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I work in FAANG and I was hired 2 years ago. The plan was I would move to Seattle from the Midwest and I initially wanted to move there but no one came to the office so I didn't move. I even visited the office a few times and it was empty. Even my coworker who has been working for the company for some time works from home all the time. Fast forward to two days ago when I got an email from HR saying I didn't move to Seattle and my salary is due to be adjusted. My manager said because I didn't move, my salary needs to reflect the city I currently live in and if I move to Seattle, my salary will go back to what it was.

My salary went from ~$150k to $115k. It's very depressing because I feel like I am not being valued, but my manager and my teammates have been happy with my work. I even got a salary increase a few months ago.

My question is this normal or even allowed?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jan 12, 2023 at 0:17
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    What did your contract say? Did your contract say moving to 150k salary contingent on moving to Seattle? Or did it say moving to Seattle and 150k salary without explicitly linking the two? Or did it say 150k salary and the moving to Seattle was just in talks and not in the actual contract? Because there's a difference between being legal and accurate to the letter versus legal by omission (i.e. in bad faith).
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 13, 2023 at 21:18

9 Answers 9

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My question is this normal or even allowed?

Salary adjustments based on cost of living are very common. Otherwise you would not find people to work in many areas and grossly overpay others.

The "plan" was that you earn 150K in Seattle. It did not go according to plan. You did not move to Seattle. Given that Washington is an "at will" state, if you did not have a contract saying otherwise, that could be a reason to fire you. Where you live inside the US is not a protected class (unless it hints at other protected classes, I'm sure it would be different if they fired everyone living in an Indian reservation). Given that your employer still upholds the option to follow the original plan and is still willing to pay you what was agreed on if you do what was agreed on, I can see no discrimination of any kind.

Yes, this is demotivating, to see how you make a lot less on paper now, that your salary has adjusted to your new plan. But in fact, you simply made too much all the years and you got away with it. They don't want it back. Not so bad.

I suggest you actually calculate, how much money you can save each month after you have paid all the bills. I would not be surprised if you ended up with a net positive for not moving. If you need motivation, look at the amount of money you save right now versus the amount you would be able to save in Seattle.

It still is your decision, do you want that salary? Would you get more money with the original plan? It is available under the same conditions it was when you took the job.

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    @JaredSmith The US Government locality pay adjustment is 44.15% from minimum to San Francisco. Seattle is 29.57%, New York City gets 36.16%.
    – user71659
    Jan 11, 2023 at 17:44
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    I’m not going to downvote this but I do want to point out that it’s reasonable to believe one is compensated for the quality of one’s work and not for where one lives. I don’t think it’s fair or kind to say the asker "simply made too much" and "got away with it". Jan 12, 2023 at 0:21
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    @ToddWilcox In the US, it's a huge political deal that "jobs go overseas" and "get the jobs back". Assuming that a job is paid by it's productive outcome and not by where you live is naive at best. Would it be great? Sure. But it's far from reality and that reality is not a hidden secret, it's even a talking point in presidential campaigns on national TV.
    – nvoigt
    Jan 12, 2023 at 6:39
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    @ToddWilcox so why don't we pay Romanian subcontractors who do great work 150k$ ? Because they live in a place where everything (on average) is a LOT cheaper so even though they learn less on paper, the luxury they can enjoy with that salary (aka the experienced reward for that quality work) is the exact same as if they were paid a lot (on paper) in an expensive place.
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 12, 2023 at 9:45
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    @FreeMan Yes, I am saying a gallon of milk is actually worth more than twice as much in Alaska than it is in Indiana. And the proof is that if I owed you $1,000 and we agreed to payment in the form of gallons of milk, we would agree to very different numbers of gallons of milk in Alaska than we would in Indiana. The milk may not taste any better Alaska, but people are willing to pay twice as much to get that taste rather than move to Indiana for the cheaper milk because having milk in Alaska over Indiana has other valuable benefits to them. Jan 12, 2023 at 22:15
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I am a manager at a FAANG sized company in the Seattle area and had to steer an employee of mine through this when he moved out east at the start of the pandemic. It wasn't a fun thing to break the news to him about this either.

So yes, this is a legal and real thing to have a salary adjustment when an employee changes states or regions. Effectively, he had to sign another offer letter. He was effectively being offered a new job in a new state. There were other incentives to help offset the adjustment.

Something to know. The salary adjustment is not based on the cost of living of your location (as others on this page have erroneously cited). It is actually about getting paid the market rate for tech engineers in your region of the country.

