What do you do when you are Married to the Job, and the job dumps you? Many breadwinners, almost always male, derive most of their sense of self-worth and achievement from their ability to bring home the bacon. The flip side is that getting laid off can deal a devastating blow to their self-esteem, and they may conceal the fact from their wife and kids, sometimes for months.
They still get up early, put on their business clothes, and leave for work—sometimes they will even complain how exhausting office life is, when they come home at the end of the day. But in the meantime they just drift about, desperately pretending to be one of the gainfully employed, (possibly looking for a new job, but never with the kind of success that might tempt them to brag about it to their family) until their lies come crashing down with ugly consequences (the ugliest case being Pater Familicide).
- One of Despair's stories in The Sandman Endless Nights anthology is this. It is appropriately horrible. The poor fired guy is so afraid of telling his family that he turns to crime when his money runs out, while still pretending that he is going to his former job.
- Many of the Alex strips use this joke - frequently, the poor redundant banker spends the first three panels trying to spin the situation positively before breaking the news. When Clive was laid off, he spent the best part of a year pretending to still be employed. His wife figured it out when she was able to spend a whole night without being woken by Clive's boss texting him.
- The Incredibles: Bob Parr—AKA: Mr. Incredible—starts working for Mirage (and Syndrome) after a complicated mishap gets him fired from his insurance job, and he can't bring himself to correct his wife's assumption that he was promoted. He uses the money he earns from Mirage's group to support his family, while spending his time "at work" getting back into condition.
- Gerald in The Full Monty hasn't told his wife Linda that the steel mill at which he worked as a foreman closed down months ago, and still leaves the house every weekday morning in a suit and tie... to go to the job centre. He almost gets away with it by securing an interview for a similar job that will pay him enough money in advance to cover the debts he has accumulated, but after his former subordinates Gary and Dave sabotage his interview, the repossession men start showing up at his house and give the game away. Linda does not take the revelation well. (Ironically, he is offered the job anyway, but too late to save face.)
- Main plot point of Mad City (1997). John Travolta's character lost his job as a museum security guard. He fakes going to work for a while.
- The Villain Protagonist in Falling Down can't admit to anyone that he was laid off from his job as an engineer at a defense plant. "D-FENS"'s reign of terror begins when he snaps while stuck in traffic, on the hottest day of the summer, commuting to a job he no longer has.
- An inversion of this trope that makes it, if possible, even more sad: in Billy Elliot, Billy's father, who had been on strike for months, decides to resume work as a scab in order to pay for Billy's dance lessons, without telling his older son who is still on strike. But the latter recognizes his father going to work while picketing the mining facility. It's a heartbreaking moment for both of them.
- In The Great Outdoors, Dan Aykroyd's character is a pompous and wealthy stock broker, but in the end he reveals that he lost his job some time ago, and his family is actually broke without their knowledge.
- The premise of the Finnish film A Mans Job (Miehen työ) . The main character loses his job as a construction worker and doesn't dare to tell it to his depressed wife. He becomes a sex worker. Hilarity does not ensue.
- Related to this trope: In House of Sand and Fog, the male lead doesn't want to admit to his family that the only work he can find is as a construction worker. He makes a point of wearing a suit and tie whenever he's at home.
- Mona in Amreeka pretends to work in a bank when she's actually working in the fast-food joint next door.
- Ashton Kutcher's character in Guess Who quits his job as a successful broker and insults his boss (a racist who insulted the protagonist's black fiancée) but doesn't want to tell his fiancée as they're going to meet her parents. Unfortunately, his pissed off boss spreads false rumors about him, which means he can't get employment (apparently, no employer fact-checks). Unusually, by the end of the film, he still doesn't have a job, but his future father-in-law accepts him after learning why he quit.
- In Soul Food, youngest sister Bird's husband Lem loses his job when his employer finds out about his criminal history. He tries to find another job before she finds out, but she does anyway. Then the trope is inverted in that she asks her ex-boyfriend to give him a job, but not to let him know. Of course, the boyfriend being a Jerkass, he tells him anyway.
- A variation is used in Overboard. After Joanne washes up on shore an amnesiac and her husband abandons her in the mental hospital where she's being held, Dean goes to the hospital, claims her as his wife, "Annie," and takes her home so she can pay off the cost of the shoe cabinet she refused to pay him. When she accepts that she is indeed "Annie," they get into an argument because he insists on going bowling instead of staying home to help her raise his sons. She follows him and discovers that he works the night shift in a nearby fertilizer factory as a way to supplement his meager income as a handyman.
