being told to sleep on a couch on a business trip, unsolicited sales pitches, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Being made to sleep on a couch on a business trip

My husband is on a business trip at the moment. He told me they are having him sleep on a couch for this trip. He works 12-hour shifts, at night, and is expected to sleep on the couch during the day! Is this a reasonable accommodation for the company to provide for him?

What! No.

It’s not illegal, but it’s wildly unreasonable. He should say this to them: “Sleeping on a couch isn’t an option for me; I won’t sleep well and be rested enough to work. How can I make arrangements for the company to get a hotel room?”

2. My company messed up my pay and doesn’t want me to tell anyone

Yesterday, I was called into the HR benefits coordinator’s office. Apparently, there had been a mistake in Accounting over the span of about 5 months, and I was being overpaid about $9,000. It had to do with the time that merit increases were taking place, and I wasn’t paying much attention to my bank account other than seeing that a check had deposited (I’ve been beating myself up over not being more vigilant).

She apologized on behalf of HR and Accounting, and wants to meet with me later this week to hash out details of repayment. Then, she told me that the conversation was only to be between her, Accounting, and myself, and to not talk to anyone about the overpayment/repayment.

Should she have told me not to talk about it? What rights do employers and employees have when dealing with an overpayment of this size? I felt kinda weird that she didn’t want me to say anything to anyone at all. It’s possible she meant don’t tell everyone what happened, but she didn’t say that, only to not talk about it at all.

Obviously, $9,000 is a huge chunk of change and it’s going to affect my living situation for the rest of 2015. She mentioned a payment plan that would go to the end of the year- even this is about $1,000 a month. I really want to talk to my supervisor and bring her in the loop – my manager is someone that I could trust to go to bat for me if need be and bounce ideas off of.

The National Labor Relations Act forbids employers from preventing employees from discussing wages and working conditions with each other; a request to keep this secret sounds like it would probably violate that law (I’m guessing though; you’d need a lawyer to tell you for sure). But I wouldn’t start there — I’d just say, “Can I ask you about why you asked me not to mention this to anyone? At a minimum, I’d like Manager to be in the loop about this, and was curious about the request more generally as well.”

Regardless of their answer, it’s totally reasonable to bring your manager into the loop here. If they balk at that, I’d just say, “I do feel that I need to bring her into the loop” and hold firm.

By the way, it’s also totally reasonable to say that you can’t swing payments of that size and they need to be lower, and see what they say. They might not agree to it — ultimately the law says that you do owe them that money — but they also might and it’s reasonable to try.

3. Do I have to respond to unsolicited sales pitches?

I have a question about what the etiquette/obligation is in responding to unsolicited cold calls from vendors. I’m in a job where my name and email address are out there in a number of open places so that people can contact me for information; I also seem to have gotten onto a number of lists. I started getting cold emails that were structured like blast emails. That’s totally fine – we all know you don’t have to respond to a blast email, and I’m not opposed to hearing from new businesses or potential vendors. But these days I seem to be getting a lot more solicitations, and they often look like personal messages, even though I’m sure many of them aren’t. I also sometimes get follow-ups from these people and phone messages. Sometimes they are related to my work, but often they are not, and they ask me to forward them to someone in the company who would be more suited.

I know it seems like a small thing, but it feels like such an intrusion on my time, especially when companies I have never heard of contact me more than once selling services that have nothing to do with me. It feels like they want to get their foot in the door at my company in any way possible, so they intrude on my time even though they know I’m not the right contact. I’d actually be more receptive if their tactic was blast email, because they wouldn’t be presuming a personal relationship with me, and I could at least unsubscribe. It’s hard enough for me to get everything done, and I already handle a large amount of email inquiries I’m expected to respond to within 24 hours. Do I have to reply to these unsolicited messages? Return the calls? Can I mark them as spam and be done with it since we have no prior relationship, or do I owe them some kind of response, even if it’s a “No, thank you”?

Nope. You’re under no obligation to respond to sales pitches, even when people specifically ask you to respond. These aren’t social requests (where you would have an obligation to get back to them); these are attempts to get your business, and the rules for that are different. You can delete and ignore without guilt. That’s what most people are doing :)

That said, for the ones that are clearly someone else’s purview, you might ask that person if they want you to forward them the messages. That person will almost surely say absolutely not, but it’s worth checking if you’re not sure.

4. Can my resume include programs that I did as a teenager?

I graduated from college five years ago and been working with the same company ever since. I’m ready to move on and I need to tweak my resume.

When I was a teenager (ages 13-17), I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol (auxiliary of the air force), where we learned aerospace education as well as leadership. I also attended boat camp from age 12-14, where we made canoes from scratch.

I’ve left these programs out of my resume for years. In looking at my resume, I felt like I didn’t have much experience since I’ve been with the same company. I wanted to know how I could incorporate these programs into my resume or if it isn’t necessary?

You really can’t include anything from before college, unless it was truly extraordinary — like you started a successful company or something like that. So no, but those programs both sound really cool.

5. Listing contract, temp, and freelance work as “Your Name Consulting”

Yesterday I read an article on how to present contract, temp, and freelance work on your resume. The article stated to describe it as “your consulting firm,” like “Jane Doe Consulting.” The article went on to explain how/why this way looks better than listing your freelance or temp work. I thought this was great advice! (I’ve been with a temp company just over a year, and I’ve worked in the past as an independent contractor.) But I’m no expert. What are your thoughts? Are there any pitfalls to this?

If you’re truly doing consulting, it’s reasonable to call it Your Name Consulting. But if you’re doing temp work, that’s not really consulting; it’s temp work. You can, however, group temp work all under one heading so that it’s not a zillion different job listings.

As for whether it helps to do it, not really. It’s a common thing for people to do when they’ve been working for themselves, but it doesn’t really help or hurt. It doesn’t read all that differently than if they’d simply labeled that section Freelance Consulting Work or something like that. What a good hiring manager cares about is the work you did, not how you label it.

{ 271 comments… read them below }

  1. Kat A.*

    OP #4,
    I was in CAP as well and included it on my resume through my 20s because anyone in my area who knows about CAP would hopefully realize I’m a more disciplined person than some average people my age. Also, I took advantage of the training and learned to fly small aircraft, got a ton of first aid training and acquired my radio operator’s permit.

    The first aid training led to a lifeguard job offer. The radio op permit helped me get a radio internship, which led to me getting my FCC license. Later, I got a job that required listening to a police scanner because I learned all the codes in acquiring my ROP.

    1. Short and Stout*

      I was coming in to say I’d still include the Civil Air Patrol experience too. It’s not that long ago (you’re only coming out of your first job) and it’s certainly relevant to both potential jobs and to networking — it’s volunteer and leadership training with the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. To me it would be strange to exclude it — sort of like thinking your years of work or training with the Red Cross is cool but not something to put on a resume.

      1. jag*

        I’m not familiar with the program, but was thinking that something within the last 10 years like that could well be relevant.

    2. PEBCAK*

      Where on your resume, though? If it were in the “other interests” section where people write things about their hobbies, cool, but I’d think it was weird for anyone to give it any real weight on their resume.

      1. Pontoon Pirate*

        I have an “Other Experience” section, where I’ve included projects that I did outside the parameters of a job but contain relevant or translatable experience (leadership, management, decision-making, etc). For example, I was an associate producer on a small documentary–I did that on the side, didn’t get paid much for it, but a lot of the skills I brought to that project translate into my current work. I can easily see something like CAP going in a section like this.

        The caveat is that the rest of the resume has to be strong, because hiring managers often aren’t in the position to closely read every resume down to the bottom.

    3. The IT Manager*

      I think it depends. I never heard of CAP until I was in college because it was not an organization where I grew up so YMMV with including it on a resume. But it depends on what you did with it. My friend from Minnesota talked about training for and perhaps particpating in small aircraft search and rescue activities with CAP. If you did that that might be resume-worthy 15 years later, but from the LW’s description “learned aerospace education as well as leadership” it sounds like a club that he sat and listened instead of more actively doing something.

      Only list CAP if you did something/accomplished something in it and can list that. I think building a canoe is cool, but not resume-worthy 15+ years later unless you’re looking for a job where tool-use is important. In this case you build something, but it was under the direction of adults and just for fun.

    4. Mike C.*

      Yeah, at first I was like, “who cares” when they mentioned high school, but I can think of a lot of organizations who would be interested in CAP experience.

    5. Anonicorn*

      Though it might not belong on a resume, it seems interesting enough to discuss during an interview as long as you can make it relevant.

    6. I'm a Little Teapot*

      You learned to fly small aircraft, got first aid training, and got a radio operator’s permit *before college*? That’s amazing and definitely resume-worthy if it’s relevant. Good for you.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        On my resume – of course, I work in IS/IT, which can be “nerdy” — I hold the highest class amateur radio license and have held a license for 36 years. Yep, when you still had to learn Morse code to get one.

  2. Gene*

    For #3:

    I’d actually be more receptive if their tactic was blast email, because they wouldn’t be presuming a personal relationship with me, and I could at least unsubscribe.

    Never “unsubscribe”. If you do all you’ve done is prove to them that yours is a valid email address and that you read and respond to unsolicited sales emails. That at least doubles the value for selling your email address and will increase the amount of spam you get. Ignore those emails and if you get multiples from the same address, set up a rule to auto-delete them.

    1. Libretta*

      This seems a little paranoid – I was unemployed for a stretch about 3 years ago, and to fill the time I went through my spam folder and unsubscribed from every possible list. It worked – I was unsubscribed and now I get very little spam.

      1. jag*

        Yeah, I don’t think the “never unsubscribe” idea is correct now. I believed it about 10 years ago and it might have been right at that time.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          It depends on the sender. If you are getting emails from Amazon or someone else you did business with or is a Huge Name on the internet, you can probably unsub safely. But if you have no idea how they got your address and/or they seem a little shady, Gene’s advice is golden.

          BTW, if you use Gmail, you have a very easy way of tracking who shared/sold your email address. Instead of giving Cheap Teapotz your regular email address (let’s say it’s for this exercise), use, and it will still get to you. You can put anything you like after the plus sign, and then filter by that later. Free customized addresses for everybody! And if you suddenly start getting spam for teapot pr0n at, you know who sold your address, and you can start filtering email to that extended address directly to the trash.

          1. hayling*

            But in a business context they are probably just pulling your name from LinkedIn or the company website, and figuring out your email based on that.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Actually, my email address is not available on LinkedIn to anyone who is not my first-degree contact, plus I have an address that I use only for LinkedIn, using a variant on my Gmail trick above. I’ve changed the address I used for LinkedIn exactly once due to spam, but that’s over almost 10 years, so I’m guessing one of my contacts had their account hacked. I also don’t have my work email address published anywhere publicly (I only use it for internal and client communications), and so I don’t get much spam there, either. My name isn’t actually easy to find in connection with my company; since I only work with one client, not the general public, there’s no need for me to be listed anywhere.

        2. Cautionary tail*

          For most things you are right. 10 years ago unsubscribe meant we got us a live one, but now generally they actually do unsubscribe.

          I’m still trying to figure out though how my auto mechanic got a disused email address of mine that I never give out so when he set up his website this week he included me in an email blast thanking me for giving him business. I unsubscribed immediately. So maybe unsubscribe actually does both: (1) it unsubscribes you from the current email list, and (2) it puts you on the list of people who can be sold to others to try to use.

