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My company was supposed to be doing a conference next week in NYC. Over the past few months, I had been given multiple assurances that the conference would take place. I bought my own plane ticket and had been reimbursed by the company. I had also bought additional tickets for my wife and kid, out of my own pocket, and paid for additional nights in a hotel.

The CEO has now canceled the conference. A development took place yesterday that he thinks is an absolute game changer and he wants the development team that I'm in to work on that, full bore. "Each of you stand to profit considerably when this goes big" we were told. This company fooled me, once, with respect to the conference, and as the saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me". Whatever credibility this company had with me has walked right out the window with this latest development.

The way I see it I have three options with respect to the conference:

  1. I don't go, nor do my wife and kid, and the money I spent for their airfare and the Sunday to Tuesday hotel is just written off as a complete and total loss.

  2. I do go but I re-purchase my airfare for the original dates (Tuesday to Tuesday) and I pay for a hotel from Tuesday to Sunday. The problem is that this makes this vacation a lot more expensive. Also, I don't have enough PTO to take that much time off. The conference wasn't supposed to count against PTO so, before, I was only going to be using two days of PTO whereas now I'd be using six days of PTO.

  3. I re-purchase my wife and kid's airfare for Sunday to Tuesday, and I purchase myself a ticket as well. The problem with this is, again, that I'm having to spend more for the trip then I had originally budgeted. Not to mention the effect this is going to have on my family life. The wife and kid were really looking forward to a week in NYC and, under this plan, although they'd still get to do NYC, the fact that their time there would be greatly shortened would still be a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.

The recurring theme in all of these options is that I am losing money.

Maybe I could sue my employer vis-a-vis promissory estoppel? Maybe I should try to make an appeal to the CEO? Maybe I should just take my losses and start looking for a new job ASAP? Maybe some combination of the above?

I'm guessing Travelers Insurance (which I didn't purchase) would not help in this scenario but I don't know. I've never purchased Travelers Insurance before so it's not like I have any experience with it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Jul 18 at 15:38
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    One problem with the lawsuit: what kind of a work environment will you have after you have sued the employer? – WGroleau Jul 19 at 2:03
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    If you go, what would the company's attitude to you attending the conference be? Maybe it would be better for them to have a single attendee than none at all? – Mawg says reinstate Monica Jul 19 at 7:18
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    Will your company let you have your planned PTO at all if this "development" is such a "game changer"? – gerrit Jul 19 at 7:56
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    "doing a conference" is ambiguous. Was your company holding a conference or just attending one? – Dennis Williamson Jul 19 at 20:00

10 Answers 10

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You have, I believe, more options than this.

  1. Go as originally planned, and ask the company to give you an advance on your PTO, or work some weekends, so you can take a full vacation with your family. Use your possible losses as an argument to let you do this. Check if the company has cancelled the hotel booking you were going to use (Tuesday to Sunday), and if they haven't offer to pay them what they would get back from the hotel (if they weren't going to get a full refund) to let you use it instead. This may effectively get you the hotel at a cheaper rate than rebooking, and save the company money. Do the same for your flight if you can.
  2. As above but offer to work from the hotel instead of getting an advance on PTO. You still get to spend evenings with them, just like you would if the conference was happening.
  3. Send your family on vacation without you. Let's face it, you were going to be working at the conference anyway. Rebook your flights if you can to spend as much time as you can with them.

My advice would be not to use "it's going to unexpectedly cost a bit more" as a reason to cancel an anticipated vacation. The money you have spent is already spent, and you probably won't get it back. Starting from where you are now, you have the choice between paying a relatively small amount extra (your flight and a few hotel days) and having the vacation, or not spending the small amount extra and not having the whole vacation. Your family will remember the vacation long after you've forgotten the money you saved by cancelling it.

Also changing job is an overreaction, unless you were already fed up with the company. Stuff happens and plans change.

As other answers say, your company is not going to be liable for money you spent on something the company didn't ask you to do.

