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I am feeling quite guilty about something wrong I did at work. I work in a retail store. Officially we only accept payment by cards (i.e. debit cards and credit cards). But what everyone does is ask a customer who wants to pay in cash if they have exact change or don't mind not getting any change. The clerk then pockets the cash and pays with his own card (and keeps the "tip" if there was extra). I was trained to do this but later told by a coworker this wasn't actually approved by management.

We also can give discounts at our discretion. I guess it was for friends and regular customers but no one clarified (one co-worker said he just gives it to everyone).

Today a customer paid in cash and I applied the discount after the fact, thus increasing my "tip". A coworker watched me. He told me not to do that and it was like stealing from the company. I told him I did it because another customer was slightly short who paid in cash. I repeatedly said I will refund the purchase and pay the full price myself, which I think is fair. He repeatedly said not to and that he wouldn't snitch.

At this point is there anything I can do? Should I talk to the manager? The thing is I strongly feel it's unfair if my coworkers are doing it but telling me not to. I could just refund myself then pay the full amount without involving anyone.

I know this sounds silly but the manager has such a thick accent I find him very difficult to understand. I've gotten around this by sticking with written communication with him but given the nature of this I would prefer not to have the conversation in writing. Just for context the atmosphere is ridiculously laid back. In my interview the manager was helping other customers while he spoke to me. Also there are several "official rules and policies" which clearly nobody (including management) cares about. For example no cellphones and no dogs in the store. This happens all the time and management can't possibly not notice it. Tips are allowed, we have a tip jar.

Thanks but there's a lot of misunderstanding in comments and answers. For example we do have a tip jar and management is OK with this (I've said this twice yet answers still don't get this). This was a bad judgment I made and would like to pay back the $5 (yes, I realize people will rebuke "stealing $5 from the company is the same as $500 and can't be undone!") I was looking for steps to take moving forward, not opinions on what should have been done. I've asked the moderator to close this question and I won't be participating further.

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7 Answers 7

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It goes without saying the card nonsense has to stop. So, the literal question at hand is: Within that setup, what to do specifically, here and now, about the strange issue of the colleague's comments.

Given all you have said, I would

  • do nothing whatsoever.

Clearly

(A) The person telling you what to do is not your boss, just a coworker. Listen politely. Then say "Hmm, good idea." And then completely ignore them. Never mention the issue again. If for some reason they continue to gumflap, again just be polite and then totally ignore them.

That's the answer to the literal question within the strange situation at hand.

Now going further,

(B) From now on never again do the "personal card for cash" thing.

Emphasizing,

(B) From now on never again do the "personal card for cash" thing.

(C) If you do or don't refund this particular item, say nothing about it either way. Say nothing. In the general dumpster fire at hand, it would be completely pointless and only add confusion on confusion.

(D) Regarding your accented manager, say absolutely nothing.

That's it.

If, incredibly, the issue of "personal card for cash" comes up from the manager or owner, just state over and over that everyone does it. Name names. Simply list everyone: It's not high school, it's a workplace, state the facts. John does it, Jane does it, Jeff does it, I thought we were supposed to do it. To repeat this is ONLY if, incredibly, the issue of "personal card for cash" comes up.

For yourself,

(B) From now on never again do the "personal card for cash" thing.

Simply tell customers, "Sorry we're a card only business." If the customer gets upset say, "Let me get my manager."

And finally

(E) Get a new job.

Do it this morning, and good luck.

A positive note: You'll be surprised that in the future, you'll actually have gained a lot from dealing with such an edge-case environment.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Mar 21, 2021 at 14:15
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    I would just like to add one point... If a customer whom you have been giving this cash for card service previously questions why it is no-longer possible just say some one got in trouble for it and you had to stop.
    – Simson
    Mar 22, 2021 at 4:02
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    Downvote, the colleague is actually warning the OP that he's potentially exposed himself to be suied for stealing at the company, I failed to see how "humm good idea" is a profesional answer to that. I understand the "not my/your business" but I fail to understand how you would blatlantly ignore suck remark, unless you want troubles.
    – Walfrat
    Mar 22, 2021 at 12:45
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    This answer really feels like rambling.
    – paul23
    Mar 22, 2021 at 14:29
  • Everyone's a critic! Shortened. Walfrat - it is a hive of villainy and one of the ringleaders is annoyed that a new chum is getting in on the act. There's nothing to respond to. Takeaway is OP just has to leave the company.
    – Fattie
    Mar 22, 2021 at 14:35
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The question is confusing but I think most of the information in it is secondary to the main point which is this. You told the customer an item cost one price (say $100) and they paid this, then you applied a discount without telling the customer and kept the difference. Most people, including me and almost certainly your bosses, will consider this theft. A system where you get a percentage of the sale is a commission system and the company will decide whether that is in place or not.

