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I'm a 41-year-old single mom of one, with a 15-year-old daughter, Becky (not her real name). Becky has Asperger's Syndrome, diagnosed aged 8. She can't fully live independently and has some issues with social skills. Her dad left her when she was only 18 months old and hasn't been seen or heard from since in her life. I was never married to her dad.

If location's relevant, I'm in Texas, and I work in IT, in the marketing side of the firm, rather than the tech side, been there for the past 9 years, but worked in marketing since 2012 if that makes sense.

Last Thursday, our boss (the person above my line manager; it's my line manager, then boss in corporate structure; it's not a huge business) told us that we were required to attend a corporate tranquility retreat he'd booked for us in Johannesburg that lasts for a week.

Yes, we're required to attend it as training.

I asked the boss why it was Johannesburg, and she said, good discounts and it was via a friend of a friend and someone who a friend/business contact knew in South Africa.

I don't understand why the boss wants us to fly out to Johannesburg for a training course, in theory can tranquility courses be done anywhere??

I'm worried about this, as the course is in March, for the first week of March (think it's around Monday March 2nd - Friday March 6th 2020) and I can't just take my daughter with me to this, it'd be playing hookey, wouldn't it?

I actually briefly spoke to my manager and boss about this, told them my situation, but my boss said:

You are required to come to this tranquility stress training scenario. Sort your passports out, this is mandatory. No excuses.

I did this in a formal manner, but she was insistent about it.

I usually get on well with my boss, but I don't think she understands my problems as she goes on about getting dates with younger girlfriends via OKCupid and Tinder so she probably doesn't understand having a teenage daughter; I know she's got no kids, that's certain.

I want my daughter to have a good education but equally I don't want to quit a job I've done for 9 years which I really enjoy. I worry I may not get another job. The company's a good place to work for, I get on well with co-workers.

My basic question is "How do I get the boss to understand I can't just drop everything for a training course that's held abroad, as I've got a teenage daughter?"

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    Does your daughter have a friend whose parent or parents you trust? – Patricia Shanahan Dec 14 '19 at 14:11
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    Do you have any relatives or close friends that your daughter can stay with for the week? – joeqwerty Dec 14 '19 at 14:44
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    do you have a work contract? what does it say about travel. Your boss can't force you to go, but if it's in the contract that you are expected to travel and attend training sessions then you could risk your job by not going. Also some places have laws that protect parents on this. Maybe try and get a free consultation with lawyer specialising in this area. – flexi Dec 14 '19 at 14:46
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    @TymoteuszPaul many people would consider any 15 year old to be dependent on an adult guardian, at least at the time scale of a week. We're not a hunter gatherer society any more, the modern world presents many unprecedented challenges of abstract judgement having serious and potentially lifelong practical consequences. – Chris Stratton Dec 14 '19 at 18:06
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    @TymoteuszPaul her daughter's circumstances could strengthen the case indeed, and there could be a strategic decision to raise that, but she is under no obligation to disclose such a private matter as a strong case would already exist for any single parent of any 15 year old - especially at the scale of a leaving for week overseas. – Chris Stratton Dec 14 '19 at 18:09
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I'm a single parent and have had to travel from time to time on work, with a child that has had severe bouts of anxiety and depression.

Can the company require me to travel?

Yes. A company has every right to expect you to be able to travel as part of a job - you can try to minimize it but in an at-will state and especially Texas, the company can force you to travel as a condition of employment. And many do, even with jobs that I have taken because they do not routinely require travel I've had to go to other-city mandatory kickoff meetings (as have all the other parents working for those companies).

It's always possible to try to negotiate some agreement to get out of it, but if they don't want to make an accommodation they don't have to. Please don't let commenters who don't like the way things work confuse you that this isn't the way it works, that's dangerous.

How To Make Travel Work

Your first approach should be trying to make the trip work. This is better for you and for your daughter in the long term. You look for family friends, friends of your daughter's from school or whatnot, neighbors, or family (even if they will come into town for that week) to care for your daughter while you're away. Has she never stayed over at anyone's house? Well, even if not, you've got four months to work up to it, start with some overnights and so on. Asperger's is pretty mild as the spectrum goes, it should be tenable especially if you seek help from doctor/therapist, a local Parents of Asperger's support group, and so on. She may well enjoy it and thrive not being as isolated. At 15+ even staying home alone with someone (neighbor, friend) checking in on her regularly is feasible in general, though possibly not for your daughter's situation.

Just to be blunt - not trying is not your daughter's fault, it's your fault. As a single parent I understand the temptation to make them dependent on you and have you each be each other's whole world. But it's better for them to help them - and yourself - develop independently and you have to take hold of that.

But What If You Can't?

If you absolutely can't make it work after trying, and I mean trying for a couple months, to enable yourself to travel - you have no friends or parents of your kid's friends or family or neighbors willing to do it, or your daughter does legit freak out and can't basically function for a week in anyone else's hands but your own - then you need to roll harder on your job.

Get a letter from your daughter's doctor and/or therapist saying she can't be left alone or with someone else, provide it to your work's HR, say "I'd really love to go but it's simply impossible medically." That's management code speak for "don't make me sue your dumb ass." It may limit your upward mobility but they will have a difficult time firing you for it, they'd have to gin up other reasons and that's a lot of work and risk. Do take the other necessary steps like getting a passport so it's clear the reason is your daughter's medical condition and not general lollygagging.

If you can't get that kind of statement from a medical professional, and you don't go, then you're going to need to try to talk them out of firing you - they can do so, and while it's silly to do it over a tranquility retreat, it doesn't mean they won't if they said they would.

If that happens, then with your next position you will need to set expectations during hiring that you absolutely can't travel and will need that written in your contract (or more likely offer letter, who really has contracts nowadays? Not many people here in the US except for the high rollers.).

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Short answer is that you’ve a decision to make and none your options are painless.

  1. Your boss was clear that the training IS required.

  2. There was appropriate notice.

So either

a. Make the necessary arrangements to have someone to take care of your daughter when you’re out town

b. Don’t attend and don’t quit... best case is that your boss will let it slide, you already know what the worst case will be

c. If there are tourist attractions in the area, Take your daughter and a trusted adult family member to the trip, have them tour the area that you’re in while you’re in your training... this can get pricey though

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    My daughter has Asperger's Syndrome and other learning difficulties, for some reason I can't edit my original post to include this. – kelseyb7969texas Dec 14 '19 at 15:02
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    I think your answer could be improved by explaining how to approach option b. – Chris Dec 14 '19 at 16:37
  • @Chris There’s a button at the bottom of this page that’s labeled as “Add an answer”. You can use that button to improve this thread. – Goose Dec 14 '19 at 18:04
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    -1 This needs a lot of expansion to be a useful answer, particularly option b. – Dave Gremlin Dec 14 '19 at 19:06
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    And for option c, the OP would need to buy two plane tickets from the USA to South Africa. That can’t be cheap. – Damila Dec 14 '19 at 19:20

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