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    Option 2 has worked many times for me when I was short on PTO. – Mister Positive Jul 18 at 15:37
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    There is another option to add: Talk to your employer about it. If you had PTO scheduled immediately following the vacation, they may help reimburse your losses. It is not unusual for employees to schedule vacations to stay in a location following a business trip. – Paul Jul 19 at 13:05
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    @Weckar, no. The sunk cost fallacy is, "I spent $1000 on this vacation, which I will lose if I don't spend another $500." This answer is saying, "You can get a $1000 vacation for only $500." – prl Jul 19 at 23:15
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    @Weckar, I think you understand the sunk cost fallacy exactly backward. (Or else I'm not understanding what you're trying to say.) DJClayworth's answer is specifically avoiding making the sunk cost fallacy. – prl Jul 20 at 0:46
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    @WeckarE. AIU, This advice gives the same outcome as sunk cost, but for different and better reasons. S.C. is where you've already spent so much "you cannot afford not" to keep spending. This argument recognises the money is lost and forgets about it. You can now either spend a bit and get a holiday, or don't spend and don't get a holiday. – TripeHound Jul 20 at 22:28
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Unfortunately, your employer isn't liable for the costs of your family's trip or the extra nights. The firm is only responsible for the costs of travel (and the cost of cancelling reservations) that is directly related to your time at the conference, as directed by your manager.

However, you might consider having a discussion with your manager about your concern. He/she can advise you about options you have that are consistent with company policy and regulation and may be able to come up with a compromise solution that allows you to still go on the vacation.

Even if your company or manager wanted to be very generous and cover the cost of the cancellations for your family, the firm may not be able to easily do so (those costs are not business expenses and are instead compensation to you).

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    Seems to me since OP made plans based on assurances from employer, any unavoidable increased costs as a result of the employer's cancellation were caused by the employer, and OP should be compensated them (and not just with hopes for future boons). – Dronz Jul 19 at 6:31
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    @Dronz Taking your family with you on a business trip isn't an "unavoidable expense," it's a "personal lifestyle choice." – alephzero Jul 19 at 10:24
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    @Dronz I wouldn't call it an unavoidable increased cost. You could have avoided it by not trying to make a vacation out of a work trip. (Not saying it's something you shouldn't do, but it's inherently risky.) – Captain Man Jul 19 at 15:19
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    @alephzero It was avoidable, but it isn't avoidable anymore, and the company's assurances played a large part in it becoming unavoidable. – Acccumulation Jul 19 at 18:42
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    @Dronz the problem with this argument is that there are standard, pre-existing techniques for mitigating this cost: namely paying for travel insurance and paying for cancellable airline tickets. The assurances that the employer made here are less binding than the assurances that airlines make that their flights will travel on time and yet you can't hold an airline financially liable for losses due to delayed or canceled flights. The OP really has no legal standing to sue their employer for this turn of events. – Dancrumb Jul 21 at 16:48
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Take this experience as a lesson learned. In the future don't plan family vacations at work events. In this case the CEO canceled the event, but this is no different than if you had been laid off for whatever reason. While you were given assurances that the conference would happen, things changed and you should not assume that things will never change. Life happens both inside and outside of the company, you need to be prepared.

Maybe I could sue my employer? Maybe I should try to make an appeal to the CEO? Maybe I should just take my losses and start looking for a new job ASAP? Maybe some combination of the above?

Take your losses and learn your lesson, don't make the same mistake in the future and when doing any sort of travel consider travel insurance.

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    Would travel insurance have even helped in this situation? – neubert Jul 18 at 14:36
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    @sf02 You can't know that for sure. it will depend heavily on the policies of the travel insurance. – Gregory Currie Jul 18 at 14:40
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    @GregoryCurrie You can purchase coverage to cancel for any reason, which is separate from normal trip cancellation. – sf02 Jul 18 at 14:45
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    @GregoryCurrie That's what insurance is. As you cover more potential events, the expected payout increases, and so does the cost of the insurance. In a situation like this (where there was a known, non-trivial chance of the trip unravelling) it might have been an attractive option, even without the benefit of hindsight we now have. – Upper_Case Jul 18 at 16:14
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    @Upper_Case - to say that there was a "known, non-trivial chance of the trip unravelling" is a stretch. Another coworker has been doing this very thing for years with this company. In 2017 they went to a three day conference in Miami and then did Disneyworld afterwards on their own dime. Then, later that year, they went to a conference in the UK and spent 2.5 additional weeks in Europe on their own dime. Last year they did this same thing in Chicago. This all happened because of a surprise development that occurred a yesterday, which was well after I made my purchases. – neubert Jul 19 at 2:27
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At companies where I've worked, development team members get a lot of leeway on schedule. HR rules like PTO are just a suggestion. The HR rules were only written so they could be used rigidly against people in less valuable positions/departments or against people who the company wants to get rid of. I'd go to your manager asap and tell him what you planned with your family and ask if you can work remotely from the conference town during the conference. Don't be afraid of asking because you don't get what you don't ask for. Oh, and make sure you do this in private behind closed doors.

