Friday, February 10, 2006

A Not-So-Expensive Lesson?

So far back in my former life, I used to collect a paycheck. I was a supervisor at a well-known think tank. My job encompassed a lot of duties, as it seems all jobs never adhere completely to their description, and the employers are always quick to add the disclaimer "and other duties as needed."

One aspect of my job was to verify and sign for my employees' timesheets. I viewed this as a biweekly chore that I couldn't get done fast enough and move on to other important things. I had a system I used that for years had never failed me.

And with that great use of foreshadowing, I am sure you realize that it did indeed fail me.

On payday, the particular employee in question, we'll call her Sharon, came up to me. "I didn't get my check, can you ask payroll if they still have it?"

Assuming of course that it was payroll's fault, I sent a quick email, probably with a slightly snarky tone.

Payroll had never even seen her timesheet.

As it turned out, Sharon's timesheet was sitting in one of my inboxes, forlornly unverified and unsigned.

Sharon panicked, she said she needed that money because she needed to pay for an airline ticket to her cousin's graduation. Well really, I think 99 percent of people would have panicked if they found out they were not getting paid through no fault of their own.

I felt horrible. Sharon had been with me for two years, and was a steady worker. I actually felt lower than low. I knew that this had all been my fault and there was nothing that could be done about it, at least for a few days. They could process her late timesheet, but not, apparently, in time for her to get her ticket. She also said she had credit card bills and the like, and I wished I had a cool little time-travel doohickey that I could use to fix this all up.

But of course, I didn't.

Do you think I would be here if I did have one?

But I digress. I asked Sharon how much she needed to cover her expenses. She said that 90 dollars would do it. I immediately got out my checkbook and wrote her a check for 100. I even gave her the time off right then and there to go cash it so that she would have access to it as soon as possible.

I told her, "Whenever you get the chance, you can pay me back. Don't worry about when, just when you can afford it."

Really, I impress myself with this foreshadowing stuff.

She never mentioned the money again.

I was to embarassed to ask for it, as the whole situation had been my fault in the first place, and it never would have happened if I hadn't screwed up. The situation went on for months, until I finally took an unexpected disability maternity leave and didn't resume my job for over a year. When I returned, Sharon no longer worked there.

To date, that mistake was probably the most serious I have made in my professional life. (you notice I said professional, right?) I got totally reamed by my bosses, and it wound up on a performance review.

But the money. I was never quite sure if I was getting what I deserved or if I should have gotten it back.

What do you think?


chichimama said...

You should have gotten it back. I mean everyone makes mistakes. But that is coming from the wife of a small business owner who has messed up payroll and paid employees out of pocket. And they all paid him back.

Suzanne said...

Yes, you definitely should have gotten the money back. It's just the decent thing to do.

Liz said...

It sounds like Sharon took you literally and could say she could never afford to pay you back. I definitely think she should have though. Like chichimama said, everyone makes mistakes and you did your best to make it right.

WordsRock said...

I run payroll for several companies and one of the worst feelings in the world is screwing up someone's paycheck. Which is, of course, why I try extra hard to get it right.

I've never been responsible for someone being paid late ... but there's always that chance.

It was good of you to make her a loan. I think I would have said, "Pay me back after you get your check." By not paying it back she treated it like a penalty for you making an error. That's wrong. Karma will catch up with her.