- Inverted in this joke from shortly after The Great Depression. Two stock brokers meet:
Broker #1: "I lost my job, and now I'm selling toothbrushes door-to-door. And what about you?"Broker #2: "Just among the two of us: I'm still at the stock market. But I tell my wife I was playing piano in a brothel."
- American Gods: Mrs. Olsen's former husband in Lakeside.
- In Feet of Clay Sergeant Colon talks to a guy who's in this situation. It's foreshadowing as he was fired from the candle factory which has been using a (far too efficient, and insane) golem to make poisoned candles.
- The Painter from Shanghai: Pan Yuliang's husband.
- In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Johnny and Katie Nolan share the janitor work at a neighborhood school, until the night Katie gives birth to their daughter. Johnny, having been kicked out of his own house by her sisters, gets drunk (as per tradition) and totally forgets about going to work. Turns out a pipe burst and flooded the school, and he's gotten them fired. To hide it from Katie, he goes back to singing and waiting tables, which is what he did when they met, and never holds a steady job again. Presumably his cover couldn't have lasted that long (it was her job too, after all), but we're not told when he came clean or how she took it.
- Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee features a particularly humourous variant. Every time Loll's uncle Sid gets suspended without pay from his job as a bus driver, owing to his chronic drunkenness, he attempts suicide (but always in a manner following which he is assured to survive). His motive?
Loll: You see, Uncle Sid reasoned, quite rightly, that Aunty Alice's anger upon hearing of another suspension would be swallowed by her larger anxiety upon finding him again so close to death. And she never failed him in this, and always forgave him as soon as he recovered.
- Old Nick from Room, in the early part of the story. When he finally admits it six months in, it motivates the woman he's been keeping prisoner for years as a Sex Slave to try to escape, by fear that he may use a radical method to cut costs.
- 30 Rock: A flashback shows a young Liz accusing a Mall Santa of being a fraud, causing him to stand up, rip off his hat and beard, and shout, "You're right, little boy! I am a fraud! My wife still thinks I work at the bank!"
- Aliens In America: The father did this once.
- On Barney Miller, a stock broker lost his job and, unwilling to tell his wife, began begging for money in the streets instead. He ended up making more money that way.
- Becker: Margaret and her husband spent several series having fierce arguments and marital troubles. Eventually, it turned out he'd lost his job but didn't have the nerve to tell her.
- On The Brady Bunch, after Peter lost his job at a bike shop. Not wanting to tell his family he got fired, he spent his time at the park, feeding the pigeons.
- Cold Case: A Victim of the Week in an episode was unemployed but kept wearing business clothes every day so that nobody would know.
- Desperate Housewives: Orson Hodge.
- The Elephants' Graveyard: This is the premise for the two protagonists.
- George & Mildred: George quit his job as a Traffic Warden, but kept going out each day dressed in the uniform so Mildred wouldn't find out. Mildred eventually found out when George's boss called up to tell her George had not returned the uniform.
- Growing Pains: Mike is given a car as a gift from his parents. Shortly afterwards, Mike loses his job at World Of Burgers because he took the fall for a co-worker's mistake. Not wanting to tell his parents out of fear of losing the car, Mike got a job at a car wash but continued to pretend he still worked at World Of Burgers, including wearing his WOB uniform when he left/came home, and dumping grease on himself before he came home to really make it look like he'd been working there.
- Heroes: A Japanese man who wanted to jump off a building because he couldn't stand to tell his family that he was fired. (Turns out he hated his job anyway and still couldn't bear to tell his family he wanted to quit.)
- In the episode "Locked In", the Patient of the Week was doing this, using a friend's rat-infested basement to hunt for a new job.
- Likewise the Patient of the Week of the episode "Recession Proof" was a wealthy real estate developer who lost it all in the housing market crash yet still maintained his successful facade to his wife by maxing out their credit cards and getting the most highly paid (and disgusting and/or dangerous) janitorial jobs available: crime scenes, septic tanks, mold removal, etc.
- Law & Order: This was used in the franchise. A technically savvy guy was fired, but rather than confess it to his family, he stole another person's identity, mortgaged that person's house, and used the resulting windfall to bluff that he was still employed. The cops only found out after the other guy tracked down the thief and shot him.
- Also in another episode where a man was suspected of killing his entire family rather than admit that he'd failed to provide for them.
