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For the context: At the time of writing this question, there's an ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I've been working full-time remotely as a backend developer for US company for slightly over a year. I work from Russia, just like many of my colleagues. Our company assumes the worst possible sanctions imposed on Russia due to invasion (impossibility to employ anymore etc.), and as such is interested in relocating employees to other countries with the compensation package included.

I asked for a raise, and been told by our manager on the scheduled promotion meeting that I can get it only if I relocate to another country. I can't, due to family reasons I won't disclose. My TL praised my performance, highlighting my proactivity and ability to deeply understand & research problems. I also noticed that I got better at that and take more things into account, given the accumulated domain expertise. My technical skills also improved.

Based on the reviews I conclude that performance-wise I deserve the raise. Citing my manager, it is a risk for a company if employees would stay in Russia, and that he's willing only to negotiate salary with those who can get abroad. I don't think it's fair to the likes of me who can't move out, and completely disregards my contributions to the project. When I asked why does it have to be conditional based on my location (which I can't change anyway) instead of my performance - he just reiterated on the risks. And when I asked why does it matter what my salary number looks like if/when the ties with me would be cut due to various circumstances we're not in control of, he stated that this is "his position".

I think it's unfair and not OK. I'm considering going up the chain of command, which would be directly to our CEO, to test waters there and to identify where such initiative even comes from. What would you recommend to do in this situation, and why?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 15:20

5 Answers 5

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Pay rises are given to workers so they continue to productively work for the company. If for some reason it is known (or very likely) that the worker will not continue to work for the company giving them pay rise (instead of giving it to someone else) is waste of company money - not only you lose worker who got a raise, but likely lost the other one who likely would stay with the raise.

It is hard to see how the company's behavior is "unfair" - it looks like the company determined that positions likely have to be cut and workers laid off so no amount of pay rises can help to retain them. Many companies (yours seem to be one too) offer alternatives - relocation, change of group inside the company, change roles. There does not seem to be anything new or unusual about your case - companies close offices in some countries, cities, industries all the time for all sort of reasons - legal changes, taxation changes, changes in intellectual property regulations, logistics, as well as no specific reasons at all.

True unfair behavior would be to give a raise and cut positions next day without warnings or alternatives.

Should you try to talk to higher level management - your choice but think about what bargaining power you still may have - traditional "I'll leave you" does not work very well before layoff.

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  • Company is financially doing very well (it was revealed by our CEO), and they are committed to conduct business with Russian employees as long as possible. I also don't take a generous relocation package they provide. We can only theorize what's going to happen in the future. I think what should matter is that I'm able to work for the company now, and what I am able to contribute to the project now. Calling it a "waste of company money" completely disregards my contributions now.
    – user133672
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 7:50
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    @IlyaGavrilov, are they committed to doing business with people holding a Russian passport or with people located within Russia? Given the sanctions against Russia, there is a very big difference between the two. Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 10:33
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    After the next wave of sanctions the difference might be irrelevant. The employer probably has better intel than our OP.
    – BoboDarph
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 12:10
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    (puts on asbestos suit) I'd dispute your first paragraph. IMHO pay is the exchange of money for work preformed. And the future, ability to perform that work will always be unknown, regardless of where in the world the worker resides. If the OP receives a raise and 2 months later sanctions preclude the OP from being employed, the OPs company still has received 2 months worth of work. If the OP's ability merits a raise, then he merits a raise for those 2 months.
    – Peter M
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 13:58
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Well, if all that happens to you is no pay rise, you are very lucky. We've heard of other places that just fired every single Russian employee. A close relative's company closed down an office in Moscow with 150 well paid employees.

In your place, I'd be careful not to spend any money you don't need to spend, except RUN to the nearest supermarket and fill up with goods that the country will run out of soon. And don't mention the war in Russia, unless you want to go to jail. And think again about relocating, as long as any other country wants you.

PS. If news gets out that your company wants to keep working in Russia, their financial situation will not improve, quite the opposite.

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    Very good point made here: Calling the invasion an invasion is probably illegal in Russia. Be careful.
    – bytepusher
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 21:53
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What would you recommend to do in this situation, and why?

Purely oppinion-based, but since you are asking:

Your best strategy depends on future events - in particular, how the "special war" develops and what the international relations between Russia and the US (and most other countries) will look like in the near future.

Consider that your employer already walks on a very thin ice by just sending any kind of money to Russia.

So it is more of a gambling.

The only non-gamble option is to resolve/mitigate your "family reasons" and relocate.

Other options include:

  • insist on a raise. You will most probably not get it. Depending on how your payment is organized, you may be already costing your company a lot more (getting money in Russia just got a lot more expensive than it used to be).
  • continue to work for the company without the raise.

The situation may improve or (imho much probably) deteriorate. If the situation improves, you will most probably get the raise later. If it doesn't, you will inevitably get to the next point:

  • look for another job. Based on historical records, the only realistic option after a while may be the armed forces.

edit: p.s. in regard to your "fair" point:

No war is fair at any rate. Neither is the labor market, but to a lesser extent.

Giving you a raise can be mush less fair to your colleagues that already agreed to relocate.

You didn't state how much essential you are for your employer, but the chances are you aren't. You only have this much leverage in the situation. Your employer already does you a favor by offering you relocation and a help with the relocation.

p.s.2 Imagine: an GRU officer approaches you and asks you to sabotage your employer or your employer's client in one way or another. What would you do if you are in Russia and what would you do if you are abroad?

