when there’s an error on your paycheck — in your favor

A reader writes:

My sister earns $400/week at an office job, but her first deposit for two weeks of work was $3,000. If she doesn’t mention it, would you expect any repercussions on her job if the over-deposit is later discovered? Would you recommend that she just bring it up to her employer ASAP?

Yes, she should point it out to them.

If they discover it later — and they likely will — she’ll have to pay the money back anyway. And when that happens, not having mentioned it will look really, really bad.

Think about what this would be communicating: “I am willing to take money that’s not mine if I think I can get away with it.”

While it’s possible that someone might have simply not noticed their check was for the wrong amount, $800 and $3,000 are pretty different. If I discovered this had happened and the employee hadn’t spoken up about it — especially a new employee, with no track record of integrity already built up — I’d assume the person was trying to get away with it and that would destroy that person’s credibility and trustworthiness.

Once someone makes it clear that they’re not at all looking out for the company and are willing to stay quiet in the face of something like this, it’s pretty much all over.

{ 148 comments… read them below }

  1. fposte*

    “If she doesn’t mention it, would you expect any repercussions on her job if the over-deposit is later discovered?”

    In addition to what Alison says (or maybe stating the bottom line more literally), it’s quite likely that she’d be fired.

    1. AML*

      Yes, agree with fbposte. We would probably fire someone who didn’t come and mention it. We classify it as “theft” – it would be different if it was a small amount and it was truly unnoticed. An auditor will catch a payroll mistake like that very quickly, as it would stand out from a “normal” pay.

  2. majigail*

    We had this happen where a new employee was receiving health insurance for a year and a half, but her portion was not being taken out of her check. At one point, we had changed providers and fees. She never said a word. When it was discovered by the accounting department, she said she thought it was lumped in with something else. She owed the organization $1500, which she had to pay back and she was NOT happy about it (we worked out a payment system with her). In her defense, yes, someone else should have caught it earlier, but she should have spoken up too. And because of this, I explicitly tell everyone that every deduction is listed line by line in their paycheck and remind everyone at the beginning of the calendar and the fiscal year to double check to be sure it’s all right.

    1. Cat*

      That one I can imagine myself just not noticing, unlike the situation in the OP (the periodic reminder to check seems like a good idea)!

      1. jmkenrick*

        Yeah, I have to agree.

        Actually, the reverse happened to me…I declined benefits, but my company continued to take my portion out for about a year, and I didn’t notice! So in my case I definitely had no motive for keeping quite.

        Someone in HR eventually caught it and I got a big check. That was a nice day.

        $3,000 and $800 is a noticeable difference, but I think that you’re being overly harsh with this employee. Unless she has a track record of being untrustworthy, I’m not sure why would assume that she did this intentionally.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          Ugh. You are like the worst. :)

          I’ve had to do the back end work when someone realizes that they’ve had benefits they’d long since stopped still coming out of their paychecks, and man, is it a pain (especially if it goes back multiple quarters, because then the company has to amend a bunch of quarterly returns!)

          I just don’t get it, but man, it happens all. the. time. People just don’t have any concept of how much they should be paid, how much should be deducted, etc. You are certainly not alone!

          (and as a result of stuff like this, I actually send that reminder to the staff every single pay period. Check your stubs, peeps!)

          1. jmkenrick*

            Yeah…I’ve been more vigilant about checking pay stubs since then, I can tell you. I’m so happy that my HR caught it and paid me back.

          2. LBA*

            It’s crazy. I am working at a place where I was supposedly grossed 1,800 but that 1800 turned into 1400 net. and I saw they took more out of my benefits than normal. I don’t know what to do.

    2. FD*

      Yeah, I can see her just missing this. Heath insurance is confusing at the best of times, especially if you don’t read your pay stub carefully.

      1. Chinook*

        I also think that not realizing your healthcare deduction was out of whack would be a forgiveable offense, especially if it has been that way since day one. I personally have no idea what my deductions should be and would only notice if they seemed to be completely unreasonable.

        On a side note, I am happy to see I am not the only who checks her stubs to ensure it is error free. I casually mentioned this once to a person in payroll at one company, albeit one with issues, and she was offended that I implied that there could be an error. I then told her about the time my DH’s pay was zeroed because a bilingual clerk misread “2nd” as “2”, thought we had been overpaid for a benefit and took it off his pay cheque (which made it zero) WITHOUT NOTIFYING US. Luckily, we found out about it the day before and his superior arranged to cut a cheque for us. It was the only time I saw the military move fast when it came to pay issues.

    3. Karyn*

      I always looked at my pay stub and somehow my eyes would go right to the healthcare deduction year-to-date total and I would take half a second to realize that that was just a deduction and not my net pay… but boy, for that half second, I would panic. EVERY TIME.

    4. Wilton Businessman*

      I’ve got to be honest, the only time I look at my pay stub is when the amount is different than the last one.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        Me too. I am a little alarmed by the idea of this, because I could totally see myself just not noticing a small error in my pay. Now, in the OP’s case…I am definitely not wealthy enough that I wouldn’t catch an extra $2k, so there’s no excuse.

        Does this happen often enough that I need to start watching my paychecks?

        1. Jamie*

          I think it’s more of a concern for non-exempt workers because when you have OT at play there is more room for error since it varies from week to week.

          I check mine every week because I’m compulsive and it’s also given to me at work. But the only time I’d really worry about it would be new hire, change in salary, change in taxes, deductions, etc. And when HR was new I would check to make sure Holiday wasn’t in as vacay pay…but usually for exempt people it is what it is from week to week.

          That said, when I was non-exempt would I notice a couple of dollars? Nope. I knew ballpark what I should be looking at and anything in that range wouldn’t red flag for me. 2+ grand? That I’d notice!

