my employee took money under false pretenses from a nonprofit

A reader writes:

I recently had an employee, “Jane,” leave the organization due to personal reasons. I knew the day would come eventually, as she was unhappy in her role and there was not a lot of room for advancement or specialization within the company. I had tried to support her career as much as I could, including listing her as “high potential” during corporate talent reviews, getting her aligned with special projects across the company, and more. My thoughts were that even if she didn’t stay with our company, I wanted to help her grow her career. I even supported her using our tuition program for her to obtain an advanced degree, which requires approvals and time off from work to complete different things.

Since I was her immediate manager, I got access to all her computer files when she left. I have been going through every document, as I have discovered a lot of things that were missed during her time with us and I want to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. I found months worth of bank statements. Within those bank statements I noticed credit from our company and from a nonprofit focused on helping individuals obtain their education.

For the record: I wasn’t digging through her statements. Credits were at the top of the statements and debits were after, so as soon as the document opens the credits are right there. And the documents were titled “invoice XYZ” so it wasn’t easy to tell what they were offhand, and there were company invoices titled similarly.

Here’s the rub: our tuition pays 100% minus any scholarships, assistance, etc. Jane didn’t need any additional assistance for her degree, nor did she indicate in any of her company requests that she was receiving assistance in any form besides ours. There is a specific question in or request document for this.

So what do I do? I feel a moral obligation to inform the nonprofit, as it is designed to help those without resources. At the same time I feel like it is a breach of confidentiality.

Ugh. If it’s what it looks like, Jane fraudulently claimed money from a charity, and someone else didn’t get assistance as a result.

Is there any chance it’s not what it looks like? Could the nonprofit’s funding have been for a separate course of study Jane was pursuing, different from the one your company paid for? That might be a stretch, but it’s worth asking the question before you take any action.

As for what to do … I can tell you what I think should happen, but in real life you shouldn’t decide it on your own; your company needs to be involved. If company policy is that they reimburse the full costs of tuition minus other assistance and you’ve got documents showing there was other assistance, Jane claimed company funds fraudulently and your company should be involved in figuring out what to do. So start by talking to whoever at your company coordinates the tuition reimbursement program (or someone above them if they’re pretty junior).

But for the sake of exploring it, let’s say you were in a job where how to proceed was your call. I’d start by contacting Jane and asking her directly about what you found. Then, assuming she didn’t say something that cleared her, I’d have a lawyer look at the exact wording in your written agreements about the program to (a) make sure that what she did was indeed fraudulent, (b) see what options, if any, you had for recovering the money, and (c) get a legal opinion on whether to alert the charity to her fraud against them.

I think a lot of people would argue that contacting the nonprofit would be an overstep, but ripping off a charity and thus preventing someone else from getting assistance from them is a remarkably awful thing to do. Personally, I’d be inclined to tip them off and let them decide for themselves how to handle it (and they need to know if there are holes in whatever system they use to vet applicants). You don’t owe Jane any particular confidentiality if you confirm that she did indeed double-dip.

{ 404 comments… read them below }

  1. Suzanne Brown*

    Is it possible that the money could have been for books and or lab materials? – I would guess that a lot of tuition programs at workplaces only cover tuition.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      I was thinking this, too. I had a slew of scholarships when I was in school, and they all ended up allocated to very specific things. One was for my actual tuition, another for my housing, yet another for books… While this may not look great (and yeah, there’s a chance Jane was committing fraud), I think there’s a very real possibility that everything is fine, and OP is just missing context.

    2. AthenaC*

      That’s a good point. I paid $1k / semester for books and $500 / semester for parking, none of which was eligible to be covered by student loans. And that was over 15 years ago, so I have no idea how much it would be now.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yep, I was thinking something similar. If the nonprofit assistance was $1k or less per semester I’d be inclined to chalk it up as books, fees, and other non-tuition related expenses. So it wouldn’t necessarily be double-dipping.

        1. OP*

          I would have had the same thought, but the amount was $5,000-$6,000 each time. Something only a few hundred could easily be for something like books or lab fees and not a big deal.

          1. quill*

            Quick math but I wonder if there’s a standard per-semester for this company. Meant to cover all instances of books, fees, licensing… depending on the subject you could rack up over $1000 in books and lab fees in the sciences if you weren’t able to buy secondhand or if your professor made you purchase bound lab manuals at the same time. A textbook, a lab notebook, and a lab fee for breaking one large beaker could easily have run me $300-500 in one of my chem classes, depending on how stupid expensive the beaker apparatus was. (I had professors who were bright enough to not require a new textbook or a professionally bound lab notebook, because only new textbooks came with a software license for a stupid video supplement to the book! Just $35 on top of the book fee to watch a bad animation of a protein folding!)

            She could also have a licensing fee for professional software: I didn’t have to pay for my GIS software unless I put it on my own computer, but it would easily have been a few hundred bucks even a decade ago. Science books can be $150 a pop…

            So it’s not impossible to rack up $5,000 in non-tuition fees in a semester the legitimate way, and the nonprofit may just dole out X money to each applicant for assorted expenses.

            1. starsaphire*

              I’m thinking of the old joke (I used to work in a college bookstore):

              “The (name of college) bookstore reported a theft of nearly $10,000 in merchandise. Campus security was called, and was eventually able to recover both textbooks.”

              An exaggeration, but yeah, 15 years ago I rang up customers on the regular for more than a grand just buying books and supplies and so on. And that’s not including software.

          2. Still breathing*

            My kid was eligible for free tuition at a local community college while in high school because of their HS class rank, but we still had to pay for books and fees. It was around $2,000 to take 2 “free” classes in the summer of 2003. I’m afraid to ask what it would cost now.

    3. KeepingAlltheBooks76*

      This. I’ve had experience with a nonprofit that manages certain scholarships as a pass through – the applicant applies, the money is sent to the nonprofit and then they disperse it to the applicant. While it can be used for tuition, it can also be used for living expenses, including supplies, utilities and even rent.

    4. Roscoe*

      I should’ve waited for a response, because this is exactly my point.

      OP says their company paid tuition. But books can be expensive. There are lots of other costs schools charge students. If she was using that money for those, I wouldn’t call it fraudulent at all

      1. littledoctor*

        And if she’s in school, that probably impacts how much she can work—maybe the money was for increased living expenses?

      2. Panhandlerann*

        Yep, tuition is just a part of it. Even not counting living expenses, there are fees of various kinds that really add up.

    5. CoveredinBees*

      I’m applying for grad school and will probably need supplementary childcare (as if finding 8 hours a day isn’t tough enough at the moment). If someone is working full-time and studying, they could need to pay for dependent care.

      1. Smithy*

        When my mom was working full-time and finishing her PhD, my brother and I were in the later years of elementary school/middle school. While her job covered her tuition, in addition to books/materials – that was also a time she had increased needs around childcare or help in the home.

        I also know that when I went to university, there were scholarships that basically were sent immediately to the school and then checks that went directly to me to do what was needed for my education. Be that buy a computer, book, plane ticket, etc. So this would be a fairly easy follow up by the OP, to basically ask the nonprofit if their education assistance was to support general education needs as opposed to strictly limited to tuition.

    6. CBB*

      Whatever it was, there’s a good chance it wasn’t what it looked like. All you saw were the first few lines a few bank statements. It’s unlikely those documents contain information about what those payments were for, or under what pretenses they were obtained.

    7. generic_username*

      Or potentially subsidizes living expenses? Although I’m not sure if her having a full-time job would prevent that, but if your pay is below the living wage (but still above minimum wage), I could see a nonprofit funding some of the difference

    8. HB*

      Yes – also, if this was just a general scholarship it could be for anything. Some scholarships or funding is for tuition only. Other are basically cash you can use for whatever you need. If it was a generous scholarship for support and didn’t specify tuition, it could go for anything.

    9. Just another anon*

      This was exactly my thought. Most employer tuition programs I’ve heard of don’t include books, parking, or whatever other fees. Some non-profits may cover those expenses- I’ve even seen scholarships to cover cost of living while getting degrees. I definitely wouldn’t jump to any conclusions here.

      1. DivineMissL*

        I had an argument with the CFO when I was taking college classes using my employer’s tuition assistance program. Employer would cover 50% of the tuition only; no fees or textbooks. So for example, if it was $600 actual tuition + $600 fees = $1200, I had to take out a student loan for the whole $1200, then the employer would reimburse me for $300 after I had completed the class (which I then applied to the student loan, to reduce it to $900). One semester, I received a federal grant of about $200. The CFO wanted to deduct the $200 from the $300 they would reimburse me, giving me only $100 back (and sticking me with an $1100 student loan). I argued that they had agreed to pay 50% of the tuition, and I would take out the student loan for a smaller amount; it wasn’t their business to tell me how to pay for the remainder of the cost, whether it was through a grant, student loan, or if my grandmother wrote me a check. I ended up eventually winning that battle when the President (my boss) sided with me. I could see both sides of the argument, but it really chapped me that the CFO wanted to punish me for having a low enough income to qualify for a financial need grant.

    10. not a doctor*

      OP confirmed in a comment that the tuition program is only for tuition. Honestly, this would have been my first thought if I’d found a document like that. I’m not sure fraud would have even occurred to me!

  2. Pantalaimon*

    You know the non-profit is where the money came from, but you don’t know that it’s for the same thing, and you don’t know why she has it. Does she have a spouse, could she have been freelancing? The only way to get this information is to ask Jane.

    1. Sleet Feet*

      I guess to me this is where I land at OP not having a leg to stand on and not understanding why Alison thinks involving lawyers and your company is the next step after the call.

      OP calls Jane, she states it was for fees, books, or some other non covered company expense they would not have deducted…. then what?

      OP states below their income statment requirements were for covered expenses only. So there is such an obvious and likely answer there.

      I find it bizarre how sure everyone is Jane lied to the company and defrauded a non profit because of a bank statement on account she may share with family members.

        1. CurrentlyBill*

          Agreed. This rises to the level of, “Ask the question.”

          OP may not have enough information right now, but rather than assuming things, its okay to ask.

          As for concerns about confidentiality, Jane agreed you could look at those documents by putting them on a work computer, assuming your IT department has that as policy. If your company is big enough to offer tuition reimbursement, they’re most likely to have that IT policy in place. While it may feel icky, company representatives have the right to review any and all content on a work owned machine.

          This is especially true when there is the possibility of inappropriate behavior.

  3. KHB*

    Now that you know what you know, I agree with this course of action on what to do. But it seems extremely strange to me that Jane was apparently saving her personal bank statements to her work computer with file names that made the indistinguishable from work files.

    1. Littorally*

      It’s dumb, but it really doesn’t surprise me. People feel a lot more ownership over their work email than they really should. At the end of the day, it belongs to the company and the company is entitled to look at everything in it.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This. I’ve known so many people over the years who just use their work email for everything. It’s a terrible practice but not uncommon.

        1. KHB*

          This looks like it’s more than just using her work email as the contact email for her bank account, though. (A third party seeing the “statement notification” emails would still have to login to her account to see the actual statements.) She had to have been downloading the statements to her computer, month after month, and saving them in a way that they’d get mixed up with her work files. It’s hard for me to imagine why anyone would do such a thing – but universe of human foibles is admittedly often beyond my comprehension.

          1. KHB*

            OK, wow. I just looked in the “downloads” folder on my own work computer, and I found a whole slew of my own bank statements – I’d only looked at them online (in pdf form), but they were automatically downloaded.

            Suffice it to say, I deleted them immediately. I don’t have anything to hide, but the details of my bank statements are very much Not My Employer’s Business.

            If anything like this is what was going on with Jane and OP, it gets a side-eye from me. OP may have not technically been “snooping,” but the bank statements are clearly information she’s not supposed to have.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              Oh I clean out my downloads folder weekly there’s a lot of incriminating crap in there haha

              (and also work related things that I forgot to file appropriately, which is why I actually do it. But plenty of personal stuff too)

            2. Insert Clever Name Here*

              Eh, but OP says the file names are very similar to company naming conventions, so I don’t know that she deserves side-eye for opening things that she can’t tell are personal from the file name.

              1. calonkat*

                I learned good file naming conventions at a previous company. And once I got used to it, all my files are now named that way, and any files I’m in charge of naming for my current employers as well.

                So I don’t blame the OP, nor do I think Jane was necessarily trying to “hide” the statements. Probably just named how she was used to naming things.

                1. STAT!*

                  But Jane has named bank statements as “invoices”. That doesn’t speak to me of somebody using good naming conventions in the way you do. Though I guess it explains why her work was left in a mess if she couldn’t even distinguish between those two classes of financial documents.

            3. Scarletb*

              …I have just had a look in my downloads folder, what a mess! There are multiple copies of things (e.g. style guides downloaded every six months or so, because it’s hosted as a file rather than as an online reference), there are personal documents I’ve had to deal with at work due to time-of-day limitations or needing to scan things, there are menus from places we were going out for team lunches, there are things that I *copied* to a shared drive instead of *cutting* to a shared drive, zip files… wow. Even a cursory quick tidy has halved the number of files in there this morning.

              1. Introverted Type-A Employee*

                This prompted me to check my downloads folder. Nothing there from me. However, I did come across 6 gig of data from my predecessor – including over a decade of tax records showing garnishments, penalties, SSNs, and all sorts of info that I’m sure no one wants lying around. Resumes, papers for her kids at school… WOW. I just deleted/file shredded it all, as I would hope anyone else would have.

            4. OP*

              I’m glad this inspired you to clean up your files! I agree that personal should be kept separate from work, but not everyone has that same thought and sometimes personal stuff gets “stuck” in downloads like you found out.

              Unfortunately, bank statements weren’t the only things I found buried so far. There was A LOT of personal information saved and titled in ways that weren’t clearly personal. Those got deleted immediately by me!

              1. Mannequin*

                So why didn’t you also immediately delete the bank statements once you realized they were personal information?

                1. Workerbee*

                  Because, as the letter stated, their naming convention mirrored the company’s enough so that OP had to sort through each one. And unless you’re one of those people who can look at words and numbers without having them reach your brain, that is when OP noticed oddities.

            5. jiggle mouse*

              Scanners at my workplace are managed by an individual who does look at what people scan. Even though it’s ok to use them for personal documents like mortgage paperwork or vision prescriptions, it creeps me out to know someone might just be poring over deets of my last refi.

              1. Imaginary Friend*

                You should know that scanners have hard drives, and documents are saved to them as part of the scanning process. And often they’re set up to not delete those files. And this affects everyone, because modern copiers scan the documents and then print copies, so they work the same way. This is a security risk for the companies and for individuals at those companies. (Do a search on “copier hard drive security risk” for more info.)

                1. usernames are anonymous*

                  Yes we had that happen at one company I worked at. My manager pushed the wrong button and the new scanner that we’d had for a couple of months started spewing out hundreds of pages of scanned documents. I couldn’t stop it so I was throwing everything in the shredder as it came off the machine and then we had IT come round to fix the set up so that the files were deleted automatically. I had a few worried people stop by as they’d heard that their personal scanned docs had been printed and I had to reassure them nothing was read – I turned the paper away from me so I couldn’t see what I was shredding.

            6. LQ*

              As someone who has had to go through things that someone left behind. I had zero interest in discovering what I discovered. Even for nosy people it’s a lot of work. (I REALLY did not want to know my former boss’s ….shall we say intimate proclivities….really didn’t want to.)

              They may be information she shouldn’t have had, but Jane shouldn’t have left them behind. OP was looking for something that looked similar, was in the same folder, and was named similarly? You can want to not see those all you want but chances are really good you will. This is NOT OP’s fault.

