’t you still lose money overall if you get a sign-on bonus = retention/relo agreement because of tax implications?

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Evil HR Lady June 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm

There are tax implications over all of this–some relo is taxable, some is not. Sign on bonuses are taxable. What the overall impact is depends on a million things. Consult your accountant!

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