5

As a little bit of background, I have been working in Germany for about a year now. It is a startup company with less than 40 people.

Last December I received €1.7k more than my usual salary. I reported this to my immediate manager (who is also one of the partners and top management). He said sometimes it happens at the end of the year, and it is ok. I waited for a couple weeks and there were no follow ups. So I used the money.

Today, my manager told me that it was actually a mistake at somewhere and I should pay the money back.

What options do I have? Is it possible to reject such a demand?

There is a law for pretty much everything in Germany. Is there a law or at least a widely accepted rule for such a situation?


To be clear, my manager is a really cool guy and he was also very uncomfortable while giving me these news. So I really don't want a problem with him.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Mister Positive, Cronax, DarkCygnus, Snow Mar 1 '18 at 8:36

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  • 8
    You might ask to reimburse in several months – Basile Starynkevitch Feb 27 '18 at 13:57
  • 1
    @DavidK I have missed the the keyword overpaid. Thanks for that. In my defence, I am unfamiliar with the system here, therefore asked my manager and received the answer it's ok. – anon Feb 27 '18 at 14:04
  • 2
    Does your company pay bonuses at years end (Jahresendprämie/Weihnachtsgeld)? Are those 1700€ before or after reductions? What does your salary statement(Lohnabrechnung) say as to why you got this extra money? – Dulkan Feb 27 '18 at 14:07
  • 3
    In Germany it is common to have a 13th month paid at Christmas maybe to OP thought this was the case – Neuromancer Feb 27 '18 at 14:38
  • 2
    @Neuromancer I don't know about you, but when my bank statement is different from the usual amount I do check my salary statement. ;) – Dulkan Feb 27 '18 at 14:53
9

If this were a situation with a bank, you would be able to keep the money in most places. However, this is your employers we're talking about.

You can take the stance that he said it was OK some 2 weeks ago, and that you're not returning the sum, however that will probably get you fired. You could fight them over it in a court of law, and you may even win (which may be difficult because you have no written statement saying you can keep the money).

However, do you want to ruin this relationship with the company?

If not, just give them the money back. It's not a large sum, and it's probably not worth your energy, effort, and - potentially - reputation.

  • Thanks for your answer. I naturally wouldn't go to court for that. My question was more about what's the common approach for these type of situations. It looks like paying back is the only reasonable solution. – anon Feb 27 '18 at 14:11
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    "Not a large sum" is very depended on the person though. If his car, laundry machine and fridge just broke down and he used the money on repairs/buying new, money could be really tight and 1.7k could potentially be a large sum. Yes, pay back. If not possible in one go, explain the situation and try to strike a deal with your manager for paying a monthly sum. – Caroline Feb 27 '18 at 14:19
  • 1
    If the bank deposit extra monies into your account, they can get it back. There are cases when the bank accidentally spits out extra money at ATM, or even in one case where someone got a large sum in their account. They all had to pay it back and even more so depending on the amount, criminal charges may be brought. If you didn't earn it, don't spend it. – Dan Feb 27 '18 at 18:01
  • In the UK, you would definitely not be able to keep the money if this was a bank, and if you didn't return the money when asked, you could be prosecuted. This is well established law. – Moo Feb 28 '18 at 4:41
  • @moo - there have been cases where individuals report a sum being posted to their accounts without their knowledge (someone made a mistake - the bank, or another person). The bank needs to immediately begin the process of tracing back the issue, and taking possession of the money, otherwise they lose their claim to it. They can't change their minds months later and decide that now it's convenient for them to take action. At least not in Canada and Australia, which have a legal system based on the British one. – AndreiROM Feb 28 '18 at 5:12
4

I am not a lawyer, so I won't comment on the legalities of the situation. However, if you get on well with your boss and with the company then you should try to come to some agreement with them. I don't think the company will be flexible with the amount they get back, but they should be more flexible with the time frame.

In previous instances where I have had to pay money back to an employer (contractually) they have been more than happy to arrange a monthly repayment plan, with the amount usually deducted from my payslip. Figure out how much you could easily afford to pay back each month and get from that how long it would take you to pay off the amount. If you can repay in 3-6 months then I would expect any reasonable company to be able to accommodate that. If it would take you 12 months they might still be reluctantly accepting of that, especially considering the incorrect information your supervisor initially told you.

3

As gathered through clarification in the comments your salary statement doesn't say anything about this extra money, but your bank statement was increased by 1700€ compared to your usual salary. This means it is a mistake by accounting and must be paid back.

Moreover, if you don't pay it back this is almost certainly illegal as you basically received an extra 1700€ which didn't go through the tax and social security deductions.

Your employer is entitled to ask for renumeration of this overpayment for up to three years.