              Do not open your bank statements on your work computer. Do not send them to your work email. Take a little personal responsibilities for what you do with your data. Especially if you’re going to cheat or steal.

            7. quill*

              IDK, I got really burned when a coworker got laid off and IT never gave me her files… which included the list of things we ordered from outside suppliers and when, so I had to go question each supplier separately…

        2. generic_username*

          Haha, we had someone who was applying for new jobs on hers. Then she had a medical emergency and we accessed her email to make sure nothing fell through the cracks and…. well, it was awkward when she returned.

      2. Roscoe*

        I think there is a bit of a difference between using your work email for everything and having personal files (whether that is financial or something else) on the computer. I fully expect my manager to be able to go through my email anytime they like. I’d be a bit more upset if they saw a bank statement I had to download for some reason and chose to read that.

        1. Xenia*

          A stunning amount of people don’t compartmentalize their personal data with their work data. Some of that can be blamed on it being a lot easier to do things on smartphones and people just putting things on their personal devices—everything from emails to work-specific apps. Or they’ll do their personal stuff on their work computer once or twice—it’s right there after all.

          Then their personal info ends up on their work device and their workplace is going to see it

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, when one of my former coworkers retired and I took over her email account, it was flooded with personal stuff and advertising. And I know she had a personal email! I’d been emailing non-work stuff through it for years.

    2. Ginger*

      I would guess she renamed them to print them. Printer logs usually display file names so if a document is named something work-ish, no one would “catch” her.

      1. Sleet Feet*

        Oh boy now Jane is also stealing company paper and ink and renaming files to hide her thievery?

    3. Amaranth*

      I don’t find that odd really, if you’re going to store private files on your work computer you don’t want them to look interesting – I’d argue not to be saving your private files on work equipment but more often than not I see people using their work laptop for all kinds of things during their commute, lunch, etc.

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Just last week, I was trying to consolidate some folders for my team on a network drive that’s really messy because like 500 people use it, and I came across an entire folder labeled “Backups” that was actually what looked like super personal information (including files titled things like “credit record dispute” and “2018 biopsy path results”) for someone who retired last year. I deleted the whole thing (because I didn’t want to leave it out there or sort through it or whatnot, and she retired a year and a half ago, so presumably if she needed any of it she’d have asked for it since then) and asked someone in our department who’s still in semi-occasional contact with her to let her know that we removed her personal nonsense from the FIVE HUNDRED PERSON network drive. People do bizarre things, and it gives me the vapors – I don’t do ANYTHING not-work-related (with the exception of Teams chit-chat with my coworkers, which is not always work-related but is always work-safe and super benign) on my work computer ever ever ever.

      1. Jenny20*

        A predecessor at my company uploaded boudoir photos of herself to our public and shared network drive. We each also have private network drives, so even if she needed them on her work computer for some reason I cannot fathom, I have no idea why she wouldn’t have used the private drive. People are surprising.

    5. tamarack & fireweed*

      Yeah, I was completely unclear how the LW could possibly have legitimate access to these statements. I see, document cleanup provides the access, but it doesn’t change that the LW shouldn’t have had access to this sort of personal & confidential information and IMHO it is ethically problematic to pore over the statements. I understand she wasn’t snooping.

      Maybe the LW has knowledge about the specifics of both scholarships that make it clear that this is necessarily fishy, but the way the story comes to us there is a pretty large grey zone left in which this may have been totally above board. Multiple grants and scholarships are not a rare thing after all. Or again that the timing of applications and grants worked out in a way that the money was granted, but then paid back when the company money came in. So one possible outcome here is that the LW goes back to the employee or to the organization and it turns out that the second scholarship was for something entirely different, or for a legitimate complement – which would leave the employee’s reputation unjustly tarnished and a very sour taste. The other extreme of course is that the employee did misappropriate the charity funds and is getting away with it.

      I guess what I would think should be done depends on how much money is at play. Is the charity fund like $500 or $30,000? The second looks a lot worse than the first to me. I should add that I don’t completely subscribe to a pure form of consequentialist ethics – I think the way education is rationed via overall unaffordable tuition payments is a terrible thing, and I’m less inclined to call the cops on someone who gets around some of it. I understand that depriving someone else is a serious transgression though.

      And there’s the issue of seeing confidential documents. What would you do if these had been medical records and they showed that the employee lied about the nature of a surgery? Maybe they claimed to have cancer and got some money from a special cancer relief pot, but you see that in reality the surgery was gender affirmation surgery? Would you do something?

      The realistic options I see are:
      – Tell the employee “My job was to go through the documents left on your computer. I found private bank statements, which I deleted.” Then leave it at that, and get a little less involved in the employee’s future success – they’re gone and on their own now.
      – Tell the employee the same as above, except that you go “Before I could close and delete them I saw that [charity] also provided funding for your degree. This puts me in a slightly awkward position because my understanding was that you couldn’t have received both funding from us and from [charity]”. Then wait. She’ll probably deny it. You’ll have to gracefully end it on a tone of “I’m very glad you cleared this up, thanks!”. Professional relationship will now turn very cold, and if she did defraud the charity she knows it, if not she’ll be extremely put off.
      – You think it’s a matter that if true warrants police intervention. You alert the charity, and provide them with a summary of what your company paid for the employee. You leave next steps to them, but expect that if anything comes of it, there will be no more professional relationship between you and the employee, whether it turns out to be fraud or not.

      1. Allonge*

        I think it’s really weird to expect an employer to treat your private files (which you yourself save knowingly on a work computer) with more care than you do. The least you can do is delete private files before you leave the company.

        1. tamarack & fireweed*

          Really? If I leave my passport on my co-worker’s desk, or on the wash table in the ladies’, would I not expect my employer to treat it with care and get it back to me? “Well you didn’t treat it with care so we threw it out?”

          I do not think that an employee’s carelessness absolves everyone else from their duties of care and confidentiality.

          1. Kal*

            If you left your passport on a co-workers desk or something, would you get mad and feel like your privacy was invaded by your coworker opening it to see your photo and name and address so that they know it belongs to you so they can actually give it back to you? All that was done was opening it to identify it – if your coworker opened your passport to see who it belonged to and in doing so saw your address and birthday, does that count as them being extremely invasive and poring over your passport?

            That’s the equivalent of what OP did when applied to your passport example. OP opened the file to determine if it was a work file to be dealt with. Simply opening it to do that gave OP all of the information involved – that it was a personal document and those specific transactions. There was no poring over the statements, just like in the example no one looked through all of your passport to see where you had gone and when. They can’t help that the thing they had to look at to identify it means they also were exposed to information they weren’t looking for.

            And if you really are that offended by someone having seen your information in your passport because they wanted to do a normal thing and get it back to you, then it is really, truly on you to make sure you don’t carelessly leave your passport around where other people might look in it in order to get it back to you.

            1. tamarack & fireweed*

              I have no idea how you get to “offended”. That’s not a useful category here.

              My comment was a reply to Allonge writing “I think it’s really weird to expect an employer to treat your private files[…] with more care than you do”. I don’t find it weird at all. The care an employer should exercise is independent to the level of care I exercised. I used the passport example that even if I was careless with leaving it where I shouldn’t have at my workplace, it doesn’t mean my co-workers have no (ethical) obligation towards safeguarding this important document. Thus my example of throwing it in the trash – I think we all would agree that this would be a completely inappropriate thing to do with someone else’s passport (that you recognize as such).

              As for the passport example, the equivalent to the case at hand wouldn’t simply be looking inside to figure out the holder. It might be looking for a good reason, then accidentally seeing the holder’s birth name and from there concluding something about the veracity of the holder’s stories about their previous marriage.

          2. Allonge*

            My point is: if you don’t want your employer to know that you have a passport, don’t leave it on someone else’s desk at work.

            1. Allonge*

              But to answer your question: yes, I could have specified that I find it strange to expect that your employer takes better care of your ‘privacy’ than you do around your own personal documents that have nothing to do with work but you choose to store on a work computer and leave behind with your files when you leave the organisation.

              This has very little to do with the expectation that your colleagues do not intentionally destroy your property (especially easy to identify and easy to recognes as valuable property). That is also basic human decency.

              But if a week before you were telling your team that no, you were definitely sick and not posting those photos on Insta from the Bahamas, you don’t even own a passport, well… conclusions will be drawn if someone finds your passport on their desk unless its issue date is yesterday.

      2. generic_username*

        To be clear, you have no expectation of privacy on any work equipment/account. Your employer can go through your previous emails, chats (Slack, Teams, Skype, etc), search history, files, etc. If you want that stuff private, don’t send it on your work computer. You can also opt to delete that stuff (make sure you check your recycle bin and downloads folder)

        This employee chose to not only save bank statements on her work computer, but she also didn’t delete them before she left. I have no sympathy

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            (Would you also have no sympathy if this was medical information? Disability information? Immigration information? Or is this really about the social opprobrium connected with potentially getting something one isn’t entitled to?

            On reading some of the answers I think what I would suggest the LW does is to get on the phone informally with the charity and say that you have the impression that potentially [because we don’t know that the charity money even *was* for Jane’s degree!] employees at this company may be also getting charity funds, and that it would likely be worthwhile to review processes around that. That is, focus less on the ethical question marks over Jane but rectify the source of the issue.

            I like that we’re having conversations about moral dilemmas, btw! )

            1. generic_username*

              Yeah, still no sympathy for medical info, disability info, immigration info, etc. Like, if you make a choice to do personal stuff on a work device, you run the risk that your work can access it if you don’t properly delete it. It has nothing to do with the type of document/information.

              1. tamarack & fireweed*

                OK – we have starkly diverging ideas of what is ethical. I don’t think it’s everyone for themselves, and if they make a mistake, may the wolves get them

              2. Birch*

                Access, sure, but how they then use that info is where the ethical issues come in. There’s a huge difference, for example, between finding out an employee is committing fraud and following legal channels to deal with it, and finding medical info and then using that info to discriminate against the employee. Who has access to what data only matters when it comes time to use that data.

            2. fhqwhgads*

              If it were medical info in a file named (something business sounding) invoice, and not (medical provider name) (medical sounding thing), no, no sympathy. It’s integral to the question that the documents looked work-related until opened.

          2. gimmeausername*

            Every time I log into any pc in work I see a legal spiel something along the lines of employees have no implict or explicit privacy on work computers
            I’m not in the US

    6. generic_username*

      It’s crazy what people save on their work computers. At my last job I occasionally had to sort through people’s files/emails to save the stuff we’d need going forward and the stuff I would find was… interesting. It ran the gamut from years of tax returns/bank statements (from someone who clearly used her work computer when she purchased a house) to PDFs about how to please your husband and keep your marriage happy (lol… we knew that person wasn’t working at work based on poor performance, but what a thing to search at work)

      1. Mickey Q*

        I found a document in a public folder my boss saved which was from his insurance company telling him his viagra prescription would no longer be covered.

  4. Bee Eye Ill*

    I know a lot of stuff like assistance, scholarships, etc need to be applied for and there is an approval/waiting process, so maybe this was the result of some unintentional overlap. Really hard to say unless you wanted to launch an investigation.

  5. Lauren*

    It sounds like tuition was covered, but there are a ton of other assistance that covers books, fees for certain classes, transportation, fees to attend events, club fees, basic living costs, tutoring, etc. Maybe she was doing another program at the same time.

    Colleges love to tack on money obligations including health insurance fees to waive taking their version. Jane may not have felt comfortable asking for more from her employer.

    1. LGC*

      That was actually my first thought – I know that for colleges, there’s a difference between just getting free tuition and getting a full ride (tuition, supplies). It feels like it’s less concerning from the non-profit’s end than it is LW’s company’s end.

      Also, this is why I’m very wary about keeping personal files on my work laptop.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, my undergrad tuition per semester was one thing, but between books, transportation, meal plan fees, the fees from not having insurance through the college’s plan, I was easily adding $4k to that. If I’d been under different circumstances, I can see running up $5k-6k expenses on various college fees and transactions.

  6. I'm just here for the cats!*

    That’s what I thought too. Were there additional costs that the company’s tuition reimbursement isn’t cover? Not only textbooks but computer software things like that.

    I also wonder if the required days off are paid or not?

  7. Wilbur*

    “For the record: I wasn’t digging through her statements. Credits were at the top of the statements and debits were after, so as soon as the document opens the credits are right there.”

    You weren’t digging for it, but you did see that they were bank statements. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume they files weren’t clearly labelled, but once you opened it and saw it was a bank statement you should have closed it immediately. I’m not in support of fraud (if thats what this employee did), but you should’ve deleted the bank statements immediately when you found out what they were.

    1. C in the Hood*

      I tend to disagree with this. The statements were on the work computer. Jane probably should not have put them there to begin with.

      1. Roscoe*

        I don’t necessarily agree. More and more people use their work issued lap tops for non work things these days. Hell, I recently bought a house and had to download financial files onto my computer in order to upload them somewhere else. If I missed one, I don’t know that it gives my boss the right to go through them. Yes, I left them there, but there is still some kind of expectation of decency.

        1. Colette*

          People have always used their work computers for non-work stuff – but that opens that non-work stuff up to their employer. If the employer is looking at it just to snoop, that’s one thing, but the OP was investigating a work issue.

          1. Roscoe*

            How far do you take that though? Sure, she was, but once she saw that this had nothing to do with work, that is where I think it should’ve ended. Its like if I had a medical file, and the name wasn’t clear, I’d hope that immediately after someone realized what it was, they wouldn’t think it was their right to continue reading it.

            1. Colette*

              But potential fraud against her employer is work. It sounds like it was pretty visible as soon as she opened the file; once she saw that, she has to act on it.

            2. canyonlands*

              Medical personally identifiable information/PHI is indeed more sensitive and therefore protected differently than random personal files stored on a workplace computer. This is *actually* part of what HIPAA does! Personal bank statements do not have that protection, pretty sure.

              1. Colette*

                But HIPAA would only protect the information stored by a medical professional – information that you store on your work computer/tell your neighbour/spray paint on a bus stop is not protected.

              2. Clisby*

                Not if it’s a case of a person downloading/storing their own medical information to a work computer. HIPAA has no relevance in that case.

              3. Corey*

                Holy yikes. Is this what you meant by “legally different” in response to my comment? You do not know what HIPAA is.

              4. AnonNurse*

                Oh no. Nope. HIPAA has absolutely nothing to do with personal files someone has saved themselves or viewed like that. PHI is more sensitive but only when actually referring to medical entities and specific interested parties. Someone leaving their own medical information laying around (in person or digitally, so to speak) is 100% not covered by HIPAA. Nope, not at all.

        2. Lance*

          Just because people do it doesn’t mean that they should. If it’s a scenario like that where it’s the only computer you have available at the time, then do what you have to… but you should probably be clearing it out as soon as you can after the fact.

        3. Smithy*

          I’m moving more and more to this direction provided your job has no other security expectations.

          The longer I’ve been employed, the more my work computer is my “administrative life” computer. My personal computer is one I don’t update regularly, and having a “work computer” for doing things like my taxes and banking is something I see as a perk. I will also add that I know my work computers are cheaper and cheaper, and even though I work for nonprofits – when I left my last position after 3 years, everyone knew my Lenovo was no longer fit for use by anyone and having to find a way to return it during COVID was really rather irritating. I certainly did my best to delete the personal items I had saved and also knew that a savvy IT could likely find them….but also really hope no one ever felt the need to dig for my W2’s.

          Any boss trying to piece together my work life would get everything they need on the shared drives or my email.

        4. Gerry Keay*

          I mean… it literally does give your boss the legal right to go through them — information stored on company hardware is all fair game from my understanding. I don’t think it’s morally right! But I think it’s safer to operate under the expectation is that your company WILL go through every single file and keystroke on your computer, so acting accordingly.

