Wrongfully accused of breaking someone's cell phone.
October 9, 2005 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Wrongfully accused of breaking someone's cell phone.

On my third day of a new part-time job, I was accused of breaking a coworker's cell phone. Her phone was located in a public place (the break room), and I had told her I moved it out of the way (it was sitting in the middle of a 3'x3' table) and the antennae had fallen out. Yesterday, she calls me and tells me that I owe her $50 for the damages to her cell phone, and that she already spoke the situation over with the boss and the boss agrees with her.

I know I didn't break the cell phone, as the antennae had simply fallen out, and I did not handle the cell phone in any manner that interacted with the antennae or would cause it to break.

From what it sounded like, the manager has already agreed to side with her. Is there any way I can possibly fight this, without (of course) taking it to court? Should I ask to see the $50 bill from her cell phone company? Should I send in my side of the story to a manager in writing (or vocally tell her about it)?, or even go to corporate with it? Is there anything else I should worry about (besides being on everyone's bad side on my third day of a new job)?
posted by itchie to Law & Government (38 answers total)
 
IANAL!

As you'll probably, there's a big gap between what should happen and what really happens. The primary lesson is not to be so helpful in future with people you don't know, because it will generally bite you in the ass sometime, particularly in a litigious location like the workplace.

I would see the manager involved and get their side of the story. The employee may be lying. In any case, don't make a big deal out of it, remain calm, and try to trivialize the issue to the ridiculously minor point it is. Beyond that, I'd say to passively drag it out as long as possible but without alienating anyone higher up the corporate ladder than her.
posted by wackybrit at 7:40 AM on October 9, 2005


set-up? I would just pay and move on.
posted by JohnR at 7:53 AM on October 9, 2005


Personally, I'd start looking for another job. If I walked into that on my 3rd day, I'd use it as a sign that there are serious problems there.

Also, I'd refuse to pay. You don't have to take it to court, just refuse to pay.
posted by krisjohn at 7:57 AM on October 9, 2005


JohnR, as a college student, the $50 is rather steep. To me, paying the $50 also means guilt, and I feel I didn't do anything wrong here.
posted by itchie at 7:59 AM on October 9, 2005


I don't know why but I read this and I'm really ticked off on your behalf, so please update us if you get anywhere. Question: Was the cell phone issued to her by the company for work related purposes, or is it her personal cell phone? Reason being, I really cannot imagine, at least in my workplace, a manager requesting that you pay this unless it was issued by the company. If it is a personal cell phone, she should perhaps not leave her personal crap strewn all over in public areas. Maybe this is a 50 dollar lesson she needs to learn. I'd definitely visit this manager and see what is up, at the very least. And it goes without saying, avoid this individual like the plague from now on if you possibly can.
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 8:07 AM on October 9, 2005


Is this just some part-time job you've picked up for extra cash while you're in college, or are you working in a place where you hope to build connections?

If it's the former, just blow it off. Worst case scenario, you get fired from a lame job, but that's probably unlikely. I'm guessing it's not the latter anyway; if you were working with some busy professor, he or she probably couldn't care less about some student's cellphone.
posted by Eamon at 8:09 AM on October 9, 2005


Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs, it was a personal cell phone used for (as she put it, I know nothing of this) "business purposes," which I'm assuming are for outside the company she and I both work for.
posted by itchie at 8:10 AM on October 9, 2005


Talk to your boss about it. For all you know, your offended co-worker is just telling you that she talked to your supervisor. If she had actually spoken to your boss, you would have heard about it from them, not her. Also, your boss would have already asked to speak to you about it. My guess is that she's trying to pull one over on you. I'll bet that if you bring this up with your boss, they'll be surprised to hear about it. Make sure that you don't march in there whining and complaining, though. Lay it out very clearly, like, "(Whatshername) called me the other day, and, saying that she spoke to you about this already, requested that I reimburse her for her damaged cellphone. Normally, I'd be happy to oblige her, however...."