That is, if you live in Nebraska, engineers probably don't make as much there as they would in San Francisco or Seattle. The company doesn't want to pay Seattle salaries if there is limited local competition for business that need your services. It just so happens, that cost-of-living is typically lower in these same regions. But that's not why the company is adjusting the rate. While companies are embracing remote workers, they are also taking advantage of it being less expensive for them.

As such, you likely have some sort of promotion or ladder level assigned to you (based on experience, past performance reviews, promotions, etc...). And the company sets the salary for your role and there's a matrix for what that level pays in each region. It's not your manager's fault, it sounds like they've been diligently giving you raises and promotions during your tenure - hence, they value your work.

So start with this in considering what you are worth:

  • What do other tech companies in your mid-west city pay for equivalent skills and experience? Do they pay anywhere near the Seattle salary you had before?

  • And would you be happier working there in your current city for a different company that might be slightly more, but not quite what the Seattle office pays?

  • Consider the quality of life and cost of living in Seattle compared to your current location. It is indeed expensive to live in Seattle. Housing prices and rent have exploded in the past few years. Food and gas are expensive. And I've known several people who have visited and were aghast at the homeless population downtown. You might find that $150K here doesn't go as far as $115K where you are currently at.

Now, how can you overcome the pain of your salary reduction?

  • Periodically, in an appropriate way without whining, advocate for promotions and have career discussions with your manager. Advocate for yourself and ask what you need to do to get to the next promotion level sooner. Express to your manager your disappointment with the pay hit you took. You need them to be your biggest advocate.

  • Periodically scout out new employment in your area. Just having a profile in LinkedIn with the "Open To Finding a New Job" setting enable might get some recruiters contacting you. Do consider that a base salary from a local company might be higher than your current salary, but it probably won't compete with your periodic bonus and stock awards you get now.

  • Consider moving to Washington State, but not downtown Seattle. You might find that the company's definition of "eligible for Seattle pay" is really anywhere in the state, and not just Puget Sound. (I believe that's the case with my company). Check with your HR department. Then consider if there's anywhere else around here that looks interesting.

You didn't say which company, but we might be co-workers. If you look me up and we work at the same place, feel free to hit me up for more insider tips.

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    The Seattle-based company is outsourcing a job so it makes sense that they'll pay less. It just so happens that they're outsourcing to Nebraska instead of India.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 12, 2023 at 15:15
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    @Kaddath Supply and demand. If there's fewer available workers willing to be paid current market rate, market rate goes up. If there's more workers than jobs, market rate goes down. -- This is why market rate in Seattle is higher. Companies would prefer to pay Peoria wages to Seattle residents, but if they did, workers would look at the cost of living, laugh, and either find a better paying job or leave for Peoria. You couldn't fill Seattle jobs until wages go up (or until companies are willing to go remote and hire from Peoria).
    – R.M.
    Jan 12, 2023 at 17:25
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    I upvoted your answer in general, however regarding this if the only competition for your services is with a farming company that occasionally needs a sys-admin who can program, those sysadmins would never pass the interview at FANG. What if you are the only developer in a remote Alaskan town? Should they suddenly pay you minimum wage? Companies will offer/pay you less if they can afford to lose you. It's game of risk, which 2022 proved big tech is losing. Jan 12, 2023 at 19:16
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    "You didn't say which company, but we might be co-workers". You may just be his manager. :-) Jan 12, 2023 at 21:50
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    @Kaddath The vicious circle is broken when people like OP say "Okay, if you won't pay me what we agreed, then I will not work here. This is constructive dismissal." ("agreement" and "constructive dismissal" might or might not fly in a courtroom, but it's not a courtroom) Then the company keeps being unable to find workers because they all quit when they learn about this arrangement, so it stops doing this arrangement. Jan 13, 2023 at 8:38
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Honestly, after reading and re-reading the question here and some of the responses to this, I feel like one very large angle is being overlooked in the morass of legality, ethics and at-will employment.

[My salary being reduced from ~$150K to $115K is] very depressing because I feel like I am not being valued but my manager and my teammates have been happy with my work. I even got a salary increase a few months ago.

You were tying the value you bring to the company directly with your salary. This...is a convenient way to do it, but is almost always an incomplete figure.

It has already been well-established in other answers that yes, this is perfectly legal and yes, this is perfectly allowed, and yes this is entirely on-pace with the nature of remote vs office work, in that the company is allowed to compromise with the desires of the employee and the need for them to fill the office space.

What you're not factoring in is the projected value and worth you're bringing to the company, which is resultant of a salary adjustment because of your ZIP code.

What I would encourage is a discussion with your manager about this. Be frank and open, but don't whine if you can help it.