      1. fposte*

        That’s not even $20 per paycheck. I don’t think I’d notice that either. (Mine already fluctuates with various deductions, etc.)

  3. annalee*

    This happened at a place I used to work–one of my coworkers’ hourly wage had been mis-entered into the payroll software and he was getting a dollar more an hour than he was supposed to. He stayed quiet for months.

    When it was eventually discovered, he was not only docked the dollar, but docked an additional dollar until the full amount was repaid. Luckily he didn’t get fired–he claimed he thought he’d been given a raise and just not told about it, which he may actually have thought–but it really messed up his family budget until his wages stopped being garnished.

    1. fposte*

      And garnishing would take forever in this case, since you can’t take the employee below minimum wage and it sounds like she might be close already. I mean, even if she were docked 25% of her salary it would take close to half a year.

    2. Long Time Admin*

      Both of these scenarios happened to me. I got 80 hours pay instead of 40, so I told my supervisor. It was a mistake, and they cut a check for me with the correct amount. A few months later, they had my pay rate wrong, so my supervisor called (payroll was outsourced). I turned out that our boss, who traveled constantly, had authorized a raise for me, but didn’t tell my supervisor either one of us.

      These things happen, but it’s important to let someone know as soon as you notice the mistake.

  4. Karyn*

    If it were me, I’d feel too nervous and guilty to even THINK about keeping that money. I’d constantly feel like I had to “look over my shoulder,” worrying that I’d finally be “caught.” Why WOULDN’T she want to point it out is my question.

    1. Another Emily*

      Me too.

      Also, just practically speaking when the company notices the error, they might correct it by withdrawing the overpaid amount from your bank account. This could happen at an inconvenient time and leave you overdrawn. Best to say something now before your budget gets messed up.

      1. Another Reader*

        As a payroll person, I can’t really think of a scenario where a company would actually have access to your bank account to reclaim an overpayment without your involvement. The only exception is that there is a (short) window for recalling EFT payments. In other words, the company might be able to get back the latest check they sent you, but they wouldn’t be able to access funds in your bank account to recoup an overpayment.

        1. Jamie*

          This – in any direct deposit system with which I’ve been involved on the employer end. Which has only been 3, admittedly, but still. It’s not an open doorway.

  5. Joey*

    I’ve done a few things when this has happened:
    1. Fired someone who didnt bring this forward-significant bi weekly amount.
    2. Asked someone who brought it to our attention to write a check to the company.
    3. Set up a payment plan for someone who didnt notice a fairly small bi weekly amount that ended up being a lot to pay back.
    4. Let someone new who brought it up immediately keep about $1000.

    1. CH*

      Wow, how often does this happen? I know the wrong number can be entered but I would hope with something as important and number intensive as payroll there would be an extra pair of eyes proofreading this stuff. I admit I don’t go online to check my pay stub very often (but do see the deposit show up in my account) but now I am thinking I should.

      OP, of course, you know the answer. Keeping the money is stealing.

      1. Ashley*

        I do payroll for about 450 employees, and while it doesn’t happen often, it does come up occasionally, especially when dealing with a large number of employees. Especially when you consider how many years I’ve been doing it. I do my best not to make mistakes, but I’m only human, so they do come up!

      2. Joey*

        Back when I worked at a place with high turnover, a really big workforce, and manual time entry it happened all.the.time.

        1. annie*

          I’m curious if the people in payroll who made the errors were also fired and/or disciplined? I agree that if this happens the employee should immediately bring it up and get it fixed, but I do also think that the company should accept some responsibility here.

          Like others mentioning the way checks can fluctuate with adjustments for tax rates and insurance deductions, I personally doubt I’d notice a fluctuation of $25 or less, but if the company came to me a year later and said I owed them $1000 for their error, I would be really annoying, and I think I’d ask them to write it off rather than making me pay it back since it was their error.

          1. Jamie*

            My first time doing payroll (years ago) I screwed up and it resulted in an operator being short $77.84 gross.

            I freaked the f out when he brought it to my attention I felt so badly. If I couldn’t have had a check cut that day I was ready to hit the ATM to pay him out of my own pocket.

            Mistakes do happen from time to time, but it depends on how they are handled (and aside from too much panic and too much apologizing) as long as you’re trying to rectify it as soon as possible it shouldn’t be cause for immediate dismissal.

            I’ve training 3 HR people in a payroll system and I can tell a good HR by how seriously they take the process. It sounds hokey but I consider payroll a sacred trust. People come to work each day giving of themselves with the expectation of getting paid on time and in full and that bar needs to be cleared every single time.

            If the attitude is “we can just correct it on next week’s check” then that person has no business doing payroll.

            For people on the low end of the salary scale “next week’s check” can very well be the difference between bounced auto payments, late bills, and fewer groceries.

            1. KarenM*

              I’m so glad to hear that you consider payroll a sacred trust! It’s refreshing, not hokey, at least to me. Of course, I’m coming from a place where “we can just correct it on next week’s check” has happened to me multiple times, only we get paid biweekly.

      3. Chinook*

        In our case, it was because someone wasn’t fluent in English (they were French), misunderstood a benefit as being paid twice and then was proactive in trying to get the government’s money back. Too bad he was wrong and thank goodness his boss was smart enough to understand the error and get us our money ASAP.