- In Law & Order: Criminal Intent one episode focuses on a man who had been posing as a high level United Nations official for most of his life, having failed to secure either a lasting position or his college degree and instead living a double life to cheat others out of their money to provide for his family. When he kills an ex-con who happens to be the brother of his girlfriend, who is unaware he is actually married with children he tries to kill her to keep his secret safe, and attempts to kill his own children out of shame when the police catch on to his actual identity.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: This was used in one episode, where the father had lost everything and killed his wife and was intending on killing his children before it was figured out it wasn't suicide.
- Major Crimes: A minor character in "Curve Ball". The man is arrested for using a murder victims credit card. When questioned, he admits that they found the murdered man's possessions in the dumpster behind the restaurant where he had been manager until he was fired several months ago. He apparently had not told his wife and had been scavenging food from the dumpster, and used the credit card to buy a Christmas present for his sons.
- Malcolm in the Middle: Inverted Trope in the season finale: Francis kept the fact that he was actually employed in a steady job a secret to his mom for reasons that are strongly implied to be spite.
- Person of Interest: One episode introduced one of the PoIs as a man who had been laid off and tried to hide the fact from his family while looking for a new job. His desperation made him the perfect patsy for the murder of a politician who had eliminated the PoI's old job.
- Psych: Gus' father does this in one episode.
- Revolution: In the episode "Soul Train", a flashback reveals that Tom Neville was fired from his insurance adjuster job the day of the blackout. He didn't tell his wife about it, but it became a moot point later that night, since the blackout occurred and caused everyone to become unemployed.
- On Mad Men Don reaches an emotional low and tells an important client about his childhood growing up in a brothel. This does not go over well with the client and the other partners are furious. As Don is a founding partner they do not fire him outright but instead put him on paid leave and hire someone else to do Don's job. The unspoken understanding is that Don will quit the company on his own and everyone saves face. However, Don is unwilling to quit and instead spends his days hanging around his apartment. Megan, Don's wife, is living in California at the time while pursuing an acting career so she does not find out about the situation until months later. Whenever Don flew to California to spend time with her, he pretended that he was still employed and nothing interesting was happening back in New York. Similarly, Sally, Don's daughter from his first marriage does not find out about what happened until she is on a visit to New York and decides to surprise her father at work. Instead she finds a strange man occupying Don's office. Don is able to patch things up with Sally but Megan is furious that Don chose a soon-to-be-gone job over her. Don is very wealthy so he would have had no issue with moving to California to be with Megan full time.
- Inspector George Gently: More like 'Unconfessed Bankruptcy', but the Victim of the Week in "Gently Among Friends" is hiding the extent of his financial troubles from his wife, even while he is pawning their belongings and passing their disappearance off as theft.
- Good Times: James invites a successful relative to dinner in hopes of borrowing some money, but during dinner he breaks down and reveals that he lost his job weeks ago and when he says he's at work, he just sits in a movie theater all day long.
- Death in Paradise: One of the suspects in "Murder Begins at Home" claims to have been on a sabbatical from work for three months. However, when the police contact his employer, they learn he has actually been suspended for anger control issues. And he hasn't told his wife.
- Domina no Do!: Takeshi's father lost his job months earlier but his wife and son only find out when Takeshi gets abducted. All this time he pretended to go to the office, when in fact he just spent his days in internet cafes.
- In Great Teacher Onizuka this happens to the father of Prof. Teshigawara: he was a politician who got disgraced in an unspecified fallout in which he ended up being The Scapegoat. Said father still "goes to work" every day, acting as if he's still a big mover and shaker, and even his son doesn't know the truth.
- Happens in Maison Ikkoku with Godai, who was laid off from his part-time job as day-caretaker and couldn't tell Kyoko about it.
- The Irish comedy band Dead Cat Bounce reference this trope in their song 'Cheeky Little Wine'* by the third verse:
And my wife doesn't know;
She thinks I'm still a lawyer.
If she found out the truth,
It'd prob'ly destroy 'er.
(She's gonna find out soon, anyway;
We're about to lose the house.)
- One of the needy people in Christian singer Brandon Heath's song "Give Me Your Eyes" is "too ashamed to tell his wife/He's out of work/He's buying time."
- German bankd Tic Tac Toe has a song called Spiegel ("Mirror") about two young women and a guy in group therapy. The guy, Bernard (who is the last to get to vent) confesses that despite his best efforts and helpfulness he not only has never been promoted (they said he has no leadership qualities, cannot say no when he should and isn't assertive enough), but has been fired the day previously after 15 years. His last lines are, translated, "And what am I supposed to tell my wife now?! HUH?! I've had it!" - implying that he hasn't told his wife he was fired yet.
