By Gina Tonic
It seems it doesn’t matter how much you map processes to try to streamline and standardise communications, compensation data collection always highlights an area you didn’t quite have nailed down.
So, the team has been going through this painful process for W2 reporting and one assignee came to light given the rather large income figure that came in from payroll. I always start these investigations with a quick review of the figures to see if someone has typed an extra zero on the end in the input but no such luck. This case wasn’t going to be one that was that easy. Upon further examination it seemed that the numbers from host payroll were reconcilable to the build-up, but the home payroll figures looked nothing like the home split.
Back to the beginning
To put this case into context, the assignee had been on a short-term assignment from Australia to the US. Just before pay review last year he was transferred onto long term assignment status even though his wife chose to stay at home, as it was clear he was going to undertake the role for a considerable period of time. A new assignment letter and build up were prepared and communicated to him. Once signed it was then notified to both payroll in the US and payroll in Australia (as we operate split payroll for certain locations).
The assignment continued and during the next salary review the new build up was communicated to the assignee and both payrolls were notified as per the lovely streamlined and standardised process and comms.
Time to unravel the numbers
So these bizarre figures that had come to light during the W2 reporting preparations were rather odd. Given the time difference with Australia I composed a detailed email to outline my queries with the figures, but also offering a call if that would make it easier.
Next morning, I was pleased to see an email in my inbox. Call me naïve but I just expected to see some detailed explanation regarding the wrong figures accidentally being pulled through and a new set of figures looking very similar to what I was expecting to see……… WRONG!!
It transpired that when the assignee had moved to a long-term assignment, Australian payroll had received the build-up but were unsure as to what to do with the communication. So, did they revert back and ask, did they question other payrolls in Asia for help, did they escalate internally for some additional help? Nope, they filed the notification and continued paying the assignee his full notional salary in Australia as per his short-term assignment agreement. Somehow this was missed in last years W2 reporting as the assignee had not long been on Long Term Assignment.
Even when the most recent build up was sent just over a month ago, this was again filed with no action taken. So, after a year of being paid his full notional salary in Australia and paid split payroll in the US, unsurprisingly, there was quite a large over payment!! Of course, we’re not dealing with a graduate, we’re dealing with a senior manager!!! So, the over payment ran into 6 digits.
My heart sunk knowing this was going to consume the rest of my week. I had a feeling there was going to be quite some spectacular fall out from this. I decided the best way of dealing with this was to escalate the issue first before I was escalated. So, a very carefully worded email was painstakingly drafted to the HR Director, the assignee’s line manager and the head of the business outlining the issue and how it was going to be addressed. I followed this up with calls to patiently answer the questions this whole issue raised.
Next stop – the assignee
Then it was time to tell the assignee. In my experience there are two types of assignee when it comes to a payroll issue like this. Those that bank it and gain the interest on the over payment knowing at some time it will get figured out and they will have to return it, and those that have no idea or claim to have no idea about how their payslip works so state that they don’t have the money as it’s been spent. Given our previous experience with this assignee my hunch was that it was going to be the latter.
On picking up the phone to the assignee it became quite clear that this very large over payment to him was a complete surprise! Apparently, he didn’t look into his payments in the home country as they were paid into a joint bank account and his wife spent the money from there whilst he lived on the money he was being paid in the US. Now maybe I’m just getting a little long in the tooth when it comes to my years in Global Mobility and have got a little cynical, but it’s just rather funny that whenever there is an underpayment – those don’t go unnoticed!!
Perhaps unsurprisingly he couldn’t refund the money straight away as his ‘wife had spent it’ but wanted a repayment plan to be put in place. Given that the sum was so large there was little we could do, except to agree to the repayment plan over the next 18 months. If we took it straight back from his salary he would have no income at all for a few months.
Just between you and me dear diary, given the current resurgence in that particular job market, I’m not holding my breath for him to remain employed with us for that much longer. He’ll find a new job very soon and we will have no hope of getting that money back.
There have certainly been lessons learned for future process streamlining and standardisation. Top two lessons – process streamlining and communication is not a one-off process and you can’t rely on someone leaving an organisation to hand over all the details to the incoming employee.
Roll on my Friday G&T. With calls this week across the timezones – it’s been a long week!