  • State your perspective on the matter. If you wish to continue working there, express that clearly. If you are thinking of looking around, do not lead with that since that will make you a flight risk to the company.
  • Express your opinion on the value that you bring to the company. Cite recent projects, colleague accolades, and things that you have had a direct hand in improving around the place.
  • Ask your manager if there's something there that can help reinforce the value you bring to the place, as the recent salary adjustment put the story in your head that you were less valued than before.

Having open and frank discussions like this with your management will help you charter next steps. It could be a title change for you; it could be a new job for you. Don't wallow in indecisiveness on talking with people about this, and don't let the salary adjustment that is orthogonal to your performance tell you that you are less than adequate at your job.

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  • It's indeed the most confusing point about the whole question, why is OP solely tying their salary cut to the their performance? They were told otherwise too.
    – Alvi15
    Jan 13, 2023 at 1:55
  • @Alvi15 That's what happens when someone just cannot grasp the concept that their salary might be tied to something other than their performance. It's like being unable to explain to someone that you chose a lower paying job because the higher paying job makes your life miserable.
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 13, 2023 at 3:45
  • @DKNguyen it's kind of different because of my experience myself but I get your point.
    – Alvi15
    Jan 13, 2023 at 6:20
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There are a few things to consider from the employer's perspective.

  1. The pandemic has upended working practices, but many policies were written before the pandemic, and at least some businesses probably still hope to at some point return to pre-pandemic normal.
  2. There are advantages to having an employee be local, even if they are not coming in to the office every day. Tools like zoom and teams are often a poor substitute for getting a bunch of people in a room together to thrash something out. Or when someone needs a peice of equipment they can just collect it rather than having to arrange shipping.
  3. If you want to hire people in a high wage area, or convince people to move to a high cost of living area you will have to pay them more than you would for people of similar skill level in a lower wage, lower cost of living area.
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If the employment contract or the job offer explicitly states that your salary is 150k with the condition that you move to Seattle, then unfortunately, the company can try to use that as an argument to reduce your salary.

Some companies allow employees to work remotely during the time of COVID. But, now, things have improved, and they want workers to go back to the offices.


If you want to stay in the mid-west and work for this company, maybe you still can negotiate with them by saying that the salary reduction of $35K is too much. Maybe, you can try to ask them to reduce less than $35K.


However, if the company's job offer does not say anything about your moving to Seattle as a requirement to get the salary of $150K, then you can talk to an employment lawyer.

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  • yeah, I'm afraid that somewhere in OP's salary breakdown, the company listed $35k as a reimbursement for living near the office.
    – Alvi15
    Jan 11, 2023 at 9:56
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    Cost-of-living adjustments to salary are common. It would have been appropriate for the company to state this clearly as part of the offer and contract... and they may have done so.
    – keshlam
    Jan 11, 2023 at 10:12
  • @Alvi15, I also guess somehow the job offer may very well say that the salary they offered him is based on his moving to Seattle. Jan 12, 2023 at 0:03
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    @keshlam - believe it or not, it's not a cost of living adjustment per-se. It's the company paying the market rate for engineers in that region of the country.
    – selbie
    Jan 12, 2023 at 7:51
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    @selbie, I think you and user keshlam are talking about the same thing. Jan 13, 2023 at 7:38
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Unless its written in the contract and you signed it, I would never accept this. I expect my salary to reflect the values I create - not the cost of my living. With "cost of living logic" a company should pay me a higher salary just because I got a new and more expensive car or bought a huge mansion. Thats not how it is, so it should be the same when you have reduced your cost of living.

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    This doesn't answer the question or whether it's normal or allowed. Nor does it give any useful practical advice as to how to address the situation. If it's normal and allowed, then taking a moral stance doesn't mean much. And if it's abnormal, it needs some advice on how to negotiate with the employer.
    – Tom
    Jan 11, 2023 at 17:35
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    The examples are not comparable. You being in Seattle gives value to the company, so they pay you for that. The company does not get any value from you buying an expensive car, so they do not pay for that.
    – wimi
    Jan 11, 2023 at 19:16
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    Wouldn't you expect a raise if you HAD TO live in NYC, San Francisco or Seattle? Jan 12, 2023 at 18:05
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is this normal or even allowed?

Yes it is normal. Very few workers in the United States have contracts that specify these things in detail. It is not unusual to hear of salary cuts. It happens when business slows or company income doesn't support the current pay scales.

If it is allowed, depends on the Labor laws in your state. In general at-will employment laws give your employer options:

  • they can tell you no move or be let go;
  • they can cut your pay, or
  • they can decide to allow you to work remote at your current pay.

