I'm a new manager and I messed up
September 13, 2016 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I got a note from HR that the performance review for one my employees is overdue by 6 (!!) months.

The thing is -- I actually did the performance review on time. But I must have submitted the paperwork incorrectly. Company policy only lets me backdate my employee's salary increase a month.

I have absolutely no problem cutting a personal check to make up the difference. But, knowing my employee, I don't think that they will accept it. I tried to pay for lunch once on my personal card, and they made a big deal out of it.

I'm a new manager with limited corporate experience. Is it completely inappropriate to ask my company to cut a check (taking it out of my paycheck)? Any other options I'm not thinking about to get around my company's policy but to still compensate my employee properly?
posted by shotgunbooty to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Provide evidence to HR that you completed the review in a timely manner (emails confirming the meeting, the creation of the document for the performance review, the evidence you DID submit it even if you did it incorrectly, etc.). And you should own up to your mistake and ask HR what can be done to fix it because it's not the employee's fault.

If your HR department is insistent nothing can be done to fix this for the employee, whose fault it was not, then maybe you might want to consider moving on? It seems like a no-brainer that HR should fix this as a, "No problem," and then contact the employee about whether the 6 months will be in a lump sum of back pay or spread out over a period of time. But if they're really insistent that if a manager screws up then the employee gets screwed, then that's not a good place to work.
posted by zizzle at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2016 [45 favorites]

There's no way you should be paying for an employee's missing compensation if you're not the owner of the company. Full stop. Mistakes happen, that's the nature of business. To cover your own butt, do what you can to prove you submitted the paperwork on time, but do own up to the mistake if there is one you made. That said, this is also partially on HR for not even noticing for 6 months. I'm a lower rung manager in a large corporation, and my HR partner would be on my butt for being a month late... I can't imagine 6.

If HR is saying there's nothing that can be done to compensate the employee for your mistake, then one option is to fight for fairness for your employee, escalating with both yours and HR's manager and their managers and generally being a pain in the butt yourself until someone realizes there's something that can be done, and actually does it. This is probably what I do, but my managerial style is one where I protect my team at all costs from the bullshit that can fall down around us. Not everyone nor every company works this way.

If this really is a case where the money is lost for good (and this is determined after significant digging, not just one peon in HR saying so) I'd consider if this is really a company you want to work for, because frankly, thats crap. I'd also suggest to your employee to consider the same.
posted by cgg at 7:24 AM on September 13, 2016 [29 favorites]

Echoing cgg: If company policy A is that you cannot overrule company policy B, even when policy B steals money from an employee simply because of a lack of communication between the employee's supervisor and HR, then that's a messed-up company.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:29 AM on September 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Go back through your emails and records. You can probably prove you submitted it on time and make your case to HR. If you submitted any paperwork incorrectly, it should be their job to notify you, at the very least. You might possibly be caught in situation where HR screwed up by not following up and they don't want to admit their error. Keep escalating until you get the backdated compensation. There IS a professional way to handle this, you just keep repeating the facts in a calm and businesslike manner until they do the right thing.
posted by raisingsand at 7:34 AM on September 13, 2016 [13 favorites]

This is mostly on HR. Assuming you did make a good faith effort to get the performance review to the people it needed to get to, if their procedures are both complicated enough and failure-prone enough that you can submit paperwork improperly and have no one notice for six months, then those procedures are not doing their job. This is not something where you bear the sole responsibility to get it fixed, the company collectively screwed up here, and the company should make it right. Only when you've exhausted every possible avenue of redress should you even consider writing any personal checks in this situation.

Gather whatever paper trail you have and prepare to fight HR for what your employee deserves. Welcome to being a manager.
posted by firechicago at 7:40 AM on September 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yeah this is on HR, at least partially. If they have a policy that raises can only be backdated one month, then their workflow should have them checking this kind of thing before it's overdue longer than one month. Echoing check your records and calmly insist on the retroactive raise.
posted by permiechickie at 7:41 AM on September 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

If HR truly can't backdate the increase by more than a month, could they authorize a bonus for whatever six months difference would be along with an immediate salary increase? It would work out pretty much the same for the employee, but everyone could say policy was followed.
posted by zachlipton at 7:46 AM on September 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

"Who can sign off on an exception to this policy?"

If the answer is "Vice President Soandso", then you assemble your evidence and make an appointment with VP Soandso.

If the answer is "No one", then you ask, "Who is your boss?" and you ask that person who can sign off on an exception to this policy. Repeat as necessary.

If you fight for your employee, eventually someone in the company will see the light. Or you'll know exactly what kind of company you're working for.
posted by Etrigan at 7:49 AM on September 13, 2016 [33 favorites]

I have absolutely no problem cutting a personal check to make up the difference.
No, no, no, not even if all else fails.

I confess, I'm not a manager. Not an HR person. Not anything else relevant. But that sure sounds to me like something that could get you in trouble.
posted by floppyroofing at 8:00 AM on September 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just one small note: I would say someone ELSE messed up big time, while you made a small mistake. As a new manager, your manager should have been ensuring that the review process was completed. Additionally, HR should have been double checking. As others have mentioned: mistakes happen. At ALL levels, it's the job of your manager to make sure that important work gets done. Follow others' advice, send in your documentation, and escalate as necessary to get your employee what they deserve, backdated appropriately.
posted by Phredward at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Seconding Etrigan. There is someone who can sign off on an exception here, and your job is to escalate until you find out who it is. People in corporate environments like to act like rules are set in stone but exceptions are made all the time by the people with the power to authorize them. There is someone who can take care of this for your employee, so I would keep pushing until they do. You don't mention your own manager but I would recommend you get them involved too--sometimes that sort of lateral pressure from higher up can help get something moving.
posted by Kosh at 8:08 AM on September 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Echoing the other commenters - do NOT let HR throw you under the bus on this. Gather your paper trail and escalate, escalate, escalate. Be polite but firm.