    2. Mari*

      You would be surprised how often this can happen especially when payroll is outsourced. I calculate everyone’s payroll based on their attendance, I then hand it over to the boss and he “double checks” the numbers and then forwards to outsourced payroll company. I have never heard from the employees, “I was overpaid” but I sure do catch it the next payroll period. It’s so terrible that you can’t even be honest about a dollar or two (even a few hundred), why would I trust you to do your job properly and honestly? It should go with out question, ask. If it is a bonus you weren’t aware of plus for you, if it is a mistake plus for you anyway – it says a lot about your work ethics, more than any “test” any company can/does administer.

      1. A*

        A dollar or two? I would never notice that discrepancy. Hundreds, yes – but please don’t assume that people who aren’t speaking up about ‘a dollar or two’ are doing it with malicious intent. Most people simply wouldn’t notice, or would chalk it up to rounding/price extension issues (I think that if I did notice it, that’s probably what I would assume).

        It just feels a bit harsh to bring a persons honesty into question over an amount like that which is easy to overlook.

        1. Brandy*

          Agree. I monkey around with my witholdings, retirement contributions, HSA contributions, etc. pretty regularly, so my paycheck is often different by a few hundred dollars. I wouldn’t notice a few dollars. I do, however, always look at my paycheck and would certainly notice if something like the gross pay was off.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I think it’s ridiculous to expect someone to notice a few dollars difference. My stub is different amounts pretty often because of things like transit benefits and some overtime. If my not noticing a couple of bucks would cause you not to trust me, then I think that says a lot more about you than it does about me.

        1. Mari*

          When I said a “dollar or two” it was meant figuratively, which of course I did not define properly. What I meant to say is that there is not a difference between a discrepancy of a “little” or a “lot”. If you notice it, bring it up. An actual dollar or two is hard to catch unless your are quite obsessive. =D

      1. Jamie*

        I agree. To stay silent is theft – and stupid because it’s the kind of theft that always comes to light.

        People mock me for checking my pay voucher every week even when there is no variance (no bonus, vacay, holiday, etc.) and despite having a good HR. Trust, but verify – just makes me feel secure knowing everything is as it should be.

  6. Heather*

    This happened to me less than two months in at my first post-college job. I got paid for OT I didn’t do. I flipped out, contacted my supervisor . It was fixed the next week.

  7. Jane*

    Yikes. I guess I don’t check my bank account deposit enough. I would likely not know if the wrong amount were being deposited. Yet another reason to be more vigilant about that!

  8. B*

    I would like to play devils advocate for a moment. Sometimes, I do not look at my stub and in fact many times I have not received a stub after the first one. Yes, I would notice a large difference of $800 vs. $3,000 in my account but for smaller things I do not. Not everyone is guilty of being deceitful and lying, sometimes it truly is an innocent mistake.

    But back to the question. Yes, she should tell them right away. Better to have them take the money out now than all of a sudden for her bank account to drop like a rock because they automatically took it out.

    1. fposte*

      Sure; this is where it’s related to the earlier question today about the person who got less than contracted in her paycheck. The company shouldn’t assume, with a small and overlookable amount, that it was deliberately hidden from them. But in this case, we’re being asked about somebody who is considering deliberately hiding it from the company, so there’s no ambiguity there.

    2. Jane*

      I don’t check the amount of the direct deposit regularly at all. I guess I just foolishly assumed that the company would get it right. Now, having read this, I’m starting to feel paranoid and will definitely check the last few today. I think most people do check quite often though and so for them it’s difficult to believe that someone might not notice. In any event, I agree that OP should tell right away. It’s a good thing she checked!

    3. Vicki*

      What stub?
      When it’s a direct deposit, there may never be a stub. LastJob did everything electronically.

      Yes, you should look at it. But every week? Meh.

      Unfortunately, in this case, she can’t claim she didn’t see it (well, she can claim that but it would be a lie. She told the OP. She needs to tell the Finance folks at Work.)

      1. RG*

        Uh – most (some?, all?) states require that an employee have a written paystub, whether it’s mailed to them, or accessible online, or handed out on payday. So an electronically accessed copy is still a paystub….

        So, even if you are getting direct deposit, you are likely required to be provided an accounting of your wages. And should be checking it periodically.

        1. Just a Reader*

          Yep. I actually have always gotten a paper stub mailed to me…just the way payroll has worked.

      2. Chinook*

        Up here in Canada, I have never received an actual paycheque but I have always received a stub that shows the breakdown of what I was paid and the deductions. I think it may even be required by law. In fact, if you don’t receive your T4 in time to file taxes, the government expects you to use the info on your stub to file while they go after the employer for their lousy paperwork.

        As for my bank account, I check it regularly along with my my credit card statements. How else would I know if someone stole the information? Before them being on-line, I would check the paper statements I received monthly to make sure it was all kosher.

    4. Anonymous*

      I check mine amount but there were about a dozen changes to my pay in the first 3 months of this year, each time it shifted a little, I generally knew it should be more or less for each one, but I never went and checked the stub online and checked to make sure it was all correct because quite frankly, I didn’t understand what all the changes were. They were very unclear about the communication. 1% less to this, 2% more to that, 2% less to this, and then I got a personal bump and all at different points in where it was for, pre tax, only on not taxed, blahblahblah. All of that (finally came out to a tiny boost for me but barely) they could have messed up and I wouldn’t have known at all. But if it was suddenly double then I should notice right away. I guess if you were independently wealthy and didn’t pay attention to the amount you might not notice. But you notice you mention it. But not noticing doesn’t make you a thief. (That isn’t to say you should purposely not pay attention so you can’t be called a thief.)

  9. Jenolen2161*

    “My sister noticed the company’s payroll clerk dropped a stack of money on the ground while on her way to make the bimonthly bank deposit. When my sister picked it up, it was $2,200. She didn’t get a chance to flag down the payroll clerk right then, so she put in her bag for safe keeping. Now she doesn’t know if she should give it back or not. What do you think?”

