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I've made a huge mistake and am looking for some advice. I especially need advice now because I'm an emotional wreck and don't know if I can make a sane decision on my own.

I was on rocky terms with my boss initially, but have had a very good and productive month. He's really come around to liking and trusting me, and he put me in charge of booking training for our entire organisation.

People all over our organisation are flying in for the training class on Monday (about 25 people). I called to confirm the training course details that I had booked. To my horror, I realised that I had booked the entire organisation to the wrong date (a training course starting on 3/6 instead of 3/20).

I immediately contacted the training course provider to correct the mistake, but they said there would be no refund of the cost (around $63k). They claim that they tried to contact me multiple times, but couldn't get a hold of me. (This is probably because my phone was run over by a car, so I've been without a phone for a while).

So... ultimately, I've mistakenly charged the company $63k. I also know for a fact that all of the airline tickets people bought are non-refundable. The hotels should be fine to cancel, though. And by the way, my salary is about $45k/year. I'm terrified that I will be fired, or sued, or both. I'm in no position to have either one happen.

To prevent having a panic attack, I've listed out all of the possible actions I can take. I'm not saying these are all good options, but I want to make sure I consider every possibility. They are:

  • Admit to my boss that I screwed up, and pray that I don't get fired or sued
  • Play dumb and act like I'm completely surprised by the training class dates
  • Tell the truth, and blame this on my boss for giving me responsibilities I was clearly incapable and unqualified to do
  • Call in sick for the next week, and hope that things resolve themselves
  • Take out another mortgage on my house and pay the $64k myself
  • Run away

Again, I'm not saying these are all good options. I just want to make sure before I have a panic attack, that I do consider every possibility.

I'm guessing that most people will say that the first option is the best one, but I know for a fact my boss has sued somebody before in a minor car wreck after they admitted fault. His exact quote was "only suckers admit fault because it opens them up to liability!"

So my questions are:

  • What other possibilities am I missing?
  • I recognise I'm not in a sane state of mind right now. How can I approach this rationally?

Sorry for the long post and all of the drama. I've been trying to push back tears the entire time writing it.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Mister Positive, Rory Alsop, enderland Mar 16 '17 at 19:52

  • This question does not appear to be about the workplace within the scope defined in the help center.
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    When you made the reservation, what contacts did you provide? Cell phone only for contract worth $63k? I doubt it. Why did they try to contact you? Why did they use cell phone only multiple times? When I call somebody there are different answers for "User unavailable" and "User not responding." – Crowley Mar 16 '17 at 16:17
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    Key question: Is it still possible to schedule training for 3/20? (Perhaps even from a different vendor!) If so, that needs to be taken care of immediately. Then at least the plane fares and hotel reservations won't go to waste, and the only remaining question will be about whether any of the cost for the 3/6 training can be recovered, which is a much simpler situation for all involved. – Dave Tweed Mar 16 '17 at 16:30
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Mar 16 '17 at 21:33
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    I do not understand in what sense this question is "off-topic." – Casey Mar 17 '17 at 13:56
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    This question is being discussed on meta - workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4410/… – enderland Mar 17 '17 at 14:02
106

Don't walk, but RUN to your boss and tell him exactly what happened.

As the boss, his skills should be among other things negotiating with vendors. There is no way that he is going to pay twice for this training. He will either send everyone on a different date, or do whatever he can to get out of that payment. As a company owner, he can do things to convince them that you can't.

I didn't even bother about reading anything else, because that is the one and only thing you need to do: Limit the damage. And hope for the best. And hope your boss doesn't read this site. PS. You would never pay for something like this out of your own pocket. PS. Your manager may very well get blamed, but if he or she is in trouble, you are already long gone.

In general, unrelated to this specific case: When you are in a situation that you can't handle, you go as quickly as possible to someone who can. In the workplace, that would be your manager (who may go to his or her manager immediately). Most things can be fixed somehow.

  • 60
    You also should have dealt with that phone run over scenario. Either it's a company phone and you should have reported this immediately (so that alternative communication channels can be established), or it is a personal phone that you are using for work, which is never a wise things to do. – Jan Doggen Mar 16 '17 at 13:52
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    If at all possible go to him with a plan of action for rescheduling the training and flights. – HLGEM Mar 16 '17 at 13:55
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    Great answer. Part of being an adult is taking responsibility for your mistakes. I would add that when you do go to your boss, go with all the information he needs to fix the problem, and maybe even some suggestions on how it might be fixed. Leave out anything that might be taken as you blaming the problem on anything but yourself. If you get fired, then so be it. Be proud you learned something and took responsibility for yourself. – am21 Mar 16 '17 at 15:50
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    "You would never pay for something like this out of your own pocket." Not for a mistake, no. But if you tried to cover up after realizing it, you maybe could be held personally responsible. – kat0r Mar 16 '17 at 15:52
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    "As a company owner, he can do things to convince them that you can't". This is so important! Of course the vendor won't give you a refund. Why would they? But the owner can say, "We will never ever book you again and actively campaign against you, they can set up an extra $x payment for the inconvenience. But it is unlikely that any decent vendor will not try and make it work with a paying customer. Especially if that customer is the boss of the company. – EvSunWoodard Mar 16 '17 at 16:14
32

Let's consider the options you listed:

Play dumb and act like I'm completely surprised by the training class dates

Your conversation with the training course provider can most likely be traced, and most definitely will be, having your employer discover that you were very well aware of the dates. Lying will do you no good here, you'll simply get fired for lying.