What's she doing leaving her phone in the break-room anyhow?
Also, we all know that if you unscrew or remove the antenna from a phone, it'll still work just fine. Haven't we all had a phone with a broken antenna at some point? That little plastic/wire thing is almost entirely cosmetic. It's not as though the screen is fractured.

Bottom line: Don't pay for it. You were nice enough to tell her about it in the first place and if she's so intent on raising a stink and extorting $50 from you, she can shove it. I mean these days, for $50, you can get whole new phone!
posted by Jon-o at 8:27 AM on October 9, 2005


I agree with those saying this is a bad sign. For the time being, ignore the situation and see what happens. It could be, this girl's a flake and your boss simply placates her to her face. But if you've accurately represented the situation and it continues, walk. That's some weird, childish behavior.

As for the $50: just don't pay. It's that simple. Someone is asking you for money. Say no.
posted by cribcage at 8:28 AM on October 9, 2005


If your assumption is correct then it still has nothing to do with the company you work for and the manager shouldn't have anything to say about it whatsoever. I can only go by what I know from what would be done at my company; I am the facilities manager, who among other things, issues phones to employees for work purposes. If something like this was brought to my attention, I would just replace the phone for the employee, unless of course it could be proven that you like, flung the thing across the room on purpose. After all, it IS only 50 bucks (for a company, in the grand scheme of things, this is nothing). Once again this is just my opinion based on my personal work experience at my company, YMMV, but I'd definitely not roll over and give them the dough on principle.
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 8:28 AM on October 9, 2005


My friend had a small, clamshell-type phone and the tiny, stub antennae dropped off once. The cell phone store guy said they do that every now and then. It happens! It did happen to her phone! You are under NO OBLIGATION to pay, and I certainly wouldn't. As previous posters have said, this may be a sign of a "toxic" work environment and a lucky warning to you that it's NOT the right place to work! She certainly sounds like an extremely high maintenance individual and one to steer clear in the work place! Bottom line - talk privately with the boss and if they don't "back her off," blow it off, don't pay and seriously think about if this is THE place for you!
posted by thebarron at 8:46 AM on October 9, 2005


Normally, I would say just pay the money to end the hassle. In this situation, it really doesn't sound like you're at fault. Unless if you lifted the phone by the antenna there's really not much you could have done to cause its destruction. Tell her you didn't do it and see what happens. At the very least you now have an enemy in the workplace.

Where I work, employees are required to keep all personal items in a locker while the employees are punched in.
posted by drezdn at 8:48 AM on October 9, 2005


Pay her the $50, wait until it gets fixed (if it ever does) then next time she leaves it out smash it against the wall leaving it in 50 different shattered pieces all over the breakroom. The look on her face would be worth $50 to me.
posted by any major dude at 8:58 AM on October 9, 2005


Definitely let us know what happens! I'm sucked into the drama.
posted by starman at 9:20 AM on October 9, 2005


I'd tell em to pound sand. There is not even circumstational evidence that you broke the phone, making you pay for it is just wrong. If the manager insists then quit if at all possible as there is a serious ethical disconnect at work at this employer.
posted by Mitheral at 9:47 AM on October 9, 2005


Another vote for "buzz off." Antennae are fragile and not honestly all that useful these days; I bet her phone works just fine without it. Even if she got it replaced, my gut tells me that $50 is way too much to put it a new piece of metal and connect it to some stuff. Also, who calls the boss in for backup? And what boss doesn't tell this woman, "look, you two figure it out, this has nothing to do with the company?"
posted by chrominance at 10:00 AM on October 9, 2005


Insist that she prove you broke the phone before you'll replace it.
posted by S.C. at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2005


Just to echo what has already been said...a fallen-out antennae does not cost $50, unless she imported her phone from Japan or it's one of those Razr phones. And even then...no. It's still probably not worth $50.

And regarding your manager, there are two possibilities here. One, your co-worker is making it up completely that she spoke to your manager, or two, she made something up along the lines of "itchie SMASHED my phone and made it completely inoperable" or something like that, where the manager just hearing about it briefly agreed with her.