    1. PJ*

      Yeah, that. Even worse — the question was not that she didn’t know whether or not she should give it back, but rather would she get in trouble if she didn’t.

      1. PJ*

        And then I have to ask, had the error NOT been in her favor, would she have said something? You betcha.

      1. Sarah G*

        I went to summer camp in Oconomowac! Lots of great Native American place names in Wisconsin.

  10. FD*

    To be fair, too, a key point here is that difference is so huge that it’s near-impossible for her to have missed it, so not saying anything would imply dishonesty. I was once overpaid by a fairly small amount (a little under $100), but because my paycheck fluctuates by a fair bit, it would have been very easy for me not to notice without malicious intent. I only caught it because I have an Excel sheet I use to track my hours and predict my pay after taxes and deductions for insurance, etc. If I hadn’t noticed and they’d caught it later, I don’t think I’d have been accused of any dishonesty, because the paycheck was within the normal range for me.

  11. Erik*

    I had a similar situation, in which I left a company but they still kept paying me.

    I sent back the checks telling them that I had left two months earlier.

    1. Brandy*

      I once worked for a company, left in June, and was never removed from my health plan. I left for a new company, so I had new coverage–but I found out because the old insurance picked up something the new plan rejected.

      I didn’t (and wouldn’t have) pay back the health fees, but I did call them up and let them know I was still on the books….which they appreciated and turns out so were about 20 others.

      1. annalee*

        I had a problem where my pharmacy didn’t update my insurance properly when I changed jobs. I gave them my new info, but on one of my prescriptions, they kept billing my old insurance. And my old insurance kept paying. They never notified me, sent me benefits explanations, anything.

        Two years later, they start threatening me with collection notices and tell me that “health care fraud” is a felony and I’d never be able to get health insurance again if I didn’t pay them back immediately, for a bill in the thousands.

        Luckily my new insurance plan was able to reimburse me so that I could write Old Insurance Plan a check. I sent it along with a Very Sternly Worded Note indicating that they should have the good sense to check that they still insure people before they process claims; and that while I was happy to help them correct their error, I accepted no responsibility for it, and that they should not expect me to be so charitable going forward because they didn’t have my permission to act on my behalf.

        The real kicker? Old Insurance Plan and New Insurance Plan were run by the same company. They literally wrote me a check so I could write them a check in the same amount.

        1. V*

          That’s pretty funny. I had the opposite problem, where my old insurance plan was cancelled, and I had a new plan with the same company…. They kept kicking back claims saying I had “other insurance” (referring to my old plan). It took a lot of yelling and screaming before they finally fixed it.

      2. Sabrina*

        I do enrollments for group insurance, and constantly get requests to terminate people they “forgot about” for a few months. On the flip side they also sometimes take months or years to enroll new hires.

  12. ro*

    Definitely report the error! Something similar happened to my husband (before I knew him). He left a contract job at the stated end of the contract date and one pay period after that he got another salary check/deposit. He knew immediately it was an error and let them know (it was state gov’t.). Suprisingly, they made it unnecessarily hard to pay back the money, but eventually they cashed his check.

    Flash forward a bit- the IRS and the state both wanted him to pay taxes on this money, despite the fact that it was an error, which he pointed out and corrected and in fact, he didn’t earn this income. Since the money came from a state job, he was eventually able to get the state revenue dept. to back down and agree he didn’t owe taxes on this income since technically it wasn’t his money and he returned it, but it was a big headache. After years of annoying back and forth with the IRS and talking to an attorney, he finally just sent the IRS a check TO PAY TAXES ON INCOME HE NEVER EARNED, just to be done with it. This in and of itself is absolutely ridiculous and completely unfair that a gov’t. agency has so much power over us as citizens, but at a certain point quality of life/no stress seems more important that pursuing what’s right or fair.

    So besides all of the great reasons already mentioned, a person should immediately point out the error and send the money back to them. Also, SAVE A COPY of the cancelled check and any correspondence proving that this income was incorrectly paid to you. Trust me, years down the road you might need it.

    Good luck!

    1. Nicole*

      In this particular case, also make sure the repayment or reversal is reflected on your check stub YTD. Your pay records need to be accurate in case of an audit of you or your company.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yes to this! My company messed up and paid me the first pay date after I went on maternity leave (HR person forgot to change my status in the payroll system). I let them know as soon as I saw the direct deposit, and they were able to reverse it, but when I returned to work that amount was still showing in my YTD pay. Not only could it have tax implications for me, if I was audited for the state disability board, I could have to pay back some of the disability pay I got while I was on leave.

        This thread reminded me to check, and it looks like they’ve taken care of it, thankfully!

    2. Anonymous*

      DITTO. My DH and I are going through this right now because his last employer kept direct-depositing him for a couple of MONTHS after he quit, despite him emailing his old boss to let him know. We are now dealing with a gigantic tax bill (and yes, eventually his boss finally got off his duff and informed payroll, and my DH paid back the money), and I’m not sure we can make it go away, especially given ro’s story.

      1. ro*

        Hi Anonymous,

        I wish you luck in this. In my husband’s case, it was just the federal taxes owed on 1 month’s pay and in the grand scheme of things, not a large dollar amount. To pay an attorney to fight it would have cost at least the same amount and it made it a wash.

        To give you a little more info. in case it helps, he did speak to someone at the IRS initially and thought he had it all cleared up, but then a year or two later he gets a letter out of the blue saying he still owes the money. And each time he was on the phone with different people at the IRS so it was hard to get consistency and make sure he had the matter 100% cleared up. In the end, it was worth it to him (since the dollar amount was small and he had was fortunate to be able to spare the $$) to just send them a check.