        5. jiggle mouse*

          Good thing you don’t work for a state agency. Anything you do with work resources is subject to discovery. I know this from personal experience when my partner was involved in a contested firing and all her emails were reviewed. Good thing we kept personal convos to ‘yes, chicken sounds great for dinner’ or ‘did you hear that so&so is retiring?’.

        6. MyGoingConcern*

          Roscoe, I’d urge you to go review your company’s IT policy. If you’re in the US then your employer likely has every right to review any information you open or view on your work computer. They can automatically log it, scan it using apps, have a human review it, etc. It doesn’t matter whether “everyone does it” or not. If you don’t want your employer reading specific info then it’s 100% your responsibility to use personal devices to view/send/save it.

          In the US at least, if an employer doesn’t specify otherwise then any sort of privacy on company equipment is mere courtesy that the employer can opt out of at any time, not an obligation on their part or right of yours.

        1. Colette*

          Free game how? Could someone else with a work-related reason to access computer read them? Sure, if that’s where she’s storing them. Should they access them if they know what they are? Probably not.

            1. Colette*

              I tend to believe they are. If they’re on a work computer and someone with access to that computer has a work-related reason to go through the files on that computer, absolutely they could open them. If it was clear what they are, maybe they wouldn’t, but there’s no reason they couldn’t.

              1. KHB*

                But the question isn’t really “is it ok to open them?” (it’s hard to say that it isn’t, especially if the file names don’t make clear what “they” are) but rather “is it ok to act on the information therein?”

                1. Colette*

                  Sure. If there is information in there that points to a crime, it’s fine to investigate.

                  It would be morally wrong for the OP to photocopy them and leave them on every car in the parking lot, but if, for example, they were original medical records that Jane had doctored and handed in to HR to get FMLA or paid leave off, the OP would be within her rights to report that (and probably required to report it, at that.)

                2. Birch*

                  YES. Most on this thread are totally ignoring the difference between accessing information and acting on information.

          1. AnonNurse*

            It’s in no way legally different when you’re talking about documents being saved to an employer owned computer/network. There is no distinction or expectation of privacy.

          2. canyonlands*

            ok whoops big error. sorry. might make sense to delete these so as not to mislead (truly embarrassed here)

      2. tamarack & fireweed*

        That Jane shouldn’t have put her there is irrelevant to the fact that no one other than with a police warrant should be looking at them

    2. not that kind of Doctor*

      Under other circumstances you’d be right, but this is a work computer/email. There’s no expectation of privacy. Plus, the documents were labeled as invoices, apparently intentionally, and that’s shady. Whatever a person has saved on their work computer, disguised as work documents, is fair game for work associates to look into.

      1. OhNoYouDidn't*

        Agreed. Anything that’s on a work computer is subject to the company seeing, even if it’s not wrongly labeled as work product.

        1. EH*

          This this this!

          I mostly used my smartphone for personal computer stuff back when I could still go in to the office, and now that I’m full time remote, I just have my personal computer on my desk next to my work one. Personal stuff on the personal computer, work stuff on the work computer, period. I don’t even read non-work articles on my work system anymore.

          Seriously, work systems can have all kinds of monitoring software on them, including key loggers, which will save your username and password for things you log into from your work system, personal or not. Shady af, but we already know lots of employers are shady. Keep your info safe, keep it off your work system.

          1. KHB*

            Here, however, it’s the employer (or an individual acting on the employer’s behalf, anyway) who’s asking for advice. So “don’t be shady” is reasonable and relevant advice.

      2. Littorally*

        This.

        I can’t imagine the sheer chutzpah I’d need to claim that a file I’d stored on my employer’s computer was none of my employer’s business.

      3. tamarack & fireweed*

        We should also note that while this “no expectation of privacy” may be (IANAL) true in the US, it’s definitely not true globally. In Germany the employer can’t even monitor your email without consent. And I personally find it completely unethical to access confidential documents (financial, medical) just because someone happened to leave them lying around.

        1. generic_username*

          Do they not have you all consent to the monitoring when setting it up? I don’t think I’ve ever accessed a work system without first getting the warning that anything on the system is subject to my employer accessing it as well (at least on the initial access – setting up the email/account, etc…)

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            Well, we’re talking about human rights here – so there’s a limit how much they’re alienable at all. Sure, the employer can push it as far as they are allowed to. But there have been a string of judgements that affirm that privacy isn’t just stripped away with no residue at the employer’s door. Check out the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the case Bărbulescu v. Romania from 2017 (much discussed in Germany, where the confidentiality of correspondence is historically highly valued.)

        2. allathian*

          Yeah, same thing in Finland. We take letter secrecy (including email, even if unencrypted email has poor security) very seriously here, even more so than GDPR requires. This is why even company email is confidential, unless an employee is suspected of a crime, or some sort of wrongdoing that could get them fired. Even with a subpoena, IT can only look at email headers, and open only those emails that are deemed relevant to the investigation.

          I fully realize that my employer keeps logs of everything I do, but IT has better things to do than monitor what people do on their computers, unless there’s a good reason to suspect wrongdoing. They certainly aren’t logging keystrokes just because it’s technically possible. Firewalls are commonly used to prevent access to porn sites and the like.

          To ensure that nothing falls through the cracks if an employee needs a long sick leave or simply quits, role-based emails and ticketing systems are the way to go, because these have no assumption of privacy.

      4. Your local password resetter*

        Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you should. It’s still private info.

    3. Roscoe*

      Yeah, I found that a bit questionable too. Like, maybe initially she couldn’t tell what they were for, but she had to realize soon enough that it wasn’t work related, yet still chose to read it.

      its kind of like if I print something personal on the work printer. It only takes a bit of time for someone to realize this isn’t a work document. If they read it, its “technically” not snooping. But I wouldn’t call someone who read the whole thing right either.

      She isn’t in the clear on her behavior either, even if it was stuff stored on the company computer. My last few jobs my work lap top was the only one I had, and therefore there were some personal files on there. I think I’ve been pretty good about deleting it. But if I had left some there, I’d hope my managers wouldn’t go through all of them and just do the right thing and delete them.

      1. Helen J*

        I work in a job where I’m on site 8:00-5:00 Monday-Friday, so I do occasionally have to do personal things via work computer because I literally have no other option. I agree that as soon as she saw it was not work related, she should have stopped. As other have pointed out, there are many costs associated with college other than tuition and that may explain the money Jane received.

      2. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

        You seem to be missing the essential point. You keep talking about “decency” and “do the right thing”, but as several other people have mentioned, there should be zero expectation of privacy on a work-owned computer, and if you made than assumption, then shame on you. It it an absolute requirement that the company have access to EVERYTHING on a former employee’s work computer for any question pertaining to the former employee’s work that they may not have covered before they left. To think you should be entitled to any amount of privacy on a work computer that you don’t own is naive at best.

        1. Roscoe*

          Oh no, I get that there is no expectation of privacy, I still think there is decency involved.

          If you print something personal at work, from your work computer, to your work printer (which MANY people have done), there isn’t an expectation that no one will ever see it. But if your manager picks it up at the printer before you get there, that also doesn’t absolve them of it being wrong for them to read the entire thing when they realize its not work related.

          2 things can be true. A person can be legally allowed to do something that isn’t morally right.

            1. Roscoe*

              I mean, people can disagree with me all they want, but at least disagree on a point I’m making. Don’t say I’m missing a point, when its just I think the point people are trying to make isn’t a good one.

              1. tamarack & fireweed*

                FWIW I don’t disagree with you. Including on the distinction you make between legally permitted and ethical.

            2. Mannequin*

              It’s not ethical for them to read your personal documents simply because they have the legal right to do so.

            3. PollyQ*

              Maybe not with you, but I agree with Roscoe, both with his printer example and with the issue stated in the original question. Sure, LW had a legal right to open that file and look at it, but once she saw that it was Jane’s personal bank statement, she should have closed it & deleted it.

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            Also, frankly, with FERPA and HIPAA I would be surprised if there weren’t limits on that even within the US.

            1. CTT*

              Unless the employer is an educational institution or a medical provider or party to a BAA, then no. Those are very narrowly defined laws.

            2. AnonNurse*

              That would be highly unlikely given that FERPA and HIPAA are limited in what they cover and who is affected. In most standard offices, it people leave around educational or medical information, it is not subject to FERPA or HIPAA protections because it is not being shared by/to/with/outside a covered entity. It is up to an individual to protect their own information that is not being disseminated by that covered entity. Once it reaches the person’s hands, the covered entity has no right or responsibility in how the information is shared, purposely or accidentally.

      3. Kella*

        OP clearly stated that the pieces of information that lead them to the fraud theory were at the *top* of the documents. Yes, it’s ethical to stop reading something once you realize it’s work-related but I don’t think it’s fair to claim that OP read more than they needed to, when you haven’t seen the documents and OP already mentioned the info being at the top. How do you assess how much is “too much” to read of a document you’ve never seen?

        Using your printer example, if I went to the printer looking for something I had printed and picked up something else, I could imagine being spaced out enough to read through half of it before realizing it wasn’t work-related and that it belonged to Sue in accounting. That’s also not the best analogy because in this case, it was OP’s *job* to go through all of the documents and at least see what they were, whereas at a printer, you’re more likely to just check to see whether it’s yours or not and ignore everything else. On a work computer, the employer is defaulting to assuming that *everything* on the computer belongs to the company.

    4. Malarkey01*

      Yeah the fact that these were her personal bank statements coupled with the fact that you don’t know exactly what the non profit credits were paying for (plus they could be for a spouse of a dependent, etc) mean that you don’t know exactly what you found. Questioning it means you’ll have to tell your company and her that hey I was reading your bank statements and this looks odd.

      1. LabTechNoMore*

        plus they could be for a spouse of a dependent, etc

        This is where my mind went. The money could have been towards college for a dependent, spouse, or even a close friend that doesn’t have their own bank account. (Or for paying off the extra costs beyond tuition.)

    5. Myrin*

      These kinds of comments always come up whenever the topic of “I accidentally/innocently looked at [thing], immediately saw something potentially shady, and then looked into it more deeply” arises. Like, heaven forbid someone be a fast reader and see information at first glance.

      1. Amaranth*

        I agree. Taking OP at their word – and going from my own bank statements – the deposits/credits are right at the top and listed the company names. I’d see all of that at a glance and in my mind I’m skimming files on a work computer to file Jane’s work documents, not immediately thinking ‘this top line has Jane’s name it must be private.’ I think OP needs to step back and not immediately assume there was something shady going on, but once you see something odd that appears to relate to the company, you can’t pretend you didn’t. Numbering the files like invoices actually means that OP now needs to at least open every file to see if its private rather than just moving all the files to the work server.

      2. Sleeve*

        The psychology behind this is actually fascinating! Basically, there are two types of readers and most people don’t realise the other type exists.

        One type, the automatic readers, will take in text that passes in front of their eyes and process it as text automatically. If they’ve seen a street sign or a document, they’ve read it and they know what it says.

        The other type are manual readers. When they see text their brain sees a line of symbols and stores it conceptually. They now know that there are words there and they can choose to read them if they want to. But they have to make an active choice to do so.

        This caused a lot of problems at my old workplace. It was a processing plant with a lot of hazards, so the auto-readers kept putting up more and more signs. But the manual readers kept complaining about ‘too many signs’ and getting ‘sign fatigue’. Safety incidents happened due to people not reading signs. This seemed ridiculous to the auto readers. How could someone not read a sign?! They must have been intentionally trying to ignore the signs out of malice! The manual readers got angry because they thought it should be obvious that there were way too many signs for anyone to ever read them all. The very idea was ridiculous!

        I didn’t know about manual and auto readers when I worked there and the problem wasn’t resolved before I left, but this comment is making me consider sending them an email.

        Anyway, the LW just seems like an auto reader to me.

        1. Sleeve*

          Oh and for the record the auto/manual split has nothing to do with intelligence, education level or IQ. I know manual readers with PhDs and high school drop outs who are autos. It seems to be more of a biological thing.

        2. Not your typical admin*

          This is amazing!!!!! I’m a very fast auto reader. I could totally see reading the first few lines of the bank statement before my brain processed what it was and that it was personal. Especially if I wasn’t expecting it.

        3. jiggle mouse*

          I’m an autoreader and financial statements I glanced at while working in capital management still disturb me nearly 2 decades later (most people would be utterly shocked at who funds PBS/NPR). It’s not something I can turn off, even when I want to.

        4. KHB*

          What difference does that make? Maybe you can’t unsee what you saw or unknow what you know, but if it’s something you know you’re not supposed to see or know, you can (and should) refrain from acting on it.

        5. allathian*

          Yeah, this. I’m an auto reader, and I can’t see any text in a language I understand without becoming consciously aware of it and it’s not something I can switch off, either. I’ll even read the backs of milk cartons and cereal boxes if I have nothing else to read. The whole concept of seeing text and choosing not to read it is utterly foreign to my nature, so thanks for a very enlightening post.

        6. Fascinating*

          This is legitimately interesting! I guess it’s kind of like how studies show some people lack an internal monologue while others have it? I wonder if there’s any connection?

    6. MistOrMister*

      OP’s letter clearly says the statements were named the same way as some work invoices. Thus they had to open them to see if they were work related. And yeah, in a perfect world they would open them, see they weren’t for work and close immediately. But….you can’t tell until you’ve looked at the document. It doesn’t sound to me like OP was deliberately digging in someone’s personal documents.

      I’ve seen someone’s medical documents before because they came to a main office fax. I did not want or need to know that this lady was going through chemo, but as the person manning the fax machine, I had to visually scan the document in order to know who to give it to. I read no more than was necessary to be able to pass it on, but these things happen and it sounds like that was the kind of situation OP was in.

    7. Spcepickle*

      I don’t often disagree with Allison, but I do on this one. 1) There is no reason to go through every file on a person’s computer. 2) As soon as you noticed they were personal bank statements you should have stopped looking. 3)
      The women no longer works for the company, I doubt you would be able to get the money back.

      Let this go and be glad the women is gone.

      1. calonkat*

        1) There were things undone, and there was a need to go through everything, just to make sure that nothing was missed.
        2) The information was visible when the file was opened, and it was related to a work function which provided reason to keep reading.
        3) Agreed, unless somehow this was worth legal action. I strongly doubt it is, but it may lead to clearer rules for the company and the charity.

    8. M2*

      Your employer owns your work computer. Anything you do on there expect them to see and have access. Same with your work phone. The fact people still don’t get this boggles my mind!

      1. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

        I rarely comment but I have several times on this piece today because I’m just so dumbfounded that people aren’t grasping this. It has nothing to do with “should” or “decency”, it is very black and white.

    9. Public Sector Manager*

      Where do people get the idea that an employer is ever snooping on someone’s work computer? The employer owns the PC and network, they maintain the PC and network, their electricity keeps the PC and network running, and they allow the employees to use it to do their work. It’s no different than a UPS truck.

      The fact that many employees use their work computer for things they shouldn’t doesn’t mean an employer has no business reviewing records on the PC. It’s their equipment. And this isn’t a case where the employer is using a keystroke program to get passwords to your personal email accounts you might access from a web server.

      These were documents on a work computer. The employer has every right to review those documents when someone leaves. They have every right to review those documents while your employed. Note to everyone–don’t save anything personal on a work computer!

  8. Kristina*

    I think the premise of needing to go through every file after someone’s left who (as stated) didn’t have a critical role in the organization is suspect. I was asked if I wanted my predecessors emails and I declined. It didn’t seem ethically appropriate or necessary when I can just reach out to him and ask if something rose to that level — and nothing has.

