A reader writes:
Last year, I overcharged a customer by approximately $1500. No one caught it and the customer paid the bill. In reviewing what the customer wanted to purchase for this year, they saw the mistake and requested a $1500 credit.
My boss has decided that I must cover this loss for the company and is taking it out of my paycheck. I found out that this is illegal but I am afraid that if I confront him he will fire me, as he has all the power and I have none. Of course, if he does fire me, I could go after him legally but I am not big on doing something like that. So it comes down to this: Do I stand up for my self and risk getting fired (knowing I stood up for myself and did the right thing, and also knowing in this economy I will have to find a job that may be non existent), or do I eat the $1500 and get on with my life with my tail between my legs (and keep my job)?
Ugh. What a horrible situation. People are human and from time to time they'll make mistakes. A good manager will see something like this as part of the cost of doing business. Of course, if an employee makes a lot of these mistakes, you have a pattern and that needs to be addressed, through coaching, warnings, termination, whatever is appropriate. But one mistake? No, not unless it's far bigger than this one.
Regarding the legality: I'm not a lawyer and laws vary from state to state, but in general, most state laws prohibit an employer from deducting this sort of thing unless it was the result of willful, deliberate misconduct.
Here's how I'd handle it, with the caveat that I know nothing about your boss or your relationship with him. I'd sit down with him and say something like: "I feel really awkward about this, but I'd like to talk to you about this $1500. I'm mortified that I made the mistake, and I've been reviewing the procedures I use so that I can put safeguards in place to ensure it never happens again. However, we both know that mistakes happen in the normal course of business. In fact, sometimes people make enormous mistakes that we can't even put a price tag on, such as when a strategic decision goes wrong. Generally people aren't asked to pay the company back for the costs of those mistakes, because they're part of the cost of doing business. I know that this mistake reflects on me, and I'm holding myself accountable to making sure it doesn't happen again, but asking me to pay the money back doesn't seem right to me. Does the company generally ask people to reimburse the cost of mistakes they make?"
Hopefully, your boss just hasn't thought this through clearly and this will inspire him to. On the other hand, if he's a jerk and not very bright, this may get you nowhere. I'd try it though.