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    Are you able to clarify the meaning of the first 3 sentences. What are you talking about? – Gregory Currie Jul 18 at 14:51
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    HR rules on schedule/time (PTO) are not typically written in stone if you're a software developer. I've seen this everywhere I've worked at multiple fortune 500 companies and smaller companies. However when I've worked non-software jobs HR rules were always rigidly applied to me. Help? – HenryM Jul 18 at 15:01
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Honestly, you need to have a sit down with your boss and see what they find reasonable.

The bare minimum I would accept are, any costs that were unavoidable by you. Such as reimbursement of your plane travel ticket. Plane tickets for family and a portion of accommodation costs do not fall into this category.

You should go into that meeting with a very detailed picture of how much money the cancelled plans have cost you. And be ready to accept that they may not offer you money to cover the entire amount.

You may want to ask for additional leave (either paid or unpaid) so you can make the most of the tickets already purchased. They may view this as an "easy" way to placate you. You could also suggest you work remotely, as @HenryM suggested.

In terms of suing the company, there is some sort of argument there. If they were malicious in their intent, it becomes a lot easier for you. But it would appear that it's just a shift in their business focus.

Also, suing the company is quite an aggressive action. It would be equivalent to a resignation letter.

  • I agree with this approach except "Plane tickets for family and a portion of accommodation costs do not fall into this category". They do, it's the actions of the boss that have caused the situation. – Vorsprung Jul 19 at 10:34
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    You can demand any amount of money, but this answer is worthless because (as other replies say) you're not going to get it, and at minimum you need to offer suggestions of what to do if they say no. – Stuart F Jul 19 at 12:24
  • I think there is a strong case to be made for the the reimbursement of the plane ticket for the employee, or rather the cost of the cancellation. This is not an additional cost the business would have to wear. They would have had to wear it anyway. – Gregory Currie Jul 19 at 12:38
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I'm sorry to say this but you underestimated the risk you were taking.

This is somewhat similar to a situation where you book two separate flights to a destination: if anything happens to the first flight it's your problem if you miss the second one. Your employer arranged the conference and is responsible for the related bookings only. If they offered some sort of "bring your family along" or "conference + vacation" kind of option, they would also be responsible for the additional bookings for you your family. But I understand this is not the case: they merely allowed you to book your own ticket for a longer duration, and they already reimbursed you for that one. You booked the rest of the tickets yourself.

IANAL but I believe that suing for broken promises requires you to show damages resulting specifically from breaking the promise. If you cancel the bookings for your family, you will lose money because you cancelled them, not because the employer somehow prevented them from going. Also, "broken promises" are often dismissed if there was no consideration, that is, you didn't offer anything to your employer in exchange for the promise, so they didn't have to give it to you in the first place.

Travellers insurance comes in different kinds, and the most common kind covers your losses when you cannot (like when you're sick or your house just burned down), not when it's inconvenient. So it most likely wouldn't have helped. What would have helped is having refundable / flexible bookings.

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    +1 for "consideration" I am not a lawyer, but I believe that a lawsuit against your employer wouldn't go as well as you expect. – J. Chris Compton Jul 19 at 13:21
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and he wants the development team that I'm in to work on that, full bore

In that case, options two and three are eliminated. When the CEO says they want all hands on deck, going in and saying you want to take your vacation right now and hopefully could have some more is out of the question.

Stay, do your job and send your family. No extra money spent. No bummed family. No CEO lecturing you on what full bore means. No manager upset you're making them look bad. No co-workers upset that you're not a team player. Best case scenario - CEO knows what he's talking about things go big, and you profit considerably. You use that profit for a much nicer vacation in the future. :-)

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I second sf02's answer, but I'd like to write a further note on that regard.

According to one of OP comments, it is not unusual for people in his company to merge business trips with personal trips, and indeed that might be a cost effective way of traveling with your family. It is not unethical of you to do it. But, you must also keep the company's priorities in mind. So...

First, keep in mind that the company can cancel any travel at any point in time. Doesn't matter how many times you are given "warranties" that this won't be the case, unforeseen events always happen. Some are unavoidable, like a snowstorm hitting the airport, and some might leave a sour taste, like the CEO of the company suddenly having crazy ideas.

To be at peace with the first point: Never plan a trip you can't afford yourself. Yes it is bad that you suddenly had a cost increase, but you need to keep the consequences of misfortune in check. If that cost increase implies you no longer have the funds to pay for the trip, then you shouldn't have planned it in the first place.