    I’ve never heard of tuition reimbursement programs through employers also covering supplies, lab fees, transportation, child care, and/or the taxes students accrue since it’s taxed as income even though they never see a dime. The expenses add up and absolutely could have qualified under this organization’s terms.

    Reach out to Jane if you must, but I don’t think she owes the author an explanation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m going to ask that we take the LW at her word, as per the commenting rules. She says she was doing it because she’s discovered a lot of things that the employee had missed, and she was doing damage control (which is quite reasonable in some contexts).

      1. Malarkey01*

        I agree Alison, but when she saw they were her employees personal bank statements should she have closed them and put them out of her mind? When I’ve had to review files and open a clearly personal email or someone’s household budget spreadsheet when looking for work items I delete them. I think reviewing someone’s bank statements and then drawing conclusions from them is an overreach. My company would not want to look at bank statements I found on a computer.

        1. Roscoe*

          Totally agree here. The problem isn’t that she found the file, its that she realized it wasn’t work related and kept reading it.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I don’t think that’s realistic. I’d have to skim a document for a few second to figure out it was personal and I’d absorb some information on the document in that time. I don’t think OP can just ignore the implications of what she saw because it wasn’t a work document.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                I don’t think so. She noticed a credit from a nonprofit. I’m assuming she recognized the nonprofit by the name, I recognize that as an assumption, but if that’s true and she knows employee is taking classes that’s not a huge leap to make the connection.

              2. Siege*

                You’re really building castles in the sky. When I was doing galley proofing, where you read the first few words on the left page and the last few on the right page to make sure the pages were printed according to the galleys, it was easier to read the book because I read too fast to “just” read the first few words. It’s very possible that OP reads quickly enough they read the credit before they absorbed the context of the document – and what do you want her to do about it anyway? Try to sustain a head injury so she forgets that she read a document, in reviewing a not-great employee’s errors, that suggests the not-great employee may have defrauded either her employer or a charity? What is your solution here for the poster?

                1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

                  Alternate explanations:
                  1. Freelance work. Maybe Jane moonlights as a graphic artist and designed the charity’s new logo.
                  2. Reimbursement. Maybe Jane bought tickets to a charity gala that “went virtual,” and she accepted the refund instead of going with the virtual experience.
                  3. Tuition that the company didn’t pay. Companies only pay for that which is related to the work they do, so if Jane’s in graphic design but wanted to take a biology class, the scholarship could have paid for the biology class.
                  4. Academic conferences, study abroad, professional conferences that aren’t funded by her company.
                  5. Undergraduate loans. Some charities might help with paying student loans from undergrad.
                  6. Expenses that aren’t covered by “tuition,” such as mandatory fees, books, software, lab fees, or parking.
                  7. Something related to higher ed but not specifically tuition.

                  One of the many things I’ve done in my life is to be on the committee that reviewed grant applications for professional development for alumni. Obviously funds were very limited, and money that went to one person didn’t go to another. We kicked around a lot of ideas of whether or not we wanted to ask for proof of income, other sources of funding, etc. Ultimately, we didn’t want to review personal financial information, and we knew that we were often funding small projects (e.g., expensive software, travel, and conference fees so someone could present a paper). Many of those people were in graduate school, but we specifically did not fund tuition. You wouldn’t have known that from the call we put out for grant applications, as we deliberately wanted to keep it broad and open.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  OR
                  Tuition for a dependent family member.
                  Tuition reimbursement for courses taken previous to company paid tuition. (Sometimes payments come much, much later.)
                  Maybe she did claim it as she should and OP missed her claim about it.
                  Maybe she planned on taking another course after she left the company and this was for that next course.

              3. tamarack & fireweed*

                While I agree with you on the ethical implications, I do think that it’s possible to take in a lot of information on first glance, at least the way some of us read, so I have no doubt in the LW’s statements about absorbing “ok, this seems to be a personal bank statement with educational credits from [charity]” before there was a chance to close the document.

                The ethical conundrum of “I have information that it was unethical for me to have access to, but it happened that I had, and now the information tells me that something *else* that is unethical is likely going on, or maybe going on – what do I do with this information” is a realistic one, and this is what I take the letter to be about.

          2. M2*

            Whatever you do on your work computer or work cell expect your employer to have access too! Whether it’s right or not is not the question just expect it. Even if you delete it they may already have access to it. Change habits and don’t do stuff on work electronics you don’t want them to see.

    2. Paperwork Pusher*

      I’m a huge advocate of having my predecessors or former employees’ emails available to the company, at the very least, and ideally, available to the specific people involved in covering that work, simply because of the paper trail it creates- attachments, specific wording, time stamps, etc. I’ve done a lot of jobs where issues don’t shake down immediately upon a person leaving the organization and I’m currently in a position where some problems are arising because we don’t have access to one former employee’s emails and another deleted a majority of hers before she quit. Not that can’t be fixed- but it’d be strange to six months + to reach out to a retired person to ask any questions, let alone highly specific questions that they probably aren’t going to remember this far out, but would be very easily found in an email trail.

      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        Agreed. There’s many great reasons to have access for the purposes of business continuity. I would also point out that it’s important to review these in any instance that the relationship was acrimonious, that employee may have emailed themselves confidential information on staff, the company, or clients.

    3. Siege*

      Presumably the pay from her employer, who pays her regardless of whether she’s in a degree program or not, covers Jane’s basic living expenses like rent and childcare. I’m surprised at how many comments here are acting like Jane is an 18 year old first-time student who doesn’t have a job.

      Supplies are a different issue, but the poster only says she’s concerned there may have been fraud, and Allison’s answer wasn’t “OMG get the pitchforks!” It was “investigate and see if Jane says something that clears her,” which would presumably be “the company program doesn’t cover X, Y, and Z, which was not an expense I could take on.”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes to your second paragraph. No one is saying to start with anything besides “Hey, Jane…” That’s really not a big deal. If I left a job and my employer was like “hey you left some files that concerned us” I would not feel violated or outraged. I’d be upset I didn’t delete my stuff better, but the followup isn’t egregious.

      2. Roscoe*

        It doesn’t really matter though. If OPs company pays “tuition” and the other organization pays “school costs” that is a very broad definition. It doesn’t matter if she is a first time student or grad school. Calling it fraud is a BIG accusation, and I think me and others are pushing back that she doesn’t have nearly enough information to make a claim like that.

        1. Siege*

          I’m dying to know who said “this is definitely fraud and you don’t need to ask Jane any questions that may reveal this is innocent.” I’m also very curious why you and others don’t think it’s relevant that a) Jane was apparently not as good as at her job as OP had assumed, and b) that she apparently directly lied on a form where she did not indicate she was receiving other assistance, or even c) that OP probably has more information about the supplies and other items this program requires than we do, and she says it’s none.

          1. Roscoe*

            OP never used the word fraud, but there is a strong implication that what she did wasn’t right.

            These were here words “Jane didn’t need any additional assistance for her degree, nor did she indicate in any of her company requests that she was receiving assistance in any form besides ours. There is a specific question in or request document for this.”

            It isn’t OPs call whether or not she needed additional assistance. The company covers tuition. There are far more school costs than tuition. This seems like Jane got additional money for school, but maybe not tuition, and OP is insinuating that it was wrong to do that.

            1. Colette*

              The company covers tuition minus any scholarships, assistance, etc. – so if she received other assistance for books/transportation/childcare, that would have been deduced from what the company paid.

              1. Roscoe*

                Would it? I guess I’m confused on why that would be that way. Maybe you and I are reading this differently. Or maybe you are just more knowledgable.

                But it seems that if Jane had $5000 in tuition costs, the company is willing to pay up to $5000 for tuition. If she got an additional $1000 FOR TUITION from a scholarship, then the company would only pay $4000.

                But if it was $5,000 for tuition plus $1,000 for lab fees and books, and Jane got something to cover that other $1000, I’m not sure that really would decrease what the company pays for tuition reimbursement.

                1. Colette*

                  The OP’s statement doesn’t clarify that only tuition payments would reduce the amount paid – she says “minus any scholarships, assistance” which to me reads like a bursary for books would come off the tuition the company is willing to pay for. Maybe the policy is more nuanced, but going by what the OP said, any assistance would reduce what the company would pay for.

                2. Calliope*

                  The OP was paraphrasing not quoting. It’s reasonable to assume they have a normal policy and not an insane one. The normal one would not be to reduce tuition assistance because the employee got non-tuition assistance.

                3. Colette*

                  @Calliope – it’s not unusual for organizations to make policies that require that the recipient of the program put in some of their own money. It’s possible that Jane could have made a case that she needed additional assistance, but if she was required to disclose all sources of funding and she didn’t – which is what it sounds like – that’s a big problem.

                4. OP*

                  These are great things to ask and I appreciate everyone’s questions.

                  As part of the company program, we do require invoices from the program to show costs. If Jane would have said that she got assistance for something we wouldn’t cover, then that would NOT be deducted from what was given. Something I hadn’t mentioned in my letter is that the amount received from the nonprofit was $5,000-$6,000 in one shot.

                  Granted, this could definitely be for someone else and it just went through her bank account. All possibilities which makes this very difficult. I care less about what she may or may not have done to our company, and more about the impact on the non profit.

                5. Sleet Feet*

                  @OP

                  Im really not understanding your panicking on behalf of the non profit here.

                  As you just stated, Jane doesn’t have to provide income statements for assistance of non company covered expenses. In addition it’s possible the funds weren’t even for her.

                  So if you call her and her answer to you is: yeah that was for University fees or her daughter …then what are you going to do? Reach out to the other non profit and confirm they are OK with people using these funds for fees instead of tuition? Try and confirm who they gave the money too? I can guarentee that when I worked in finance I would never answer these sorts of questions if they were not public, especially if there only reasoning for wanting to know was “I gained access to their bank statements and just wanted to protect your org!”

                  I’m not sure what you think your place in this is.

                  Also… When did you last go to university? I get the sense you think your companies tuition assistance of $5,000 plus the other non profits assistance of $5,000 means that Jane is definitely cheating someone but US university is way more expensive then that. I had $5,000 a semester for something called “education and tech fees” and that was in addition to tuition which was actually very low at only $1,200 a semester. And that was in state costs for an affordable school. My total package cost was $18,000-$26,000 each year depending on what you “count” as school costs.

              2. Lurker*

                Not necessarily…it could be that the company covers tuition minus scholarships, assistance, etc. *for tuition*. If that’s the case and the NFP assistance was for something other than tuition then it wouldn’t be deducted. But depending on the wording of the question Jane may still have had to disclose it.

          2. Sleet Feet*

            Frankly, if my company was like, we will cover tuition assistance but remove any other assistance you get…. I’d not tell them either. You want to deduct $500 from my work benefit of tuition assistance because I got a $500 grant for books? That’s some BS. I’m not going to let you essentially take away my book grant just because you stated you want me too.

            1. OP*

              The company pays all tuition, not just the $5250 yearly before taxes hit. If scholarships received were not for tuition, then it would not impact the amount received from the company for tuition.

              For the record, I received my master’s degree while working full time and paid my own way up through my very last year when I joined the same company. I do understand how much USA university costs which is why I was in full support of Jane, and other employees, utilizing this company benefit to the fullest extent.

              Panicking is a bit of an overstatement, but this is an ethical dilemma because it may have prevented someone else from obtaining their degree who doesn’t work somewhere with the same support. The city we work has a high poverty rate, and Jane held a role that paid 6-figures. This pay does not negate need at all for a variety of reasons. All perspectives on this issue are appreciated!

        2. Just Another Zebra*

          This is it for me – most bank statements are pretty generic. They’re basically a date, the company, and the credit/ debit amount. It doesn’t say what was purchased, or if the credit is for work performed. I think it’s SUCH a leap to go from a charity deposit to Jane committed fraud.

        3. Smithy*

          Absolutely agree with this. The immediate assumption/concern that Jane had committed fraud as opposed to having a second scholarship that covered broad education expenses beyond tuition deserves the pushback its getting imo.

          Where I do have sympathy for the OP is that I it sounds like Jane had maxed out in her position and likely was ready to move on well before she did. And the reason for that gap between being ready to leave and leaving might have been either due to her finishing her degree or finishing the period post-degree so she wouldn’t have to reimburse the company for tuition reimbursement. And if during that time she’s left a mess for the OP to clean up, I get this likely has not left the OP with a positive inclination.

          I think its worth the OP checking in with their own feelings to see if there’s anger/frustration with this larger handover process that might benefit from asking their current leadership for more support or other assistance.

      3. Le Sigh*

        “Presumably the pay from her employer, who pays her regardless of whether she’s in a degree program or not, covers Jane’s basic living expenses like rent and childcare.”

        I mean, we don’t actually know that. Plenty of employers, even in the corporate world, don’t pay enough for people to cover their living expenses, especially in high COL areas. Even if they do, childcare can be incredibly expensive and it’s quite possible doing this degree created additional childcare needs. You don’t have to be an 18yo without a job to find degree programs expensive and possibly out-of-reach — plenty of people don’t make enough to make it possible.

        I think it’s fine for OP to investigate, but the OP seemed focused primarily on tuition — so a lot of commenters are pointing out how many other expenses there are when getting a degree, and it’s important to keep that in mind and not just assume it’s fraud.

        1. Siege*

          I don’t really feel like “steal from another organization because your job doesn’t pay enough” is even a sensible suggestion here. There’s a LOT of effort being put forth to paint the OP in the worst possible light because they have questions about this incongruity, rather than the person who fraudulently claimed that they were not receiving other assistance on a form that specifically wants to know whether the person is receiving other assistance.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Uh, I wasn’t suggesting anyone should steal from their employer and that’s a bit of a leap to suggest I did. I was pointing out, in reference to your earlier comment, that we can’t assume Jane’s employer did or didn’t pay enough to cover their basic expenses, and so it was *possible* that they got other support for things like childcare to help them do their degree program. That isn’t saying anyone should steal from an employer, it’s saying there are many non-fraud possible explanations.

            Are some people leaping to extremes in this comments section? Yes, sure. A lot of people, though, are trying to point out the many other reasons Jane might have needed assistance, so it’s important to go into it with an open mind.

            1. Sleet Feet*

              Today’s commentors. All about those leaps.

              This mornings manager is apparently planning to sexually assault the OP as soon as possible, Jane definitely stole from the OPs company AND defrauded a poor non profit.

              Not much going on at home I guess.

            2. Siege*

              And that was Allison’s advice. It wasn’t “make weird leaps where Jane is definitely doing the right thing.” I’m going to trust OP that this was clearly money received for educational purposes (and in another comment she says the charity is well known in their area) so derailing with a discussion on whether Jane is well paid is weird. There may well be an innocent explanation! OP is entitled (and I would say morally required) to ask about it, not sit back and create a charitable picture of this employee.

    4. RagingADHD*

      “I think the premise of needing to go through every file after someone’s left who (as stated) didn’t have a critical role in the organization is suspect. I was asked if I wanted my predecessors emails and I declined. ”

      You are fortunate to never have been in the position where it’s your responsibility to clean up someone else’s mess. Work emails and files are saved for a reason-to make sure someone can sort out exactly what happened after that person leaves, because many things don’t come to light until then.

      1. Bertha*

        Are there really nonprofits out there that will financially support services related to advanced degrees (so, a masters or PhD), for people who are employed, and have their tuition completely paid for?!

