My employer stole my money?
December 13, 2012 10:51 AM   Subscribe

How to pursue check theft with my employer

Over the past year or so, my workplace has had a rash of random thefts - everything from computers and microphones to jewelry and clothing, phones and chargers, to bowls, plastic tableware and coffee creamer. There was a lot of hand-wringing and holding of meetings for a while, and then nothing - just a directive to employees to not bring in items we don't want to lose, and lock up everything else.

The response from management was a bit lacking. I felt unsafe and resented the fact that nothing had really been redressed. I had asked about compensation for my lost items (a phone charger and some burnable cds) and they said they weren't going to compensate me.

I brought it to the green. I got some advice to go to the police if it continued. I hadn't done that yet, but was considering it.

So - a friend owed me some money recently, and wanted to send me a check for it. I asked him to send it to me at work, because the mail delivery at my apartment can vary as to times, and I'm at work all day. So I asked him to send the money to me at my work address. I now realize that was a terrible move.

I waited for a week, didn't receive anything. The guy swore up and down he'd sent the check. All I knew was I hadn't received it, so I asked him to check with his bank. He did - and sent me a copy of the cleared check, which had been endorsed by - my employer!

I was stunned. It wasn't something HR would do. Somebody saw that envelope and figured it must contain a check. They opened an envelope addressed to me, stamped it with the company endorsement stamp, and cashed it. I mean, this is what I assume from what I'm seeing. I told my employer, and emailed HR the copy of the cleared check. No response yet - they're "working" on it.

The check was for $100. I assume my employer has theft insurance, but I can't get a straight answer from them. If they refuse to compensate me, is it time to file a report?

I'm also a union member - I have a call in to my union rep in case they can help, but I doubt it. They tend to side with management, even in one instance when they felt I was in the right. "I agree with you on this," the rep told me, "but is it worth making waves over?" That's their attitude, so not holding out much hope for that quarter.

I mainly want my money back, but I'm also wondering which fellow employee of mine had the cohones to open a check addressed to me, and cash a check made out to me. I'm not into vigilante justice or anything, but it would be nice to know that this person has received some sort of warning or wrist slap or SOMETHING. It has to be someone in the admin office, because they have access to the company endorsement stamp. Also, the name of the bank that processed the check is printed on the photostat of the cleared check. HR could probably easily determine which of their employees use that bank. I mean there are ways to narrow down the range of possible folks here that could be responsible.

Also - if someone has cashed my check, is there anything else the bank could tell me about this? The check was cashed at a bank where I don't have an account. Should I pursue details with them like what time and day it was done, which branch, etc? Am I vulnerable to further ID theft? What steps should I take to try to prevent further incursions on my finances and my sanity here?

I'm glad the check wasn't for a huge sum of money, but I'm still out $100. Any ideas appreciated.
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (28 answers total)
It is time to file a report now, regardless of their response. Seriously, like right this second. Their response is irrelevant.
posted by brainmouse at 10:54 AM on December 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

You will want to talk to an attorney about this. Your employer stole from you.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

You need to contact the police.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm confused. If the check was endorsed with the company's endorsement, what makes you think an individual got cash for it? There may be something I'm missing, but this seems like an administrative oversight on the part of the Accounts Receivable dept at your job, and I would expect it will be rapidly cleared up.
posted by OmieWise at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

You will want to talk to an attorney about this. Your employer stole from you.

That's not really clear from the description.
posted by OmieWise at 10:58 AM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: I'd tell your employer, meaning whoever you spoke to, and HR, that 1) you need your money; 2) you are very concerned about your unreimbursed to date losses and 3) if you can't get a response from them while they are working on this, you do think you need to file a theft report with the police to protect yourself. I bet that stirs them. If not, call the police and make the report and copy your employer on it.

Also, I'd talk to your bank to see if they think there needs to be a change in account number or any other ID protection. More importantly, I'd alert the check payer, as it is their account number and routing number that went astray.

Don't try to be amateur sleuth at your workplace. That is very likely to blow up in your face.
posted by bearwife at 10:59 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

HR could probably easily determine which of their employees use that bank.

What makes you think it was depositied into an employee's account, and not a company bank account? Is it possible they just thought it was a payment to your company?