          Flame shields UP.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          +1. I’ve done pretty well on my New Year’s resolution thus far of uncluttering my inbox by unsubscribing from most marketing emails!

          Also, one of my favorite tweets ever went something like, “Before you buy that cute jacket online, ask yourself: Are you ready to get an email every day for the rest of your life?”

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I have to ask myself this before I do business with certain retailers–because not only do I get emails, I get inundated with catalogs too. And if you have two shipping addresses (like home and work), they’ll go to both. I’m looking at you, Eddie Bauer.

          2. BRR*

            Subscribing to special deals is a lie. It’s always general sales on the website. I’m not falling for that one anymore.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          But, make sure it’s a real company, not just an email that looks a lot like it’s from a real company. Lots of people will be getting emails from what looks like Anthem in the next few weeks, and they are all fake.

    2. Koko*

      This is true for unscrupulous shady spammers, but not for legitimate marketers working for bona fide/above-board companies. There are SPAM laws that carry hefty fines for violations and most reputable companies follow them.

  3. Chocolate Teapot*

    2. I had to pay some taxes from an employee savings plan last year, which is made clear when you sign up. Even so, it was a shock to be informed by HR that I wasn’t going to receive any salary for a couple of months to cover it.

    Then it transpired HR law stated there couldn’t be a deduction of more than a certain percentage of salary over a longer period until the money was reimbursed.

    1. Star, Fate, and Pneuma*

      I agree that I’d tell HR that I needed to get my management in the loop on this. If HR says “no” … Wow, that would be incredibly suspicious. But I’ll bet that it really comes down to them not wanting it widely known that they screwed up.

      One other thing that comes to mind about paying back the money: make sure there are no tax consequences to you. Like, I think they probably will need to adjust / correct the salary information they report to the government. Plus maybe other stuff, that might vary based on your city and state. But the basic principle is simple: make real sure you won’t be liable for any additional taxes due to their mistake. If your company is large enough, they may assign a tax attorney to you to help work this out.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I hadn’t thought about that – if it was overpaying for 5 months, that means the bulk of it happened in 2014, but OP is going to be repaying it back in 2015. I agree, OP should ask the company to pay for a 3rd party to review the repayment plan and its tax implications – not just the in-house accounting department. OP should have a 2014 W-2 by now – what does it say for total compensation? Is it the amount actually paid, or the expected salary? Make sure that if it is the amount actually paid that the 2015 W-2 also reflects the amount actually paid, and that the repayment is coming out pre-tax, not post-tax.

        What a mess. I’m sorry OP. Maybe on the bright side they don’t want you telling anyone because they aren’t going to ask for the whole thing to be repaid but dont want you spreading that around?
        Or, on the negative side – maybe this happened to several employees, and they don’t want it to get out how widespread this screwup actually is. I think you would be fine with at least saying to your boss “I have to go meet with the payroll department, there was an error in my past checks and we are meeting to discuss how to fix it” is a reasonable way for OP to bring it up without getting into the details, and it may be telling whether boss says “oh, OK” or if she says, “ugh, you too – that’s been happening a lot around here”.

        1. Artemesia*

          My suspicious little heart thinks this is the reason. They have a major screwup and don’t want it known. The tax thing could be a real problem that costs the OP money.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Me too. And who knows if OP is the only one whose paycheck is a mess? Or if this is the result of other shenanigans with finances?

            OP, are you 100% sure that they in fact overpaid you?

          2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Yeah I worked at one place in the past where they made a major screw-up on dental benefits.

            I had enrolled my family in the dental program. My daughter started orthodontics, and then the good dentist calls me = “Mr. Anon, they do not have you being covered.” Are you sure? Yeah … OK

            I look at my paycheck, they’re taking the money out. I call my HR department, they said “oh maybe you’re not covered.”

            ” You are taking the money out of my check. So I am assuming you’re turning it over to the insurance company.” Reply = “Have him try again.”

            I said “Cut the ****. He tried three times. I called to verify my own coverage. Now, you have embarrassed me in my community. Can you come clean as to what’s happening?” She puts me on hold.

            Two minutes later she comes clean. “OK, OK, I’ll tell you what happened. There was a mix-up with the insurance company” — while blaming the insurance provider, she revealed that THEY had messed up big time. We filled out eligibility sheets, they transcribed the names electronically and sent them to the insurance company — who wanted the original forms.

            Funnier – two days later, we all received the dental insurance applications – again – with a nasty letter saying we filled them out incorrectly. But this will fix it.

            So they made a mistake. No the insurance company made a mistake. No, I made a mistake. No, every employee in the company made a mistake, uh, SOMEONE made a mistake. Yeah.

        2. Anna*

          There’s also that it’s a pretty significant overpayment and could cost someone their job if it gets around.

      2. Ilf*

        Yes, you need to be clear on the taxes. If they overpaid you in 2014, what did they report on the W2? And what payroll taxes they withheld? It’s not just about you paying them back. You need to file income taxes on the right amount, and the employer has to reimburse you for any extra payroll taxes they withheld. This – refiling – is not something you can do on your own. You need them to refile and and reimburse you, and not as payroll, so they don’t withhold payroll taxes on your reimbursement of over-payment of payroll taxes.
        This whole thing is tricky, and if your HR department don’t have it together enough not to overpay someone $10K, you can’t trust them that they’ll do this right. I suggest you find yourself a good CPA to help you with this.
        If you have a 401k and the match was wrong (calculated on incorrect base), that’s something to worry about too. There are rules as to how this should be fixed, and companies get this wrong often enough.

      3. Lipton Tea For Me*

        I would ask for a corrected W2 to show you didn’t make this money, as it should also show the corrected taxes taken out. Because if HR sest up a payment plan to pay it all back, you will still get hit for the taxes on that money. And if you have a corrected W2 even if it is at the end of repayment, you can always file an amended return as long as it is within 3 years of the original due date. And also, I think it would be a good idea as someone else mentioned to get a third party involved to make sure what HR is telling you is correct.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Oh wow! It’s many years after the fact, but I wonder if the law would have covered a somewhat-related situation that once happened with me. It was pretty rough at the time.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yeah, I am not a llama, but I feel like that would violate the minimum wage law. It could be said that you were being paid your full salary, then it was garnished to pay a debt, but since the debt was to the company, I wonder….

      1. fposte*

        As far as my understanding of stuff on the federal level goes, they can certainly cut your paycheck (it wouldn’t be garnishing, just cutting), but they can’t take it below minimum wage.

        However, states may have a different view. I just did a quick check for California and found an indication that this could be problematic there (“Unlawful to deduct from current payroll for past salary advances that were in error,” says one reference that I didn’t dig into); I don’t know if it’s as simple as getting the employee’s written consent to get around that. I think the OP should call her state’s DOL to find out if there are restrictions on what they’re allowed to do.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Oooh, good find on CA law. But I said it might violate minimum wage law because the OC (original comment) said “it was a shock to be informed by HR that I wasn’t going to receive any salary for a couple of months” (emphasis mine).

          But I can’t tell if the minimum wage would be considered gross pay before deductions, because you’re certainly allowed to pay exactly the minimum wage and then deduct taxes. I think from what Alison has said before, docking or garnishing can’t bring your gross below minimum wage, and you’re not allowed to dock pay without a prior agreement, because that is retroactively changing the rate for work that was already done. Now, in this case, the alternative is that the employer sues to recover the overpayment, so it’s in both their interests to work out a mutually agreed on repayment schedule.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I missed that. Yeah, I’m pretty sure you’re right and they can’t do that. It wouldn’t even matter whose fault it is–they can’t do it when deducting for breakage, for instance, either.

        2. AR*

          Definitely check your state laws on over payments. I know if WA state that the employer only has 90 days to detect an overpayment from the original pay date. The employer also has to write a letter to the employee for documentation and if it has been more than 90 days from the original over payment the company is for the most part out of luck and they can’t retaliate.
          I also worked with CA payroll previously and was informed that the company is out of luck if they overpay an employee.

      2. Chinook*

        “Yeah, I am not a llama, but I feel like that would violate the minimum wage law. It could be said that you were being paid your full salary, then it was garnished to pay a debt, but since the debt was to the company, I wonder….”

        I lived this nightmare – DH’s salary was fully garnished to cover an perceived overpayment (turned out the clerk didn’t understand the difference between 2 cars and 2nd car and thought he was paid twice for the same moving expense) and we learned of this accidentally the day before it was supposed to be paid and 2 days before rent was due. DH later was a clerk and learned it was perfectly legal (in Canada and atleast in the military) to not only fully garnish someone’s pay and that you don’t have to notify them of this garnishment beforehand (but it is considered nice if you do so).

        The exception to this rule is if there are deposits made to a second bank account (which most companies can allow you to do for up to 50% of your wages)- these cannot be garnished as they may be for court ordered payments (but not necessarily). Once we learned this nugget, we both set up our direct deposits so that one amount went to our regular account and the other portion to a “bill account” that had things like our mortgage payemnts automatically come out of. We do this now iregardless of who we work for if it is given as an option.

    4. HR Manager*

      Leaving an employee with zero pay is unreasonable in my opinion, especially if the scenario was an internal problem (i.e., company’s fault) and not the employee’s. A previous company had a rule that for small $ amounts, if it was our fault, employee got to keep the money. And even in very egregious situations (e.g., theft) we didn’t deduct it all back so that the employee had no last check. There is indeed state laws that apply to deductions and leaving reasonable amounts leftover for the employee. Most employers are (and should be) willing to work with you to set up a payment plan that works.

    5. BananaPants*

      My employer provides tuition benefits to employees that are sometimes considered non-taxable and sometimes considered a taxable fringe benefit. If your taxable educational expenses exceed the IRS threshold of $5250/year (which is very easy for graduate school), then the company withholds tax on the excess as reportable income from the remaining paychecks in the year.
      What gets you is that most who exceed the threshold will have that happen midyear or in the third quarter due to spring semester classes (and maybe summer) being under the threshold. By the time the company processes the additional withholding it’s a month or two after enrollment, so starting in October or November there can be a very significant hit to one’s paycheck on additional taxes withheld – on the order of thousands of dollars per month to make up the difference.

  4. Jillociraptor*

    OP 3, I also used to be a generic contact person for my organization. I got all kinds of weird, aggressive email messages all the time. We work with a constituency that lots of other organziations want to have access to, so in addition to sales pitches, I also got really unreasonable requests to blast out unrelated opportunities “to your email list.” (Which in our case is over 40,000 people. So, no, absolutely not.) For me, I had to get really clear on what my job was–and it wasn’t to share a random art contest with all my organization’s constituents. In fact, it was to protect my people’s contact information and privacy so they could focus on their own missions and actions. When you think about it that way, I found it helps me not feel bad about saying no, or just ignoring any messages I received that weren’t worth my or my organization’s time.

    On the other hand, I still get regular emails from a Ben Franklin impersonator/possible stripper which, frankly, just bring me too much joy to auto-rout to spam.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          He was quite the ladies man back in the day, but they also didn’t have electric lights back in the day, so maybe that had something to do with it.

          1. Mike C.*

            “In the dark, all cats are grey”.

            Google that very phrase, and you’ll find a letter written by Mr. Franklin discussing with a young man all the advantages of having an affair with an older woman.

            I’m not kidding, it’s amazing reading.