I would also not plan a trip in such conditions if business travels were rare. It is reasonable to assume that you'll be saving costs over time by doing this, but at any given trip, you are subject to the extra expenditures you are facing right now. So, if you can rarely do it, you could hardly ever recover the loss of the one trip that didn't go as planned. Furthermore, if you are a frequent business traveler, you can expect to know and handle your company's travel policies very well, while that may not be the case when you rarely travel for work, or if the last time you did it was 2 years ago. For instance, do you know if your company always buys refundable plane tickets?

Likewise, how does PTO work in your company? Is there a formal agreement between you and the employer before these days off can be effectively taken off? Not sure about the US, but in most of the world vacations need to be scheduled in advance and cannot be suddenly and unilaterally postponed by either part.

All that being said, your boss should be a decent human, who is not willing to have a good employed pissed off. He could and should try to help you. Ask him for instance if there were company expenditures that are not reimbursable. Nonetheless, keep in mind that whatever help you get is from him trying to help/please you, as you are entitled to basically nothing in this scenario.

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This is the chance you take

You had the employer travel opportunity, and without their consent or agreement to absorb your risks, you tacked on a family vacation which was too dependent on their plan.

Obviously the company doesn't mind if your family stays in the company-provided room for free; it costs them nothing extra, so they don't try to charge your family for their fraction of the room. That does not make it a percolative, it's merely a happy accident, a use of spare resources.

Imagine if the company planned a private jet to Los Angeles with extra seats, and they let your family pile on, because it cost nothing extra. If the company cancelled the flight at the last minute... The right answer is "Well, thanks for the offer anyway" not "you cheated me, you need to pay for my family's commercial airfare". Can you see where that would be so?

The risk had always been there that the employer could change their plans due to the exigencies of business. And if they do, they don't owe you anything. You tried to get something for nothing... And it didn't work out. You weren't being exploitive, you weren't stealing, but you weren't entitled to it either and you are carrying on as if you were entitled.

The company didn't fool you, you just didn't think through the various risks. You are not losing money, because that would imply you were entitled to something, you just aren't getting to leverage the company's investment in the way you hoped.

In the future, yes, you need to plan your contingencies accordingly. My family never expected business trips to line up with vacay's, and made vacation plans that could line up, but also standalone if business plans changed.

  • "without their consent or agreement to absorb your risks". I wouldn't say that. I asked my manager if this was okay and he said it was. I purchased a ticket with a different arrival and departure date from everyone else on the team and was reimbursed by the company. And whereas everyone else in the team was going to be sharing rooms I was going to have my own room so that my family could be in the same room as me. So even the supposition that "it costs them nothing extra" for my family to stay in my room isn't completely accurate in my scenario. – neubert Jul 21 at 15:50
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    @neubert But did they agree to absorb your family costs also? It sounds like they were already stupendously generous toward you. Which makes me think that any ingratitude on your part would be exceptionally poorly received... these things happen, that is life, that's why my family was always cautious... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 21 at 15:54
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    if they had absorbed other family costs I wouldn't be out the money that I am. And it almost sounds as tho you're suggesting I should be grateful for this oh-so-wonderful opportunity to have lost thousands of dollars? – neubert Jul 21 at 15:56
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    @neubert the company isn't at fault here - in fact, no one is. It's just a situation which has arisen - what would have happened if the conference was cancelled, for example? Same issue, same outcome. While you can certainly benefit from extending a business trip, you are not entitled to that business trip in any way, shape or form - if it no longer benefits your employer, they are not required to continue to fund it just because you really really wanted to go. – Moo Jul 21 at 17:23
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In the future, I suggest buying insurance with your plane ticket. You'll be fully reimbursed if you decide to cancel. Right now, all you can do is hope you can get credit for a future plane ticket depending on where you bought the ticket. You'll still lose hundreds of dollars though.

In my opinion you should always buy insurance along with your ticket booked months (or weeks) in advance, even during normal times. You just don't know what sort of problems can arise.

I always do and it saved me a couple of times. Like many folks, I learned the hard way. I bought a airplane ticket and had to cancel at the last second. I got credit that I had to use in a year or lost it. I lost about 300 bucks since the ticket I used the credit for was way cheaper than the original tickets.

IANAL, but I would think a judge would determine that you could have bought insurance, but didn't do so and understood things could be cancelled. Unless you signed an agreement that you are 100% going to go then I don't see how you'd win.

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    I'm not sure that's true. The insurance I've seen doesn't pay if you decide to cancel; only for certain conditions which require you to cancel. Deciding not to take a family vacation because your employer backed out on his share, does not qualify as the kind of emergency I see listed on those policies. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 21 at 15:21

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