Sunday, September 21, 2014

Baby, you can subsidize my parking

Parking at work can become a heated issue. At some businesses, negotiations over who gets to park where -- or for how much in adjacent lots -- can ignite fiery arguments. When a deal is finally struck, the cheers can be heard for blocks.

How much attention employees pay to such a benefit once they have it can a whole other story.

A professor -- let's call him Reg -- at a small liberal arts college located in the center of a major city writes to tell me that he recently received an email from human resources informing him that he'd receive a rebate of just over $465 for overpaying for parking during the previous 18 months.

It turns out no one had noticed that the college, which foots part of employees' parking costs, had been underpaying its portion of the parking bill each month for some staff.

Reg was informed that all employees still "active" at the college at the beginning of this academic year who were affected by the error would receive a rebate dating back 18 months.

"There was one problem," writes Reg. "I had been out of the country for one of the three semesters I was being reimbursed for." Even so, the college was set to reimburse him for a portion of the parking fees for that extra semester.

"I alerted the college to this discrepancy," Reg writes. "But I'm curious: Was this my ethical responsibility or would I have acted ethically had I ignored the college's error?"

Reg's question is a variation on a question readers regularly ask. A reader might receive too much money in an ATM transaction and wonder if it's his or her responsibility to return the extra cash. A reader might get too much change from the local coffee shop. Should they call attention to the errors?

Yes, the right thing is to call attention to such mistakes and try to correct them, just as Reg did. And the right thing was for the college to return the money as soon as the overpay errors were discovered.

But Reg and his fellow employees' plight raises a couple of other questions. The notification to Reg and others only specified that "active" employees would be reimbursed for the billing errors. The right thing would be for the college to make sure to reimburse anyone who'd been short-changed, regardless of whether they still worked for the school.

The notification also indicates that employees everywhere would do well to examine their pay stubs from time to time to see if errors exist. Granted, in this case, it was the college's mistake, but it's good for employees to understand their compensation and make sure they get what's owed them. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To show other readers how things have changed over my experiences from working during the years 1956to retirement in 2000, in those years, I worked for 45 years at 6 different insurance company home offices, all of which provided free parking for all employees. My, how things have changed using Jeffrey's example! My comment on today's example is that unless the professor answering the question had been told he would not receive remuneration during his one semester being away from his employment, it would seem that while it would be ethical to check with human recources to make sure, but it would appear that he owed the company nothing for the monies refunded.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

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