              1. Old Admin*

                This is greatness.
                I’ve read various things Benjamin Franklin, and this is *brilliant*.
                And *ahem* rather true. :D

          1. the gold digger*

            He definitely had the mind and the wit to engage someone’s attention. That, by itself, can be very sexy! (And even more sexy – what if he actually asked the women what they thought about things? That is super seductive.)

            But if I were going to see a Ben Franklin impersonator, that’s the part I would want – the brilliance and the humor. Do they have strippers who don’t take off their clothes but actually try to seduce the mind instead?

            1. I'm a Little Teapot*

              Asking women what they thought of things must have been especially sexy in the 18th century, seeing as women weren’t considered fully rational creatures and couldn’t go to university or vote.

        2. Chinook*

          “Why would anyone – based on the images I have seen – want to see Ben Franklin naked”

          From what I have heard, the people aroudn him may not have had much of an option not to see him naked (as he was a nudist/naturalist – atleast in Europe)

          I wonder if that hobby had anythign to do with his invention of bifocals and a better stove?

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Guys, I think I Beetlejuiced Ben Franklin back into my inbox as I got another message this very morning. It included a photo of Ben with a heart-shaped box of candy, and the copy: “Dost thou love life? Don’t squander time for that’s the stuff life is made of. Engage BEN FRANKLIN to make your next Event Memorable.”

  5. Konrad Korzenowski*

    #1: when I was 21 years old, my summer employer would sometimes send me to Chicago to work on a customer’s systems, and I would often choose to sleep on an office couch instead of walking several blocks on the mean streets of Chi-town at 2am to get back to the sleazy hotel they put me up in.

    In truth, I had a blast. I had free run of most of a 30 story office building (of which about half was undergoing renovation) all night long. Have you ever stood with your toes On edge of a sheer 30 story drop at night, with the lights of the city spread out before you all the way to the horizon? It’s spectacular.

    Some nights I *did* walk back to the hotel. And I met quite an interesting assortment of people out on the streets, even at 2 and 3AM. I don’t think they knew what to make of me: I was a tall goofy white kid with really long hair who was happy to share his cigarettes. I probably looked too poor to be worth robbing.

    In retrospect: I was quite lucky I wasn’t killed: the misc hookers and hustlers and alcoholics and low-lifes at street level were all remarkably mellow. But wandering around alone in skyscraper construction areas 20 or 25 stories up, in the dark? I’d probably not do it again.

    But getting back to OP1’s husband: I’d be curious if there are any special circumstances that might possibly explain the couch accommodations? If it’s simply a matter of a chintzy employer cheaping out on a room, that’s one thing. But it might be some kind of gonzo adventure thing. Flying in on a red-eye in the middle of the night to handle a crit-sit can build camaraderie, enhance your reputation, get your name known widely, *and* it can make you look really good in your bosses eyes.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      “Have you ever stood with your toes on edge of a sheer 30 story drop at night, with the lights of the city spread out before you all the way to the horizon?”

      No…and I hope I never do.

      The lights of the city part sounds cool, but I could see that from the red-eye.

      (Not to judge you. I did some probably inadvisable stuff in my youth too. But I’m always amazed by people who don’t seem to have any fear of death or injury.)

  6. SJP*

    OP 2 – I am so sorry that you’re having to deal with this, especially as it is your employers mistake and that it will cause hardship for you.
    I don’t know how others feel but it seems like in the end, you’re having to pay for their mistake!
    If only the law made it that if it wasn’t your mistake, you don’t have to pay it back.
    I’d also suggest that if you are thinking about looking for another job, I would. And when asked a reason for leaving, or if they don’t ask you, tell them – “I’m leaving due to the mistake by accounting. I had to suffer hardship due to accounts incompetence and it left a really bad taste in my mouth about the whole company and how if they can’t organise and get right something as important as someone’s wages, it makes me serious wonder what else you’re getting wrong”
    Yes you run the risk of losing that reference but it might make them serious reconsider who is looking after something like this.
    We go to work to make money to live, not do it for the fun of it, so for them to cock this up and you have to live differently because of their mistake would, and as i’m sure you’d gather from this comment, it evidentially has got under my skin.
    I wholeheartedly sympathise with you

    1. MK*

      Here’sthe thing though: either the OP has been living it up considerably for the past or this money just stayed in their account. It’s not exactly fair to say they should simply keep it, though of course they must not suffer any additional hardship.

      1. Misc*

        Not…. really. $9000/5 months is about $414 a week. If their base pay is a lot higher than that, then it wouldn’t have had a noticeable effect on their lifestyle. If it’s around the same amount, then they aren’t earning enough to ‘live it up’ anyway! It could all have gone into a mortgage, or on decentish food they couldn’t otherwise have afforded, or sure, a giant wardrobe of clothes. But people’s spending habits are likely to reflect the amount they earn. Spending an appropriate amount based on your bank account is not the same thing as running up a massive credit card debt while cackling about how you’re stealing the company’s money.

        Besides which:

        They’re not just losing the ‘bonus’ money. They’re losing the paycheck they’ve been getting *AND* having money taken out; so it’s a double or triple whammy. Even if they’d been spending within their normal paycheck, that still affects them.

        Also, on the living it up thing:

        People with money can save up to buy stuff. People without money just save up things to buy, so any time they get money, it all goes on the backlog of stuff that’s been needed for ages (I’ve watched this happen in my own life over the last few years. If your spending increases, or your income decreases, enough, then suddenly you’re always playing catchup and it’s very easy to lose track of money. Because you’re not looking at a pile of savings, you’re looking at all the stuff you haven’t managed to pay for yet. Which sure, could be stupid stuff like ‘yet another trip to Vegas’. Or it could be ‘the first trip to the dentist in years’ or ‘the cat’s flea treatment’ or ‘that bit for the car’, or ‘paying off the power bill’.

        The idea that it ‘just stayed in their account’ just seems incredibly… privileged.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Oh, yeah! I just recently purchased, from my stuff backlog, one non-raggedy-ass couch/loveseat set. I’ve been wanting non-raggedy-ass furniture for a long time! :-)

            1. Kelly L.*

              The biggest thing on mine right now is a new laptop. I have a technically functional one, but it’s Methuselah in computer years, and has some…issues.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Arrrrgghhhh me too. I just had to pay for a dryer repair and now will have to replace the keyboard in my laptop. Which might end up as a payment for a computer repair, if I bork it up. And a loo renovation upcoming….urgh. The list goes on.

            I usually check my paycheck each time, so I’m pretty sure I’d notice if it were some $400 above normal . Even though it’s not the OP’s fault that the company screwed up, it’s pretty important to do that, for reasons we’ve seen here. I hope it gets worked out.

            1. Kyrielle*

              My paychecks auto-deposit, and the “pay stub” is online on a separate account I have to log into if I want to see.

              I check it periodically, but no, I don’t check it regularly/each time, because it’s such a bloody pain.

              This thread is making me incredibly paranoid about that…..

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, I noticed the error on mine not because I checked the stub but because no new money went into my retirement account. That’s actually an easier interface than viewing my paycheck.

        1. Em*

          But the thing is, if the extra pay over the 5 months wasn’t significant enough for the OP to question it, then you wouldn’t think repayment over 10 months wouldn’t be a “significant hardship.” The company absolutely screwed up, but the employee should have noticed it on their own and said something a lot sooner. You can’t put all the blame on the company for something that lasted this long.

          1. Jeff A*

            This was my thought exactly. Holy hell, that comes out to over $20k a year in a salary bump that you DIDN’T NOTICE FOR FIVE MONTHS?!?! And now the repayment plan they’re requesting is unreasonable to you? Something doesn’t add up here, and I suspect it’s not just the OP’s accounting department that’s suspect in this situation.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Hey, wait. Plenty of people don’t notice this kind of thing but still would have a problem with needing to pay back $1000/month. This is unwarranted and not in keeping with the way I’d like us to talk to letter-writers here.

        2. Cat*

          The other issue is that presumably taxes were withheld from this overpayment. OP should get them back eventually but in the meantime is reimbursing money she never even saw.

          1. Spiky Plant*

            But, like, OP doesn’t get that money back… I mean, they’ll probably get a tiny bit of it since a $9K overpayment likely put you in a slightly different tax bracket, but the tax consequences of this are really not going to be crippling, either way. It’s a marginal different. He/she would have eventually paid taxes on all those earnings.

            1. Cat*

              The point is that if taxes were withheld on the overpayment, the OP is going to be responsible for reimbursing the company an amount that was withheld but which OP has not yet gotten refunded from the federal government–i.e., money they’ve never seen.

        3. MK*

          “Incredibly privileged” is what I would describe spending 400 dollars every week for months without even noticing. I didn’t mean to say that the OP was living in luxury for 5 months, but if they did spend that money. If it was in loan payments, they are now ahead in their repayment, if they went to the dentist or paid a car expense, they have covered this and it’s no longer on their to-do list. They have received a benefit.

          1. BRR*

            I didn’t interpret living it up as buying multiple houses and expensive cars. But with that extra money I could relax a little about the luxuries I cut out to keep to a budget. Let’s remember not to nitpick language.

          2. Cat*

            Putting extra money toward the principle of a loan doesn’t delay your repayment obligation going forward though. Or the OP might have chosen something like rent or a child care provider based on what she thought her salary was. There’s a million possibilities here.

            1. tesyaa*

              I’m sure the OP made an innocent mistake (not being snarky, and I can understand how she thought it was a raise), but no one would not notice if they were underpaid to the tune of $400 per week.

              In any event, $400 per week is quite a substantial raise for most people. If I saw that level of increase with no real explanation, I’d inquire.

              1. Cat*

                I’m sure there’s someone out there that would not notice being underpaid $400/week. Some people aren’t math oriented and some people are used to not questioning authority. Regardless, I just don’t like this idea that if an individual did something that isn’t 100% unimpeachable in every way, we need to make sure they’re aware that every thing that happens to them after that is totally their fault. We don’t; the company messed up and it’s going to cause a problem for the OP, and there’s really no reason not to be compassionate.

                1. tesyaa*

                  It’s clearly not her fault, and it’s up to the company to work with her so this has the least traumatic impact as possible on her. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

                2. OhNo*

                  Allow me to state for the record: there is someone who would not notice being underpaid, and that person is me. Last year I didn’t get paid for one of my jobs for two months straight, and I didn’t notice for ages because I’m so used to constantly being broke that it didn’t strike me as odd to not have any money in my bank account.

                  Let’s not assume what people would and wouldn’t notice and just say that it should never have fallen on the OP to *have* to notice this kind of thing – the company should never have made this mistake in the first place. But now the damage is done, and the OP has to suffer because of an accounting mix-up.

                  In my opinion, the very least the company can do is be flexible about the repayment amount per month, and work with the OP to come up with a plan that is compatible with the OP’s budget.

                3. Cat*

                  Oh No, after I left my initial comment, I was reminded that someone once told me they didn’t notice for 6 months that their $5k bonus hadn’t been direct deposited into their account. I would have noticed that, sure, but it definitely happens.

                4. neverjaunty*

                  Seriously. Can we take it as read that we are all intelligent, careful people with amazing financial and interpersonal skills and thus do not need to assure ourselves of those things by beating up on LWs?

                5. MK*

                  This not about being responsible or having financial skills; it’s about spending. How can someone who regularly spends X amount of money not notice that they are spending X plus 400? For the average person that’s a significant increase.

                  And this is not a case of thinking you got a raise.

              2. CEMgr*

                I would not notice for months any underpayment of that size. My cushion is a lot larger and I rarely check the numbers.