        In hindsight, I would suggest to others in this situation to also try to find a tax professional in your area who is a certified “EA” or enrolled agent with the IRS. My husband consulted an attorney, but I wonder if an EA might have actually been able to help MORE and possibly even charge LESS than an attorney. It’s worth looking in to.

        Despite my rant above and how people often dislike the IRS, an EA actually can probably help iron out many tax problems. People don’t always realize that the IRS is actually more open to negotiating things down than they think. The key is to find the right tax professional (not those folks who advertise on tv).

        Good luck!!

  13. Brittany*

    This instance is pretty black and white but it CAN be annoying.

    I had one old job where I gave my notice and left. I received an extra check. Confused, I contacted payroll and was told it was my vacation payout (I left in January, so it wasn’t unlikely that this would be a good size check that matched my bi-weekly pay since I hadn’t taken any vacation). I budget very, very carefully so after I was told I was in the clear, I deposited it, used it to pay off some debts and happily went along my way.

    A few weeks letter I get a call saying WHOOPS, we sent it by mistake, can you cut us a check back? Needless to say, I was pissed.

    I refused to pay them back. If they had caught it, called me back right away, and made the error clear from the get-go, I would have been happy to shred it. The fact that they tried to come back after almost a month and re-collect it after they told me flat out it was meant for me just pissed me off. Not to mention as a part of the whole living paycheck to paycheck and budgeting carefully, it’s not like I had that amount of cash to just write back to them.

    It was dropped and I never heard anything from them once I said it was long deposited and gone. Maybe that was wrong of me but it just didn’t seem right to ask that of me after that long.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I see nothing wrong with how you handled this. You checked to ensure that the money was legitimately yours, you deposited it in good faith and that was that. This was the company’s error and they had to pay for it, literally. Not your problem in my eyes.

      1. Jamie*

        Absolutely – you checked – after they confirmed it’s yours as far as I’m concerned.

        It’s not your job to do their bookkeeping for them.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          This. When the error was noticed and pointed out, the company had ample opportunity to check their records and find out what actually happened. There was clearly a good faith effort to correct the error.

      2. Chinook*

        Add me to the voices that say the money was yorus. You did your due diligence, verified that it wasn’t an error and deposited it in good faith.

    2. Gene*

      You’re lucky you no longer worked for them. Back when I was in the US Navy (this would have been in ’78) I noticed I was being overpaid; not a lot, but noticiable. When I went to Disbursing and pointed out the error the clerk argued with me and “showed me” how I was wrong. I was young and foolish and didn’t stash away the extra. Later, on a three-week at sea period on the way to Singapore, my pay was zero, that’s right, $0.00, for two pay periods. When I raised heck at Disbursing, the same clerk said that they had overpaid me, and to be “nice” he hadn’t taken it back while we were in port in Subic Bay so I “could enjoy myself” but instead decided on his own to take it out while we were at sea. I was looking forward to “enjoying” Singapore with less than $10 in my pocket when his Chief overheard the discussion (everyone on the forward part of that deck could overhear MY part of it) and loaned me $100 out of his own pocket.

      I repaid him during the following at sea period and thanked him. Bought him a beer whenever I’d see him after that too. I got to drink Singapore Slings at Raffle’s thanks to him, it was the least I could do.

      1. Chinook*

        My experience with military clerks is that the best ones are the ones who were something other than clerks in the military first. These were the ones who understood that a zeroed pay is an actual hardship and that their main goal is ensure that those serving can do so without worrying about “little things” like pay.

        We also learned that, atleast in Canada, if you split your pay between bank accounts, the second payment can not be zeroed because they have no way of knowing if it is a court ordered payment. Since then, when possible, we have had part of our pay deposited directly into a 2nd “bill paying” account which is used to pay for the mortgage, utilities and other fixed bills.

    3. A*

      Thanks for sharing this! Definitely taught me that whn/if I ever leave my current company, if I get a check for unused PTO I will request a confirmation of the checks purpose via email so ill have a paper trail.

  14. Ruffingit*

    Really?? The fact that someone would even ask this makes me want to find out where they work and tell their manager to fire them for a complete lack of integrity. This is ridiculous. It’s theft. End of story.

  15. totochi*

    In our payroll system, there is a check box for salary people that automatically enters 80 hours per 2-week pay period. One hourly employee had the box checked incorrectly so he was paid a salary based on $25/hour plus hourly pay on clock in/out. It clearly says on the pay stub that he worked 160 hours of regular time for the two weeks. Anyway, we caught this after 18 week and HR called him in. His “explanation” was that he got a raise and thought that this was his new take home pay… 120% raise! There was lots of crying since he claimed he had spent the “extra” $18,000 and couldn’t afford to pay it back. I think we put him on a repayment plan but it will take awhile to pay back the company.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That is ridiculous. No one ever receives a 120% raise and the fact that he tried to use that as an excuse is crazy. He’s lucky he didn’t get fired.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      With stories like this, I always want to know how the company would handle it if the employee left the company before finishing repayment.

      1. AP*

        At my company, my boss gave a significant loan to our receptionist (his friend, it was incredible unprofessional of her to ask for it, but whatever, he agreed). She was paying it back slowly (like, $30/week slowly) and got fired about halfway through. He forgave the loan as severance and wrote it down as bad debt – there was no way she was ever going to be able to pay it back in a lump sum. If she had quit instead of being fired, I could see it getting messy!

      2. Anon*

        In a case with mistaken overpayment to a now terminated employee, we started with letters/emails requesting a signature for funds reversal. Then we offered a payment plan. Then we had the lawyers get involved with basic “threatening” letters, and filed a police report (required for the lawyers). We decided not to take it farther because the cost of actually perusing legal action would have been more than the amount recovered (in our case it was closer to $8,000). Ultimately we tried until year-end and then wrote it off.