So fight it. She sounds like a Grade-A scammer. and IANAL, but if she doesn't drop it you could always claim she's harassing you. Anyway, please keep us posted!
posted by apple scruff at 10:18 AM on October 9, 2005


That girl is trying to worm some money out of you and, reading your post, I can't believe whatever convoluted series of rationalizations that led her to presenting things to you this way. It sounds like she hasn't an ounce of business sense (and if she's not lying flat out about your manager, then neither does the manager. I very much doubt she presented this fairly to the manager. Though there are exceptions, managers are notorious for remaining noncommittal.) If I thought a co-worker broke my cell phone and really believed they needed to pay to fix it, I wouldn't be berating them and threatening them. I'd be asking if they could consider helping reimburse me the cost of the repair after I paid up front and showed them a receipt for the charges.

And this is only hypothetical. I wouldn't ask them to do that even if they did break it. Accidents happen. Don't give her the money or she'll do this to everyone she thinks can give her something shiny for the rest of her life. Ask for a brief meeting with your boss. Let the boss know that you had a bad situation with this co-worker and want to make sure that you're not being misrepresented. Mention that you're interested in making things right, which is why you're concerned the co-worker is accusing you of breaking her phone and asking for an amount of money she doesn't have documentation for. Tell your boss you want things to go well and you'd like his or her advice. Let us know what happened, and good luck.
posted by rebirtha at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2005


What others have said. If you want to stay there, pay the $50 then go see the manager and explain that there is no way in hell you broke the phone, but you paid anyway for workplace peace. If you don't care about the job, tell your bullying jerk of a coworker that you aren't going to pay and are not willing to discuss it further--and look for a new job.
posted by LarryC at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2005


Hell, the antenna on my cell phone broke the second day I had it, and as far as I can tell it's never made a shred of difference.

Another vote for mentioning to the supervisor and refusing to pay.
posted by scody at 11:10 AM on October 9, 2005


You absolutely NEED to speak to the manager about this. Never, under any circumstances, believe a coworker when they say "the boss said to do this" or "agreed that you should do this", especially not during the first week of a new job. I'll willing to put my iPod that she's trying to scam you.

If the boss DID say that, then quit. It's her personal phone, has nothing to do with the business and most importantly, YOU DIDN'T BREAK IT.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2005


Another vote for trying to worm money out of you.

If you must stay in the job, and feel somehow obligated to pay, don't pay before talking to your manager and letting it be known that you didn't do it and you're considering quitting over this trivial bullshit. And if available (you didn't mention what field this PT job is in) talk to your HR and let them be involved too.

And secondly, if this girl says it's $50, make this agreement with her -- You want to see an estimate that it cost $50 to repair it first. Upon seeing that estimate, she will make the repair out of her pocket and then provide you with a receipt that the repairs were made at the agreed upon $50. At that point, you reimburse her. You should put this in writing, have her sign it, you sign it and keep the original. That is fair for everyone involved, and if she doesn't agree to it, then that says that she's lying and trying to make a buck off you, and furthermore, she can go f off.

But really, if it were me, it's just a P/T put-some-cash-in-your-pocket retail college job, I'd quit the job ASAP. Not worth the bullshit. If this is happening on the third day, there are underlying personnel/staff/management issues you don't want any part of. However, if this is the case, I'd still make it known to the manager, the district manage (if applicable) and the HR department (again if applicable) that this went down and this is the reason you're leaving.
posted by jerseygirl at 1:15 PM on October 9, 2005


Just called the local Verizon store and most antennaes run about $10 - 15! Can you say RIP OFF?
posted by thebarron at 1:45 PM on October 9, 2005


I note that you say this is a part-time job. I would chime with others in terms of sounding out the manager's real position. However, if it is indeed the case that the manager is recommending that you compensate the worker, I would suggest you begin to look elsewhere.
posted by WCityMike at 1:47 PM on October 9, 2005


Just to be the thousandth voice in the echo chamber, I'd recommend:
1) calmly discussing the issue with the manager.
2) if the manager says you should pay the $50, quit.
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:55 PM on October 9, 2005


This sounds like a deliberate set-up. A phone is sitting in the middle of a table and the antenna falls off when it's gently moved. That never happens by chance, so it's most likely that it had happened to her possibly many times before, maybe even before you worked there.