- Death of a Salesman has the protagonist Willy Loman laid off, and trying to hide this fact from his family. As the name suggests, it doesn't end well.
- Man in Who's Afraid of The Working Class was laid off his job some time before the play begins. He spends his days riding trams around the city in his business clothes. At one point he bitterly mocks a young bogan woman for being unemployable.
- In the 2013 musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Bucket loses his toothpaste factory job a week before the action starts. While his wife knows about this, they mutually keep it a secret from their son Charlie and their own parents — he leaves and returns to the shack at the same times he always did, but is looking for work in the interim. They are finally forced to reveal the truth when the Golden Ticket contest is announced and must break the news to Charlie that they won't be able to afford his usual birthday bar of chocolate this year (whereupon Grandpa Joe decides to give up what little change he's saved to make sure he gets it).
- Laura in The Glass Menagerie drops out of business school rather than being fired from a job, but hides it in the same way.
- In Persona 3, a nameless Salaryman you can meet around town loses his job and just continues his normal routine as if nothing happened to avoid the shame of his family finding out that he was laid off. He pulls it off for almost a year. In the Playable Epilogue, he tells you he managed to get a new job before they ever found out about his losing the first one.
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations, Ron Delite is fired from his job as a security guard, and worries that his wife will leave him if she finds out, especially as she is a big spender and "treats money like it's water". So he turns to freelancing, reasonable. Becomes a Phantom Thief while guarding the secret from her? Not so reasonable. In the end after she discovers all, she tells him that she wouldn't have abandoned him because she truly loved him.
- In Shenmue, an NPC follows a similar "get dressed for work and walk around the city pretending that you still have a job" routine that the Persona 3 character does, as detailed in his character profile.
- The pilot episode of Family Guy. Peter, due to drinking too much at a Stag Party, was suffering from a hangover, and he ended up falling asleep at work. Note, he is a safety inspector at the Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Factory, which means he was grossly negligent for sleeping on the job. He decided to try to keep it a secret, yet as his phrases indicate, he's doing a very bad job at trying to hide his being unemployed.
- The Flintstones invoked the trope, only Fred was outright fired.
- A variation involving teenagers and school occurred in The Proud Family: Penny and her friends ended up suspended from school the day after Valentines Day because of a graffiti mark on the school with Penny's name on it, which neither of them actually painted on. As they were unwilling to admit to their parents that they had gotten suspended from school indefinitely until they found the true culprit was exposed, Sticky instead had created a fake call from the principal regarding them winning an award (which as the last scene revealed, was fake from the start) in place of the suspension call to hold the parents off until they caught the culprit responsible (a crippled student who is later revealed to not be a nice kid) and thus got back to school. It bites them in the butt later on.
- The Simpsons:
- Variation: Homer's life coach persuaded him to quit his job at the nuclear plant and apply for a better position at a copper piping company. He didn't get it, but couldn't bear to tell his family and spends all day hanging out at Krusty Burger, filling out the map mazes on the back of the kid menus.
- Another episode has a different variation. After Homer accidentally loses all their money investing in pumpkins but stupidly hanging on to the stocks well after Halloween, he can't bring himself to tell Marge and in desperation ends up getting a loan from his hated sister-in-laws, who use the loan to extort Homer into letting them abuse and humiliate him in return for keeping quiet.
- A not uncommon condition. Many addicts, particularly alcoholics or gamblers can dress up and go to job which they lost months ago.
- Happened in real life in France (the Romand case) and the story was adapted into a novel, L'Adversaire (later adapted into a movie), and formed the basis for a second movie, L'Emploi Du Temps.
- John List is an extreme version of this.
- John Lasseter got fired from Disney in 1982 for trying to push their animation department to adopt computer graphics, and he told his wife that he quit to pursue other projects. He didn't tell her the truth until 25 years later when he became head of Disney Animation.
- A variation with Mark Hacking: he had his entire family and in-laws convinced that he was attending college and had been accepted into medical school. In reality, he had flunked out of college and was carrying out a charade so as not to disappoint everyone. His wife discovered his deception when she called the medical school where he had supposedly been accepted and inquired about housing, only to learn he had never even applied. He murdered her (and consequently, their unborn child) when she confronted him.