On a few occasions, I have recieved checks made out to me that are actually payments for the company I work for; I'm the contact but the maker may have been unclear.
posted by spaltavian at 11:00 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, it sounds like the check got routed to AR and they endorsed it and deposited it without even looking at it closely, probably in a stack of checks.

The real question to me is whey they opened mail addressed to you in the first place. There is absolutely no acceptable excuse for that.
posted by COD at 11:00 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, just wanted to add:

It may well be a bad idea to involve the police in what seems like it could easily have been an oversight (pending more information). Even as a unionized employee, if you call the cops on your employer (which, let's not kid ourselves, is what you'd be doing) you will seriously poison your relationship with your employer. This kind of thing (personal check processed as company check) happens all the time.

If they don't give you your money, there will be time enough to get shirty.
posted by OmieWise at 11:01 AM on December 13, 2012

Response by poster: OmieWise - yes - but this wasn't a paycheck. The money didn't originate from my employer. This was a personal check sent to me, and the check was made out to me.

It's just possible that the receptionist took the envelope from the mail man and stuck it in, say, the HR box, or my manager's box instead of mine, and that it ended up somewhere in HR.

Still, I like to think the HR person would look at that envelope, realize it was addressed to ME and not to the company, and put it back in my box. But no - this person nonetheless opened that envelope addressed to me, and proceeded to stamp it and take it to a bank and cash the thing, knowing that it was made out to me.

Just seems like something a conscientious HR person wouldn't do, even in error. Of course, I might be giving them too much credit...
posted by cartoonella at 11:02 AM on December 13, 2012

This could've been a simple misunderstanding with Accounts Receivables. At my last workplace (and for all I know, this one) every check sent in gets endorsed and deposited. It shouldn't've gotten opened by your boss as it was addressed to you, but that, and the check, could've been interpreted as being for the company because you work there, and perhaps the payer confused you with the company.

I don't think you're going to get anywhere pressing a theft charge. I do think you should get your money back on the next possible check-run, and accept no delays.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:03 AM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: It sounds like it was deposited into the company's bank account. That they opened it is weird, but I don't think an individual "stole it" and is running around with your money. It's in the company's account.

Contact the bank that cashed it, they should have rejected it because it was written TO YOU and it doesn't matter that the company endorsed it - the endorsement (done willfully or accidentally) is the bogus part. The bank should refund the money and remove it from the company's account. Not sure if they'll do that and send it to you or put it back to the account of the person who wrote you the check though.

I don't think this is the same as someone going around stealing something exactly, but it does indicate a lack of professionalism in general. The theft of property would be a bigger issue, this just seems careless.
posted by marylynn at 11:04 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can't assume the money was stolen. I think it's just as possible that someone saw a check lying about, gave it no second thought and deposited it into the company's bank account. I mean, you'd have to be super dumb to deposit a check not written out to you into your own bank account. You'd have to have zero knowledge of how checks work...and they would have to have had a bank account in order for this to work.

I mean, it's still bad. Someone opened your mail and deposited a check that wasn't applied to any internal account. And you're temporarily out $100. I say give HR a few days to sort it out while putting their feet to the flames and then when that time is past, if there's no progress, then you can escalate the situation.

And what kind of company do you work in where HR endorses checks? That's AR's job in most companies, not HR.
posted by inturnaround at 11:04 AM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: If your employer doesn't fix this promptly (assuming the check was mistakenly deposited in a company account, rather than just stolen by someone) I'd start by having your friend go to his bank. He wrote you a check, made out in your name, mailed it to your office, and someone other than you cashed or deposited it. The bank should make good on the loss if various conditions are met (note: complex banking laws and the whims of individual bank staff apply, your mileage may vary). There are generally strict deadlines involved in making such claims.

And I'd start looking for another job. You shouldn't have to worry all the time about having your stuff stolen at work, especially if your employer doesn't seem to care.
posted by zachlipton at 11:05 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would caution you against flying off the handle about this. It might have been an honest mistake. Give them an opportunity to correct it.

Threatening to go to the police could easily backfire. Do you want to lose your job over this?