      3. Ruffingit*

        The only thing that comes to mind in terms of having any recourse to get them to pay if they quit before paying the entire amount would be to make sure they sign a legal document (promissory note perhaps) stating that they will pay. Then, if they quit, you can go through the usual collection channels for any debt owed up to and including getting a legal judgment and garnishing wages at the next job, etc. Although, a lot of this is dependent on the collection laws in the state (assuming it’s the U.S.).

  16. Meg*

    AAM, I absolutely LOVE your blog, but lately every time I check the site I get an obnoxious BlogHer ad promoting some giveaway and it blocks half the entry – does anyone know a way to get rid of this?

      1. KarenT*

        It’s been happening to me recently too. I’ve been reading AAM for about a year but only seen this in the last couple of weeks. A big ad pops out and hovers over half the post. Today I remembered Alison asking for screenshots. The thing disappeared a literally as I was taking one! I’ll try to be quicker next time!

  17. The IT Manager*

    Since your sister is clearly someone who looks out for herself just tell her that she shouldn’t do keep the money now because they will come looking for it back later and she will owe it. This is not found money. Better to pay them back now when she has the money in hand rather than trying to pay it back after she has spent it.

  18. Frieda*

    I guess I’m not REALLY surprised, but it does baffle me that people don’t regularly check their pay stubs. Even with direct deposit, you do get some kind of paperwork about how your check breaks down (ours is online). I know that I am more neurotic about tracking my money than most, but I can’t believe that some people (not just here, but many people I’ve spoken to in real life) simply NEVER check their pay stubs!

    Same goes for balancing their checking accounts. I once had a friend (30 years old!) say to me, “I mean, does anyone even know HOW to balance a checking account anymore?” like knowing how much money you have available is the craziest thing in the world. An no, the online account is NOT always up to date.

    1. Adam V*

      After ensuring that the deposits are entered into my account when I first start, and I’m getting the bi-weekly email saying “we made your paycheck deposit”… it’s just not something that enters my mind on a regular basis. I do all my banking online, and as long as the deposit shows up and it’s roughly the same every week, I don’t usually bother opening my paystub to see exactly how it all breaks down.

      1. -X-*


        I’ve got so many things to pay attention to, this isn’t a priority for me. If the number was way off I might notice eventually.

    2. Sydney Bristow*

      I very carefully balance my checkbook regularly, but learned the hrd way about checking my pay stubs. I worked for a company in a state that didn’t have income tax, was laid off then rehired in another state that does have income tax but my tax information was never updated. I didn’t notice that I wasn’t having state income taxes deducted from my check until I went to file my taxes a year later. That was a hard check to write and a tough lesson to learn.

      I do what was mentioned above and have a spreadsheet where I track my hours, paychecks, and tax details. It’s well worth my time to pay attention!

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      I know, I’m that person. While reading this, I just went and checked the electronic paystubs for my job, the first time I’ve really looked at then in the 6 months I’ve had this job. I balance my checkbook once a year, before I do my taxes.

      But it’s only bitten me once — I left a job and they handed me the last pay envelope. I assumed it was direct deposit like all the others, and set it aside without even opening it. When the bank called and said that they’d taken money from savings to checking because otherwise checks were going to bounce, and to get money in checking right away, I had to go looking for that envelope and deposit the last check!

  19. FH*

    Here’s a question though, to what lengths should they follow up? I’m in a situation where I just started with the company and noticed that they entered my salary as $85k/yr instead of $82.5k/yr. I sent an email to my boss after my first paycheck when I noticed this but have not received a response for almost a week. Do I need to keep following up? Talk to HR directly?

    1. Just a Reader*

      I would…it’s money that doesn’t belong to you and you don’t want to get dinged for it because someone didn’t fix it quickly.

      1. -X-*

        Unless you specifically asked for a response, it’s possible the only “response” is a corrected paycheck the next couple of times.

        I’d wait till the next paycheck, at least. It may have been fixed and you just haven’t been told.

        1. Chinook*

          As well as waiting to see if they fix it on the next paycheque, I recommend putting that “extra” money in a place where you won’t spend it (either a savings account or under your mattress) so that you can pay it back upon demand.

    2. Brandy*

      I’d call HR and verify the salary they are paying you vs your offer letter. If they say $85k, then talk to your boss– let them know HR has you in the system for $85k, and does that match your bosses’ intent?

      I’ve worked for several companies where they did an across-the-board pay bump for various reasons (once was a 1-time permanent pay bump when we had to start using our own cell phones, once was for a chance in health benefits, etc). It’s possible, though unlikely, that something like that was factored in.

  20. Jenna*

    I have direct deposit, but, do not get any pay stub. There is a site online where I can look at my check and deductions to make sure everything is as it should be, or print it out if I need to.
    However, I know that some of my coworkers don’t check their stubs, and have forgotten their passwords for that site. There are ways to recover passwords, but, the only way that they are probably checking on their pay is on their bank statements.

    1. Jamie*

      Just an FYI when you leave the company your access to that site will probably be cut off instantly.

      If you need proof of income it could be a PITA to request it from HR and go through channels so it would be a good idea to print a copy at intervals. You want salary records to be in your own control and not at the mercy of a former employer.

      1. Adam V*

        Exactly. It’s worth it to your future sanity to set up a reminder for yourself to go download your paystubs at least every 3-4 months, even if all that you do with them is to store them on your computer somewhere.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly – just need a screen shot. But the IT in me can’t help but remind everyone to make sure they have reliable back up and security if they are storing financial information electronically. :)

      2. Anonymous*

        And if your company goes out of business there may not be a way to request it from HR. (The IRS does have a form to deal with not getting your end of the year tax information, but it is a real pain even with all the needed pay stubs.)