But don't make it personal. Talk to your boss and explain the scenario in precisely those terms. Tell your boss you know it's an annoyance and you know he'd probably rather not get involved, and so you are taking it out of his hands for the moment by simply telling her what happened and quite rightly refusing to hand over your own money for damage you had no part in causing.

If the manager really is siding with her, which would be unlikely, then is the time to say that the legal issues are clear and you didn't do it and won't pay up, that phone antennas don't cost what she says they do in any case, and that you will continue to do your job to the best of your ability regardless of a difficult situation.

Beyond that, if you're threatened, get everything in writing, including a letter from her phone manufacturer regarding the robustness of that model and cost of replacement parts. Make sure that you, she, and your boss have copies of all the information, and remain excruciatingly polite throughout.

If you're fired, IANAL, but copy all documents to the head of the company and the HR team, as well as your local tribunals office. Don't stay, but give 'em hell. And get far more than $50. On principle.
posted by paperpete at 3:40 AM on October 10, 2005


Don't forget to let us know what happened. I'm really curious!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:20 AM on October 10, 2005


Pay the $50 and do what any major dude said ... break her shit and laugh at her forever.
posted by Makebusy7 at 5:41 AM on October 10, 2005


This one is going to the Supreme Court!
posted by mr.dan at 9:36 AM on October 10, 2005


(She's lucky the phone didn't get stolen.)
posted by cass at 9:43 AM on October 10, 2005


I'd just reiterate the story as you told us: you picked up the phone and set it down, probably carefully. You had no obligation to figure out that it was her phone or tell her that the antenna came out. Most people probably would have just set the antenna next to it or stuck it where it was and walked away. I'd calmly ask the manager what was said, and then just calmly say exactly what you told us. No one reasonable is going to think you're responsible for this unless they have some sort of bias against you from the start.
posted by mikeh at 9:58 AM on October 10, 2005


I still haven't talked to the manager - I believe I work with both of them this evening, so I'll keep you all updated on what's going on. Thanks a bunch for the advice, everyone.
posted by itchie at 10:13 AM on October 10, 2005


I understand that I'm too late here, but for the record:

Tell her you refuse to pay, weather expected flip-out, speak to manager, tell him that you want to file a complaint against her IN WRITING, file said complaint, and if she continues to harass you continue filing complaints until she finds herself unemployed.

Don't put up with this sort of shit for ONE SECOND.
posted by Ptrin at 5:01 PM on October 10, 2005


CONCLUSION.
First, thanks, everyone, for helping me out. I'm going to pick a few entries here that helped me out the most, but I do appreciate everyone's input.

Finally, I talked to the general manager as soon as I entered for work and (like Jon-o and others suggested) I was lied to by the coworker; my boss was completely on my side of the manner, and believes that since (like wackybrit and others suggested) the phone was personal property and not part of the company, I have no reason to pay for it, as the phone should've been (as it was with drezdn) in a locker provided by the workplace.

Thank you all once again, I'm glad to get everyone's sound advice on the matter!
posted by itchie at 6:02 AM on October 11, 2005


Ha ha. Busted. I am glad things worked out for you, itchie. I wonder if the GM will have a little friendly sit-down with her about it? :)
posted by Emperor Yamamoto's Eggs at 6:31 AM on October 11, 2005


Vindicated! YES!
Good job!
posted by Jon-o at 7:27 AM on October 11, 2005


YES! Score one for the good guys.

Sadly, you might have to watch your back with that co-worker and any of her pals. Should she/they start spreadying rumors about you, just play it straight and honest, DO NOT sink to their level. Others will recognize your honesty in the end and if they don't, you'll know it's not a place for you to work.

Welcome to office politics!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:22 AM on October 11, 2005


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