One question I'd make sure you know the answer to is whether you are officially allowed to receive personal mail at work. If you threaten to go to the police they could respond by telling you that you shouldn't be receiving personal mail at work and oh, by the way, you're fired. They'd probably give you your hundred dollars while you're cleaning out your desk, but that would be small comfort.

This wasn't theft. It wasn't sneaky. It got deposited in the company's bank account. You should keep calm and carry on.
posted by alms at 11:17 AM on December 13, 2012

When I read your previous question, my gut instinct was that the reason management kind of swept this under the rug was that they probably knew more than they were letting on.

I mean, if little things disappear, okay, maybe they're just incompetent. But if computers start going missing and management is still just shrugging and going "Eh," there's probably something else going on.

I mean. You suggested checking keycard logs to see who was in the building when the thefts happened, and their response was, "Well, but what if the person who did it doesn't work here? That wouldn't help, then. So we're not going to do it." That sounds like a fakeout, and not even a good one. Either these people are grotesquely incompetent, or something's up.

And here we have another thing like that. An envelope addressed to you was opened, a check made out to you was endorsed and deposited. Again, either incredible incompetence, or something's not quite right.

Contact HR again. Explain to them that this is a hundred bucks of your money and you'd like to know where things are at with this. "We're working on it" isn't a good enough answer; explain you'd like to be reimbursed next pay period. Avoid speculating as to fault, or saying that someone stole it. Treat it like it was an honest mistake, but be firm that you'd like to be reimbursed.

If they keep dragging ass on this, I'd talk to an attorney, but that's me.

And I agree that it's probably time to start looking for another job. Either your workplace has some seriously shady people in it, and you should get the hell out, or it's run by people who are dangerously inept, and you should get the hell out.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:26 AM on December 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Get a copy of the cancelled check from your friend. Show them that although the check was made out to you, it was endorsed by your employer and the funds are now in the company's account. Ask someone at the bank to open an inquiry about this, and file a claim that your employer cashed your check in error. Work this at both ends.

This happens ALL THE TIME with big companies. Once a customer sent BellSouth his mortgage check. So we processed it. He had $1300 in a credit sitting on his account. All automatically processed.

It's even easier now because you don't have to do deposit slips. Just stamp and deposit.

It's not theft, it's just someone not paying attention.

These people seem a little too laid back about money and/or personal property, start looking for a new job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:26 AM on December 13, 2012

An attorney picking up the phone or writing a letter is going to cost you at least $150. An attorney is not the answer here.
posted by COD at 11:32 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your helpful responses, guys.

One thing I want to say - some of you suggested going to the police, others said that would be tantamount to accusing my employer of theft. No - if I went to the police, I would want to do it with the support of my employer. What's happening is affecting them just like it affects me - I assume they want to get to the bottom of it (though some of you have suggested otherwise, and that the apple might be rotten to the core).

So going to the police would just mean, for me, that someone stole from me and I want to redress it. I'm not accusing anyone, since I have no idea who is responsible.

I think it's probably best to wait to see how HR responds - they clearly have to compensate me, and I will insist on that.

(To Famous Monster and others who have suggested my workplace is full of drooling morons and dangerous idiots - yes, I know. It's a tough market, I've got a very narrow skill set, and my field is shrinking to a pinpoint. I've got a mortgage and a mother-in-law to support, and I owe the IRS. If I leave, I'll never a find a job like this again - career = over. I'll be working for peanuts at Kinkos again. But I've determined today that I'm getting the hell outta here, one way or another. Thanks for the reality check :)
posted by cartoonella at 11:39 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nobody has stolen from you. Someone sent a check to the company address, the company opened it and deposited it. This was obviously an error, so ask the company to cut you a new check to refund mistake. They're not compensating you, they're making good on an erroneous transaction.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2012

Response by poster: DarlingBri - yes - it could be an accounting mistake. Or it could be part of the pattern of thefts that have plagued my workplace for more than a year now. The point is, I don't know.

Just today, some of my co-workers have said that the gift cards we were supposed to have received from one of our consultants, either never arrived or have disappeared. Again, there's no way to know right now if they just weren't sent (company error again! Gotta love these folks), or if someone has been taking them out of our inboxes.