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  • "The only non-gamble option is to resolve/mitigate your "family reasons" and relocate." This is not a non-gamble option. If future sanctions would prevent anyone with Russian passport to be employed, abroad or otherwise, and our government tags you as a runaway (won't let you back), then you're stuck. This is not the reason I'm not leaving but I don't think it's a non-gamble. "Consider that your employer already walks on a very thin ice by just sending any kind of money to Russia." This I found to be eye-opening. This is subtle, but I think might be true.
    – user133672
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 12:19
  • Again from historical records: if you perceive any risk of being tagged as "runaway" or your movement otherwise restricted, run away... yesterday. In regard to complex sactions that can make you unemployable abroad... maybe no, at least not in EU and not in US. Russia imposing restrictions on its citizens abroad will automatically change your legal status, this happened in the past. You will either get a refugee status (and we - EU - do welcome refugees willing to work, we have enough of the other kind) - and/or - you will have an option to apply for a citizenship. ...
    – fraxinus
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 14:01
  • ... Of course, cultural differences may or may not be up to your taste.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 14:01
  • You might be right. You might also be wrong. I think there's no denying that whatever you do right now, you're gambling, to a varying degree but you do. History is certainly good to know, but it is history for a reason.
    – user133672
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 18:40
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It really is better for the company if you move. Paying you is hard because of sanctions and is likely to get harder. Firing you is also hard. Putin isn't very sympathetic to US companies and will try to impose financial and even criminal sanctions on the companies that "cut ties" with their Russian workers. The financial sanctions are related to what you get paid. The Russian government has also threatened nationalisation and confiscation of assets. I don't think you understand how undesirable it is to have a employee in Russia right now.

You, individually, are an excellent employee who I'm sure they'd love to keep. But not in Russia. They aren't going to spend extra money to retain you. They've been clear and they've told you why. It's quite probable that, given you won't relocate, you quitting is a good outcome. 0% is certainly what I would give a staff member who needs a hint that it's time to move on.

This possible because you aren't actually entitled to a raise. So this time of the year does tend to be the moment an employer asks their employees to do something that the employer can't just require. That's just how it is. You know what they want you to do.

I feel sorry for you in this situation. War isn't fair. Your money is worth less , you're becoming cut off from the world and it's all for basically no good reason. It sucks. There are a lot of people in a country to the south west of you who would also agree about the unfairness of the situation.

In case you don't quite understand the context of what's going on, have Arnold Schwarzenegger explain it to you

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  • Interesting video. One thing that Arnold said is that the President of Ukraine can't be a Nazi because he's Jewish (of course, he's not a Nazi for many other reasons, but this was the one Arnold used, and it's the one I found interesting). It is the official statement of the Government of Canada that simply being Jewish is not a defence of being called a Nazi. One can be Jewish, and also a Nazi: nationalpost.com/news/politics/…
    – Ertai87
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 21:20
  • It was a nice little video. I just wanted to pick a little nit with Arnold there, that simply because Zelenskyy is Jewish does not mean he's not a Nazi (or, conversely, that the government of Canada are complete and total asshats for calling a Jewish person a Nazi, in Parliamentary session). Of course, he's not a Nazi for many other reasons, but not that one. And since I don't use Twitter I chose to respond here instead XD
    – Ertai87
    Commented Mar 22, 2022 at 21:44
  • @NathanCooper I appreciate your concern, but I am in the context already (as truthful as Wikipedia articles can provide). You can't possibly summarize everything that has happened in the last 80 years of history in a 10m emotional video (many important topics are not covered). It's not that simple. And I think my employer is unreasonable because I am still able to work for a company now and they indicated that I deserve it performance-wise and they have resources. If they know employee that is unable to relocate will get fired, they should make them aware, no hinting.
    – user133672
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 6:19
  • @IlyaGavrilov But they don't want to fire you, do they? They want you to relocate. The only way to pressure you doing what they want is your payroll. You want to have the best of both worlds - it is usually possible, but not always. Wars are not fair by their very definition.
    – fraxinus
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 7:17
  • @fraxinus Arguably, wars are the ultimate in fairness, because their resolution depends entirely on the use of force.
    – nick012000
    Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 8:33
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Under whose directive is your manager receiving the order to disincentivize employees from living in Russia? If it's his own, this could be construed as racism and you may want to see if you can get legal advice as to whether or not this constitutes discrimination on grounds of national origin by your direct boss. If it's on the directive of upper management (including the CEO), you have a weaker argument, because the company could probably make a coherent legal argument the you residing in Russia is a business risk, and so they are instituting a policy to cut ties with Russian employees to the greatest degree possible. In either case, following up with the CEO (and/or some sort of HR department, if such is available to you) is probably in order, to clarify where you stand in this company.

The end of the story, unfortunately, likely is that you will have to choose between your job and your family. You can either stay in Russia with your family and find another job, or leave Russia and your family, and keep your job. Right now they're at least going to continue letting you work from Russia and pay you, but my guess is that will likely not continue for long; as a deleted answer to the question says (in much less friendly, but nevertheless factually accurate terms), your tax dollars in Russia are funding the Russian war effort in the Ukraine, and there will likely come a point at which foreign governments will become uncomfortable with even that level of access to funds and cut off Russian-resident foreign workers completely.

My suggestion to you would be to see if you can find a job in Russia that will pay a comparable salary to your current one. The writing is on the wall that, due to current circumstances outside your control, your job may be at risk in the immediate future. To prepare for that, it may be a good idea to find a job that is at less risk. You should also probably talk to the CEO, for nothing else than to determine, as best you can, how much risk your job is at, and on what timeline it may be at risk and how quickly you have to find another option.