          3. fposte*

            It wouldn’t have been $400 per week net, though. There’d be taxes taken out (which, as Cat points out, are going to be a PITA to get reimbursed for), and if the OP is contributing a percentage to her retirement plan that would have come out too.

            This may be luckier than some, but I don’t think it’s incredible privilege, and I do think it’s plausible that it wasn’t noticed as an error if there were other changes going on.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Also, if they knew they got a merit increase and it was expressed in percentage, and they didn’t really have a sense of how much money that meant, they may well have thought the amount of the increase seemed reasonable. Since it happened when merit increases were being done – if you know you got a merit increase and you don’t really know what X% looks like after social security and income tax and 401k and medical and dental and all the other withholdings – you might just have thought “okay, cool, that’s what my paycheck looks like after the raise”.

              Especially if the after-tax difference was maybe $200, which seems more likely from a $400 total.

              1. themmases*

                Not only that, at my old company and I’m sure many others annual raises go into effect at the same time as that year’s benefit elections. Not only were there several different programs (e.g. health, dental, transit, FSA), they were a mix of pre- and post-tax and many had different levels that might change from year to year. Many people in the US had their health insurance options change in the last couple of years, and at some places they change often. Figuring all that out, plus taxes, can make it very confusing to predict what your paycheck should be after a raise– in addition, of course, to making the real difference to you much less than $400. I think if a person were expecting their paycheck to change anyway but they weren’t 100% sure how it would shake out, it’s reasonable to take the fact that the first couple were consistent to mean that this is their take-home pay now that all the changes have been accounted for.

                If the problem were with OP’s hourly rate, then they may also have earned this money as overtime and had no expectation that their paycheck would always be the same.

              2. Lipton Tea For Me*

                If it was a merit increase to a new annual amount, I wouldn’t have any idea what the amount is I am supposed to get on my check after they take everything else out. You have to remember, payroll is usually the only entity that knows the percentages they have to take out for federal, state or local taxes, and then there are union dues, medical, dental, IRA, 401k, FSA, short term disability and the list goes on. So if one does not get a merit increase that shows a new hourly wage, most of us just trust that we got the raise.

            2. Cat*

              And the retirement deduction brings up another issue, which is: can you withdraw money that was mistakenly deposited in your 401(k) without penalty? What a mess.

          4. Bend & Snap*

            By the time it hit my paycheck, $400 a week gross would be like 5 dollars after taxes where I live. I might not notice.

            1. Anx*

              I live in the US, and it really is. Dentists won’t start doing work on your teeth until you get an x-ray, which jacks up the price. You also have to have a few hundred dollars cushion for any unexpected costs.

              I got a letter this year saying I had an appointment at a clinic that I signed up for over 3 years ago (I’ve since moved away).

        4. Patricia Vasquez*

          I can only speak for myself, but I would have almost certainly caught this. Simply because online banking – like toilet paper – is one of the least appreciated miracles of our age. I check my accounts at least once a day.

          And …. if this had happened to me, the money would have stayed in my accounts. It’s not a matter of privilege. Its a matter of discipline: my household runs at a comfortable, but rather lower, standard of living than we need to, because we put a priority on savings. I have a decent job that pays well, but I’m certainly not a 1%er, nor do I have his & hers jetskis in the garage.

          Having said that, I believe the OP was thrown off because they had reason to believe they were due for a legitimate bonus of some kind. I can see that happening to almost anyone: I think it is relatively rare for somone to see a juicy (but expected) pay increase in their check and immediately pull up a calculator and figure out if it’s correct.

          And finally, the cynic in me thinks that if you called HR / payroll / accounting to talk to someone because you think your paycheck is too big, that probably goes right to the very bottom of their to-do list.

            1. Patricia Vasquez*

              I was responding to the comment by Misc, which is rather far above.

              Long story short: I’ve worked hard for many years and made a number of conscious decisions – some of them difficult – so that my family and myself have savings and investments and could easily deal with this kind of a hit on our finances. But our savings are most certainly not a matter of “privilege”. That’s all.

          1. A Teacher*

            I live at a pretty low standard of living too, but I’ve also incurred $3000 in unexpected vet bills for my dog, student loans that were jacked up 3 times last year, $2000 in car repairs, and my dishwasher went out. I can’t afford to pay for all of that at the drop of a hat, if you can, awesome, but that’s not everyone and its not because I frivolously spend money either.

        5. SherryD*

          “People with money can save up to buy stuff. People without money just save up things to buy, so any time they get money, it all goes on the backlog of stuff that’s been needed for ages”

          Off topic now, but thanks for that! What a clear and succinct way to describe that situation.

          1. Hlyssande*

            As an addendum to that, the Samuel Vimes (from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books) theory of socioeconomic injustice explains this in a perfect fashion.

            “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

            Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

            But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

            This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

            You can see this in action with cars especially. If you can only afford a crap junker car for cheap, you’re going to spend so, so much more on repairs than someone who can afford to buy a brand new car or a used car in good condition.

            Being poor (or even lower middle class) is so much more expensive than being rich. There’s always something falling apart, always something you put off until you can afford it.

            1. LizB*

              I love this passage so much — it’s stuck in my memory since the first time I read it, and I think about it every time I buy another crappy pair of $10 canvas sneakers that are going to fall apart in three months. If I had the extra cash, I would buy higher quality shoes (and more pairs of them, so I wouldn’t use them as heavily)… but I don’t, so I end up spending more in the long run.

            2. Anna*

              I actually use the Sam Vimes comparison when talking to people about economic differences. I had just forgotten where I got it!

            3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              Yes, my father did not believe in buying a dependable vehicle. And we wound up putting the garage mechanic’s kid through college. I swore I would never live like that as long as I could plan accordingly. In other topics I referred to a job that paid so lowly I had to live that way.

              Then I figured out *I DIDN’T HAVE TO LIVE THAT WAY* – and made plans not to.

        6. Koko*

          It’s nearly $2 grand a month extra she got for 5 months, and now she’s being asked to repay $1 grand a month for 9 months. If she didn’t feel an extra $2 grand per month, while I certainly can easily understand that a $1 grand repayment is a shock and will take some belt-tightening to meet, it’s basically half of the amount she didn’t notice coming in.

          I also suspect her salary must be rather high to begin with if an extra $1800 a month went unnoticed. A $60,000 salary (median) is $5,000 gross per month, so $1800 a month is an extra 36% more money. So her salary is likely quite above the median, which means she’s probably not in the class of people who are struggling to get through a backlog of needed items, and she is probably more likely to have access to low-interest credit or to have savings. Not saying it’s a sure thing – but seems more statistically probable.

          1. Anna*

            I’m glad you’re able to figure that out based on absolutely no information on what the OP’s salary is. Are you able to discern what I’m able to pay based on this comment?

      2. Ed*

        I would personally notice that amount but maybe not a smaller amount. An extra $150-200 a week could sneak by me. I get an email every two weeks that says “A deposit of more than $1 has entered your account” (or something like that). I honestly don’t look any further. I make a lot more than I spend so I don’t carefully track my money on a weekly or even monthly basis. But I’ll look everything over maybe once a quarter or so. The only time I look closely is after yearly raises kick in to verify I’m getting it and to see what my new bi-weekly salary will be. I once started an hourly job and was being underpaid by $2 an hour for a couple of months before I noticed. Most people would think that is very irresponsible as well.

    2. doreen*

      In my opinion, “companies” and “employers” don’t make mistakes. They set policies. If there is a policy not to pay people for the time after the store closed, that’s on the company. If a payroll clerk makes an incorrect entry resulting in the same effect, that’s the payroll clerk’s mistake. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the company asking the letter writer not to talk about it, I can’t help but wonder about the opposite letter, the one where someone writes in about how they made a big mistake that affected payroll and now the whole company is talking about it.

    3. Graciosa*

      I sympathize with the OP as well, and I strongly believe the OP’s manager needs to be involved. However, I really disagree with your advice about what to have the OP tell prospective future employers.

      People make mistakes. There is probably a person somewhere who entered the raise information incorrectly – transposed a couple numbers or misplaced a comma or mistook a smudgy three for an eight or whatever. A single person making a single mistake does not raise this to the level of organizational incompetence which would cause a reasonable person to flee the company, and I would question the judgment of an applicant who thought it did.

      1. BRR*

        To me it’s not a deal breaker either. There are so many other things to consider such as is the pay good overall, how is your manager, how are your coworkers (minus payroll and HR), how’s your commute, how is your work life balance. I would question the company if they did keep the person who made this mistake though (even a small mistake like a wrong number can cause big implications).

      2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Yes. If an applicant said this to me, I’d be thinking about mistakes I’ve made and how they are likely to be unhappy if they expect things like this to never happen.

      3. TOC*

        I disagree, as well. Saying this makes the OP look hot-headed, or bitter, or like someone who overreacts.

        I don’t blame the OP if she wants to leave the job because of how this incident was handled. It would probably cross my mind, too. But Alison often advises that badmouthing former employers makes the candidate look bad.

      4. SJP*

        Apologies, I should have been more clear. I didn’t mean tell the prospective employers, I meant when you hand in your notice managers/HR often ask what made you decide to leave and I mean when they do that or an exit interview that they mentioned that

        1. Kyrielle*

          Which is better than telling the new employer, but still burns a bridge. Honestly, even if the OP leaves over this, being as gracious as possible about it will cement the OP as “that person who handled themselves really professionally when we screwed up their pay” in the minds of anyone reasonable and aware of it. (Such as their manager, whom they like, assuming they make their manager aware of the situation.)

      5. Colette*

        And if the OP finds another job tomorrow, that actually makes her situation worse, not better, because she still owes the company that money.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, God, I didn’t even think of that. Though I’d like to think the company would have sense enough to realize it’s in their interests to keep her very happy until the money’s paid back–it’d be a PITA to sue her for it once she was gone.

    4. Iro*

      I think a major factor we are overlooking is that the increased pay came at the time of merit raises, so depending on how the company does merit raises it could be perfectly reasonable to assume that the employee thought this was suppose to be their new salary.

      That being said, any time I get an unexpected raise I reach out directly to payroll to ensure it was suppose to be there, and then I save the “yes it’s correct” email and share it with my supervisor. Not sure if it would technically protect me though if the person I reached out to was wrong…..

  7. Cake Wad*

    #2: I wonder if they want you to keep the overpayment quiet because it happened to many others in the company as well. If everyone else keeps it quiet too, then no one will know how big a mistake it really is.

    1. Sharon*

      That’s kind of what I was thinking. They just don’t want to be publicly embarrassed. I’m fine with the request to keep quiet if this is the case.

      1. Anna*

        But that’s not legal, no matter what the motivation for asking the OP to keep to themselves. And on top of that, the OP should absolutely have someone else to talk to about this. Potential embarrassment is not enough of a reason to keep things quiet in a case like this.

  8. little Cindy Lou who*

    Re #3

    I sometimes get sales/vendor emails about products and services, or cold calls from outside my org that subseqently try to ask me to transfer them. For the calls I just say that I’m not at liberty to discuss/help or that I’m not the right contact but don’t know who would be, either. (Yes, it’s playing dumb, but it’s CYA since I really don’t have the authority to discuss these things and this is what my manager has asked that I do). For emails I usually just hit the delete key, particularly for things I’ve clearly been put on a list for. If a vendor makes a personal outreach to me, they get the same result as the phone conversation would. I don’t get a ton of either, but once every couple of weeks it pops up.