This same thing happened last year at holiday time- someone was removing gift cards from employees' inboxes. Easy pickings, too, because they're generic - no recipient name or anything. About half of us got ripped off. To their credit, the company made good on that, I think because it happened to so many people...

Sorry to threadsit. I appreciate your valuable advice :)
posted by cartoonella at 11:56 AM on December 13, 2012

Best answer: Since the check was negotiated by someone to whom it was not payable, your friend should be able to get his bank to bounce it. The bank that accepted the check for deposit will either pull the funds from the account or eat the loss.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:59 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or it could be part of the pattern of thefts that have plagued my workplace for more than a year now.

What people are trying to say is that it is not. If it was endorsed with the company's name and account number it WAS NOT CASHED. It was deposited into your company's bank account. Why would somebody steal your check and deposit it (quite blatantly) into your employer's account with any kind of nefarious reason? For this neutral observer, it is hard to envision a way that this is anything but an innocent mistake. For you -- who are understandably biased to see malfeasance -- it appears to be something it is not.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:23 PM on December 13, 2012

Nthing that this is the bank's responsibility. The reason one has to endorse a check is as proof against fraud (not very good proof, since signatures can be forged, but still). It's not like cash; it's almost like a little formal letter, saying "X has an account with this bank, X wants to transfer $N to the account of Y's choice", and then Y (you, the recipient) endorses the check to say, in effect, "yes, transfer to my account here at this bank" -- then both banks can look at the check, agree that it's a legitimate, validated request, and transfer the money.

If someone other than Y endorses the check, and it's _completely obvious_ that it's not Y's signature, then, in theory, Y's bank should be able to recognize that. It's their job, and why we pay banks so much in fees, to facilitate transactions like these; to keep our money safe, and our transfers of money working smoothly.

So, yes, it's the bank's fault.

Your employer should, in an ideal world, not have endorsed a check made out to you. They should also not be opening your mail at all (a different concern, and the ethics of this may vary because of the type of business you're in or the way your work functions). However, although it sounds like there are real problems with theft there, this isn't necessarily intentional.

For years, a web service company I know used to send advertisements to businesses that looked a lot like invoices. People are busy, they didn't read things in detail, and a lot of businesses would just enclose a check as the "invoice" instructed them to, paying for a service they really didn't need (in fact, it eventually complicated their lives considerably, and cost more than the competing service they were already using). This was tantamount to fraud, but I'm just relating this as an example of how the mailroom folks can do stuff on autopilot, so to speak.

I'm guessing that, in a similar fashion, they have a mindset of "here's a check, endorse it and deposit it as fast as possible so we don't get behind". They really should have read it more closely, or at least have asked you about it since your name was on it. Who knows why they didn't.

In general, it's a good idea to assume people are doing the best they can, althoug I can certainly understand why you'd think of theft first in this circumstance.

Good luck - call the bank and don't take no for an answer. Of course I know you'll be kind to whomever answers the phone there :)
posted by amtho at 12:44 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the info, amtho. I just called my employer's bank (Pacific Continental Bank), the one whose name appears on the back of this check. They briskly informed me this is not their concern, and said I could recover the money only from my employer.

The other bank I can try is Bank of America, the bank of the guy who wrote the check. So about to try that. I will repeat your points above, and of course will be kind. (Why do people think I'm not kind?) But I don't have high hopes for the result. Especially since it's BOA.

I appreciate your responses so much :)
posted by cartoonella at 12:51 PM on December 13, 2012

In my line of work (IT Security) I constantly have to remind myself of this axiom: Never ascribe to malice that which can otherwise be explained by incompetence. It applies equally well here.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:03 PM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

The other bank I can try is Bank of America, the bank of the guy who wrote the check.

The guy who wrote the check needs to do this. He is their customer, not you.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:04 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sorry, I didn't think you were unkind! You just sounded a little worn down by the ridiculousness of the situation.

You might want to write a letter, print it out, and mail it, and tell the bank that you're sending a letter. Maybe both banks.

Yeah, and I'm not a lawyer. But really, it's the (a) bank's responsibility.

I just Googled wrong person deposited check (there may be better search possibilities).

Here are one, two links -- if you look further you might find more useful info.

Good luck! I hope this gets resolved quickly.
posted by amtho at 1:39 PM on December 13, 2012

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