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Employer overpaid me—should I return the money?

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Due to an apparent accounting error, my employer paid me twice what I am entitled to on my last paycheck. I reported the error to my immediate supervisor, who is not responsible for such matters, and he seemed indifferent, like he didn't want to know. Assuming he doesn't do anything about it, am I morally obliged to report this to the responsible persons, or should I just keep the money and shut up?

Edited by happiness
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Something similar just happened to me. I was overpaid thousands of dollars -- I reported it to my employer, handed in my checks and they gave me a new one in 2 weeks. 

 

If the error is caught in the future, you are going to have to repay the money anyways. Would you want to live with that over their shoulders, knowing that:

 

A) You can be caught and fired for not following through with an obvious overpayment of money you don't deserve.

B- You will probably have to pay it back in the future if error is caught.

C) You are deliberately living inconsistently with moral principles you hold to be true.

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Did you try contacting the payroll department? They will more than likely try contacting you when they discover the imbalance in their books.

 

Even so, when an error in the electronic paperwork system reported some of my hours as double-time, I pointed the error out and the correction was made on the next payroll check. In this case, the error probably would have not shown up on the books. As a moral issue, I'm not seeking the unearned or trying to acquire something at the expense of another.

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You haven't really provided enough details. Does the supervisor's attitude reflect the broader company culture? Is the overpayment a large amount? Are you planning to stay with this employer?

 

You are "morally obligated" to do what is best for yourself. Do you think you would be better off, all things considered, returning or keeping the money?

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If you research the topic of force and it's initiation you'll find fraud comes under that. Objectivism holds that any moral trade/transaction is between willing partners with all relevant facts (such as can be known) known to all.

It seems to me that keeping wages paid that you did no labor for could be construed as a type of fraud. (If I'm incorrect in technical legal aspects, forgive me. I'm no lawyer. I am sure you will catch my drift)

Looked at another way, if you were the employer, how would you look at it?

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All employers are not run equally. Sometimes, if the management is a huge, tangled mess, there will be many layers of avoidance when problems arise. "Ffff... I messed up his hours again and didn't fix them in time. Mike is going to go nuts. Oh, it's only $300? ....I'll just tell him not to worry about it." Or, he tells his immediate manager, who has some separate but also shady avoidance agenda, etc.

It's not up to an entry level employee to fix a jumbled up mess of an organization -- he couldn't even if he wanted to. If it's a large-ish sum, he could document in writing his effort to return the money, in the event some tier of management eventually wants to try to say he was stealing willfully from the company.

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Due to an apparent accounting error, my employer paid me twice what I am entitled to on my last paycheck. I reported the error to my immediate supervisor, who is not responsible for such matters, and he seemed indifferent, like he didn't want to know. Assuming he doesn't do anything about it, am I morally obliged to report this to the responsible persons, or should I just keep the money and shut up?

You're not "morally obliged" to do anything. That's not how Objectivism works. 

 

Reporting it (to the right people) is most definitely the honest thing to do. That much is an easily deducible enough fact. And honesty is a virtue, but, if you don't quite see why (it's not an obvious statement, saying that honesty is a virtue), then I don't know what you should do. You definitely shouldn't just give the money back because that's what one of Ayn Rand's heroes would do.

 

What do you think the rational course of action is here? You should use your best judgment to answer that question, and then follow through with it. That's the best I can do to answer your question.

Edited by Nicky
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You're not "morally obliged" to do anything. That's not how Objectivism works. 

 

Actually Nicky that is exactly how it works. Objectivism does in fact imply a set of morals, and the poster has already satisfied them. He reported the problem. For practicality it would be wise to hold the surplus aside for possible remuneration, until one is comfortable the employer has taken all the action they will. 

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Of course you should return the money; the amount you are paid was specified at the time of the hire or your last raise. To keep it would be theft.

Regardless of whether or not he notifies them of their mistake?  If so, and if (as seems implied) they just don't care to fix it, then wouldn't that make him morally responsible for someone else's screw-up?

 

I would agree with you if the discrepancy wasn't his employers' fault or if he had failed to tell them about it.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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I would agree with you if the discrepancy wasn't his employers' fault or if he had failed to tell them about it.

Although this wasn't the context provided, if the company had a history of messing up his paychecks and he had spent a significant amount of time trying to rectify their mistakes, I think a point is reached where he could stop notifying them of their mistakes and keep the money.

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Actually Nicky that is exactly how it works. Objectivism does in fact imply a set of morals, and the poster has already satisfied them.

Abiding by a set of rules is not what makes you an Objectivist. Not even close. Objectivism is meant to teach, not to command. An Objectivist is someone who uses Ayn Rand's philosophy to learn from it, but always acts on his own judgment rather than Ayn Rand's.

Besides, thinking you are an honest man, who doesn't keep the unearned, because you notified one person (the wrong person) about having been erroneously given money, is childish. You don't have to be an Objectivist to understand that, just mildly rational.

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The main crux here is that your "trade", "contract", is with your employer, not other employees of your employer.  If your employer is a company you should notify a person with signing/decision making authority, no matter what the ineptitudes of the people lower.  If that person, essentially says " we paid you more than what we told you we would, and what you agreed to be paid, but we don't care." THEN in actuality you ARE entitled to the salary/paycheck etc. the company gave you.  The company believed for whatever reason it is worth more to them NOT to bother taking back money they gave you... it means they are agreeing that you SHOULD keep it.  Whether it is for morale, to retain you as an employee, or to take responsibility for their mismanagement. 

 

However, if they want you to keep it out of pity or charity then perhaps the exchange is tainted .. i.e is no longer an exchange of value for value... in which case you may, in your own interest, refuse to receive such "alms".

 

Bottom line:  if you speak with your employer (proper representative) with whom you have the agreement, and if your employer is of the mindset that they value you enough to give you an accidental bonus there is no rational reason not to agree with their decision. 

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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