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I moved desks and now I sit in a desk that previously belonged to a contractor. The desk had been vacant for a few months, since the previous employee was fired.

While rummaging through the drawers, I found some money - about $50.

Should I present this money to my manager, the contractor's former manager, or my bank? Please explain why as well.

I do not wish to put myself in a negative light, or to strain my relationship with my employer or coworkers in any way, however (obviously) I would like to keep the money.

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up vote 33 down vote accepted

Definitely report this to your manager.

He should make an effort to contact the previous employee/contractor and return it. If he is unsuccessful and returns it to you, I'd do pizza for your team, rather than pocket it, but it's your decision if it is returned to you.

{Edit for Enderland}

I can't believe I actually have to say this, but here goes: The reason WHY you should do this is that just because you can touch something does not make it yours. Taking what does not belong to you, even if you cannot determine proper ownership or locate the proper owner, is still theft.

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+1 for the buy your team pizza idea. Good way of making friends :) Honestly, if I were your manager I would tell you to keep it, the guys been gone for months. If he had noticed or cared, he would have come back for it. – Jen Aug 7 '14 at 20:00
Unlikely to be this case, but sometimes money in an obvious place is an honesty test. Always better to turn it in. – Phil Aug 7 '14 at 20:51
Almost exactly what I was coming here to say -- the "almost" being that if you have an office manager, reporting it to that person is likely to be more effective. (When I was a manager, if I'd received such a report I would have turned around and handed it off to the office manager, the one who knows who's been sitting where, what furniture was moved around, how to contact ex-employees, etc. Unless the person was in my group, I probably don't know that stuff.) – Monica Cellio Aug 8 '14 at 22:47
... why? This doesn't explain why it's correct at all... – enderland Aug 10 '14 at 13:13
@Brandin Just mentioning that sometimes honesty is tested by leaving money in obvious places. – Phil Aug 11 '14 at 17:07

Tell your manager that you found money in your new desk. I would expect you'd get to keep it.

On the flip side, if you decide to pocket it without telling anyone, on the off chance that someone comes around looking for it, you'll be stuck either telling the truth ("I pocketed it") and looking bad, or lying ("I never saw any money in there") and being potentially under suspicion.

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Since the previous occupant of that desk was fired months ago, that's more than a few suspects. And no hard evidence as to who pocketed the money and who didn't. – Vietnhi Phuvan Aug 7 '14 at 19:56
@VietnhiPhuvan - This is an ethics question. Trying to establish plausible deniability is kind of cutting across the grain of what the OP is asking. – Wesley Long Aug 7 '14 at 20:04
@VietnhiPhuvan You're right the odds are very low. If the asker wants to pocket the money s/he needs to be aware of the potential downsides. Letting the manager make the call has no downsides (other than potentially losing the $50 that wasn't yours in the first place). – Garrison Neely Aug 7 '14 at 20:48
@VietnhiPhuvan - This is why I pointed out it is an ethics question. It is not a question of how the OP is being perceived. It is a question of what is "Right" (ethically) to do, presumably for the OP's self-perception. I doubt the OP is concerned with how he's perceived, but rather in how he is. – Wesley Long Aug 7 '14 at 21:51

If there's one thing that I've learned from working 15 years in an industry that has had some wild ups and downs in job availability it's that you can never have too many networking contacts who are willing to point you in the direction of a good job opportunity or who are willing to give you a great reference. If I were you I would try to track down the former contractor through social networking websites, explain the situation to him/her, and offer to mail the funds to them. You never know when you might gain a contact that will save your butt when the downsizing axe at your current company takes you out.

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If you do this, ask him how much money it was and perhaps which drawer it was in. Someone getting a call out of the blue offering to send him $50 might claim it was his even if it isn't. – Keith Thompson Aug 8 '14 at 19:04

To maximize global utility, overhead incurred from reuniting the money with its rightfully owner would be a dead-loss. I would argue it would be best to spend it on either a high impact ethical cause (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) or invest it in an industry enjoying incredibly high money multiplier effects (spaceflight or genetics).

Of course, that's what you should do with all your money, and no one does that. If you're optimizing in reputation, I'd mention it the manager and clearly state your intention to donate it to your company's charity of choice as ownership is unclear.

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The ownership of the money seems reasonably clear: it probably belonged to the former occupant of the desk. Anything that doesn't involve attempting to return it to its rightful owner is, in my opinion, unethical. The worthiness of the cause you might donate it to doesn't change that. – Keith Thompson Aug 11 '14 at 21:50
I object to not even making any attempt to return it to the original owner. "Maximizing global utility" suggests that stealing money to donate to worthy cause (say, by embezzling from a less worth charity) is a good thing to do. If you want to consider "optimizing in reputation", consider the likelihood that the manager happens to share my opinion. And nobody said anything about moving mountains; I merely suggest making a reasonable effort -- as I hope someone would do if I had lost something. – Keith Thompson Aug 11 '14 at 22:47

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