        Yes, I have a master’s degree (that I completed while working full time) so I understand that there are additional costs, but don’t most nonprofits support those most in need? I would think the folks most in need would be a) those who are unemployed and having difficulty finding work (and Jane is employed), b) those without even a bachelor’s degree (heck, even government financial aid isn’t very good for master’s degrees), and c) those who don’t have tuition 100% covered. Surely there are people with greater financial need. I would love to hear some examples of nonprofits that will assist with costs of books, travel, or parking for employed professionals completing a master’s degree, with tuition already paid for. It just doesn’t seem like a good way to spend that money.

        1. Roscoe*

          I think its very possible that there are some that do that.

          I can’t name any off hand, but as an example, I can easily see an org that wants to further men in education roles, so they are willing to offset the additional cost of going back to school to get a Masters in Education, even if a company is covering the tuition part.

        2. Black Horse Dancing*

          It may be that the nonprofit wasn’t paying for Jane. Perhaps Jane has an SO, a spouse, etc. who is also on the account. Or maybe the non profit assists with other things such as transportation, etc. Perhaps Jane submitted something and is being reimburses. That is simply off the top of my head. There are many valid reasons Jane has that credit.

        3. bunnymcfoo*

          I just did a fast google and found several scholarship funds for people pursuing master’s degrees that don’t appear to require financial need as a basis. Here’s a couple examples: the Frederic G. Melcher Scholarship, the Holly A. Cornell Scholarship, and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation’s scholarship. That last one specifically says that “Scholarship funding is to be directed toward educational support (tuition, books, school-related expenses, living expenses, etc.) and not for personal or professional travel.”

          I’m reasonably confident that if I wanted to keep digging I could come up with more examples. :)

      2. Avril Ludgateau*

        Wasn’t this changed in the last presidential administration? I remember that, for example, grad school assistantships that cover a student’s tuition in exchange for TA duties, where the money never really changes hands (the school pays itself, essentially) became taxable income in… 2017?

        Not sure if this applies to tuition reimbursement programs through employers, admittedly, but in so far as TAs are employees of the college, is it not considered tuition reimbursement, from IRS’s perspective?

        1. MyGoingConcern*

          The first $5,250 of employer tuition assistance each year isn’t taxable income to the employee, but anything above that has to be included in their wages. This should actually apply to TA tuition reductions as well.

  9. Roscoe*

    I’m in the camp of it being an overstep as well as there being possibly more to it. For example, you say your company covers tuition, but is it possible that she used the other money for books and other materials? I feel like that isn’t necessarily ripping anyone off, just using every option at her disposal. Similarly, maybe she was using it for gas/food on camps/etc. I’m not sure you are in a position to judge how the other org dictates their money be spent

    I kind of think she is gone, so its kind of out of site now. If you want to discuss this with her and your company, that is your choice. But I do think going to the organization is a bit too far

      1. WulfInTheForest*

        Five years ago when I went to school full time, each one of my textbooks was at minimum, 100$ and sometimes up to 500$ because these were STEM textbooks (which almost always cost more). I was taking 6 classes at the time, and each had multiple books. One semester I spent almost 4000$ on books. It’s not inconceivable that lab fees, books, and gasoline to get to class would add up to be 5k.

        1. AnonNurse*

          That is a good example but in all fairness, and to give a possible opposite viewpoint, there are many programs that are offering e-textbooks as part of the overall cost of tuition and their students do not have to pay any “textbook” fees. I am currently working on my MSN and haven’t had to pay for any books because my program includes the access for free.

  10. Just Another Zebra*

    I don’t often disagree with Alison, but I think she’s coming down a little harsh on Jane, and not harsh enough on OP. OP, as soon as you saw these were personal bank statements, you should have closed and deleted the documents. Full stop.

    As others have said, not every program covers everything, or at least doesn’t cover the full cost. Books, parking, lab fees, child care, any special equipment that might be needed… all of that still falls to the student, and there are other organizations that do help with the additional expenses. When I graduated college a decade-ish ago, I remember that my tuition was only a couple thousand, but all the other STUFF I had to pay for nearly doubled my bill. Talk to Jane if you must, OP, but I’d leave this one alone.

    And delete those bank statements.

    1. Colette*

      This is bad advice.

      The OP saw that there was potentially fraud against her employer. She can’t delete those files now – it’s no longer her call.

      1. Mockingjay*

        “our tuition pays 100% minus any scholarships, assistance, etc. Jane didn’t need any additional assistance for her degree, nor did she indicate in any of her company requests that she was receiving assistance in any form besides ours. There is a specific question in our request document for this.”

        So the company pays 100% tuition. That’s terrific (seriously). But, as others have indicated, Jane still had to pay more for books, fees, and all the miscellaneous charges universities tack on these days. How is it the company’s business, let alone fraud, if she obtained assistance for the additional expenses? The company isn’t covering those. It’s rather arrogant to say “Jane didn’t need any additional assistance for her degree.” You have no idea of Jane’s personal circumstances. Re the question: I think it’s rather short-sighted to restrict employees to not obtain other education assistance if they qualify. I’m pretty sure the nonprofit has its own screening procedure.

        OP, you’re on a fishing expedition. Tighten up the procedures to qualify for tuition assistance going forward, figure out how to better monitor the work Jane’s role performs, but Jane’s gone and you can’t get her back to retroactively reprimand her. Chalk this situation up to lessons learned.

        1. Siege*

          I don’t think highlighting that Jane apparently fraudulently filled out a document is quite the winning argument that she’s pure as the driven snow and there’s no need to ask her a question to find out what actually happened.

          1. Mockingjay*

            She didn’t check a box. I’m assuming that the box was for only additional tuition assistance sources. That doesn’t preclude Jane from obtaining assistance for non-tuition items, in which case the box would never be checked.

            I really don’t think this is fraud. I think it’s a company form which leaves room for interpretation and needs to be rephrased or clarified. If I were filling out the form, I’d wonder if checking that box meant I wouldn’t be able to pursue other funds besides tuition.

            1. Colette*

              But you’re making that up. None of us have seen the form. It might be very clear as to what the application question means.

            2. I should really pick a name*

              So the OP should confirm that Jane didn’t receive any tuition assistance.
              If she didn’t, everything is fine.

        2. Colette*

          But they pay 100% tuition minus any scholarships, assistance, etc. – so even if Jane needed assistance for books or fees, that would come off her tuition.

          Maybe they shouldn’t do that – but, according to the OP, that’s their policy – and once the OP saw that there was potentially fraud, she’s likely obligated to report it. That doesn’t mean anything will necessarily happen to Jane, it means that it will be investigated.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Oh that’s not how I read it. I read it as “we cover 100% of tuition, unless the tuition is subsidized by other scholarships or assistance — but we only cover tuition, not books, other fees, etc.”

          2. truesaer*

            It doesn’t make sense to assume that “assistance” would refer to assistance not related to the tuition benefit. If she’s getting assistance for childcare or something.

            1. Colette*

              That’s what it says, though. Maybe the policy is more nuanced, but based on what the OP shared, childcare assistance would affect what the company would pay for.

              1. Le Sigh*

                Is that what it says? It reads very differently to me than how you’re interpreting it. Why would receiving outside assistance with non-tuition expenses come off of her tuition? Her tuition costs the same even if someone else helps pay for books or childcare. What feels more likely is, they cover 100% of tuition, unless Jane had received scholarship or assistance *for her tuition* and they just don’t have any assistance available for non-tuition expenses.

              2. Calliope*

                What the OP says is a paraphrase and it’s reasonable to assume it’s a sensible policy and not a crazy one.

                1. OP*

                  I mean, my company (just as just about every company), has some crazy stuff, but this policy is pretty reasonable. If she received assistance for something other than tuition, that would not have been deducted from what she received from the company. The amount received from the nonprofit was in the thousands, which doesn’t seem like it would be for books or fees off-hand. Childcare wasn’t an issue in this case, but it definitely could be for a family member using her account.

                2. Sleet Feet*

                  @OP

                  Ten years ago just one of my university fees was $2,500 a semester. Your assumption that a payment of $6,000 can’t possible be for fees is off base. I went to a cheap shool that was 1/3 the price of other public in state schools.

                  Total fees was close to $15,000 a year. My tuition was ony $2,400 yearly. This was because our state had laws preventing how much tuition could increase each year so they instead added a lot of ballooning fees.

      2. Ashley*

        I agree. Deleting potential documents of this type needs to go under legal review. You really should have no expectation of anything done on a work device is private and act accordingly.

        1. Alexis Rosay*

          Agreed. Jane downloads personal files onto her work computer and unless she was suddenly fired, which doesn’t sound like the case, she had the chance to go over those files and delete them before she left. I had to reorganize 7 years of my digital files when I left my last job, and it really didn’t take me that long to identify snd delete the handful of personal documents that were there by mistake.

          OP did not surprise Jane with an inspection of her computer. It’s rare that employees, even good ones, document everything thoroughly enough when they leave that no one will ever need to go through their files later to understand the minutia of their actions. Jane should have expected this. The fact that she did not bother to delete these statements from her work computer suggests to me that there probably isn’t fraud there at all, but a more innocent explanation.

          1. OP*

            The whole thing was very strange to find! She worked out a notice, so she had plenty of time to delete what she wanted. I found A LOT of other personal documents after that were not titled anything indicating they were personal, and were deleted immediately.

        2. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

          I’m pretty baffled by how many people here are missing this, it’s the key point.

          1. jiggle mouse*

            I don’t think they are missing the point. More like knee-jerk objections because they have their own personal stuff all over work devices and don’t want to deal with it. I have to admit, as careful as I am about not crossing the streams, this thread is inspiring me to do another clean-up, just in case.

            1. tamarack & fireweed*

              Or we come from a culture that values privacy and are working on promoting better privacy protections in general.

              1. STAT!*

                I value my privacy – and my clients’ privacy. That’s why I don’t cross the streams and mix up my private documents and my work documents.

                1. tamarack & fireweed*

                  Sigh. This is not about who is at fault. Of course if you leave your private documents accessible on a work computer you’re to blame for it. This is about whether you being at fault means that your employer has no obligation, and I quite strongly disagree with that.

        3. Littorally*

          Agreed. Whether or not Jane was committing fraud, these are the salient points to me:

          1) There is a possibility that Jane deceived the employer with regard to financial benefits they offered her, and per the OP’s comment above this would have been in the amount of several thousand dollars.
          2) It is not OP’s job to determine 100% for sure that this was innocent and a-okay, therefore it should go in front of the people whose job that most likely would be. My guess is either audit or an HR benefits specialist or both.
          3) Therefore the OP should absolutely not delete the files or put this out of her mind. She should report it to the appropriate people to investigate and let them do their thing.

          Whether or not the OP was right in the way she collected the information (and I do come down on the side of what’s on company computers is by definition company business, and Jane made it so by storing her files there), she has this information now and if she conceals it, she becomes complicit in Jane’s potential fraud.

      3. tamarack & fireweed*

        That’s a very very loose sense of “potentially “. The OP says in a comment that she isn’t even sure the educational payment from the nonprofit was for the employee. If it was for a child of hers we’re getting into the range where pursuing this becomes libel.

        I mean, what is not “potential fraud”. “I saw my employee receive an envelope from a clerk at the door of an office building that houses our competitor so she is potentially engaging in industrial espionage”?

    2. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      I am totally with LW as the manager who was uncovering problems left by Jane. Jane is also totally unprofessional to be downloading her personal information onto a work device (especially now that today’s smartphones have much more storage capacity and easily access cloud storage). Jane is way suss!
      Interesting stuff I have found that my predecessors left on work devices that I then inherited, in the course of doing my job and following up on projects, include family trust documents, animal adoption applications, and a long list of female contacts many of which didn’t include last names or company names. Hmm.

  11. phira*

    I’m not sure there’s necessarily anything fishy going on here. I think it matters 1) what sorts of expenses your company DOESN’T cover that Jane might have faced, and 2) what kind of employee Jane was. If this seems out of character for her, I’d listen to your gut.

  12. SlimeKnight*

    I think the most important lesson we can all learn from this is to never keep personal files on your work computer.

    1. Roscoe*

      I think that is a good idea that is really hard to enforce. I’m sure many people have had to download a financial, personal, or medical file while at work. Sometimes you forget to delete things. That doesn’t necessarily mean its a free for all for your employer to look at, at least if they have any decency

      1. lost academic*

        It’s hard, but important to do. That being said my current company backs up EVERYTHING to OneDrive. Every downloaded file, desktop item, you name it. I use an SD card and I could use a thumb drive for personal files (also good if you travel internationally) but some IT departments won’t allow for that.

      2. SlimeKnight*

        I’m not saying it’s always easy, but we also all have tiny little computer in our pockets most of the time.

        I work in the public sector and the possibility of your personal business getting swept up in a public records request has been drilled into my brain.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          For what it’s worth there are smartphone holdouts. I’m married to one. He’s honestly not sure what he’s going to do about Gmail’s new two step authentication.

        2. doreen*

          Maybe it’s because I’m in the public sector- but I can’t even imagine downloading personal files at work, especially medical or financial ones. Even when I clean up the shared drive of documents that don’t belong on it and I find an assortment of personal files ( some of which could get people into trouble) it’s never financial or medical stuff.

          1. Imaginary Friend*

            The problem is that because of how the web works, if you view something, it’s on your computer at some level. And if you view a pdf, a lot of times it downloads invisibly-to-you. You didn’t specifically save it to your computer, but it’s still there on your hard drive.

      3. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

        You really aren’t understanding the legalities of having personal info on a company device. You keep making this huge logic leap, referring to having personal info on a device as opening the door for a “free for all”, as if a group of people are going to be glued to the screen leering at personal info hoping for good gossip. The person leaving their personal info on a device they don’t own is the one in the wrong, not the current employee doing their due diligence searching for work information and happening across peronal information that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

        Say the company gets sued be a client, and the laptop is taken as evidence- everything on it is fair game.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          And that does mean everything. I’ve worked in an electronic evidence discovery processing firm. I have seen all manner of unpleasant, inappropriate and illegal nonsense on people’s work computers, up to and including porn of both the legal and illegal varieties and snuff films that I choose to believe were incredibly well-done fakes.

  13. Falling Diphthong*

    I am forever mystified when people’s bad behavior is uncovered because they… took care to document it and then put the documentation somewhere a person in authority would find this proof. Whether that’s creating “Invoice” files on the work computer or an instagram story about what they were really doing when they called in sick.

  14. NewYork*

    No one is owed any right of privacy on a work computer. I would let the charity know that the company paid for XYZ.

    1. Roscoe*

      There is claiming a “right to privacy” and there is being a decent person. I’ve downloaded bank statements before while at work. There is a good chance that I haven’t deleted all of them. I’d still find it shitty for my boss or someone else to read them just because they are on a work computer. Is it their “right” to do so? Sure that argument can be made. But doing it makes them a shady employer

      1. Not Today Satan*

        Exactly… the reality is that many people don’t own personal computers any more. So it’s extremely common to use work computers to save and send personal documents. When I applied for a mortgage, it was all done on my work computer and I doubt I’m the only one. I’ve also gotten documents from my doctor that I opened while at work and might be saved somewhere accidentally. Does that mean my boss is okay looking at my pap smear results? Um, no.

        1. A*

          Same. I don’t have a personal computer, I use a tablet for personal use and for the better part of the last decade it was a non-issue. However I purchased a house at the height of the pandemic when libraries were closed, and I had relocated to the area shortly before COVID so I didn’t know anyone in the area that I could borrow equipment from. Lead times for computers and laptops were far out and I wouldn’t have been able to get one in time. My lender was not set up for the immediate move to digitizing all of the processes they used to do in person (I’m in a remote area) so while everything could be done online, it wasn’t mobile compatible.

