Underpaid and Overpaid

Hello! I am having a deep conflict. My boss paid me more accidentally. I forgot to clock out overnight and ended up with an extra day’s pay. However, my employer has in a few cases not paid me properly and given me less than what I was owed for my work.

Should I keep the money and not mention it, or should I give it back? It may be worth noting that they owe me a few times more than what they accidentally gave me but does that matter at all?

Travis B.

Dear Travis,

Some of us have over-active consciences while others of us have under-active ones. Yours, on the other hand, seems to be signaling to you in just the right measure. Congratulations.

Let’s take a step back and analyze the situation. You made a mistake by not clocking out properly. In contrast to your truly accidental mistake, assuming that your understanding of the situation is accurate, your employer has not made a mistake but behaved wrongly by not paying you for work you have done.

If you owned a store and saw the owner of a neighboring store shoplift from you, would that make it ok to head over and shoplift from his store? If a man’s wife has an affair, does that give him permission to have an affair? Someone else doing something wrong does not confer absolution of our doing wrong. We must behave correctly. By neglecting to sign out of work, you inadvertently gave the impression of having put in a day’s work that you did not do. You cannot accept payment for a job not done.

However, neither do you need to stay silent about work that you did do and for which you did not receive payment. We encourage you to be very certain as to whether this is wrongdoing on the part of your boss or a misunderstanding. Are you an hourly employee and your salary has shown a shortfall for the work done? Or do you put in extra time and effort into a salaried position and feel that diligence has not been noticed and rewarded. The second situation might be grounds for requesting a raise, but it is not a case of wrongdoing on your employer’s part. Ask an objective friend or mentor to help you decide which of the two cases we cite is closer to your situation.

To start with, then, regarding the money paid to you in error, you do need to return unearned money to your boss. Bring it to his attention and hand him a check. Make sure that any tax consequences are adequately corrected.

Now, regarding the money you feel was improperly withheld from you, if you think that you were mistakenly underpaid, go ahead and make your case, graciously giving your boss the opportunity to straighten things out.

If, however, he has done nothing wrong but has not compensated you in a way that reflects what you feel is your true value then you need to decide whether you wish to make your case. You do risk hearing that the two of you have different assessments of your value, and a declined request will diminish your standing in that organization. You might choose not to rock the boat, although you may want to explore alternative employment.

Two wrongs do not make a right,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Ask the Rabbi is dedicated in memory of the four members of the Zohar family who were killed on October 7, 2023, in their home of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Yaniv Zohar, 54; Yasmin Zohar, 49; Keshet Zohar, 20; Tchelet Zohar, 18. While each deserves individual mention, we want to accentuate the wiping out of families that occurred. The Zohars’ 13-year-old son, Ariel, had gone for an early morning run and survived to bury his parents and sisters.

And with the hope that Omer Wenkert, age 22, is still alive and with prayers for his safe release. Omer was abducted from the Supernova music festival. Omer’s parents, brother and sister, and friends are waiting for the return of this restaurant manager.

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