      3. Anonymous*

        I just left a job and will have access to the ADP online paystub system for the next 3 years.

  21. Catherine*

    Is the sister on probation at this new job?
    Maybe this is a test.
    Depending on the nature of the job, it might be; it’s certainly a good way to weed out those you don’t want in your organization.

    1. Meg*

      I highly doubt this is a test – that would be incredibly bizarre. Then they would be doing that for every new hire, and who wants to spend thousands of dollars on “testing” the integrity of new employees?

    2. A Bug!*

      It makes for an interesting thought experiment, certainly. But in practice, such a test would be really impractical and very costly, for a variety of reasons.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      There’s no way in heck this was a test. She could have cashed the check and just never shown up again and they’d be out of luck.

  22. Shayna*

    To take a different angle than some previous posters, think of all the good will she’ll earn at her new job by pointing this out. She’ll have saved both sides the heartache and scored major integrity points for having come forward, especially so soon after her hire.

    I know it feels crappy to give back $2200, but she knows it was never her money in the first place.

  23. Shannon*

    I got overpaid once – I was doing casual, part time work for a company while I was in college, so my hours were never the same (they called me in when they needed extra help). I got double paid once for something like 10 extra hours, and I told the office manager about the error.

    When I finished school and was looking for full time work, that office manager was one of my references and I heard she gave me a glowing recommendation to the company that hired me.

  24. Sabrina*

    This happened to a friend of mine recently. A week and a half after payday she noticed her checking account was a little more than it should have been. By $40,000. She called up payroll that Monday after noticing it on a weekend and they hadn’t even realized that they were missing $40K for the last two weeks. Instead of reversing it, they made her write a personal check for it. Then took their sweet time cashing the darn thing!

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, the other side of that is the company should be deeply apologetic and grateful when something like this is brought to their attention, and they should minimize the annoyance for the person who was honest about the issue.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Well if her checking account got interest, maybe they were trying to reward her just a bit. Although with interest rates so low, it would be a pretty small bit.

  25. Canuck*

    In the OP’s case, the difference between $3,000 and $800 is just too big not to say anything. But, sometimes differences in paychecks alone doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. In Canada, after you have paid the maximum CPP and EI contributions for the year (for the non-Canadians, these are effectively payroll taxes that everyone has to pay), those stop getting deducted from your paychecks. This will happen for people at different poins during the year, depending on how much you earn and have paid out; but for some people, it can mean an extra $200 or more per month on your checks, for 2-3 months.

  26. Calibrachoa*

    I got overpaid once – they had apparently entered my sick pay twice so I got an extra $200 or so listed as “back pay” on my stub. Since 2 of my teammates also got that amount at the same time, I thought nothing of it ; I figured they were correcting a previous mistake. Nope. When they caught up on it, they brought me in and explained that the error had happened on their end and I was like okay, fair enough, deductions over the next 4 weeks is grand with me and that was it.
    Getting underpaid, on the other hand, happens all the time because there is a lot of issues with my team’s shift allowances and overtime because we make payroll cry.

  27. Layla*

    I had an ex colleague who after 1 year of being with the company , did not know which day we get paid ( direct bank deposit ).
    ( we get paid monthly )
    I can only assume her bank account balance is so high that she would not notice a 2k difference. Ha

    1. -X-*

      I don’t know what day I get paid. I know it’s either twice a month or every two weeks. Haven’t known details for years. Yes, I have a lot of savings and wouldn’t notice the difference you mention.

      1. Anonymous*

        Exactly. If you save money, you don’t study your paystubs, and I may not remember I’ve been paid for days.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I had a boss like that. He came from a ridiculously wealthy family and never even bothered to deposit his checks (this was before direct deposit existed). He had a desk drawer full of checks that just sat there mocking me. It made me cringe every time I thought about it. I should have aked him to sign them over to me since he was so uninterested in money. He was an odd guy.

  28. Sniper*

    This type of thing seems to happen so often, I wonder if there is ever any accountability on the company/payroll department. It always seems to fall on the employee to catch and if they say nothing, the axe falls on them. What about the person that made the mistake in the first place?

    1. -X-*

      Not always. In my organization there was an error paying one employee (shorting the employee in something related to health insurance) and the HR person who caused it also caught it after 4 or 6 months and apologized. The details are being corrected. The employee didn’t notice anything.

      I don’t know about any axe.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s generally treated like any other mistake: If you’re a good employee who made one mistake, you’re not going to get in trouble, although you might have a serious talk about what happened. If you’re making multiple mistakes, it’s going to get addressed just like multiple mistakes of any sort would be.

  29. Rayner*

    I had a horrific experience of this – when I worked Saturdays, and was contracted for a brief period of time to work Sundays as well under two different managers. Unfortunately, my managers did not communicate, and both claimed for me in their ‘group of employees’ – one for Saturdays only, one for Saturdays and Sundays.

    Cue my paycheck being being twice the size it should have been.

    Found out that morning by checking my account, and thought “Oh, they must have paid my backpay.” (That turned out to still be on hold) The manager who dealt with it pulled me aside in a hall way outside the break room, told me there had been a mistake, and that I would not be receiving a paycheck for the next two (TWO) pay periods to recover their losses.

    Right there where anyone could have walked passed, and up against a locker. Not in an office or even sat down – there wasn’t even a chance to ask that had happened!