          So I used my work laptop – only in line with company policy (personal use if permitted outside of work hours). Once I closed I moved everything to my personal external hard drive and deleted everything off my work comp & OneDrive – but for a while there I had a ton of personal information on my work computer. If something had happened to me during that time I wouldn’t have faulted my employer for stumbling across them, but I also would expect they wouldn’t comb through it once it was apparent it was personal.

          These are unusual times, and things like this can’t be viewed as black & white as they once were.

        2. Allonge*

          The reality also is that a person choosing to use their work computer for storing private-life files will always run the risk of their boss (or someone from IT) to look at those files.

          Just as you cannot move in to your office and store there various apliances and valuables without those being checked/moved for, say, fire safety.

      2. KHB*

        Right. Employers in the US have a lot of leeway in what they can legally do. Just because they can do a thing, doesn’t mean they should.

        I remember once when my employer was updating their technology policy, they said something like “While we do have the right and the capability to monitor all communications on your work-issued computer, in general we’re not going to do that, because we trust you and want to treat you like adults.”

        1. Roscoe*

          Yes.

          Like, if I found out my company was reading my Slack messages or even emails, I may be a bit annoyed, but not angry, as those are tools specifically that have to do with my job.

          Reading additional downloads just seems shady, and the fact that so many people are defending it is shocking

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            From the letter: “And the documents were titled “invoice XYZ” so it wasn’t easy to tell what they were offhand, and there were company invoices titled similarly.”

            The LW needed to look through Jane’s work-related files. Before opening it, there was no way to know this wasn’t work-related. Upon opening it, she noticed the issue. Not sure how it could have been avoided.

  15. Much Ado*

    Hm, I’m surprised how confident LW and Alison are that there might be fraud. The additional funds could have been for uncovered expenses, or maybe she got an extra certificate in addition to the degree program the employer offered. Maybe her program offered a trip abroad for credit one summer. There are a lot of possibilities, and imo the small odds that this was fraud do not warrant the potential embarrassment of calling your boss and former employee and admitting that you read her personal bank statements.

    And yes, I’m aware the statements were saved on her work computer. Doesn’t change that reading them is weird and leaping to a conclusion of fraud is even weirder.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      I think that’s what most of us are reacting so strongly to – the absolute confidence that it’s fraud, and not money for books/ labs/ supplies/ etc. College is expensive! There’s so much more to it than just the tuition.

    2. Gothic Bee*

      I agree. It’s a bit much to jump to fraud here unless the expectation is that all financial assistance gets deducted from the cost of tuition even if that financial assistance goes toward other expenses (like books, software, hardware, etc.). There are also usually extra fees on top of tuition, so even if your employer pays 100% of tuition, that’s not all someone will be charged at most schools even before you get into the cost of books and other supplemental materials. And that’s not even getting into your point that it may be for a different or supplemental program that wasn’t being paid for by the employer.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Alison started with “Is there any chance it’s not what it looks like?”

      That doesn’t sound like she’s confident that there’s fraud.

        1. KHB*

          Is there a way of saying “Hey Jane, I was looking through your personal bank statements…” that’s likely to go over well?

          1. Allonge*

            ‘Hey Jane, I was looking through work files you left behind to figure out if I can clean up some of your messes. To my surprise, about 20 of these turned out to be your personal bank statements, saved in a way that is indistinguishable from actual work files…’

            I suppose that is too snarky though.

            1. Siege*

              Well, since they were labeled invoices, on a work computer where it is reasonable to assume the invoices were debts incurred by Jane on behalf of the workplace and not paid as part of her strategy of not doing all of her job, this is a weird reach. It’s not like they were labeled “Jane Doe – Bank Statement – Sept-Oct 2021.”

              1. Allonge*

                You know people process invoices for their work though, right? Invoice does not immediately mean Private Stuff.

                1. Siege*

                  You’re the one arguing that there’s no way to ask Jane about this incongruity, so I thought you might have missed that the circumstances actually do create a great way to ask a neutral, calm question without snark. “In checking whether all your outstanding invoices were paid, I noted this item. Can you clarify?”

                  Or you can assume that isn’t possible, of course.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      This is where I land. I wouldn’t conclude fraud from a few bank statements. College costs are much more than just tuition. Also, how does LW know those credits are actually for Jane? If they came from the non-profit through ACH, which is what it sounds like, the bank would need to look at information in the electronic ACH file to see who the payee is. It might be going into Jane’s account, but the credit may be payable to someone else in the household, like a spouse or college-aged kid. That’s not something you’d typically see on the statement itself.

    5. truesaer*

      The money could also be for any other member of her household that shares the bank account, or perhaps she was paid by them for some freelance work, or maybe she received an unconditional grant, or was awarded assistance for unrelated professional training, or….

      A bank transaction from some organization indicates nothing in particular.

    6. Allonge*

      Yeah, no. There are plenty of places where the ‘possibility of fraud’ already means that you have to report / investigate. If I saw documents like this, I would not have a choice on the next actions (or at least would not have a choice to ignore this) without a risk of losing my own job. Now certainly everyone would be happiest if it turned out that it was all a big misunderstanding, but I am definitely not risking my job because it’s awkward to ask what was with these invoices.

      Also, yes, practically everyone uses work computers for private stuff sometimes. Save the docs in a different folder, people, and remove them before you hand in your computer upon leaving! This was not someone’s boss going through their files on a random Tuesday, it’s files that Jane left behind knowing she would not return.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I guess this more closely reflects where I am at.

        I probably would not believe there was any fraud going on. But at the same time I do have protect my job.

        One time I had to report an accident involving a machine operator. It was not their fault. But by the sheer fact something had to be written up, any one of us would be upset. We all knew and had experienced how TPTB could badly, badly misinterpret the written word.

        My first step was to tell the machine operator that I had to write it up. He pretty much believe that he was hosed here, he said, “Do what you gotta do.” I wrote what I saw. By some miracle TPTB actually seemed to comprehend what I wrote and my cohort was rightfully deemed not responsible as the incident was a pure, total accident.

        OP, you can report what you found in a factual manner taking out anything subjective that may throw opinions one way or another.
        Perhaps you can contact Jane and tell her to her face that you are in this awkward situation of having to report these findings on her computer. I’d like to think that my cohort pulled his thoughts together better knowing that I would be reporting the incident and he had clearer explanation for what he saw happened. (This accident unfolded QUICKLY.) Because he was better prepared, he was also able to contribute to the conversation in a productive manner? I hope.

        I am really discouraged by how many comments I see that conclude “it’s gotta be fraud, report her now”. There should be someone or a team of people who investigate these things, I would wait to see what they say. Until there is a an actual conclusion, we do not know if it’s fraud.

  16. ChristineX*

    I worked for years and years in tuition assistance programs and it’s extremely rare for a company program to truly cover 100% of all costs incurred by going back to school. If it’s a sec 127 program, you’re likely prohibited from paying things like travel, meals, lodging, and most supplies. All this to say that the best next step is a review of the full policy to determine what actually is covered, and also have that team audit Jane’s submitted documentation. You may still have a case if it turns out that Jane checked an agreement that she would disclose all aid received, but even then there’s a chance the aid received would not have impacted your company’s payment.

    You could determine an overpayment was made and report it to collections, in an attempt to collect from Jane. That might cost your company more than it recoups, though. Very rarely do organizations pursue collections for these programs; they are even far less likely to be successful.

    1. OP*

      Honestly I think this is where the confusion is. I’m not concerned about what the company may be out of. I’m concerned about the non profit POTENTIALLY giving money to someone who already had a program in place. There are so many possibilities here that may be completely legitimate.

      1. Simply the best*

        If that’s your concern, then you’re really overthinking this. That nonprofit has its own vetting process for how it gives out scholarships. It’s not on you to try and figure out if their vetting process is robust enough. There are so many other possibilities other than fraud that are far more likely, so just trust they know what they’re doing.

        Also, quite frankly, I can’t imagine my former boss calling me up to say “hey I accidentally looked at your bank statement and now I think you committed fraud, can you tell me about this deposit from this nonprofit” and me answering in any way other than “I have no intention of talking about my personal finances with you” so I don’t really know what you’re going to be able to do anyway.

  17. Zidy*

    Personally, I’d just leave it alone. I mean, everyone is assuming the non-profit credits was for Jane’s education. It could just be that it’s for somebody else, like Jane’s partner or her child or some other family member that Jane’s helping support. And unless you know for certain that the money Jane got was for her and her alone – and as her boss, even if Jane was friendly and seemingly open about her personal life, it’s doubtful you know *everything* that goes on, if you pursue this it could open a large can of worms for Jane and cost her a means of income she’s counting on.

    1. Much Ado*

      Yeah, if her bank statement is anything like mine all it’ll show is NonProfit Name and then credited amount, not “Charity Funds For Your Personal Tuition”. For all we know she works as a contractor for the nonprofit. There are so many possibilities.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This is the way I lean, however OP can’t jeopardize their own job.

      OP there is nothing wrong with offering up some of these explanations here as possibilities. This allows you to report the finding and come across as concerned but not accusatory. “I found this and I realized that Jane might have received funding from us as well as another organization. But I can’t be sure because it could have been for a dependent or a family member. I feel I have to report this but I am hoping there is a logical story behind it.”

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    Is the non-profit affiliated with OPs company at all? Is this tuition thing a joint effort with the two orgs?

    If there’s no relationship, I’d stay out of it since it really doesn’t concern you and you have no idea what happened…

    Plus this person’s no longer there, personally I’d wash my hands of it

    1. LizABit*

      Agreed. As a CPA, the monetary outlay to investigate probably isn’t worth it for someone who no longer works there. OP, let this one go.

      1. Baby Shark*

        And? Are you, personally, affiliated with them in any way? Because if not, this truly feels like a not your monkeys, not your circus situation and my read is that you should leave it alone.

  19. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    I’m really side-eyeing the leap here from “her bank account statements” to “fraud,” unless you’re a forensic accountant.

    The bank account statements list the name of the charity, presumably, and the amount deposited into her account. Why are you so familiar with this particular charity that you know its name and the nuances of its tuition reimbursement procedures? How can you be certain that it was paid for tuition and not for, e.g., other work she did for the charity as a consultant?

    1. OP*

      The nonprofit is well known in the greater city area, which is why the name stood out. It is entirely possible there is a legitimate reason for receiving the monies.

      1. tamarack & fireweed*

        If we’re in the realm of “entirely possible” then really I see no reason for you to pursue it. I *would* probably step away from any further mentoring, and if your relationship is so close that at one point she asks you, you could say “something odd happened after you left that was never quite clear to me…” and clear it up then.

        If you are *very* concerned about the charity, could your company make a sizeable donation, maybe?

        1. Siege*

          That would definitely go over well in MY organization. “I’m going to ignore the possible evidence of potential fraud, because I like my ex-employee who turned out to be less good than I’d thought, but advocate for my employer to make a sizable donation to the charity my employee may have defrauded to make them whole. This will go over well with our regulatory bodies.”

            1. Siege*

              I’m “hung up on it” because unlike Allison and the OP, I see absolutely no way that not disclosing you were receiving other assistance on the form that asks that is anything other than fraudulent. We build our perceptions of the people we know by whether their actions add up. If OP is having to go through Jane’s files to this extent, I think it’s not just “so and so didn’t know they needed to go to the X committee meeting every month,” it’s something with larger ramifications. Now I personally have two data points that this person is not as honest as I thought. That matters. OP is coming at it from the perspective that she knows and likes Jane. Others are coming at it from the perspective that Jane has done nothing wrong at all, but Jane HAS done something wrong: Jane has lied.

              If Jane has been caught in a lie about the assistance, her actions that show a discrepancy (the invoices that appear to indicate double-dipping) are worth investigation. I’m extremely hung up on the refusal by much of the comment section to acknowledge that whatever else we know, we know with certainty that Jane has an obligation to explain her actions, because Jane is not credible right now and her actions are not consistent with each other.

              I will also note that in my industry, following tamarack’s advice would get me fired and blacklisted, and then it would rain auditors. It’s just weird gymnastics to avoid uncovering possible fraud, not an actual solution. Nice people do terrible things all the time, and taking action – any action – that removes the step where Jane offers an explanation is putting OP at risk when OP didn’t take the action that incurred the risk and shouldn’t bear the consequences.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I think there is a middle ground where OP can report a concern involving Jane without dropping a brick wall on Jane. I assume someone will investigate and they will make the final decision. Meanwhile, OP does not need to go in with eyes on fire and nostrils flared. She can simply say that she found a concern that she feels she needs to report.

                If it is determined that Jane is guilty of something, well then let those cookies crumble as they will.

              2. Baby Shark*

                OP has stated multiple times in the comments that she’s not concerned on behalf of her company, she’s concerned on behalf of the nonprofit. I cannot see how she could possibly have auditors rain down on her for not reporting it if she’s not in any way affiliated with the nonprofit in question.

                1. Siege*

                  I said in my industry, I would be blacklisted, fired, and my company audited if my company just made a large donation (OP also says this is at least five digits) to cover up actions by an employee that weren’t investigated. I was responding to tamarack’s suggestion that the way to solve all this is to leave poor honest Jane alone and arrange for OP’s company to make a donation to the NFP. I don’t know OP’s industry, I don’t care what it is, and I don’t know if it’s subject to the same regulations as mine. I was noting that tamarack’s suggestion solves nothing and is actually insane in terms of the risk it could open OP up to. Does that clarify my comment?

                2. Sleet Feet*

                  Siege can you clarify what fraud you think Jane committed againt OPs company?

                  I’m not sure that failing to notify your company of outside benefits on a form that they requested you provide the information on would rise to the level of Fraud. Especially since it’s an employee benefit that she did provide proof she did have the expense for.

                  To use a non school example, my old company had an emergency assistance fund. If say someones house burned down they could apply for the funding. There was a spot on the form to mention if they had other funding. If I, through inadvertant access to a predecessors bank statement saw they had income from a non profit in the area known for providing emergency assistance, I can’t see any mecanism by which auditors would rain down on our company for failing to disclose fraud if I didn’t alert my company to the bank account findings. And I worked in highly regulated industry’s of healthcare and banking.

                  If I had evidence of fraud, such as proof my coworker filed a false Medicare claim or insurance claim, it’d be a different story. But failing to disclose to her employer that she secured addition tuition funds, how is that fraud that rises to the level of a regulatory board rainng down on your company?

                  At most I would see it making sense to reach out to the internal committee who approves these and suggesting they require bank statements but beyond that I don’t even see how Jane’s company could try to recoup the money if they did find out that it was in fact 2 sources of income for tuition.

              3. tamarack & fireweed*

                I dunno what you meant by “my advice” since I argued multiple contradictory points in this thread. Above I only say that if you happen to come across something – in a document that you should not have been privvy to to boot – which could be prima facie evidence of fraud, or that could be something completely different, and it’s not your job to look out for fraud, then I really don’t see how it could get you fired if you didn’t pursue it.

                I mean – you still have plausible deniability. What would the mechanism be to get you fired in the first place?

                1. Sleet Feet*

                  If it makes you feel better my comment was about how it’s common to find mistakes from predicessors and is generally not a good look to try and smear someone who is no longer at the company. *Shrugs*

  20. lost academic*

    I think there are too many potential easy fair explanations for this and the action the OP is considering, if wrong, is very long term damaging. I might also add that at every company I’ve been at (and my spouse, who actually used the benefit) the tuition reimbursement comes after the completion of a term. (And in his case, a passing grade.) So that doesn’t help someone who needs the money up front when those bills are due – if you didn’t have your bill entirely paid after the first week of classes at my graduate school, you were automatically unenrolled and there was nothing anyone could do. (I assume this didn’t apply to undergrads who had grants and loans coming since that was automatic if delayed aid, but those of us that had to pay for fees in cash better get it done.) So it’s possible Jane needed additional support to cover the costs up front, and reimbursed them when she got the money from work. Plus, you know, all the explanations above.

