In this installment of “WWYD,” tying up loose ends before leaving a job:
I recently resigned from my job to go back to school/pursue a different career path. I left on good terms with the support of my managers. The issue is that I was only there for 8 months, and there’s a clause in the company’s resignation policy that states they “may ask” you to pay back your relocation bonus if you leave within a year. I received a sizable lump sum relocation bonus that I definitely cannot afford to pay back because 1) I only received 55 percent of it after taxes, 2) I used it to relocate to New York, and 3) The rest of my savings is going towards my income-less lifestyle for the foreseeable future.
The struggle is whether I should reach out to HR and ask them if I have to pay it back. I’m definitely a planner so it would be nice to know for sure if I’m going to be in significantly greater debt. I also have a couple large expenses that I could make much more informed decisions about if I knew (new computer, potentially paying double rent). I’m afraid to ask because I don’t want to inspire the company to say “Yes” if they weren’t going to say anything (per the advice of most of the non-HR coworkers I’ve polled). I have one anecdotal example of someone who left the company on similar circumstances who did not have to pay back his relocation, but he was in a different office. I should mention the company is a Fortune 50 with a very efficient in-house HR department, so I don’t think it’s a case-by-case basis.
Is it worth digging into it to have peace of mind? (Or financial terror?) Or should I ride it out and hope for the best? — K.
That “may ask” is kind of maddening, isn’t it? Will they, or won’t they? Having known people who work in HR, it’s unlikely that they haven’t already made a decision about whether or not they will ask you for that relocation bonus. In this case, I’m positive a “very efficient in-house HR department” at a Fortune 50 company has already worked out whether or not they’re going to ask you for that money back.
When I resigned from my last job to work on this website, I had a meeting with HR to run through all the final logistics of my leaving. I was told when I’d be receiving my final paycheck, what would happen to my 401(k), what my choices were if I wanted to buy out my stock options, how much longer my health insurance would last and when I would be receiving information about COBRA—the list goes on. Near the end of the meeting, the HR rep I was working with asked me if I had any questions. I asked if I could cash out on my remaining vacation days, and if I could keep the work laptop the company bought for me. And because I also like to plan ahead, yes, I would have asked about the clause about paying back the relocation bonus if they hadn’t already brought that up during the meeting. The answer could be in your favor.
Of course, there’s a 50 percent chance that the answer will be, “Yes, we’d like you to pay that back.” In that case, there’s no harm in explaining to them about the financial hardship you’ll experience as a result of having to do that. They may be sympathetic to the position you’re in (in response to whether or not I could keep my work laptop, my HR person said, “We’d like to pass it along to the next person we hire, but you can hold onto it until you’re able to get yourself a new laptop, which I did several months later). Perhaps you can ask if you can pay back a prorated amount. Perhaps you can work out a non-terrifying payment plan that will be super manageable and won’t wipe out your savings in one go.
Yes, you can also do all these things if you decide not to reach out to HR and wait for them to come to you about it. Personally, I’d rather know sooner than later.