Spending it all this quickly was a mistake and may put you in a difficult situation. The sum is nothing to sneeze at (pretty much an average monthly salary after deductions). I recommend paying it back as quickly as possible, if you can't afford to do so immediately offer to pay in affordable monthly rates.

If something like this happens again, do not ask your manager, talk directly to someone in accounting. The people there are more likely to know what happened and correct any possible mistake.

  • 2
    I disagree with last sentence. It's almost always the right action to ask your manager. If your manager, doesn't know, she needs to investigate or sent you to someone else. Otherwise you'd have to question everything your manager says on anything, which is really not practical. This case is plain and simple: the manager screwed up, not the OP. – Hilmar Feb 27 '18 at 14:35
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    @Hilmar Depends on the role of the manager. Mine are just leads of my department and work themselves on projects. Even if the managers whole responsibility is managing those under them, salary is usually not something you discuss with them, but with accounting. In the OPs situation, you may certainly be right, as his immediate superior is top management and likely has knowledge of salaries, but in many cases your immediate manager doesn't even know what you earn and has nothing to do with your salary or any related problems. – Dulkan Feb 27 '18 at 14:51
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    I agree with Hilmar, the manager is the sole responsible. OP did what he had to do, got verbal approbation from superior and is thus relieved from all responsibility. From the company point-of-view, their manager underestimated the importance of a question and this mistake cost the company $1700. – Danny Coulombe Feb 27 '18 at 17:00
  • @DannyCoulombe Doesn't work like that in Germany, it's not as simple as the company overpaying him. Any salary must go through the mandated deductions for social security and taxes. Any amount of money going past that consituttes illegal labour. Essentially, the company told the state he received x€ salary, but his bank slip says he received x+1700€. This could have serious legal repercussions if not fixed. It's your responsibility to get the right salary and when your salary and bank statement differ, a verbal approbation is not enough. – Dulkan Feb 28 '18 at 7:40
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    This is in Germany. Getting a higher salary in December is not at all unusual. – gnasher729 Feb 28 '18 at 7:55
-1

My feeling about this is that if there is a literal record of you being granted the money by your boss, then you should keep it, but if it was just verbal, then you must give it back. In other words, if your boss said it was ok to keep the money:

(1) in writing, or

(2) in an company email (which is presumably backed up)

Then there is proof that the money is yours and you are free to spend it.

If everything is purely verbal, then there is no proof, so you should error on the side of safety and give the money back.

If there is written proof that you could keep the money and they complain, just tell them that you relied on what your boss WROTE and you spent the money already.

  • Even if the manager put it in writing, it is not clear-cut. a) The manager may have overstepped his authority by effectively authorizing a bonus payment (which may or may not impact whether the decision is binding on the company, that's a tricky legal area), and b) even if you could fight in court and win, would you want to? – sleske Feb 28 '18 at 7:49
  • @sleske If the manager overstepped his authority, that's the company's problem and the manager's problem, not the problem of the employee. As long as the employee could reasonably assume that the manager didn't overstep his authority (which is reasonable for a small amount like this), it is binding. – gnasher729 Feb 28 '18 at 8:26
  • @gnasher729: Maybe, maybe not. I'm no lawyer, but I know the details are tricky. For example, if there is a company-wide rule that extra bonuses must be authorized by two managers, and OP knew the rule, then the manager's promise may not bind the company, because OP should have known the promise was invalid. You may be right, but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion. – sleske Feb 28 '18 at 8:34
  • @sleske Their rules don't matter. What matters is that the employee could reasonably rely on what they were told and you can reasonably rely on what your manager tells you. That's what a manager is there for. – gnasher729 Feb 28 '18 at 12:40
  • "In writing" likely makes no difference, unless the manager lies about what he said. – gnasher729 Feb 28 '18 at 12:41
-1

The company can't just pay you and then claim it was a mistake. If your boss said the payment was Ok (and a higher payment in December is quite common in Germany), then you can assume that a decision was made to pay you more. If they regret that decision, that's not a reason to go back on this. Now if your name is John Smith and Joe Smith was supposed to get a bonus, that might be an honest mistake. But this is your money, so just saying "a mistake was made" is not good enough.

If mistakes were made, you may have to pay back the money, but since it was the company's mistake and not yours, they are responsible that this doesn't cause you any hardship. If you bought your girlfriend an €1800 engagement ring instead of one for €100 because of the unexpected money, your company will have to agree to withhold the money over a longer stretch of time.

In extreme cases, like the company paying you the wrong (but reasonable) salary over a year, you won't have to pay back anything, because that would mean they tricked you into working for less than you could have got elsewhere.