    Walk away, wipe the hard drive, stop making assumptions when you definitely lack context.

            1. Colette*

              Potentially, fraud. If Jane did nothing illegal, deleting the files would be fine. However, if she did commit fraud, deleting the evidence is likely a crime.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                If OP *believes* Jane commited fraud it’s still tampering with evidence even if Jane is later exonerated.

                1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

                  Doesn’t tampering with evidence usually require that there is an actual investigation or proceeding?

                  I’m not an expert in criminal law by any means, but the LW would only be destroying a copy of the evidence. Jane’s bank keeps the records of the deposits; the charity keeps records of outlays and donations; and the company keeps records of payroll and other funds deposited, as well as relevant agreements. In fact, in a courtroom, it’s hard to conceive that the bank account statement would necessarily even be admitted, unless Jane were trying to argue that she did not ever receive the funds from one entity or another.

                2. Eldritch Office Worker*

                  That would depend on the jurisdiction, but in many places it just requires intent to interfere in an investigation – which would include deleting the local copy of the file in hopes an investigation doesn’t come about.

                3. Hippo-nony-potomus*

                  Which jurisdictions?

                  That requires the intent be to hinder the investigation. If LW deletes the file along with Jane’s personal photographs because the laptop is going to a new employee, that’s not criminal intent. If she deletes it because she thinks it’s a bad idea for personal bank account information to be on the work laptop after the employee left, and that can only lead to headaches for Jane and the company, that’s not criminal intent.

              2. Lost academic*

                I said “wipe the hard drive” because that’s what you do when you’re transitioning equipment to another user. The statement had nothing to do with these files specifically – it was a presumed and logical step in the entire reason the OP was checking the computer in the first place. Everywhere I’ve worked, quite frankly, IT wouldn’t have even looked at files, they just wipe and update everything if the hardware isn’t too old to reassign.

              1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

                Being an attorney, I’m confused about what on earth you think is criminal. Pick a jurisdiction to make it easy.

                First order of business: determining that Jane in fact committed a crime, and usually, a felony. That would mean that it’s not a civil matter, and would further mean that Jane wasn’t being reimbursed for separate expenses, or is otherwise in compliance with requirements from both the company and the charity.

                Next, you have to decide what you’re charging LW with. Accessory after the fact? That comes with some very specific requirements; usually you have to nail Jane as a felon. Spoilation of evidence (usually a tort)? Destruction of evidence (usually requires an ongoing investigation and it’s hard to destroy evidence that is available from other and better sources, ie. you would go to the bank and not a .pdf on a computer for the bank records)?

                So explain, please.

                1. Colette*

                  So as an attorney, would you advise the OP as your client to delete the records that may point to wrong-doing?

                  Would you be willing to bet your job (if you were the OP) on the fact that Jane was doing nothing wrong?

          1. tamarack & fireweed*

            This is a little silly, sorry. If it comes to looking for the evidence properly, like with a warrant, the bank still has the statements.

  21. Goldenrod*

    Totally agree with Alison on this one! Yes, do due diligence, ask her about it, and make 100% sure you aren’t off base.

    But if she really did this – report her, absolutely, 100%. I don’t even think it’s a gray area. (Once you are certain of what happened, I mean).

    Like Alison said, it’s a remarkably awful thing to do!

    1. Siege*

      Totally agree. I’m astonished at the number of people who’ve skipped over this in favor of defending Jane’s actions, which are at best unclear.

  22. AndersonDarling*

    I’d really like to know the dollar amounts the OP found in these statements. Is it in the $1,000 or $10,000 range? If we are looking at the low end, then I’d let it go. It’s likely this is for expenses like books and parking.
    But if we are getting in the $10k range, then it would deserve some investigating.

    1. Pennilyn Lot*

      I was wondering that too, because there’s going to be a fairly easy to spot difference between full tuition and money to help with parking or whatever. If the LW was able to discern all this other info then that should have been pretty obvious as well.

      1. zinzarin*

        Is that amount (%5,000-$6,000) roughly the same as the amount of your company’s tuition reimbursement when that payment was due?

        If those two numbers are very similar, that would be pretty telling.

  23. Helen J*

    I think the headline is a bit misleading because it’s not entirely clear if Jane got the money under false pretenses.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, there seems to be a lot of “Jane is guilty as heck” and the truth is we don’t know that yet.

      1. AD*

        Agreed. The jumping to conclusions happening all over the comments is a little alarming. I see that OP has commented that the charity whose name she saw on the statement is “well known” and it’s “entirely possible there is a legitimate reason for receiving the monies”. The immediate leap to accusing the ex-employee of fraud or wrong-doing is a little ridiculous.

  24. Kevin Sours*

    Not always practical due to the expense, but this is where “have a lawyer look at …” is really step one. Especially if I read this right and this involve personal financial documents left on a work computer. The situation feels like a potential minefield.

  25. Fidget*

    I don’t think I feel quite as harsh with op as some other commenters seem to but I wonder if Jane’s mistakes and the subsequent additional work is driving part of OP’s attitude. At any rate I agree with Alison’s advice

  26. Lifelong student*

    I don’t get the massive response of the commentariat. The former employee was required under the application form – according to the OP- to disclose other assistance. Yes, there may have been some items not covered by the employer’s reimbursement- and if the assistance were disclosed, that may have been okay. Also, the employer was certainly within their rights- and obligations- to review documents labeled as invoices. Having seen information on the documents, the OP cannot unsee them or ignore the information. There seems to be a lot of people more excusing any actions by the former employee and blaming the person who has reasonable questions based on information which in fact is documented.

    1. Fidget*

      Yeah I don’t get the outrage. But it seems to happen every time a manager or supervisor asks about potential wrongdoing by an employee.

    2. Why did I go to library school?*

      I get the feeling that OP accidentally jostled the hornets’ nest that is frustrations regarding the (ridiculous and unfair) cost of higher education, and that’s what people are actually reacting to. Which is kiiiiiind of unfair to the OP.

    3. Grits McGee*

      Yeah, it’s fascinating reading some of the comments on here about how much privacy people should expect to have on their work accounts/computers. Maybe it’s a side effect of having worked for the government for so long and dealing with FOIA, but I am very cognizant of the fact that there is zero expectation of privacy on a machine I do not own. Have I used my work laptop for personal stuff on occasion? Sure! But I’ve done it with the understanding that Uncle Sam has access to everything I’ve looked at.

      1. Colette*

        … but in the post earlier today, calling someone not affiliated with the company to tell them why someone was being fired was just fine.

        Sigh.

        1. Roscoe*

          That is a great point. And it goes to why there needs to be black and white policies, because when you leave things up to judgment and morality calls, you can have a lot of disagreement.

      2. Lurker*

        Yeah, I don’t get that either. Or the comments about people not even owning a personal computer. Laptops are pretty cheap these days… Have I looked at personal stuff (e.g. email, bank account, etc.) on my work computer? Yes. Have I used my work email for personal stuff – no. Have I saved downloaded or saved personal documents to my work computer? No. At the very least why not save it to a flash drive?

        If Jane saved personal stuff on a work computer and left it there, then I don’t think there is any expectation of privacy.

        I’ve also been in the same situation as the supervisor – having to clean up a former employee’s mess and needing to dig through emails and documents, and found all sorts of personal stuff – birthday party plans, mortgage applications, scans of passports! People – keep your personal stuff out of your work email and off of your work computer!

        1. Dancing Otter*

          A lot of places don’t allow flash drives for data security reasons. My last three clients, in fact, had no USB ports on the company computers. (This was a problem when the auditors demanded a spreadsheet that was too big to email, even zipped.)
          Doesn’t mean storing personal files on a work computer isn’t foolish.

      3. Allonge*

        This. Also, not even just work computers, but the work computer that used to be yours before you left a company.

    4. Roscoe*

      I think it really depends on how the application form is worded.

      If you are supposed to mark if you received other TUITION expenses, I think that makes sense. But if this was to be used for other expenses aside from tuition, i do feel its a bit more of a grey area to whether or not it needs to be disclosed.

    5. Purple Cat*

      I agree, the comments on this one are WILD!
      Jane labeled personal bank statement as company “Invoice” and within her fundamental duties of her role, OP had to go through these files.
      I’m *amused* and a little bit jealous that the commentariat has never had a lousy employee leave and other people have to weed through junk emails and files and figure out what the heck is actually going on.

      OP needs to just ask Jane about it and depending on the answer, move on.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Does the OP know that the employee didn’t disclose this? It sounds like they are just their boss and usually Tuition reimbursement is usually handles by other people (HR or something).

      1. Siege*

        Jane didn’t need any additional assistance for her degree, nor did she indicate in any of her company requests that she was receiving assistance in any form besides ours. There is a specific question in or request document for this.

    7. Siege*

      It is extremely confusing. I’m as pro-worker as it gets, and part of that is acknowledging that sometimes we make mistakes! Sometimes, we clearly engage in fraud by not accurately disclosing things we are asked to disclose! The defense of Jane feels like this enormous reach, especially since “I noted this discrepancy with some forms you left on your computer” isn’t conceptually that far out there. OP does not need to string together a story that exonerates Jane. OP does need to investigate.

  27. Meep*

    Small little Toxic Coworker story (because if there is a shitty thing to do, she has done it):

    We had a guy who was working with us between his Junior and Senior year of college. He then was on our company-sponsored capstone team as well as working for us 8 hours a week on company projects. They made him a verbal offer in February before he was set to graduate. By May, my Toxic Coworker was dancing around giving him his actual offer letter, despite the owner of the company assuming she has already given it to him. He spent June, July, and August working for us while expressing occasionally to me that he was stressed out as he couldn’t pay rent AND his student loans. Well, he ended up finding a job elsewhere and Bossman was shocked. He immediately gave this kid his offer himself after him trying for literal months only to have Toxic Coworker yell at him for disturbing Bossman. The kid went elsewhere, which was reasonable. Boss was unhappy and she tried to blame me for it.

    My point is, while it is very generous of you to offer tuition reimbursement, ask yourself how much does it really cover? Someone already mentioned it might not cover resources like books or programs, but does it cover the time off she had to take to pursue this degree, or was she losing money in the short term that she needed because she was taking UNPAID time off?

    I agree with Alison on asking her first. You may find that the degree program that your company offers is by no means actually generous. Mine isn’t. Toxic Coworker made sure of that, so I am paying out of pocket for my Masters while taking it online.

    tl;dr – People who steal from the company may be greedy jerks or, most likely, they feel like the company owes them something because the company took advantage of them first.

    1. Meep*

      Clarification: He was working with us as a contractor on a $20/hr salary meaning he had to pay taxes, and was doing 40 hours of work for 8 hours of pay. He was going broke working for us and she didn’t care, because she was trying to use the money allotted for his FT position as a bonus to herself.

    2. Colette*

      I’ve got to say, I don’t buy that stealing is morally OK because the company didn’t pay for the full cost of doing a degree.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Sorry but this is an odd take… the OP clearly states that they pay 100% of tuition after any scholarships. It’s not on the company to pay 100% of tuition +books+ child care+ housing+ transportation+ any other randomly associated costs. Paying the tuition is a benefit that they don’t have to pay at all and it’s a pretty damn good one for a lot of people to take advantage of.

      At a certain point it’s up the employees to figure out the rest which there will surely be some costs incurred. Why would the employee have to take time off? There are a ton of good online fully accredited programs that work with many different schedules. A lot of managers will be flexible with employees if they need time off here and there for school related activities.

      This is just an odd stance to take … I mean should my employer pay for all my vacation costs including airfare and hotel because they have a PTO benefit?

      1. Littorally*

        Yeah, this is really weird concept to have floating all over the comments section. Employer doesn’t pay for parking! Employer doesn’t pay for books! Yeah, the employer doesn’t have to pay for the degree either, but they are doing so, and the fact that they don’t subsidize literally everything isn’t a reason to double-dip or violate the terms of their tuition assistance.

        1. Siege*

          No, no, employer needs to pay for everything employee needs or wants, and if they don’t, employee is justified in theft. /s

          I don’t know about you, but I make decisions about what I can afford. I’m not signing up for a program I can’t afford, no matter the reimbursement.

      2. metadata minion*

        The letter does specify that they arranged for time off for the employee; I’m assuming there was something they weren’t able to manage outside of work hours. It doesn’t say unpaid, though.

      3. Baby Shark*

        “At a certain point it’s up the employees to figure out the rest which there will surely be some costs incurred.”

        I mean, it sounds like that may very well be what Jane was doing.

    4. metadata minion*

      Unless the company is requiring this employee to enroll in a degree program, I’m not seeing how they have any obligation to pay for *any* of the associated costs. Full tuition reimbursement is amazing. It would be awesome if they did more than that — I hope employees can use PTO for coursework or even have some or all of the time be straight paid hours. But if you’re getting a degree to advance your career in general, it’s not really your employer’s problem if you can’t cover the costs of that degree.

  28. Bertha*

    Is there any chance that Jane is the OP from the other day, and the nonprofit in question is actually her other employer..?? (Okay, pretty slim chances, but the thought occurred to me!)

    1. Readjust the moral compass?*

      Ha! I noticed that too. Someone who *maybe* took 5k in tuition assistance to which she wasn’t entitled is a monster, someone sitting on a second 200k job while shortchanging her employers and reports is a hero sticking it to the man.

  29. Staja*

    I’m with the others – my company offers the bog standard 5,250/year in tuition reimbursement. I spend more than that a semester in classes (2 per) so anything additional needs to paid out of pocket/with loans/scholarships/grants.

    This may just be someone trying to scrape together whatever money they can to finish a degree.

  30. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m just not sure how I feel about this.
    1. OP has the absolute right to go through documents on the computer to fill gaps/damage control. There is nothing suspicious about that. I’ve had to do that. Jane shouldn’t have her personal docs on her computer if she had time to remove them. While we all may use our work computers for personal stuff, which is IMO fine, just like hiking don’t leave a trace.
    2. It seems as though Jane left some sort of damage behind so I understand why OP is giving what she sees the side eye. I also understand why, on the surface, this looks super sketchy.
    3. I know college is expensive. Most employer tuition programs do not cover fees which is where the dollars start adding up. So, I second the argument that on the surface Jane may have need different financial support.

    All that to say, I don’t know what I’d do here. I have students who I award scholarships to who I know get full tuition remission from their employer. Except they don’t get the money until after they pass the class which often makes it hard to register for the next semester. I still feel uncomfortable giving them money but since I have no way of confirming what they do or not get, I give the scholarship anyway.

    And if you have any pull in setting up tuition programs at your company, pay up front for your students please. Tack on years of surface or something but pay up front and students can progress thru so much easier.

  31. What She Said*

    My take away from this is:
    1. at best, there may be a simple explanation, aka you didn’t cover my books so I went elsewhere for it
    2. at worst, there is a case for fraud

    All that to say, an investigation MAY be warranted. But that is up to those who oversee the tuition reimbursement program or high ups. It will also be up to them to decide if the non-profit should be looped into the investigation. If they do not need the non-profit in the investigation I’m leaning towards not telling them. They need to focus on their own company and leave it at that.

    LW, please don’t let those commenting with what appears to be anger to heart. I know how easy it to skim a document before realizing what is was and catching something you can’t ignore. You did nothing wrong here.

  32. Sleet Feet*

    My yearly cost for college was $18,000 excluding books and food outside the meal plan. My tuition? $2,400.

    Including books and 3 meals a day (plans were only 12 meals a week which worked out to 2 meals a day on weekdays and 1 a day on the weekend) was more like $26,000 a year.