You should not be surprised if a company that ignores rules around having dogs in the store or employees using cell phones comes down hard on rules like "don't steal money from the register".

Discounts are designed to increase sales and customer happiness. A 'discount' the customer never finds out about doesn't help the company at all. In addition, what does this customers receipt say? Even if they don't have one what happens when they try to return the item and want their $100 back? Do they get told they only get $90 because they got a discount? That's not going to end up well for you.

If I were in your shoes I would take your co-workers advice. Don't do anything to draw attention to this now. I can't see how you can really fix the issue. Just hope this doesn't comes back to bite you and never do it again.

You imply that other staff are doing this but that's not clear from what you say. So long as the customer is the one that gets the discount it sounds like they are following the rules, even if one member of staff gives discounts only to their family and another gives it only to hot girls. If they are pocketing the 'discount' as you did then they are stealing but that is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. You are not the manager and while you might be annoyed at the unfairness or jealous that they are getting extra money that doesn't excuse you also stealing. Bear in mind that "everyone else is doing it" very rarely works as an excuse when you are being fired or charged with a crime.

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    But this is wrong, because tips exist and it is totally normal that - in certain reasonable circumstances - staff swap change to tips, where appropriate. And there are many stores where there is a messy duality between personal tips and "tips in the jar".
    – Fattie
    Mar 19, 2021 at 11:40
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    @Fattie - It’s unusual to tip in a retail store. What the author describes is stealing, I have no qualms of saying that, keeping the difference between the two prices is stealing. The policy wasn’t even approved by the company
    – Donald
    Mar 19, 2021 at 12:08
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    @Fattie I don't see how the existence of a tip jar is relevant at all. There's not any circumstance where it's appropriate for an employee to unilaterally tip themselves with someone else's money, which is what's happening here. Pocketing a customer's change without their knowledge is stealing even if the customer isn't aware they're supposed to get change. A "tip" that's not freely given by the customer is not a tip at all, it's theft. This is very similar to a waiter presenting a bill that overcharges the customer and then keeping the difference when they don't notice the discrepancy. Mar 19, 2021 at 16:02
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    @Fattie if I buy a $100 item, and the cashier tells me "Congratulations, I'm in a good mood right now, have a $10 discount", and I say "Thanks, but I'll pay $100 anyways and you can keep the change", that's a tip. If I buy a $100 item, the cashier applies a $10 discount and tells me "That'll be $100 please", I hand over $100 and the cashier keeps the change, that's stealing my change.
    – Aubreal
    Mar 19, 2021 at 18:15
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    @Fattie I looked at the original question and even there it seems clear to me that the consumer was never made aware of the discount. Which I think is the point where this goes from "everybody gives discounts" to enriching yourself at the cost of either the consumer or your employer. While I couldn't say whether this would be breaking any laws, it's surely unethical.
    – Voo
    Mar 19, 2021 at 21:43
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In most businesses there are written policies/rules which can be ignored safely to a certain extent. For example a business might tolerate their office-workers browsing the internet during work-hours for personal reasons a bit. Even if there is a written policy against it. A store might turn a blind eye to it's employee's using their cell phones now and then even though they officially forbid it.

However I don't think that rules regarding the way you handle money/payments in a retail store are rules you can safely ignore. Even if you are not stealing from the store (can't really figure out if you are doing that or not) you should make every effort to prevent such an impression.

Although the behavior of some of your colleagues might have lead you to think that some behavior is acceptable another colleague has you told it isn't. I think it's best to stick with the colleague with the most cautious mindset. Finally I think that if someone starts cracking down on these practices they might choose you to set an example because you are new.

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    Looking at a different question from the OP, the store banned cash transactions due to the COVID-19 risk. This is certainly not one of those policies that can be ignored. So your answer is even more correct than I suspect you think. Mar 20, 2021 at 11:46
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Buying things on behalf of customers using your card

Based on the other question, your employer has banned cash transactions for health and safety reasons relating to COVID.

