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I was working for a large multinational company in the UK for 3 years ago until 3 months ago when I returned to my home country to be closer to my family. We parted on great terms. I then get an email yesterday claiming that they had overpaid me ~£4000 over a ten month period (roughly £400 per month).

They are demanding repayment by Monday which I think is a little unreasonable.

First off I am not sure that I really have been overpaid. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt while I find this out offline.

Secondly, My time sheets are all correct and I had no idea what so ever (genuinely) that I was getting overpaid.

Third, I have no intention of returning to the company or the UK.

That said I would like to do the right thing ethically. If I truly have been overpaid then I have offered to work it off. I simply don't have the cash.

This has not been deemed acceptable & payroll is still demanding immediate repayment.

Accordingly, I would like to know a little more about my legal rights.

  • Ethics aside, am I legally obliged to pay them back for their error?

  • If so, in the absence of sufficient liquidity (translation: me no have cashy) is offering services an acceptable compromise in the eyes of the law?

  • If not, what is the minimum rate that I could pay back the cash?

  • Finally, (and this is controversial and the least preferred) considering I have no intention to return to the company, country nor do I need the reference, what risks are there to my credit rating, ect, if I just flat out refuse? This would simply be used as a negotiation position, I have no intention to reneg on my responsibilities.

Thank you for your help in advance, Cheers N

  • Thanks guys, helpful stuff! FYI I do trust the source (HR lady) but this has triggered a good point: if she is being cloak and dagger about this and corresponding by email, I can only assume that she/payroll is trying to cover their mistake before anyone notices. Regardless, I will wait for formal proof. – Nick Mitchell Oct 3 '14 at 1:37
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    This could also be some sort of scam - someone unconnected to the company has got a list of email addresses somehow and emailed everyone who left about an "overpayment" hopping some of you pay up. – Tim B May 24 '17 at 14:27
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This is very, very strange, and not behaviour that I would expect from a "large multinational company". Here is a link that a quick Google search gave:

http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/resources/legal_toolkit/legal_advice_from_thompsons_solicitors/pay/salary_overpayments.cfm

"The employer is entitled to recover the overpayment, subject to estoppel - the principle that if two parties proceed on the basis of an assumption, where that assumption proves to be incorrect, neither party can go back on it without there being potential damages. Where an employer overpays an employee by mistake the courts will normally bar recovery if the employer led the employee to believe that she is entitled to treat the money as her own, not reasonably expect her to notice overpayment, that the employee has spent the money in good faith and the overpayment was not caused primarily by the fault of the employee".

So if your employer paid your salary, gave you no indication that they paid you too much, you couldn't be expected to notice the overpayment, you spent the money, and you didn't cause the overpayment, then they have no right to get their money back.

You might send them an email like "I asked a lawyer about the situation, and they told me that you have no right to receive the money back because of estoppel, since the overpayment is entirely your fault, I couldn't be expected to notice the overpayment, and I have spent the money in good faith. Indeed, I still cannot see that any overpayment has actually happened. Please send me exact details why you believe that I have been overpaid, and why you believe that estoppel does not apply, which I will both pass on to my lawyer before making any decision. Asking me to pay before Monday makes it look as if you are trying to pressure me into making an incorrect decision, so I most definitely reject your demands of any payment on such an unreasonably short notice"

I'd send the email to the payroll asking for the payment, to your former manager, and to the highest up person in the company that you know. (If anyone believes this might be a bad idea, please comment).

BTW. Since you checked your payments and you still cannot see that you have been overpaid, then I would be quite sure that estoppel will apply. I realise that you want to behave in an ethical way, but the "large international company" should know the things that I just wrote, and demanding £4,000 from you when they should know they have no right to recover the money, and on a very short notice, then they are behaving deeply non-ethical.

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My first thought after reading this is that it seems strange that they'd make those demands via email. I personally wouldn't do anything at this point unless they provided documentation and contact info to get in touch and see what's going on. If they plopped down an address to send them a check to or a payment button in an email, I'd avoid it.

If they have real demands and it is that financially important for them to pursue this, then let them send you letters or call your personally. Since reading an email isn't guaranteed, they can't assume that you're going to respond to them in a few days time. Get them to send documentation of their request so you have a paper trail of their demands in case anything does arise.

Otherwise, put that email in the spam folder until they approach you in a more formal way. If they overpaid for nearly a full year straight, then that's there fault. £4000 isn't an insane amount of money over 10 months, so unless they have more than just you overpaid, it would be far too expensive for them to push at you this late into finding out.

You can offer work if you feel it's right, but I personally would move on.

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In Germany I think they have to check their stuff for every month within a deadline of two weeks, so they could only claim the last month, in your case nothing because it is 3 months. Basically the company accountant is responsible for correct numbers and if they are wrong for any reason it is not your fault.

Not sure if it is really this way, could be 4 or 6 weeks, and how it is exactly handled in the UK.

First I would deny paying until they can prove the overpayment. Then find out how much of it you really need to pay (deadlines).

Then only offer to work it off if you are sure they cannot claim any false damages you have caused and then sue you. It might be cheaper to work somewhere different and then pay them the money. Iff you really have to pay anything.

  • I've never heard of that two week deadline in Germany. Normally the regular deadline for claims (Verjährungsfrist) would apply, which is three years. Some employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements specify shorter terms, but that's typically six months. – sleske Feb 24 '16 at 8:25
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Send them a letter saying that as far as you can tell you were paid in accordance with what you were promised when you accepted the position. Request that they respond either accepting that you are correct or that they provide a detailed breakdown of how you were overpaid and any documentation that supports that the amount that they are saying you should have been paid is correct. If you have a copy of your contract from when you started you could also include a copy with the letter highlighting where they said you would be paid what you were paid.

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