    While I appreciated the heads up, they could have worked with me to provide an alternative – docking my pay a percent per month would have been more helpful than just saying for the next two periods you get a paycheck of 0.00 moneys.

    It’s incredibly frustrating to be on the wrong end of it, because some companies like mine seemed to treat it as though employees deliberately cheated their way into getting more money. The company could take its sweet time getting you the right money, but the second they overpayed, they wanted it back yesterday.

    Back to the question at hand, yes, she should tell. It’s likely a mistake, and if she doesn’t inform the company, and they find out, they may think she is being deliberately dishonest which is not a label anybody wants.

    Worst luck, she gets the money expected, no extra moneys. Best luck, it’s money she gets to keep.

  30. Eric*

    I’ve never been over (or under) paid (just lucky I guess) but I did take a sick day once that was not deducted from my accrued time. I notified finance as soon as I noticed.

  31. -X-*

    ” The company could take its sweet time getting you the right money”

    I’ll ask the naive question: is this legal?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Most states have laws that spell out how soon you must be paid after a pay period ends, so I imagine that would govern here too.

  32. Lori*

    I got fired from a very large NYC based employer back in 2003. When they fired me they forgot to take me off their payroll for a whole month!!!!!!! I was thrilled!

    1. plain jane*

      This happened to someone on my team at a previous employer. HR didn’t tell accounting that the person had been let go, so they kept paying that person’s salary for a couple of months. (The manager & HR person were both new to their positions and didn’t know there was a second form & process.)

      I don’t know if they ever tried to get the money back or just wrote it off, but there was a lot of recrimination around processes not being followed/training not being given.

      It didn’t improve my impression of the person that they didn’t flag they were still getting paid, but there was also a reason they were fired…

  33. Elikit*

    For my first paycheck at my new job, I had $2000 deposited instead of the less than half that amount that I should have received. I could think of no way that I was meant to have that much, so I emailed payroll twice. Once to say, can you have a look at my pay – I think you’ve paid me to much. And once, (once they came back to say it was fine), to say, are you sure, because that seems like a lot for one week of work.

    Got an email back saying it was fine. Despite being told twice it was fine, I know enough to know it’s not, so I don’t touch it. A week later, I get an email telling me I’ve been overpaid, and how would I like it handled? So the next week, I only got paid $100.

    Turns out my letter of offer said I started a week earlier than I actually had, so they paid me based on that, even though I’d only submitted a time sheet for the week I’d actually worked.

    I could have spit the dummy because they told me it was fine, twice, but I’d rather have a job than be in the right on the dole.

    So, um, if your sis doesn’t actually like having a job she should totally keep it! (Sarcasm!)

  34. Jessa*

    There’s a bigger issue, most companies make you sign a paper for direct deposit that says they can take that money back at their discretion and with no notice at any time if there’s a mistake made. It would not do her well to have spent money and suddenly everything she does overdraughts her account because they pulled the money back. This kind of error really needs to be reported and the money held off until you find out how the company wants it back.

  35. Greg*

    Two stories:

    1. When I was in college, I had a job through a temp agency that made this mistake. I submitted (properly) for 37.5 hours and they paid me for 375 hours. I noticed it as soon as I saw the (non-direct deposit) check and, for about two seconds, wondered to myself, “Do I have to report this?” I soon realized that I did, and when I called the agency to tell them, they thanked me and also assured me they would have caught the error. I suppose in a direct-deposit situation you could claim ignorance, but a) they would still probably figure it out eventually, and b) it would still be wrong.

    2. I remember reading a story after 9/11 about people who were charged with theft for deliberately overdrawing their accounts on that day. Apparently a number of ATMs in Lower Manhattan were unable to connect to the banks to check people’s balances, but were still able to dispense money. As a result, people were able to withdraw more than they had in their accounts. As I recall, the bank sorted out the problem within a couple days, and notified the people who had violated it. Most of them apologized and returned the money, and received no sanction. But a few people didn’t respond to numerous notices and were eventually charged with a crime. The thing is, I kind of can understand the logic of overdrawing at a moment where you have no idea what’s going on, or when you may have access to cash again. But did those people seriously think they could get away with not paying the money back?

    1. Omne*

      No matter how stupid something may appear to be there’s always someone that thinks they can get away with it.

  36. Cassie*

    I wouldn’t automatically assume someone was trying to hide getting overpaid – I don’t always check my paystubs and I don’t frequently check my bank account (maybe once every six months?). I once filled out my timesheet incorrectly and only got paid 25% of what I should have got. I didn’t notice until 2 months later.

    That said, yes, employees should bring up errors immediately so it can be corrected. Overpayments have to be repaid – our payroll office will send out a notice to the employee with a payment plan, but it may be a few months later. Also, I handle accounting and if there’s a problem with someone’s payroll, it affects the accounts. Hopefully I’ll catch the error when I reconcile the ledgers, but it would be helpful for employees to let me know just in case.

    1. Cassie*

      I forgot to also mention that it affects the employee’s earnings for the year. If the error occurs in February, there’s time to fix it, but if it happens in November and no one catches it for a few months? W-2s may have to be corrected and that’s extra work that no one has to deal with.

  37. Beth Anne*

    So this happenned to my sister a few years ago. Her paycheck was $400 more than it should have been. She realized it when she went to the bank took the cash and went to her boss and was like here this is the $400 too much and they didn’t even want it!!

    They were like oh no we have to do it this way and we’ll just deduct $100 from the next 2 paychecks (she got paid every 2 weeks). She was like okay fine. They did it for the next pay period but after that they didn’t deduct the money. It was the last paycheck for the year and she didn’t say anything. She felt she told them the first time, it was there error, they should have done it. Nothing ever happenned about it….

Comments are closed.