You and your fellow employees are breaching that policy and putting the health and safety of each other, and all employees at risk.

The company certainly has grounds to fire you all on the spot for that.

Receiving a financial advantage from the above scheme

If customers are giving you a tip because you've helped them out, that's probably fine.

If you're eating into the companies profits from giving the customer discounts and you're pocketing the difference between the discount and the full price, that's theft. Plain and simple.

If you've given the customer a discount, and they've rewarded you with a tip, that could be very easily argued as theft.


If this situation comes to the fore, it's likely every "interesting" transaction within a time-frame will be scrutinized. It's unlikely that management will fire all staff partaking in this scheme, but they very well may decide to make an example of someone. And it looks like you're the only one that's actually acting illegally as opposed to not following policy.

I would try to scale back your involvement in this scheme, and keep your mouth shut in the short term. So you are not tempted, you should "accidentally" leave your card at home every shift, if that's possible.

For health and safety reasons, you should really considering anonymously whistle-blowing on this.

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It sounds to me like you're describing two issues, both of which sounds unethical and possibly theft. It sounds like your business is card only but at the same time several customers coming in with only cash so to get around it, you pocket it and use your debit card to pay for the goods.

  1. Customers can pay in cash to you, then you use a debit card and use it to pay for the goods. This wouldn't be a problem if it was a 1-to-1 transfer, albeit a bit unusual. It sounds like you're pocketing extra money though so this doesn't sound right to me. If anything, I think if the police got involved, they could see this as theft, even if you were told "unofficially" to do it.
  2. Sometimes you can get cash and when you are about to use your debit card, you apply a "employee" discount to it which then gets you a lower price and thus you can pocket the remaining cash as extra income. I think this is a grey area because technically they gave you the money for the goods to buy, but you're rightfully using a employee discount to purchase the goods. The problem is the end customer is paying more and you're pocketing cash that you shouldn't be having. If this is found, it can be considered theft.

Now here's the thing, I'm not a lawyer and I don't know what country you're in or if what you're doing is even legal. To me, it does not sound legal. I do not think your concern should be with the employees but rather the fact if someone figures this out, they can report it as theft and the police could investigate. I do not think within the eyes of the law saying that you were told to do this "unofficially" would get you off the hook.

My advice is to first off, stop doing this. Get the official word on if you are a debit card only business, if you can accept cash. I do not think it is right that you have to use your own debit card as that is money coming out from your account.

Second, if you decide to go ahead with a transaction, do not pocket extra cash by applying an employee discount. Instead do a 1-to-1 transfer of the amount so the customer is fairly paying the right amount. Only use employee discounts when making personal purchases for yourself.

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  • There really isn’t any gray area, both practices is stealing from the company, if the policies are not approved by the company. Stealing from your employer, the company paying you is cutting off your nose, everyone likes to make fun of corporate policies at times but they exist for a reason (to allow the company to make money in order for them to hire employees).
    – Donald
    Mar 19, 2021 at 12:04
  • @Donald It really depends on your outlook. You can be stealing from both the customer and the store, depending on how you look at it. If someone wanted to buy $50 dollars, OP would say it's a card only business, but he will take the $50 for him. Then the OP does a 1-to-1 transfer and it would be legal. However, at the same time since OP is selling products he doesn't physically own or have official authority to represent as his own, it is technically stealing but since he's paying it back, it's not.
    – Dan
    Mar 19, 2021 at 12:22
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    @Donald The other problem is when OP takes the cash, say $50 dollars, then when he goes into the register, he applies his 10% discount and gets to keep $5 in his pocket. That is technically selling the items at profit of things you do not own. In it, it's theft from both the customer (who has to pay extra $5 dollars) and the store (you used their merchandise to sell at profit). If you buy it first, then sell it at a up price, then it wouldn't be illegal per say. Depends on the ordering of the purchase. OP must buy first, then inform the customer he's selling at profit of $5.
    – Dan
    Mar 19, 2021 at 12:24
  • The author indicated he kept the difference between two prices as a tip, any scenario where the company isn’t getting the money for the item (as listed in their POS) is stealing in my book. Got no qualm saying that.
    – Donald
    Mar 19, 2021 at 12:28
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    @Dan 'since OP is selling products he doesn't physically own or have official authority to represent as his own, it is technically stealing but since he's paying it back, it's not' I'm not sure this is right. The OP effectively buys the item themself, they pay for it with their money, then sell it to the customer. at a higher price. OP is a reseller conducting his business in his employer's shop. The customer is not aware that they are not forming a contract with the shop. The laws will depend on the jurisdiction I suppose.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 19, 2021 at 16:44
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I'm not providing legal advice or critiquing the system you describe. The other answers do that well. I'm going to take a stab below at trying to determine if what you did was ethical given the system you have described and provide a solution within the system if not.

