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Am I Obligated to Say Something If I Am Paid Extra by Mistake?

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I work for a large corporation. Recently I received a bonus in my paycheck. Though I could really use the money, I think it might have been given by mistake. Do I have an obligation to say anything?  

The fact that you’re asking this question speaks well of your integrity—and suggests that you already know the answer. 

“Obligation” is a strong word. Whether we have an obligation often depends on our knowledge of the circumstances. If all you knew was that your supervisor was happy with your recent work and you had been given a bonus, then you’re not really obligated to do anything other than to accept the bonus with gratitude. 

However, if you have additional knowledge—say, that this bonus was meant for someone else or has specific criteria that don’t actually apply to you—then that additional knowledge brings with it a stronger obligation. And yes, the right thing to do is to ask your supervisor if there was a mistake. 

Doing so is definitely not fun. It’s a good reminder that doing what is right sometimes brings with it a cost. Your employer might take back the bonus and give it to the correct person. It’s also possible that they will let you keep it, since it was their error and not yours. But if that happens, you’ll be able to enjoy the windfall with a clearer conscience than if you didn’t inquire. 

If they do take the money back, that may be disappointing. But you’ll have the peace of mind that flows from doing what is right. That peace of mind will also be a reminder that the choices we make in small, everyday matters of life play a big role in shaping our character. Character should matter to us as Christians, even though in this particular instance we can imagine non-Christians coming to the same conclusion about the bonus. For Christians, minor opportunities for faithfulness are the training grounds of grace, shaping us as disciples who will more naturally follow the way of Christ in the small and big moments of life that come our way.

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