They are expecting that you will either move to Washington state, or they will fill your slot with somebody who will.

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My understanding of US Employment Law (I am neither a lawyer nor an American) is that, in at-will employment, the employer is heavily favoured in almost everything. Can they cut your salary? Sure. For any reason (unless it's directly protected by the constitution, e.g. discrimination, or by your employment contract), by any amount. They can even cut it all the way down to zero, by terminating you without cause without delay (your boss can pull you into a meeting, say "you're fired", and that's all there is to it).

Is it legal? Sure. Is it normal? Well, consider that companies like to have people working for them, and they like to have skilled people working for them more. If the company wants to retain skilled talent, then it's not normal; if you are providing value, then they should appreciate your performance and pay you more (or at least not cut your salary by paying you less). Meaning, either you are not performing as well as you think you are, or your company does not appreciate you.

"Cost-of-living" is a red herring, as far as I'm concerned. The company may say they see it otherwise, but they don't. You "can" live on less money in Podunk than in Seattle, that's true. The company also "can" afford to pay you a Seattle salary even if you're living in Podunk, because they're a reputable and stand-up company who treats their employees well; the fact that you're living in Podunk doesn't suddenly impact the company's finances such that they have to cut your salary by 25% because they can't afford the Seattle salary.

Given that you mentioned that you are working for FAANG (which is only 5 companies, by definition) and that their office is in Seattle, I have a feeling I know which company this is. As an ex-Brazilian myself (by employment history, not geneology), I will tell you this is not a stand-up or reputable company, in this or any other way. If you're making 25% less of your salary, you should work 25% less and spend that 25% of your time finding another job.

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    "Cost of living" does factor in quite heavily to working agreements. As in, if you're expected to work remote or something along those lines, then you can be paid according to their schedule for a remote employee. Companies, to your point, want to have people work for them, and with the pandemic really wrecking work-in-office settings, the compromise that employers make is that you can live where you want, but the pay needs to be adjusted to suit what is fair market value in your town (e.g. if a FAANG were in Podunk).
    – Makoto
    Jan 11, 2023 at 20:19
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    Encouraging someone to "work less" is usually also not going to bode well; the company is still at-will so they could decide that they really wanted that 25% of effort from you and they're not getting it, so then you get no salary and have no job. Lose-lose for everyone.
    – Makoto
    Jan 11, 2023 at 20:20
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    @Makoto The thing about employment agreements is that you are paid what you are worth, full stop. If you are paid $150k, then you are worth $150k. If you are paid $115k, then you are worth $115k. If you live in Seattle, or you live in Podunk, that doesn't (or, shouldn't) change how much you are worth, because the effort you do, the responsibilities you have, and the output of your work is the same. If the company believes that your locale makes you worth more or less, then they don't value your work and they think you are replaceable. So let them replace you; find somewhere you're valued.
    – Ertai87
    Jan 11, 2023 at 21:49
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    Great theory, @Ertai87. How happy would you be if the reverse happened, the company moved your job to a high cost-of-living location and didn't agree to increase your salary so you don't suffer a real quality -of-living decrease? You can't expect the positive adjustment without the negative one. You can certainly attempt to negotiate this, or quit because you think you're being dissed, but from the company's point of view those are two sides of the same coin; it may not be what you would prefer but it isn't unfair.
    – keshlam
    Jan 11, 2023 at 22:44
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    @keshlam That's not even the real consideration of that situation. The consideration is that keeping my job would require me to move. Given that OP works in a FAANG, the company will have to justify (in court of law, because I will sue them, if I have no other choice) why I have to move, given that the company supports remote work and has for the last 3 years. But even if they can, such is not particularly unusual; FAANG companies do often pay, in their locales, far below cost-of-living.
    – Ertai87
    Jan 12, 2023 at 15:59
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Looking at the troubles that FAANG companies are facing recently (lower stock valuations due to higher risk-free rates, degradation of the profitability and other downgrades), they have to reduce their costs. However, it is not a good idea to tell openly to the public (stock owners) that the internal situation deteriorated, thus, they have to use indirect methods to reduce costs. One such a method is described very well in your post.

And, as someone pointed out, this is completely legal in US, but probably harder to achieve in Europe.

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    Not my DV, but I doubt that FAANG companies reduce costs on a "lets see what we can find for this specific person" level.
    – nvoigt
    Apr 11, 2023 at 12:15
  • That's good news. But I would not be surprised, if this were not the case.
    – Mike
    Apr 12, 2023 at 10:09

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