WWYD: The Resignation Clause

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.

 

Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.

 

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14 Comments / Post A Comment

olivia (#1,618)

Have you already left the job, and not just put in your notice? If you’re already gone I don’t think they would contact you now to ask for it-I would imagine they would have addressed it before you left. I would keep some money set aside to pay it back just in case, but I certainly wouldn’t ask, particularly if you’re already gone.

ArizonaTime (#2,694)

@olivia as of now I have already left – and they haven’t said anything yet. I guess they got slammed with resignations and have my exit interview scheduled via phone in a couple weeks (so haven’t quite wrapped up everything).

I think if I’d had the meeting I probably would have brought it up too…but all of my interactions with HR during my 2 weeks were via email and it never directly came up…

Fingers crossed!

olivia (#1,618)

@ArizonaTime ALL FINGERS CROSSED! I don’t know, I still don’t think I’d bring it up. Why give them any ideas?

lizard (#2,615)

i just want to say good advice mike dang! even though you basically said what we all sorta knew your writing is calming and efficient. I think you have the perfect “voice” for this site.

kbn22 (#1,414)

Oh no. No no no no no. I would not mention the money at all, in case they assume that means you’d be willing to give it back without a fight. Stress about it until the exit interview, and if *they* don’t mention it at that point, I would assume they’re not going to ask for it back. ps I doubt that clause is about people like you, by the way – it’s probably for people they think intentionally screwed over the company, like someone who used the relocation bonus to move to a new city and then immediately quit to go work for a different company.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@kbn22 Yeah, I also would not “offer up” the money if it hadn’t been mentioned. It’s clear that the relocation assistance was used exactly as the company intended and not abused. It’s one thing if you are having a discussion about all the issues, but calling up out of the blue to be like, “hey, what about this money you gave me? want it back?” doesn’t sound like a smart move.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@sintaxis I’m going to be honest here — working well under a year for a company that comped your relocation to the most expensive city in America DOES sound, to me, like a stretch of the benefit (not an ABUSE, but not how it’s meant to be used). So I’m curious why it doesn’t seem that way to y’all.

@aetataureate Agreed- I know it wasn’t intentional, but I’d expect to have to pay it back because companies generally only pay relocation fees when they’re expecting to get a long-term employee. (That said, I wouldn’t say a word about it in the hopes it’s overlooked. It seems I’m okay with screwing over corporate America.)

sintaxis (#2,363)

@aetataureate It’s not an abuse because it was a benefit with a condition. That condition was that if the person leaves before a year they may ask for it back, not that it is required to be given back. Clearly the company had in fact thought out the risks of giving someone the relocation money and that was a risk they deemed acceptable. If it weren’t, then there would be either no money or a hard line rule about the time commitment expected of the employee.

TDF@twitter (#3,336)

I agree. Rules are rules, and you chose to take the income hit by going back to school. It’s not like they fired you unjustly or circumstances beyond your control happened.

I don’t see why you just didn’t stick it out for four more months and then not have to worry about it. You’re not jumping to another job right away and you stated that you were on good terms. Would the extra few months really made that much of an impact on your future plans?

lizard (#2,615)

@Kimberly Alison@twitter i agree plus more time to save money and the stress of having to pay back the money is gone. she could also take a night class too

sony_b (#225)

I don’t think you should offer. Sometimes things don’t work out, and your bonus was huge to you, but it’s completely insignificant to your company. It could also be that their language is iffy because they can’t actually hold you to the promise to pay it back – or not in every state. I’d be interested in what the legal precedent is there.

I think ethically, unless you took this job solely for the relocation bonus, you’re in the clear. Also, if the real day-to-day job turned out to be anything other than what it was advertised to be when you accepted it, you’re in the clear. And that happens ALL the time.

ImASadGiraffe (#982)

The “may ask” part is why I wouldn’t bring it up. If they want it back, they will ask for it. The burden is on HR to ask for it, not you to offer it. But be prepared to cough it up if they do.

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