A coworker accidently threw away a check from a customer of pretty significant value ~$10,000 and I was able to find it in trash before they took it out.

I think it was accidental and no malicious intent. However I think this is still a big mistake and I don't want her to do the job of grabbing this check/mail anymore. Should I tell my boss that she made this mistake? I already talked to her and she knows that she messed up.

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    Was this the first time this coworker made a mistake like this? And why were you going through their thrash?
    – Jeroen
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 10:13
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    give the colleague a friendly heads up, along the lines "Hey, I've saved your a**, you're welcome". and leave it at that. I guess the coworker knows himself that he messed up, no need to go running to the manager.
    – jwsc
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 10:33
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    "and I was able to find it in trash before they took it out" Do you regularly search through your company's trash?
    – sf02
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 12:38
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    @sf02 I think OP was trying to say that their coworker lost the check, asked for help finding it, and it occurred to OP to look in the trash to see if she accidentally threw it away.
    – BSMP
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 15:54
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    If roles were reversed, would you want the colleague to tell management about your mistake?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 17:16

6 Answers 6


Give the colleague a friendly heads up, along the lines "Hey, I've saved your a**, you're welcome.", and leave it at that. She knows that she has messed up, no need to go running to the manager.

If this happens all the time (or if it had a negative impact on you) you can mention it to your manager. But not in a accusatory tone. More along the lines of "Behaviour xyz of colleague A has a negative impact, how can I/we help to change that?"

Silly mistakes are often an indicator for bad processes. Maybe you don't have a good inbox system? Mixing important client mails with spam, is there no way to effectively separate that? If that is the case, you can approach your manager and suggest improvements.

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    @bakalolo You guys shouldn't be using cheques for $10k sales. Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 11:43
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    @GregoryCurrie if there's one thing I've learned from Personal Finance & Money it's that Americans love their checks beyond all rational explanation :)
    – AakashM
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 12:05
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    @bakalolo - After doing some work at a public utility, it would terrify you to know how many of the "electronic payments" are actually conveyed by computer-printed paper checks still today. Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 14:40
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    For sure it will have a negative impact on our department.... @bakalolo But only if it happens again. Worst case scenario the company has to ask the client to send another check. It's not as if the product/service becomes free just because a check got lost. If the department really is so strapped for cash that even a 2 week delay in payment will cause layoffs then that's info that should be in your question.
    – BSMP
    Commented Nov 5, 2021 at 16:07
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    I can't upvote the last paragraph enough : good processes prevent people from doing stupid mistakes.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 15:17

Thomas John Watson Sr: “Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”

That would not have cost the company 10k, it would have cost a few hundred at most. Also, do you have any reason to believe they will repeat the mistake?

Under the circumstances I would chalk it up to no harm, no foul. OTOH, your desire to ensure that your co-worker doesn’t do this job in the future seems suspicious to me, and I would suggest keeping it to yourself.

  • I’m not so happy with the “$600,000 training” quote, because most companies would be seriously hurt by that. But big plus for noting that losing a $10,000 cheque likely doesn’t cost the company $10,000, unlike losing $10,000 in cash.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 6:48
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    Often a mistake like the one mentioned reveals problems with the companies workflow. In most places I've worked an employee wouldn't be fired for making a mistake if the process is vague like "at the end of the day all the orders that came in should be confirmed on the system". When the process is "enter orders in the ledger when they come in, before cob check the ledger and confirm all outstanding orders> then the employee would be asked why they didn't follow the process as laid out and if they deliberately ignored the process they might be fired.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 10:46
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    I mean it depends if you loose 600k out of neglect or through an honest understandable mistake. Mistakes happen and if you are in a position with a lot of responsibility at some point you are going to make a mistake that has a lot of consequences. That's just how it works. But then there are also people that act irresponsible.
    – seg
    Commented Nov 9, 2021 at 18:09

One possibility, if the task is normally done by more than one or two people, might be to let the manager know that it is possible, under the current system, for this sort of incident to happen and that it has happened at least one but without revealing anything about who! Highlight that there we no adverse consequences this time.

Suggest possible improvements to the process &/or awareness training be given to all of the people who are performing the task.

I don't know where you are in the world but in many places you cannot legally be compelled to divulge the identity of the other person involved except in very specific circumstances, e.g. security risks and if your boss tries to make you I would suggest looking for another place to work.


If you or the team would have suffered, maybe. Otherwise no. Everybody makes mistake. Tomorrow when you make a mistake and turn to your colleagues for help, you want them to trust and help you just like you helped this colleague, right?


That's just a check. You express your excuses to the customer, ask him to cancel it and send a new one.

Now for the collegue, that alone is a lesson. Let it go.


If I was the boss my first question would be, "Why were you looking through her trash?" Then I would have a serious talk with you about that whole subject and how it might look.

I mean if you observed she threw it in the trash, you should have said something right there about it. "Excuse me, co-worker that looks like a check!"

However if you were looking for a missing check because your boss said, "Hey we're missing a ~10,000 check and I need you all to look for it." And you found it in the trash, you should have brought it up right there.

Overall I think you lost your edge in this case. In every possible situation good or bad, you should have brought it up right then and there. Right now, the way I understood how it played out was that you were looking at her trash and that looks mighty strange no matter how you cut it. If you noticed the check or somehow was instructed to look for the check, speak up immediately about it and where you found it. Don't finger point just be factual in what you found and where you found it. Let your boss handle it or the co-worker.

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