    I think it’s extremely disengenous to accuse this person of fraud and Alison your title choice of “my employee took funds from a non profit under false pretenses” is quite a leap!

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Yeah, without knowing more about the exact reimbursement policies and the nonprofit’s services, I’m inclined to assume that there’s an innocent explanation here. Heck, depending on the wording of the tuition reimbursement policies, Jane might have thought she only needed to inform the company of assistance in paying her tuition and not regarding assistance in paying for book fees or parking fees or whatever.

      It’s probably worth asking about, if only because if it is fraud and it comes out that OP knew about it and didn’t do anything there would be a lot of trouble, but there’s a large array of plausible innocent explanations and I wouldn’t assume fraud.

  33. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I don’t know if anyone else mentioned this so I’m going th throw it out here. Do we know that the employee didn’t tell the employer about the charity contribution? I don’t think someones direct boss would be clued in on everything with the tuition reimbursement because there is usually a person or a team of people that handle that (HR or something). So OP you could be completely wrong and your employer knew about this.

    Also, I wonder if the reason why her bank statements were on the work computer was because she had to download them as proof of payment from the charity.

    Honestly, I think the OP should just leave it alone. If they have to do anything contact the employee and ask

    1. Siege*

      Jane didn’t need any additional assistance for her degree, nor did she indicate in any of her company requests that she was receiving assistance in any form besides ours. There is a specific question in or request document for this.

    2. Sleet Feet*

      OP commented above that the income reporting was only required for their covered expenses that would be deducted so it is entirely feasible Jane correctly didn’t report her income as it wouldn’t have reduced her company income anyway.

  34. Black Horse Dancing*

    OP, I am curious what this non profit may also do. Do they only focus on helping people get an education? Do they help with homelessness, utilities, or more? Does Jane have other people in her life? Perhaps that money was theirs. Why did you keep reading her personal bank statements? Also, do you have knowledge of her personal life? Perhaps Jane was going for a bachelors as well as a masters. Perhaps this is a settlement you are unaware of. Perhaps Jane did work for the non profit you didn’t know of. Honestly, I believe you should close the files, delete them, and go. You have no knowledge of anything wrong here. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

  35. Ashley*

    OP since the concern seems more to be ripping off the non-profit potentially, do you know someone at the non-profit you could ask about programs? Maybe disclose your company tuition’s program and see if dots connect for the non-profit? I am assuming it is public knowledge (as in not confidential) that someone gets tuition reimbursement so you could mention some names of people who have benefited from that.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I would not suggest doing this – it would violate a past employee’s privacy if the OP mentions the individual specifically or if her contact makes the connection that it is Jane that the OP is talking about. That could end up being slander, if Jane’s reputation is damaged as a result of the OP’s reaching out to the other organization.

      1. MyGoingConcern*

        OP shouldn’t take it on herself to contact the nonprofit without working with her company as Alison specified. That said, there’s zero issue of slander or libel if OP’s company sticks to facts. Defamation cases require that *demonstrably false* statements of a defamatory nature were made and resulted in damages. Just damaging someone’s reputation doesn’t give the person a case.

        “Our company provided full tuition reimbursement to Mrs. Jones for ABC graduate program between the dates of X and Y. This totaled $40,000. In applying for this employee benefit program on X date, Mrs. Jones provided Company written assurance that she was receiving no other educational grants or scholarships and agreed to notify Company if this changed. Any funds received from NonProfit for the purposes of paying for ABC program would be in violation of the agreement between Company and Mrs. Jones.”

      2. Wintermute*

        accusations of criminality are “slander per se”– you do not have to prove damages, they are assumed because of how serious accusations of criminal behavior are and the law automatically assumes that there will be a great damage to reputation.

        1. MyGoingConcern*

          Correct, but that info is irrelevant in this scenario since there’s still no defamation case as long as OP & her company stick to facts and inquiry.

          1. Wintermute*

            That’s fair though with things like this if you want to violate someone’s privacy and go to a nonprofit you’d better damn well have your ducks in a row and also your language has to be precise. If your statements to the nonprofit imply criminality and there was none, that could be slander. Of course, that’s the kind of slander that yeah, it’s technically against the law but you’ll probably never sue over, but even still. There’s also OTHER legal complications here as well, which make it a bit of a mess.

  36. Orange You Glad*

    Honestly, I would just leave it alone. You found this personal information by accident. There could be many explanations other than Jane was submitting tuition reimbursements to more than one organization. I could understand your suspicion as it appears your company footed the bill for something Jane was reimbursed for by another organization, but you don’t have clear proof that is what happened.
    I know my company caps what they will reimburse for college and graduate-level courses and it is on the low end. I’m currently pricing out graduate school options and I will need to apply for scholarships and aid from various organizations in addition to my company’s tuition reimbursement in order to meet the full cost.
    Also, if Jane did “double dip” her reimbursements, the only entity you can worry about is your company. You can push the issue and recover the company’s funds if Jane really did this but I wouldn’t police whether or not this nonprofit should or shouldn’t have given Jane money.

  37. ChristineW*

    Once she saw something that potentially had repercussions for her company, she needed to investigate. She is ethically bound to act in her EMPLOYER’s best interests, not Jane’s, and she saw something that made her think Jane may have been defrauding her employer. (Ugly word, fraud) At that point, it was absolutely her business.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      But there is nothing to show Jane was defrauding anyone. Jane got credits/deposit from a non profit. And? If I get a deposit from SSA, it doesn’t mean I’m retired.

      1. ChristineW*

        No, but what OP saw triggered her sense that she needed to investigate further.

        Your argument is akin to “I saw a stranger coming out of my neighbor’s house while she is out of town. That doesn’t mean she’s being burglarized, since she might have somebody checking on things, so I should put my head down and ignore it. There might be an innocent explanation, so I don’t need to consider that there might not be either.”

  38. MyGoingConcern*

    My #1 takeaway from this question & comment section is that a frightening number of people are terribly mistaken about their expectation to privacy when using work computers, servers, phones, and printers. There may be countries where the default differs, but in the US employers own every bit of activity that happens on their equipment. They can store, auto-scan, or have a human review as they see fit. While I think micro-managing employees to the tune of keystroke loggers and such is a poor use of company resources, employees are ultimately responsible for keeping their personal info off of company property. Personal use of company property is a perk that is always subordinate to the employer’s rights as owner of that property. There just isn’t a gray area here and wishing doesn’t make it so.

    Don’t want your employer reading any personal docs? Use your personal devices. Fussing about a manager reviewing files saved on a work computer is like getting pulled over for going 10 over the clearly posted speed limit and arguing that the cop was “ethically wrong” to write a ticket because that’s a spot where pretty much everyone speeds because it’s annoying to have to slow down that much. Convenience does not convey any rights with it, legal or otherwise.

    1. Cube Farmer*

      Every so often someone in my small office has to access another person’s computer files for a particular (work-related reason.) It mostly has to do with people not saving work on the network. I have two colleagues who are incensed by this, to which I always respond, this isn’t your property, if it’s confidential then keep it at home.

      1. allathian*

        Always save work on the network. My work computer has a small internal virtual drive with my name on it. It’s specifically for storing private documents on my work computer, and I’m responsible for deleting the contents before handing the computer in if I quit, or the lease runs out and I get a new one. IT won’t look at it, it says so in our employee handbook. FWIW, I work for the government, although not in the US. So the expectations of privacy on employer-owned equipment are certainly different here.

        1. MyGoingConcern*

          That makes complete sense. There’s no general assumption of privacy on your work equipment, but your organization explicitly designated a specific spot where employees do have an expectation of privacy. I don’t think it’s common in the US to do that but it would work the same way here – the default is that everything on company property belongs to them unless specifically stated otherwise. Obviously you wouldn’t store anything personal on a different drive though and then get upset that IT or a manager looked at it.

  39. Cube Farmer*

    Whether or not Jane committed fraud, I’m stuck on the idea that a bunch of personal documents remained on her work computer after she left the job. That’s just sloppy.

    I also agree that the other money could have been for books and supplies.

  40. Cube Farmer*

    Whether or not Jane committed fraud, I’m stuck on the idea that a bunch of personal documents remained on her work computer after she left the job. That’s just sloppy.

    I also agree that the other money could have been for books and supplies. Leave it alone, LW.

  41. 6101*

    I disagree that contacting Jane is a good idea. If she was deliberately defrauding, she’s very unlikely to admit it over a phone call from OP (and what happens if she says it was for a loved one for eg. but OP doesn’t think she’s telling the truth – OP will be in the same situation OP is in now) Also, it would just tip her off so she could manufacture some ‘evidence’ to the contrary.

    If OP has concerns, OP should refer to the appropriate internal body for investigation and review. They are trained to to follow up sensitively and within the law. Contacting the not for profit based on this information alone should not be done by OP. The info on the computer belongs to the Company not OP and therefore OP risks breaching Company policies on confidentiality / NDAs etc by revealing it to a third party without authorisation. Depending on how the not for profit was approached by OP if they did, this could also give rise to defamation or libel actions if there was an innocent explanation and the not for profit eg fwded an email (depending on what it said) from OP back to Jane. Let the experts deal with it.

    On the face of it, there’s not nearly enough info to suggest fraud and I doubt it would be investigated by the Company anyway. I’ve had to investigate fraud at a company I worked for and in the absence of any other info, and given Jane has left, it would be unlikely to go any further (if the credit from non profit said ‘tuition fees’, this might be different) however just a credit on a bank statement with no further info wouldn’t raise the bar high enough from what I have seen.

    OP, if you are genuinely concerned, report it internally and let it go. Unless your role specifically involves investigating this kind of thing on behalf of your Company, then you really don’t have any other role

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Completely agree with you – the only really viable option is for the OP to refer the issue to someone qualified to review whether an ethics breach or fraud was actually committed. And really, the only people who are qualified to weigh in on this would be the head of internal audit and (if the head of internal audit agrees there is an issue AND that it is worth pursuing), the organization’s legal counsel.

      In the OP’s shoes, I would refrain from speculating about whether Jane’s finances indicate any wrong doing. Even IF the OP is correct that the payments are for Jane’s own education (as opposed to her child or spouse), frankly, unless the OP’s organization’s own policy specifically states that the employee can’t accept ANY other money from any other organization for ANY education-related expenses, then they really don’t have a leg to stand on wrt claiming that Jane did anything improper. eg. If they say they are covering tuition and that their tuition payment will be reduced by the amount an employee receives from other sources, then Jane has a completely legitimate argument that her other funding was provided for / applied to non-tuition expenses. And there’s nothing the organization can do about it, and I think it would be a mistake to try.

      As for the OP’s concern that Jane prevented someone else from getting an education – that’s a pretty extreme interpretation. I would assume that the other non-profit has their criteria and that Jane qualified. The OP may be able to see Jane’s bank statements, and know her compensation, but they don’t know Jane’s total financial picture. I would assume that the other non-profit DOES know Jane’s full financial situation, if they approved her for their grant, and that they made the decision competently.

  42. Anonymous Today*

    For all the people who commented that it was wrong for the OP to have looked at Jane’s bank statements ad that people are entitled to privacy, what about the following:

    The company should be doing better based on the number of clients, size of accounts, etc., but seems to have less income than they would have thought based on those factors.

    An employee named Jane leaves the company.

    Another employee named OP is tasked with going through Jane’s computer and discovers some personal information of Jane’s that makes OP suspect that Jane may have been embezzling from the company.

    Since it was Jane’s personal information, the OP does nothing rather than risk invading Jane’s privacy.

    Management announces that because they aren’t dong as well as expected, no one will be getting a year end bonus.

    I’m curious if people would still support the idea that Jane’s privacy is more important than whether or not she defrauded the company (or anyone else).

    1. Wintermute*

      Computer files don’t leap out at you, you have to open them!

      First, chances are it was pretty obvious these weren’t work files. I keep my pay stubs and it’s obvious what they are by the name “HR.Software Report 10 3 / 10 16”. In a folder of similarly-named files. Even if it doesn’t SAY “timecard” or “pay stub” or something, it’s pretty obvious. Even if it’s not obvious once you open the first and realize it’s a personal pay stub, YOU CLOSE THE FILE. Even if you notice something at the top, you close the file, you don’t go scanning the contents.

      Anything beyond that is violating their privacy, and anything you find snooping shouldn’t be used against someone, most especially if you have no context.

      1. Siege*

        OP was EXTREMELY clear that these files were named in a format consistent with other invoices, not consistent with pay stubs. Good lord.

  43. Wintermute*

    I know I’m late here but… I disagree with this one and had to say something. First, AT THE VERY BEST you look like a busybody, even if you’re right (you were looking through files, once you realized they were bank files, sure you didn’t dig through the whole thing, but you were still looking through all of them!) Files on a computer aren’t like ones laying on your desk, you have to go in there and open them up! That is snooping, if you have no reason to be opening up bank statements, let alone more than one!

    Second there are just SO MANY WAYS that this could be something other than what it looks like that I don’t think it’s responsible to take one data point, which you gained in a questionable way, and making a big deal out of it.

    As other people have pointed out, tuition is far from all that an education costs, and scholarships recognize this. I was the chair of an organization, for instance, that gave out grants, one of them was for tools for people in technical associates degrees and entering apprenticeships. Oftentimes (especially for apprenticeships) you’re expected to have your own tools when you start a skilled trades program and because it’s not part of your tuition often the only option a student without family to pay for it has is to take a high-rate personal loan or even use credit cards. Now obviously that only applies to a very narrow field but it’s just an example of something a charity might be helping with that wouldn’t be tuition. There are many, many more and you can’t know exactly what she told to whom. If this was above-board you look terrible here!

    You really have to consider the upside/downside here. The upside is if you’re right you might let your company sue someone and ensure people know they’re morally dubious. Not the charity, most likely, for a variety of reasons they wouldn’t be likely to pursue this (and probably wouldn’t have as much legal cause), the money is spent, gone, you can’t go back and unring the bell. The downside is if you’re wrong you completely blow up your reputation, look like you look for reasons to screw people over, jump to conclusions and insert yourself into situations– attributes people understandably want to keep at arms length and things that are absolutely unacceptable traits in a manager. In fact if someone were under me and did this, unless they were 100% vindicated I would fire them on the spot. Even if they WERE vindicated I’m not sure I could keep them as a manager– people that can’t be trusted not to look through bank files just because they’re there are not management material.

    I simply cannot see any upside here worth the potential down side. It also feels icky to me because of all the assumptions involved. On top of all of that because the only possible benefit would go to the employer at the expense of an employee, I would feel doubly icky about it.

  44. Avril Ludgateau*

    I should clarify: I’m not clear if tuition reimbursement from a non-university employer is considered the same as grad school assistantships, where a student performs TA work in exchange for a tuition subsidy. I know the latter is considered taxable income, now. And I know that because I was livid when the change happened, as I was looking at grad school and simply didn’t have the money to pay tax on “income” that was going 100% to the school and never even passing through my hands.

  45. Seriously?*

    OP doesn’t even know who all is on the bank account statements that she is reviewing. She has no idea if the deposit made was to a joint account (so it wasn’t actually the employee receiving the money). Quite honestly, if she is concerned about her company be defrauded—surely the company has a way of checking this when they are doing the reimbursement. If she is afraid the non-profit was defraud…..that needs to be left to the non-profit and their system of checks and balances.

    1. Wintermute*

      Ooooh, yeah this is a really good point.

      She has no proof that this wasn’t related to another student entirely, perhaps they manage their child’s finances, or they’re for a partner, or another program she’s doing. The list of ways this could backfire keeps growing.

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