    If you do want to and have the authority to work with vendors, maybe either establish a designated folder to collect those emails until you get a chance/need to review, and establish a process for vendors reaching out by phone (eg you can state that you’d prefer they email you first and if you’re interested you’ll follow up, or you’ll take their information once but you’d prefer to contact them if you need what they offer, so can they mark in your account record to not call you, etc, and maybe even let repeat call offenders know that overly aggressive sales tactics give you a poor impression of the vendor, and reiterate that you’ll call them if you are interested). For the particularly onerous mailing lists you can set up mailbox rules to mark as spam or delete unread upon receipt until you unsuscribe.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes – don’t let these take up a ton of your time. Create a folder, and use filtering rules to move messages that are repeat offenders there, then do a quick scan once or twice a day to make sure no legit messages are winding up in that folder. Alternately, do the opposite – create a filter that moves all mail from people within your company (so all email addresses of company. com) and all people you actually need to respond to. You may even be able to filter by contact book groups depending on what email program you use. It takes time to set up, but once you have figured out a system, you will be spending a lot less time on these unimportant messages and have more time to deal with the important ones.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      For the calls I just say that I’m not at liberty to discuss/help or that I’m not the right contact but don’t know who would be, either.

      Hah, I used to do that with walk-in salespeople. “Do you have an appointment with someone? No? Oh, I’m not sure who handles that; if you leave your brochures I’ll try and find out and get them to him/her.” We got a LOT of those at Exjob. They’d drive around the industrial park just knocking on doors, so to speak. Very pushy sometimes–no, you’re not going to bug people and if we don’t call you, we don’t want it.

  9. PEBCAK*

    #5 — If you don’t actually have a business license (or whatever your state requires) to operate as “Jane Doe Consulting,” I would consider this lying.

    1. Judy*

      At least in my state, you can operate a single proprietorship without registering as an LLC (which costs only $75 for the filing, so not sure why you wouldn’t want that extra protection).

      1. Burlington*

        However, in many states, if you use a business name that is anything other than your own actual name (even just adding Inc or Consulting after it), you trigger a registration requirement.

    2. HR Manager*

      This. There is a distinct process of incorporating your own company and truly being an independent contractor vs just temping or doing side work on your own. In some occasions, temping vs consulting matters. In many cases, it doesn’t so why go through the work of trying to trump up your experience to more than it is. Just comes off as dishonest to me.

      1. Lipton Tea For Me*

        Also the tax implications for a corporation as opposed to a sole proprietor are vastly different, don’t borrow trouble that you don’t need!

    3. cuppa*

      Yeah, I kind of feel the same way. I think it might be better to list it as “Independent Consulting” or “[Name], Consultant” (where it’s more like you and a title than a business name).

    4. Dynamic Beige*

      In Ontario, you can operate a business under your own name without needing a business licence, provided it is just yourself — no employees. Someone who does the same thing I do calls them self Their Name Design and to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have a problem depositing cheques to their personal chequing account. If you want to call yourself Chocolate Teapot Design, though, you would need a business licence and business banking account.

      However, if you’re trying to prove to another person that you have been working for yourself for a period of time and you don’t have a website or portfolio of work that shows a continuity of projects, that is another story. In this day and age, it seems if you don’t have a webpage or something online (LinkedIn profile) that confirms you are who you claim to be, people just won’t trust a piece of paper. I think for some people, a listing of self employed still translates to “unemployed and couldn’t find a job so I’m saying this to cover a gap”.

  10. BRR*

    #2 I wonder if they want you to keep it quiet because somebody higher up doesn’t know of it. I would definitely tell your manager. Anyways this sucks. What law requires you pay it back (not suggesting you don’t, I’m just curious)? I also wonder how the OP didn’t notice. If it was such a large amount that it will be difficult to pay back so it should have also been a substantial pay increase.

    #3 If it’s truly spam I just delete it. If it’s a product in my field I typically reply “Thank you for reaching out to me, we are not interested at this time. If in the future we would like to try your product we will contact you.”

    1. jag*

      Right – ignore bogus spam. Legit cold contacts should get a short, clear response – that’s actually a service to them as well to stop wasting their time with you/your company.

      1. BRR*

        That’s what I try and convey, don’t waste either of our time but we our somebody at my company might legitimately be interested as some point so don’t kill the relationship.

  11. Graciosa*

    I kind of disagree with the advice to check with potential recipients about forwarding messages, although perhaps it could work if you made it a general question – not “Shall I forward you the solicitation from company X?” but rather “I get a lot of unsolicited email with product solicitations in your area. I delete mine, but I would be happy to forward yours in the future if these are the types of things you want to review yourself. What is your preference?”

    I think spending the time to ask every time is an enormous waste of your time, and not likely the highest value you can be contributing to the company. Seriously, if these were legitimate contacts, don’t you think that the sender would know the recipient? Sorry – I may be overreacting because I hate these things, and prefer to eliminate the pestilence from my inbox as soon as possible.

    However if you want to ask, I suggest asking no more than once and establishing a general rule for that recipient to at least saving you from asking every time. I can’t imagine anyone saying yes, I want more spam at every opportunity, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

  12. GigglyPuff*

    I know there are probably plenty of different ways to make this mistake in payroll, but I feel like they don’t want it getting out, because maybe the mistake was, they gave it to the wrong employee, and don’t want to give a “retroactive” merit raise to the person who was supposed to get the money, and deal with that entire mess.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      I think those are much easier to deal with, though. In most payroll systems you enter the new compensation amount, enter the as-of date, and the system should handle the rest for you, including payroll taxes and all the rest of it.

      If someone else was due that raise and didn’t get it, it will suck for them though, because if the retroactive pay is all given at one time, there will be a HUGE chunk of taxes withheld from it.

      1. Burlington*

        Eh, I’ve used ADP, and at least the way we used it it doesn’t pro-rate. I give it an amount to pay per pay period, and if I want to prorate it or add back pay, I have to calculate that myself (though not taxes, just gross).

        But it is much, much easier to pay someone extra than it is to take away money from overpayment.

  13. Meg Murry*

    Am I the only person that read letter #2 and thought – “Oh crud, I should go check the online paystub portal and make sure my paycheck is correct?”

    I will admit to being one of the people that checks my bank account online to make sure my paycheck was direct deposited, but I only look at the $ and think “yeah, that looks about right” – I don’t always double check the online paystub portal to make sure the total amount is correct and the correct amount has been taken out for my HSA/FSA, taxes, health insurance, etc. I always used to give these things at least a quick scan back in the day when someone handed me a paper paystub (even when the money was direct deposited) – but I’m not as careful about it now with electronic paystubs that require me to remember a separate special login.

    1. Em*

      I can’t imagine not noticing several hundred dollars more than usual in my deposit, though. This would have been more than $800 before taxes on a biweekly paycheck.

      1. De Minimis*

        The case where it happened at my work place involved one of the higher paid people, and, well, I hate to say it but they earn so much money [well into the six figures] that they probably don’t bother to pay any attention to it.

      2. fposte*

        Whereas mine is awfully variable throughout the year. I did notice once last year when they screwed up a big retirement deduction, but it was a new one so I was on the lookout; I couldn’t swear I’d notice ordinarily.

    2. Penny Payroll*

      I do payroll for a small company and I am constantly amazed at how many people have no idea of what they earn, how much they have deducted or what they pay for benefits. For several years here in NY we had to hand out statements every year with salary info (that law’s been repealed. yay!) There were always a few employees who would read the statement and tell me that it was incorrect – that was not their salary, or hand it back in with a correction – and I would be -“nooo – that is your correct salary, you’ve been getting paid that amount for the last year.” Then there are the employees who after 3 years come and ask me what OASDI is and why they are taking their money. :)

      1. Artemesia*

        I never paid attention to the monthly deposit or check but I did carefully review the annual statement. I assumed all businesses provided an annual statement. I wonder why the law in your state was dropped.

        1. Penny Payroll*

          Every pay stub has the info on it and every employee is given a statement at hire (by same law) giving pay info – day of pay; cycle of payroll, rate and overtime rate if non-exempt. The part of the law that was repealed had required all employers to deliver a form to each employee by Feb 1 (actually 2 copies, as one had to be signed and returned and the other kept by the employee). It was redundant, onerous and costly. It was part of The Wage Theft Prevention Act – ’cause in good ole NY employers are bad, bad, bad…

      2. the gold digger*

        employees who would read the statement and tell me that it was incorrect – that was not their salary

        That’s what I wanted to do after I got my first paycheck at my first job out of college. I had divided $20,000 by 26 pay periods and I knew how much money should be in that check.

        It was a lot less than (20,000/26). A lot.

        That was when I understood why people complain about taxes.

      3. Burlington*

        For real! I did payroll, and several times a year people would ask me things like “how come my dentist doesn’t think I have dental insurance?!” “Well, because you specifically declined dental insurance during the last open enrollment and the deductions stopped coming out of your check 8 months ago.”

        Also, very few people could tell you their annual gross salary when asked. I was totally floored by that. And nobody knows how to fill out a W-4, and are all angry when they owe taxes, because that MUST be payroll’s fault, not theirs… sigh. People, check yo stubs!

    3. Mike C.*

      The thing I’ve always had to deal with was varied exempt/nonexempt overtime pay schedules, weird hours and employers who would give you a raise but not tell you about it. That makes it rather hard to keep track of what your real pay should be.

    4. Anonicorn*

      The two months I get a third check without the health insurance taken out is always confusing and then exciting for me.

      1. sam*

        I loved when I worked for a “pay every two weeks” employer rather than a “pay twice a month” employer. It’s the same amount of money at the end of the year, but those two “extra” paychecks twice a year were like “found money” because I otherwise lived and budgeted on two checks a month. Those two extra checks essentially became my vacation fund each year.

        The “pay twice a month” does have one perk – knowing that I’m always going to get paid the day before I have to pay my mortgage. Not always the case with the other system :)

    5. HR Manager*

      Having led new hire orientation for years, I always tell employees this on day 1. And it’s amazing how many don’t (I admit I don’t always follow my own advice either).

      But especially in times of salary changes or as a new employee – it is incredibly important to make sure they got things right. We’re all human, including payroll admins. I’ve had employees come and tell me their pay hasn’t been correct for the first 3 months of work, and they just noticed. :s

      1. Burlington*

        Yep. When I ran payroll, every month I’d send an email saying “Pay stubs are on your desks or in the mail. Please, CHECK YOUR PAYSTUBS to make sure that your pay and deductions are correct, and let me know if you have any questions.” And there’d STILL be employees who, say, just noticed that their dental payments had continued to deduct for 7 months after they’d declined to renew their dental plan. That’s a line item that says DENTAL, for pete’s sake! Even when there’s no math involved, some people just have no idea what’s going on with their pay.

        1. jag*

          “Even when there’s no math involved, some people just have no idea what’s going on with their pay.” I don’t. I don’t care enough to look at every stub.

  14. Cautionary tail*

    Op #3,

    I used to get unsolicited cold calls all the time at ex-job. I got so many phone calls that I had to abandon my desk phone so that it became a spam-call honeypot catcher and I solely used my mobile phone for business.

    Your mileage may vary on how well this could work for you.