As I understand it, the system allows you to apply a variable discount up to a maximum amount for all customers at your total discretion.

It also appears the store is card only and employees, at their discretion, can accept cash and use their card to make the purchase as a convenience to customers.

Given the above system, let's assume there are 2 customers who have both purchased $100 worth of goods. And that the maximum discount you can apply is 10%. The company expects to receive between $180 (max discount applied to both customers) and $200 (no discount applied to either customer) for those 2 customers.

The first customer has $85 total. Even with the 10% max discount, they are short $5. You pay the $5 from your pocket. Customer pays $85 to you, you add $5 of your money, and pay the company $90 dollars.

The second customer has $100 total. They do not get the discount. Customer pays $100 to you. You take $5 for yourself and pay the company the remaining $95 dollars. From the company's perspective a 5% discount is applied.

  • The company expected to receive $180-$200 and got $185. They are satisfied.
  • The first customer walks away with an extra $5 worth of goods. They are happy.
  • The second customer got what they expected. They are satisfied.
  • You have not lost or gained any money.

If you have not profited, ethically you should do nothing. Everyone is happy as is and regardless of what your co-worker says, within the system they described, nothing unethical has occurred. No company money was "stolen". Effectively, one customer got a discount over the maximum but the company still got paid within their acceptable range.

However, if you did profit, you would undo it in the same way you lost the money in the first place. Tell the customer they get a discount, put it in the system as if they did not have the discount and pay the difference out of your pocket. The difference should match the amount you profited.

Your co-worker is advising against what you did because they assume you are profiting personally from the company's discount program. At an amount significantly more than the accepted "keep the change" tradition. Also because you're rocking the boat. In weird unofficial systems like this being noticed is the bad thing. That's probably why they didn't want you to refund the purchase as it would draw attention to the practice.

Anyway, as long as you are not profiting and the company receives their minimum, you are fine ethically. Legally, I have no idea.

Also, I will echo this system is terrible and you should not participate in it. There are actually several ways to game this system that give you far more power than you should feel comfortable with. Personally, I'd decline cash customers and suggest they try a different register.

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Pocketing their discount is clearly unethical.

However if you simply offer every customer the "special" discount (oldest sales gimmick in the book) you are likely to also get higher tips from appreciative customers.

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  • How does the author offer a discount to every customer without getting count once an accounting of their sales for the day is processed?
    – Donald
    Mar 19, 2021 at 18:52
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    @Donald - Seems to be entirely at the salesperson's discretion, per the description. IMO a defensible position: "it's what I had to do to make the sale", a common practice (cars, furniture, jewelry) and especially in any kind of bazaar style shop.
    – Pete W
    Mar 19, 2021 at 20:04
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    @Donald It's crazy that this is an "unofficial" policy, because it's crummy for the sales staff to be in a morally bad area. But some places do (officially) have very generous discount policies or similar...like "ring everyone up with the coupon today, even if they didn't bring the coupon in". Having unannounced policies like that can make customers really happy, since they feel like they're getting exceptional/special customer service...important when you're counting on repeat business. Mar 19, 2021 at 20:34
  • @user3067860 - A coupon existing that is used on every customer is entirely different then applying the employees discount on every customer's purchase. One is specifically indicated as being allowed, the other is clearly not allowed, otherwise it would be official policy.
    – Donald
    Mar 19, 2021 at 20:37
  • @Donald Yes, like I said, as "unofficial" policy this is crazy. But don't think that "official" policies are always announced to the customers. Like the car sales example, the salesperson knows what they can do, but the buyer doesn't--as long as the buyer agrees on the price then the policy of offering a discount or not is between the company and the employee. Mar 19, 2021 at 20:52