If you meet with stonewalling at every turn, consider whether this is a good company to work for. Maybe you made a small mistake (in not following up) but HR made a huge one, and is now desperately trying to dodge blame and make you entirely responsible. Hold their feet to the fire.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:08 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have to separate personal identity from your work life (or you will burn out so fast) and focus on solving work problems with work solutions. Unless you literally break someone's belongings, is is wildly inappropriate to even consider giving an employee personal money for anything. You cannot be a manager and be this timid; you must be willing to go to bat for the people you are in charge of.

Companies have policies about all kinds of things. The only ones even vaguely carved in stone are regulatory, and their back pay policy isn't. They screwed up and the company in general let the employee down, you need to tighten the tensioner on your spine and get it fixed. Go up the chain if you have to to get the back pay approved, or give them a bigger raise.

Let this be a lesson to you to always ensure your email paper trail, and set yourself calendar reminders for follow-ups on this stuff.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

My manager/her manager screwed up and did not realize I was eligible for a promotion until 3 months after the nomination deadline. The company was able to backdate my pay and make up the difference in my next paycheck. She had to get all kinds of approval to do so, but ultimately there is someone in your company who will be able to make this happen. Explain what happened, explain that it's not your employees fault and keep working up the chain of command until you find someone who understand why this needs to be rectified.
posted by peacheater at 8:27 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

When HR is being difficult, as other have said, you don't negotiate with HR. You convince management that this needs to happen, should have happened, and then they tell HR to fix it. You are polite, persistent and have assembled a good paper trail to document your case. Be willing to compromise if necessary.

And never pay personally for other people's (or even your own) screw-ups at work. This will never lead to thanks and may lead to sanctions when someone else gets wind of it. not good.
posted by bonehead at 8:29 AM on September 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

Is it completely inappropriate to ask my company to cut a check (taking it out of my paycheck)?

It's completely inappropriate to you as an individual person. For god sakes, do you have some vested interest in this company beyond being a salaried employee? If not, either bail, or reevaluate your importance as a person.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:30 AM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said is right. In my last HR job, we were constrained by actual laws - to fix this particular type of issue you had to get city council to pass special legislation, and your goof up would be mentioned at least annually at our internal HR conference for the next decade because the HR and finance departments, and our beloved city auditor, would all be personally offended and horrified by the mess. Your own department director would get quizzed on live TV by city council because of the dollar amount and such.

I know this because I saw it happen several times. There is always a way of resolving this sort of thing; if everyone says that it isn't possible then your company is not being managed properly.

Also, the IRS makes you cutting her a check go from "a terrible, unprofessional idea" to "do not do this period." Just don't.
posted by SMPA at 9:14 AM on September 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's lots of (good) advice here to find your paper trail, but what if there isn't one?

It's still okay. Even if you have to suffer consequences for making this mistake, your subordinate shouldn't suffer as a result. That is a compelling argument to make when appealing for an exception to policy.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:06 AM on September 13, 2016

Nthing all the good advice above - and adding that by going in to bat for your report and not letting go until the problem is fixed is good management. It'll be painful for you, no doubt, and you might feel like it's blackening your name in places where you'd rather it wasn't even mentioned, but there will be positives for you too (and for your future career as a manager).

You'll learn a lot about how your company actually works, for a start, and how companies work in general. The official rules and the stuff that goes into group memos is one thing, but the way people interact in fixing problems and doing internal deals is the real art. It's not clear to me where the original mistake was made - as mentioned above, you said you probably misfiled but it's equally arguable that others didn't notice the mistake when they should have or failed to take action. So, it's important not to worry about who's to blame (which means not to worry if others say it's you, even if it proves otherwise), just say 'this happened, it's had this unfortunate and unjust effect, how can it be fixed?' up the chain until you find someone who can and will fix it. By doing this, you're showing to quite a lot of people what you're the sort of manager who protects their people, isn't afraid to fight for them, and doesn't mind about their personal ego when it comes to doing the right thing. This gets noticed, and in a good company it is appreciated.

Don't forget - you'll be dealing with people who've made plenty of their own mistakes in their early managerial careers. Many will also have been affected by their managers' mistakes. Some may be pissed that you're making extra work for them, but others will be pleased to be able to do something good.

Making mistakes is common,and it's rare they can't be fixed with a bit of work and good will. Trying to hide them, or to fix them without alerting anyone who should know, is far more damaging. Good managers make mistakes: bad managers try avoid the consequences.

(Dysfunctional companies with blame cultures often don't work this way, and if you learn that this is your company, that's really valuable too - both for your short-term sanity and survival, and as reason number one to get the hell out of Dodge as quickly as possible...)

You should come out of this a better manager.
posted by Devonian at 1:50 PM on September 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

If all other routes fail, can you use your departmental budget to give the employee some sort of appreciated equipment upgrade? Fancy computer, iPad, or whatever tools are appropriate for their work?
posted by metasarah at 11:03 AM on September 14, 2016

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