  15. De Minimis*

    #2–We had this happen for an extended period with someone at my job. It literally went on over a year before they realized the employee was being overpaid. He was a medical provider and they routinely got a lot of market based pay and bonuses so I guess there was confusion over his actual regular pay rate. I don’t know the details, but they didn’t make any attempt to get repayment. From what I hear, the mistake was that one pay period he got what was supposed to be a small bonus, and for whatever reason, he started getting that amount added as part of his regular paycheck. The mistake wasn’t caught until the following year.

    That’s what happens when you have all these basic functions split up between different facilities in different locations, but that’s just part of a government job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s no thread-jacking allowed here, but you’re welcome to post this on Friday’s open thread if you’d like to. (I realize that the question may not be able to wait until then, but I don’t allow unrelated comments because the comment section is already so long as it is and can make it harder to follow the conversation here.)

      I remove any replies to threadjacks as well, and would appreciate regular readers’ help in not encouraging them! Thank you.

  16. Allison*

    #4, agreed, once you finish college, anything you did in high school is irrelevant. Heck, five years after college I’d consider most of what you did in college irrelevant as well. There may be opportunities to mention it in an interview, and you could get away with mentioning it on your LinkedIn, but it doesn’t belong on your resume at this point.

    #5, employers are sometimes hesitant to talk to applicants who appear to be in business for themselves, and they’re unlikely to proactively reach out to people who appear to be consultants. It may impress some people, but I think a lot of employers may wonder if you’re a suitable candidate for full-time employment.

    1. Iro*

      I do not understand the idea that people should just stop including jobs, just because they were completed in college. I mean it’s one thing if it is completely unrelated to you current work, but why erase 2 – 4 years of employment history just because it happened “in college” if it’s relevant to your current work? Sure you have “more recent history” but until you reach the 10+ years of experience mark I think it’s premature to start deleteing ‘older’ jobs and it’s a surefire way to be underpaid for your experience level.

      Also everything I’ve read about LinkedIn has said to include EVERYTHING in your employment history to make your profile as robust as possible.

      1. Allison*

        My initial comment was unclear, jobs in college (internships, co-ops, maybe part-time roles) don’t need to be eliminated if they’re relevant and you don’t have that much experience beyond them yet. I was more referring to the clubs, Greek houses, coursework, etc. that people continue to include long after college. If you just graduated, the stuff you did in college is a big part of defining who you are as a potential employee. Once you’ce started your career and you have a few years under your belt, employers probably* don’t care that you were a Kappa, or that you took a course in Constitutional Law, or that you made an iPhone app for your senior project.

        *probably is the key word here, there are exceptions to every rule and there are cases where that stuff might deserve mention, but even when I’m sourcing for an associate level accountant, I care about their accounting experience, not what courses they took in college.

      2. A Reader*

        Employment history and resume are very different.

        When applying to a company they really aren’t going to care too much about a part time, minimum wage job you had in high school when you are currently 5 years post college graduation. Things you did in college also aren’t likely to help a lot at that point either unless they are directly related to the job you are applying to. Most industries I have worked in only really care about your past 5 years of experience.

        It’s more about how you have grown in the past 5 years than it is about everything you did since you were first employed. Having a list of everything you have done is fine and could be included on LinkedIn, but you should tailor your resume for the position you are applying to using relevant information and the last 5 years of work history. If the company wants to know more than 5 years, just tell them you can provide that to them in a follow up meeting or email.

      3. Judy*

        Are those things you’ve read within Linked In? Because I know that I’ve read things about those of us who are not as young as we used to be, suggesting to start removing dates from your college, and maybe early jobs. At 20+ years out of my bachelor’s degree, I’ve removed my graduation year from Linked In (BS & MS), my internships and my first 4 year job, since it’s not very relevant to my current career path.

        Remember, Linked In (and Facebook and Twitter and … any other free service) YOU are the product they are trying to sell to advertisers and employers. They want as much information as they can get.

    2. Aardvark*

      I don’t think I agree with that–I did something like Field-Based Orange Teapot Observation in both high school and college, got a degree related to orange flavors, and then got masters degree in Teapot Observation. For my first job as a Site-Based Orange Teapot Observer, I kept my high school job on there because it was truly relevant experience.

  17. Helen*

    #1 At Exjob, they had an influx of work at a satellite office. They sent a bunch of people from corporate to help with the work–and “housed” them in satellite office employees’ apartments/houses.

      1. Allison*

        Yikes, that’s a whole bucket of NOPE right there. I’m not really a fan of hosting overnight guests of any kind, save for people I’m really close with. My apartment is set up for two people, three can easily become a crowd.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And I’d be so paranoid that the person would report back to someone, and that corporate would use my living conditions to make decisions! Kelly’s kitchen is disorganized, no promotion for her. Kelly bought new shoes last month, she must not need a raise. Gaaah! Probably overthinking it, but I know my brain would go there!

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I live in a tiny studio apartment. There’s not even a couch. There’s just my bed, and barely enough floor space for someone to lie down on. And I am a very private person who is profoundly uncomfortable sharing a room with a stranger. (Not to mention that my apartment is usually a mess.)

        I also wonder about liability issues for the company. What if the houseguest from Corporate stole stuff, or assaulted an employee or employee’s family member?

    1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

      You know, if I don’t have to quarter soldiers in my apartment, I don’tconsider it manadatory to quarter fellow employees.

    2. Chinook*

      “#1 At Exjob, they had an influx of work at a satellite office. They sent a bunch of people from corporate to help with the work–and “housed” them in satellite office employees’ apartments/houses.”

      The only way this would make sense in my world is if they were in a place where there is limited housing/hotels. Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta is so notorious for this that there was a tv show host (Ed from BNL) who did a show up there about working in the patch who had to hot bunk (as in the bed is always warm because they sleep there in shifts) at someone’s house while his camerman spent the night in their plane. I also know of other communities where we work with literally no hotel/motel available and local staff are used to have to putting up a visiting engineer for the night if the weather is bad.

    3. BananaPants*

      I can’t even imagine how one’s supervisor would even broach the subject, and what an uncomfortable experience for both the hosts and the guests! Like, I have two young children and a small 3 bedroom house – even if we had a place to put a guest, they’d be subjected to a teething toddler waking up crying in the middle of the night, or our preschooler watching Sid the Science Kid. I usually change into comfortable clothes as soon as I get home, I’m used to nursing my toddler in our living room, and the preschooler isn’t always great at closing the door when she’s using the bathroom – those sorts of things are an issue for any houseguest, but would be more problematic for someone whose only relationship with our family was professional in nature.
      Especially if I was “voluntold” for such hosting duty, I’d probably resign rather than being forced to do so.

    4. Gene*

      Oh, this would be fun!

      Cat A will likely sleep on your face at some point in the night. If you’re missing a sock, cat B hid it somewhere, likely with his other “treasures” in that corner you can’t get to without this stick. The catbox is in the guest room, so you can’t close the door all the way. And BTW, since it’s summer, clothing is optional after work, that’s why there are towels on the chairs.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        We have 2 queen beds in 2 spare rooms, so that will fit 4 employees if you snuggle. Plus we can put an airbed or two in the toddler’s playroom. The guest bath has a soft spot near the tub, please don’t step there — we don’t want someone going through the floor. We’ll fix it soon, honest! Yes, the wifi is slow, sorry, and no, we don’t have tv at all. On the other hand, the library has a very wide variety of books, the piano is excellent, and it’s so dark at night that you can see the milky way lighting up the sky (if it isn’t cloudy).

        1. TheExchequer*

          Can I get an invite to your house? The library and the stars would be completely worth it. :) ;)

      2. esra*

        That was my first thought. Well guest, hope you like being stared at while you pee because that’s what the cat will be doing.

    5. TheExchequer*

      Oh uh uh. There are only two acceptable places in my house for a guest to sleep on. Place #1: Enjoy sleeping with your knees tucked by your nose on the futon. Place #2: Enjoy sharing your bed with the cat.

  18. anonima in tejas*

    Anon 2,

    I was in your exact position several years ago. I thought that I was being underpaid because of an hourly schedule and overtime pay. Once the payroll person looked into it, I was being overpaid. He said the same thing to me.

    I decided to get my boss/direct manager involved. I needed help negotiating the situation and I hoped that she would be on my side for a more lenient payment schedule, etc. She was really helpful in getting all the docs/timesheets together and running through calculations with me (so that we could crunch our own numbers and see where the error was). If you have a good manager, I would consider reaching out. I was upfront with her about why I was reaching out: Told her about the situation and that payroll person said that he didn’t want to get anyone else involved and that felt wrong/fishy/concerns.

    It was very stressful for me. I hope that it is less stressful for you and you are able to clear it up ASAP.

    Good luck!

  19. Omne*

    #2- If they had been underpaying you for 5 months and you were short $9,000 would you expect them to repay you? If so why not the reverse? Yes someone screwed up but why is it different depending on which direction it goes? What’s right is right.

    IANAL but employers cannot deduct the overpayments without your written permission in most states. However in many states they would be entitled to fire you if you refuse to pay it back, i.e. any at will state. They can always take you to court to get a judgment if they want to and then garnish your check but they probably wouldn’t do that unless the amount is worth the time and effort. In general most states look at it as a contractual issue- you agreed to work x number of hours for y dollars.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I actually did get underpaid for about 6 months once and the company didn’t fix it, just basically said “whoops” and fixed it going forward. :/

      1. BRR*

        That might actually be illegal if you are in the US. You would think with the US only having a handful of employment laws we (readers) could actually learn them all.

        1. Kelly L.*

          It was many years ago and I was 19 and unassertive, and I might not even have had a leg to stand on since it was more “Whoops, you were supposed to get a raise months ago” rather than them actually, explicitly saying I had a raise and then not paying it. Not sure and don’t remember all the details anymore. It was annoying, though.

  20. long time reader first time poster*

    I’m going to guess that the OP in #2 did, in fact, get a raise, but didn’t bother to calculate how much it worked out to each week. Even a decent raise always seems to work out a pretty small amount per pay period. OP probably noticed, in general, that the amount being deposited was higher, assumed it was the raise correctly calculated, and went on with life.

    1. CH*

      This could easily happen where I work, as we all get raises at the start of the year, but we are not told how much our individual raise or even the average raise will be–it just appears in the first paycheck. Although in my case, $9000 over 5 months would be a big enough raise that I’d be sending someone a really nice thank you note.

  21. OP #4*

    Thanks for all the comments and advice! I’m definitely going to be looping my manager in on this. Thankfully, I didn’t really spend over what I had made in the past (no significant living/fun expenses) so I do have the money to pay it back. When I had written in, I was still in shock from being told I owe $9,000. I’m just concerned about what it means for taxes (I already have my W-2), FSA, 401 (k), etc. I also wonder if this puts me in a new tax bracket. I’m going to be asking for a new W-2 if they want me to be paying back from my checking account, or if it would make more sense to make it a deduction from future paychecks. I don’t want to be paying for money twice (accountable to the government and money to be paid back).

    I definitely think they didn’t want others to know (higher ups and work-wide) because it makes them look bad.
    It was really embarrassing to be made so aware of my own ineptness :/ From now on I’ll always be double checking that the amount is the right amount!

    1. TOC*

      I’m glad to hear things will work out okay for you. As a reminder, if you go up a tax bracket, you only pay the higher rate on the amount of income that exceeds the limit of the last tax bracket. You do not pay the higher tax rate on your entire income. Your company should definitely provide you with a tax professional to help sort things out, but the effect on your tax rate isn’t likely to be too significant (lots of other implications of this mistake are significant, though).

