Dear Evil HR Lady,
I started my current job in April. When I accepted the job, I had a hard time deciding between it and another offer from a similar company. The deciding factor was that I really liked the manager of the group I was interviewing with (let’s call him Bob). He was a proponent of work-life balance, very easy-going and had a good reputation. I had had several conversations with him on the phone about some concerns I had about the type of work I’d be doing, and he alleviated my concerns. My offer letter stated that I would be reporting directly to Bob. However, on my first day, I was told I would be reporting to someone else under Bob, let’s call him John. I had never been given any indication that I might be reporting to John. John was a new manager and had only two people below him. I was assured I was “on the same level” as the rest of the group, but would be managed by John. In my first week I spoke to Bob about how I was surprised about the change and he said that the offer letter went out with him mistakenly listed as my manager, and asked if there was a problem. I said no (what was I supposed to say?) but have since had a bad working relationship with John. He is a micro-manager, very political in the organization and not supportive of work-life balance. He’s everything I didn’t want in a manager, and I absolutely would not have taken the job had I known I was going to report to him.
At this point I’m actively seeking employment elsewhere. I have tried to accept with working for John – I have talked to him about my concerns and have also expressed to Bob that I’m not happy with the arrangement. It’s pretty clear nothing is going to change. So my question is: When I quit, do you think I will have any right to not pay back the sign-on bonus I received, since the terms of my offer were not met? I received my offer letter almost 3 weeks before I started the job, so they had plenty of time to alert me of the mistake but never did.
Your direct question (do you have to pay back the sign on bonus) would be best handled by a lawyer who read your actual offer letter. You may have a case, but I would bet not. (Companies definitely have the right to change your supervisor–if not, they could end up in violations every time a manager quit or was transferred or promoted.) I do think you would have more of a case if you had stated, when you first found out, that you would not have taken the job had you known.
For the record, I think you are wise to realize that this situation is not going to work out. So many people stay in jobs that they hate, hoping that things will get better. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. However, you have no legal or moral obligation to stick around.
I have a sneaking suspicion that John wouldn’t be unhappy to see you go either. Managers dislike managing people who hate them as much as you hate being managed by them. You may be able to negotiate a deal where you go quietly without having to repay, or only repaying a portion.
And make sure payroll calculates your repayment. Sign on bonuses have taxes withheld at a supplementary rate, which means a good chunk is taken out. You only have to repay the amount you actually received. So, your sign on bonus was $10,000. Your net check was $6500. You repay the $6500. Payroll will adjust your W2 to take care of all the tax implications.
And let this be a lesson to you sign on bonus people–don’t go spending until you are sure you are happy.
Just be glad it wasn’t a relocation deal. Relocation for a home owner can run over $100,000 in my neck of the woods. In that case I’d tell you to suffer.