      1. Labratnomore*

        I agree that they need to pay for you to talk to a tax professional. You don’t want to pay the company back $9000 if you only got a portion of that and the rest was paid in taxes.

    2. BRR*

      Someone above suggested the company pay for an outside accountant (if you don’t already have one) to serve in your best interest. The company is going to serve the company’s best interest which is getting the money back. But you paid taxes on the money (also remember tax brackets are only for the income in that bracket), assuming you are set to a percentage for your retirement contributions there’s that, if they deduct for you to pay them back would that be pre or post tax so would you be paying taxes on the money when you got it then paying again when you repay them. I don’t believe you can get a new W-2 as the W-2 is for what they paid you and since the money technically left the company and went to you it can’t change. Be very cautious and ask for time to look over anything they propose.

      If they don’t want you to tell so they avoid having people know their error I would say ignore them. People need to be held accountable for their mistakes and this is pretty serious.

      1. Anne A*

        If she pays the company back the full amount in cash now, they should issue her an amended W-2 (and are fully able to do so; in fact, W-2 filing deadline is the end of this month so they may not have even filed yet even if they issued the W-2’s to the employees). If she repays the full amount in cash and they do not amend her 2014 W-2, she needs to look VERY carefully at her 2015 W-2 to ensure that the repayment was credited against her 2015 wages, as well as SS and Med wages (minus any premiums paid towards a cafeteria plan and into a registered 401k through payroll, etc etc)

    3. neverjaunty*

      OP #4, I think you need to proceed very carefully and this should all be done out in the open, not just because of the complex issues like taxes, but because there are a lot of red flags here. How did they make a mistake this big? Does your HR coordinator actually have the authority to set up a “payment plan” on behalf of the company (particularly as they would have to be careful to avoid violating wage laws in doing so, and again the tax issues)? For that matter, why didn’t Accounting and your boss contact you directly about this – the benefits coordinator handles benefits, not your actual earned pay, right? So why is she the one talking to you and arranging payment plans?

      “They screwed up and want to keep it quiet” is probably the least awful explanation I can think of for this. Maybe it’s just that I see a lot of attorney disciplinary reports involving financial misconduct, but if I were in your shoes, I’d be wondering if maybe that ‘overpayment’ was somebody shifting money around in the company, or whether an overpayment happened at all, or perhaps whether there was major financial mismanagement going on in Accounting and they’re afraid people will compare notes. There is no legitimate reason to tell you ‘don’t tell anyone’.

      Also, I have to wonder if the HR coordinator is playing on your embarrassment a little? If you’re busy beating yourself up for not catching the overpayments and feeling inept, then you’re less likely to take a hard look at what the HR person is doing.

      1. Patricia Vasquez*

        Also, I have to wonder if the HR coordinator is playing on your embarrassment a little? If you’re busy beating yourself up for not catching the overpayments and feeling inept, then you’re less likely to take a hard look at what the HR person is doing.

        Oh wow. +1 for insight. Also +1 for understatement, because I’m going to suggest that the HR coordinator is playing on OP’s embarrassment A LOT.

    4. Meg Murry*

      And given how easily they made this error, if you wind up getting it withdrawn over a series of paychecks – get them to put in writing a plan showing the full repayment schedule, including the last check you expect to have the adjustment on, and then put a reminder in your calendar to check your paystubs and make sure they STOP the wage garnishment at the right time, in case its a manual process for them to correct. Because I could totally see this snowballing and having them forget to remove the garnishment at the appropriate time.

    5. fposte*

      I think it’s less an issue of the new bracket (which doesn’t matter, as noted above, since it only applies to the extra money and you’d be getting those taxes back anyway) than if your incorrect AGI changed your eligibility for stuff like health care subsidies, IRA contribution deductibility, etc. That’s going to be a lot harder to undo if so, so I agree with the suggestion that you get some time with the company accountant or ask the org to cover a consultation with an accountant on this.

    6. CAA*

      Here’s how I understand this after having a similar problem years ago.

      You don’t need a new W-2 for last year, as long as the amount they put on it includes the overpayment you actually received. The IRS says that is taxable income and you just report it normally. Whatever benefits you got that were based on the higher salary (i.e. higher 401K contribution or employer match) are yours to keep.

      You have to pay back the overpayments from 2014 in the full amount. If the total excess amount was $7000 and you only received $5500 because the other $1500 was withheld for taxes, you still have to pay back the $7000. You can deduct the $7000 on your 2015 taxes next year. See IRS Publication 525 for the exact instructions on how to handle repayments of income from prior years.

      For overpayments in 2015, the company needs to follow the IRS process to recover the excess payroll tax on the overpayment of wages that occurred in January and February. You only need to repay them the actual excess amount you received this year, excluding the taxes that were withheld. For example, if your salary was $1000 too high for the first part of the year, but the amount you actually received was $800 because $200 was paid to the government, then you owe the company $800. They get the other $200 back by filing updated tax forms.

      1. snowedin*

        This is a SUPER helpful comment!

        I was just paid for two positions instead of one during my last pay period. I noticed *RIGHT* away–before the money had actually posted to my account and it was just listed as “pending.” I notified the admin who notified payroll, hopeful they could stop the payment, but then SNOW happened, and then more SNOW and payroll & HR have been shut for five days of the last 8 working days. I was initially told that I’d have to pay back the overpayment in gross pay–so more than I ever got (gross pay was X, I was received Y=X-taxes. They said I owe X, I said “But I think it’s Y” and then they said “Ok, we’ll check” and then SNOW). It sounds like, from your comment, that I do indeed owe Y.

        Y is just sitting in my bank account–I assume it doesn’t matter that Y dollars are earning a (tiny) bit of interest for me in the mean time.

        1. Patricia Vasquez*

          I assume it doesn’t matter that Y dollars are earning a (tiny) bit of interest …

          Funny you mention this, ’cause my brain has been exploding thinking of how many ways this could screw up someone’s taxes. Like: you’ve got your Y dollars earning interest in your bank account … but you pay taxes on interest income, right?

          And what about money that got pushed into an IRA or a 401K? FICA?

          *shudder* rhetorical questions. I don’t think I really want to know.

          1. snowedin*

            Yeah, though I bet it will be like 1 cent of interest over the month or so that I expect to have this extra money.

            Fortunately, I’m in grad school–they bungled by switch from being on a research grant to a teaching stipend. This means that I have nothing taken out of my paychecks other than taxes. I have no benefits other than health insurance (which my department pays for me in a lump sum each year). But if something similar had happened at my old employer (where I had ALL the benefits, including 403b and FICA withdrawals fixed as a percentage of my pay), it would have been a MESS.

            I do think that the company should pay for the OP to hire an accountant of his/her choice for dealing with this. I’d recommend against using an accountant affiliated with the company.

            1. CAA*

              The interest doesn’t matter. You get to keep whatever you earn and you will pay the appropriate taxes on the earned interest through the usual procedures (i.e. your bank will issue a 1099-INT and you will put those numbers in the correct spot on your tax return next year).

              Money that got pushed into an IRA or 401K or 403B also doesn’t matter unless you end up putting more in there for the current year than you actually earn, which is extremely unlikely. The reason it doesn’t matter is that the IRS has a maximum dollar limit for contributions (it’s not a percentage of income) and if you put more in now, then you will just hit that limit earlier in the year and your last paycheck of the year will be a bit bigger. If you somehow do over-contribute, then the plan will send you back the money and issue you a 1099-R, which you enter on your tax forms. If you over-contribute because you have two plans at two employers, then you have to ask one of them to return the excess contribution. They will figure out the earnings that also have to be returned and all of that will also show up on a 1099-R. Online tax programs ask if you have these forms, and any tax preparer knows all about them, so unless you’re using the old paper and pencil method of taxes, it’s actually pretty straightforward.

              FICA also gets recalculated as part of your tax return. If you overpaid, then it gets refunded or applied to the tax owed.

              This all seems a lot harder than it really is. The thing to remember is that there are a lot of normal every-day reasons why people have to repay excess wages; such as returning signing bonuses or overdraws on commissions. Also, there are totally normal reasons why someone could overpay FICA, such as moving from one high paying job to another during the middle of the year. Since this does happen to a lot of people every year, the federal and state taxing authorities have processes in place to deal with every situation and as I wrote above, the IRS has Pub 525 which tells you exactly what to do in the case of overpayment of wages.

  22. some1*

    #5, I would say not only would it not help to you to label temp/contract work as “YourName Consulting”, it could hurt if you are getting a job where they want to verify your employment history.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s pretty clear when people put YourName Consulting that it was often just them working for themselves and giving it an official sounding name. That’s what I always assume it means and am actually surprised on the rare occasions that it turns out to be anything more formal. It’s not going to trip up any employment verification.

  23. C Average*

    #3, I feel like everyone I know is in your situation. Sitting in an open-plan office, I hear people at all levels of the organization taking pitch calls all day every day, and I can’t remember once hearing someone actually be interested in the call. It’s all variations on, “Thanks, not today . . . I’m not the decision-maker . . . no, I can’t put you through to that person . . . please take me off your list . . . no, really . . . have a nice day, I have to go now.”

    I know this is only anecdata, but there’s a lot of it! I can’t help wondering whether ANYONE responds well to this sort of pitch.

    Honestly, since I’ve started reading this column, I’ve wondered whether “just keep calling and making your pitch” is some grandfatherly-gumption subset of marketing advice that won’t go away, even though evidence suggests few potential customers respond favorably to that approach.

    1. the gold digger*

      When I started my new OldJob about a year ago, my boss told me to cold-call companies to try to sell them a product that has traditionally had a 12-18 month sales cycle in our business. (And that can cost up to $50,000 – so it’s not an on-the-phone decision!)

      He had not told me about the cold-calling before I accepted the job. That, along with not-Sergio, the evil CEO who is not from Argentina, is what had me looking for a new job almost immediately.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

        It’s funny you say that, as my boss has just instituted a 40+ cold calls per day quota on us for a piece of equipment that costs several thousand dollars. I’m desperate to know if this has ever worked for anyone, but in the meantime I’ve been settling for taking detailed notes on “this person hung up on me, this person asked where I got their number, these ten businesses don’t take cold calls” and so on.

    2. HM in Atlanta*

      The emails I get that pretend that we already have a working relationship, so that they can infringe on my time, irritate me. The ones I get where they are forwarding a chain of past emails (that I haven’t responded to), AND they are getting increasingly snippy with me infuriate me.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I get direct emails who sound like they know me – except they call me Charlie, who exists only on random websites where my email has been published. I just delete them, because if we were as close as they think we are, they’d know that they have my name, gender, and job title wrong.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I have no compunctions about being downright nasty to pushy salespeople who are snippy with me (or deceptive). I mocked a sales caller who demanded that I put him through to the CEO of LargeExCompany, and have threatened to report people for fraud when they sent me invoices for things I never ordered.

      3. themmases*

        Yes, I used to get those too. Often the author would make a (wrong) guess about my role and write it addressed to me as though they knew me and knew my product needs as a result.

        I send them all to spam. That’s exactly what they are and the fact that they claim to be selling a business service or medical supply doesn’t somehow give legitimacy to their appeals which are unsolicited and shady. If I offered to forward them to my director because he makes purchasing decisions, he’d probably ask me if I click those ads that say I’ve won an iPad too.

  24. Sharon*

    For questions like #1 while Alison’s advice is sane and rational, I’m always curious what the letter writer should do if the employer is NOT sane and rational and tells the OP to suck it up. I think if an employer is so crazy as to request the worker do this to begin with, they’re not likely to agree it was a bad idea and get them a hotel room. What should the LW’s husband do in that case?

    1. Helen*

      As I wrote above, my former employers did this. It happened before I started, so I’m not sure if anyone asked for a hotel, but I can guarantee that if they did, the employers would laugh at them. If he probably won’t go on any more business trips, and the employer is otherwise decent, I would just move on. But if it’s a case of an employer nickel and diming their employees and overall being unreasonable, I’d say it’s time to look for another job.

    2. Judy*

      I’m wondering, depending on where the couch is, is it really legal?

      If the couch is in an office, is it zoned so that people can live there? I think there are different requirements for fire codes when people will be sleeping somewhere, and also a question of the bathing facilities.

    3. Cube Ninja*

      I’d get my own hotel room and submit an expense report upon return, but that assumes this is a mid/large corporate setting. If it’s a small business and privately held, all bets are off. :)

      Sharing a room with multiple beds while on a business trip is one thing. Sleeping on the couch is entirely another. I’ll admit I’m a little confused as to why the employee didn’t speak up about it right away. This is such a basic tenet of business trips that it’s a huge red flag about how the employer acts in other areas.

    4. Colette*

      Do we know they’re not actually sleeping on a couch in a hotel room? (I’m thinking of a “let’s have 3 people share a hotel room” scenario.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, I had to share a hotel suite once with my supervisor and she got the bed and I the fold-out couch bed (she wasn’t my supervisor yet at that point). We didn’t mind sharing because we’d known each other since middle school.

  25. Ann O'Nemity*

    #2 What a PITA.

    Are they asking you to repay the net or the gross? Who is going to handle getting back the employer’s overpaid FICA/Medicare withholdings? Are they going to do a corrected W2, or do you have to go the claim of right route? Did it mess up 401k contributions? If it were me, I’d seriously consider hiring a CPA to help sort out this mess. There’s all sorts of tax implications – especially since the overpayment and subsequent repayment will span more than a calendar year. I wonder if the OP should also consider asking the employer to reimburse any expenses incurred by the OP to be “whole” again.

    1. HR Manager*

      Yes, crossing tax years is a huge PITA. If they know you’re stuff, they absolutely should do all the corrections to taxes and everything else to help the employee.

      I used to have a very annoying payroll team who would make either errors or bizarro decisions that affected people’s taxes and they would never want to talk to the employee about this. Always had to go through us, and I never understood the tax issues enough to do this well. I admit to sucking at this badly.

    2. JC*

      YES, I second that you need to make sure the tax stuff is figured out. I think it’s a good idea to ask them to cover your costs for a CPA to make sure everything is kosher since it was their mistake that causes the problem, and their lack of notice for 5 months that exacerbated it.

      When I was a grad student and we were paid stipends, the finance people messed up more than one person’s pay at various times. It was helpful for the other students to realize this happened and thus that they needed to be extra vigilant to their paystubs. If I were you, I’d want to push back on their request to keep it quiet because I’d want my colleagues to know that our accounting people were making these kinds of mistakes and that they should pay attention to their pay, especially after it changes.

  26. Not Here or There*

    #2, It’s not that unusual for someone not to notice a change in their pay depending on the situation. The OP mentions that this was done around merit raise time so it’s entirely possible that the OP didn’t notice because his check was changing anyway. Something similar happened to me. Our company went from a bi-monthly pay day to every other Friday which meant that paychecks would be somewhat lower than they were previously (because we were getting 26 paychecks rather than 24). At the same time, I was supposed to be getting a small raise. On top of all that, our health insurance prices changed. So between the change in pay structure, the change in tax withholding, the change in health insurance rates, etc, I had absolutely no idea that they hadn’t been giving me my raise for 6 months until accounting caught it and my manager informed me.

  27. HR Manager*

    #2 – I can appreciate their not wanting this to be part of the office gossip, but certainly not letting even a manager know that there was a problem is not reasonable. I can easily understand how what seems like a large number can be missed; every year during the merit cycle, a raise of XX thousands sounds so awesome until you realize it only moved your paycheck up like $100 (if even that!). With that being said, $9k is not an insignificant sum, so even if it is the employer’s error, this is not an amount I think that can be justified to be lost on the company’s part. I think recovery is fair, as long as reasonable payment plans are worked out with the employee — and if employee says 1k is too much, than that needs to be taken into account.

    #3 — Ugh, I get numerous calls from staffing agencies, and other vendors, every single day. I used to be good and try to respond to every call, even with a ‘no thank you’. But it does you no good. They take that as signs of hope. I really have stopped answering most of my calls these days, unless I recognize the number. So not only do you not have to respond, I would say be forceful with those who get you live unintended. I turned one sales guy down 3x in polite gentle ways, and he still came back with a “Can I follow up with you in xx months?” I had to say NO. Blunt and direct, because the polite way wasn’t working.

  28. DrPepper Addict*

    On the subject of #2:

    It scares me that employers can at any time say, “Oops, we paid you too much. It’s your fault for not catching it, so pay us back.” Where is their responsibility in this situation? There were two people at fault here, the employee for not noticing the pay increase, but also the employer who paid too much to begin with. I think the company should be penalized by not having the employee pay back everything they were overpaid. I think any of us that had to lose $1000 per month for 9 months would be extremely difficult and the employer should share in that burden.

    Since I work in sales, this is especially scary because of how commissions are paid out. For instance, depending on what type of service or good you sell, many times there are different rates of commission for each type. Lets say a car salesman gets X amount of commission off of new cars, Y commission off of used cars, Z commission off of warranties and services. At the end of each month, that would be really difficult to calculate exactly how much commission they are due. If the employer came back and said, “Well we paid you too much commission 6 months ago so we’re withholding it from your check this month,” it would be almost impossible to go back that far and do the math to see what the actual payout should have been. I just don’t think an employee should have to burden the entire responsibility for an employers error in this case.

    1. HR Manager*

      The sales organization in my companies have always been very transparent about the commissions calculations. The analyst not only sat down and showed them exactly how their commission plans worked, but often would even calculate out various scenarios for them to see how they could maximize their earnings. If a sales rep ever had questions, the analyst would sit down and go over the numbers with them. Obviously, this is a best practice that I would hope other sales orgs adopt.

      I know clawbacks are common – either for those who get a commission up front scenario and need to “earn it” as they sell, or for the deals that either get cancelled or fall through, after commissions have been paid out. Because of that, I find good sales orgs should always be able to sit down at any point and be able to explain the numbers.

    2. Omne*

      As I said before, that logic also means that if the employee was underpaid they wouldn’t be entitled to recover the money, after all both were at fault so the employee should share in that burden.

  29. OP #4*

    Thanks everyone for the advice and comments- I’m glad to see fellow CAP members comment! Although I was involved in the Civil Air Patrol and boat camp years ago, it’s something that I am proud to have been a part of. I’ve learned a lot of wonderful skills that have stuck with me till this day- the most important one being leadership, which is critical in any work environment.

    These activities are definitely a conversation piece that I will bring up during interviews. They will always be a part of me, therefore it’s relevance shall never die!

  30. Scott*

    #3–It’s kind of evil, but at one company I had a really bad boss and when I got those unsolicited calls I’d always tell them that he was the person they wanted to talk to and gave them his number.

    1. Chinook*

      “#3–It’s kind of evil, but at one company I had a really bad boss and when I got those unsolicited calls I’d always tell them that he was the person they wanted to talk to and gave them his number.”

      And this is why you never, ever tick off your company’s receptionist!

  31. ism*

    #3 We get cold sales calls a lot. The receptionist transfers it to any manager available, and those managers transfer it to the general manager (my boss), and she transfers it up to our corporate office. I don’t know what happens after that, but I suspect they get the callers to give up with all the transfers. The corporate office management is very hard to reach by phone.

  32. Pipette*

    Re. #3: In the phone system in our office we can redirect cold callers so they will hear a prerecorded message (which apparently is quite snarky, because that´s how we roll). Might be an option?

  33. Labratnomore*

    # 3 – I got a bunch of voice mails from the same person trying to sell me something that I had very limited input in the purchase of. After all the voice mails, he sent me a linkedIn connection request. I responded and told him because of the inapproriate amount of voice mails I would do my best to ensure that our company never purchased anything from him. Of course that didn’t end it, he had to send me an appology with another request to contact him because he wouldn’t be so pushy in the future. I really hate pushy sales people, you act like that I will buy from someone else!

  34. Anony*

    This reminds me of my own jam I’m in. I was in similar position as #2, except it was with my employee health insurance plan. I’m suppose to pay for insurance during our 8 week break we have each year. I’ve been employed with them for almost 10 years and I have never paid. It was just recently brought to my attention last year. Honestly, I didn’t realize I was suppose to be paying for my coverage during that time– my ex husband carried insurance for me so I never dealt with it. I got mixed explanation about how they either take it out during the year, a lump sum at the end of the fiscal year, or if I was suppose to do anything at all. To make matters worst the person in payroll at the time, had added my children to the dental plan (which come to find out–I’m not eligible for family coverage.) Fortunately I never used it over those weeks nor did my kids use the dental (it was just a back up) –they were still not happy. But it was an honest mistake of me not knowing on both accounts. But the person who signed up my kids for dental coverage should have known I wasn’t eligible–so lucky I didn’t use the plan at all for them. It’s been a big mess and headache. I’m assuming they have forgiven the prior years and is only holding my accountable for this past year. I’m still confused about it all.

  35. MommaTRex*

    #4: Since graduating from college, you’ve worked for the same employer for five years. That sounds lovely! The perfect amount of post-college experience at one employer and you are ready to move on (not too soon, not too long). If I were the hiring manager I would be thrilled to see those five years plus your college experience and nothing else, unless I was very relevant to the job posting, for example – a job fixing canoes, and you know how to build them from scratch.

  36. Hillary*

    #3 – I take a somewhat different approach. I’m one of the primary screeners for a service my company buys a lot of (from a lot of suppliers). I look them up, then I tend to respond to either learn more about the company or let them know their particular niche isn’t appropriate and I’ll keep their info on file in case that changes. In the end it reduces most of the emails & calls because I don’t come up in their to-call list every three months.

    We’ve hired a couple providers through connections that started as cold calls, and I usually enjoy the conversations.

  37. Not telling*

    Yes paying back $9,000 over a year is going to be a substantial lifestyle change. But accepting an extra $9,000 in wages over a period of less than half of that time was surely a lifestyle change that OP seemingly had no trouble accepting.

    And even if OP was earning a solid six figures and had direct deposit, an extra $1000 in the bank, every two weeks for five months is something people should notice. And cause them to look at their paystub. And talk to HR about. So I think OP has some responsibility here too.

    In addition to researching the tax implications, OP may want to look into paying off the debt to his/her employer via a bank loan. If OP could secure a loan and repay the company in one payment, it would restore the working relationship to normal, instead of dragging out this tension and blame game. Then the matter of repayment, and its effects on their lifestyle, would be a private matter between OP and their banker, and not something that HR or their manager is involved in.

  38. Joe*

    Re #3: I know some people will disagree with this approach, but when I get a call like this, as soon as I realized that it’s a cold-call from some vendor weasel, I just hang up. No polite “no thanks”, no acknowledgement, just *click*. I know they’re human beings, I know they have a job to do and they’re doing it, but I don’t want to waste even a second of my time on them at that point.

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