Tell the truth, and blame this on my boss for giving me responsibilities I was > clearly incapable and unqualified to do

You accepted the task, stating that you were indeed qualified to handle it. Whether you were qualified or not is irrelevant if you did not object in the first place. You took responsibility and you'll simply get yourself fired for waving your arms after something happens. Consider this in the future.

Call in sick for the next week, and hope that things resolve themselves

Things will not resolve themselves. People will be furious if they make the trip only to discover that there is no course. There are always options to be found if people know about the problem, if you don't let your boss knows then there's no way for him to find a solution before it's too late.

Take out another mortgage on my house and pay the $64k myself

You were acting on behalf of your company so the company will pay. Depending on where you live they might make a lawsuit but it's a long shot, don't offer anything until you are enforced to do it by laws. Bigger mistakes have been made without personally charging the person who did it. It could set an example which would make people not want to work there: If you make a mistake, you'll pay, no smart company wants that. Face it if it happens but don't assume the worst.

Run away

You'll simply ruin your professional career and might end up with lawsuits that could have easily been avoided by acting professional in this crisis. Needless to say, you'll have no job after this, so you're basically running into the worst case scenario all on your own if you take this path.

Admit to my boss that I screwed up, and pray that I don't get fired or sued

This is the only correct answer in this situation. Go to your boss right now and tell him that the booking dates got mixed up and the course provider refuses to refund or reschedule.

Sure, he'll probably get angry about the mistake but he'll be thankful (whether he tells you or not) to tell him right away so the company can begin to get lawyers in on the case or negotiate with the vendor -- or find other ways such as rescheduling the trip in one way or another.

Say that you're sorry but right now you want to focus on getting help on how to make the best out of the situation. Prepare and accept for the worst but hope for the best. Be honest and direct or you can forget about your job.

You never know, maybe the company can reschedule, maybe they can work something out with the flight tickets for little to no cost.

You can't change what happened but you can affect what comes after. Hiding the problem will do you no good. Simply state what happened and the best possible solution will be found.

Best of luck.

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    I think covering up might change this from "honest mistake" to "intentional", so the "play dumb" or "be sick" choices might be very expensive. They are bad choices anyway and most likely to get you fired, but they might be even worse. – gnasher729 Mar 16 '17 at 13:45
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    I'm simply quoting the options OP had in mind. I think none of them is good other than coming clean right away and ask what options they have. – Jonast92 Mar 16 '17 at 13:47
  • @Jonast92 I'd suggest adding that disclaimer to the top of the answer to avoid burying the lead. – Lilienthal Mar 16 '17 at 14:38
  • Thanks. I edited the answer right away to make sure that the quoted options were indeed not recommended paths on my behalf but a list of OP's options that I wanted to discuss. – Jonast92 Mar 16 '17 at 15:11
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    This is a fantastic answer. – Mister Positive Mar 16 '17 at 17:11
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How can I approach this rationally?

Stop crying. Wipe your tears.

Then go to your boss immediately, explain what happened and ask for help in correcting (or at least mitigating) this error to the extent your company can.

Then, either make sure you use a company phone number for all work contacts, or quickly get a replacement phone. To be without a phone used for work "for a while" is ridiculous.

The fact that you need help choosing among your list of mostly foolish options may say that you are not yet ready for this responsibility. You may wish to think that over, decide if this is really the case, then act accordingly.

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    Another fantastic answer.... ( I actually heard you drop the mic ) – Mister Positive Mar 16 '17 at 17:12
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    However, I'm surprised the vendor didn't try sending an email, or contacting the company's main switchboard. That's an angle the OP's manager will likely use in leverage against the vendor. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 16 '17 at 17:46
  • @JoeStrazzere: I agree. They are not "liable" in that sense. Still, it seems strange. Common sense dictates that when a communication channel falls over (even though we can all agree that the OP had a lot of opportunities to avoid this) there are plenty more to choose from if one really wants to help avoid a problem. Consequently, in practice, the two companies may be able to come to an agreement after the fact. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 18 '17 at 0:16
  • FWIW I would tend to agree that this entire scenario is just another part of an elaborate troll. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 18 '17 at 0:20
  • And I think you're possibly misunderstanding my position. I have never suggested that this is the vendor's fault, nor that $63k is not owed. I've tried to indicate that I actually agree with your answer. Anyway, doesn't matter (especially as, again, this is most likely a complete fiction). Have a nice evening. – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 18 '17 at 0:22
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The other answers are exactly correct. You need to escalate this immediately.

However - before you do so:

Write down clearly exactly what the situation is. Flights booked for X, training booked for Y.

Write down what you have already tried (contacted training company etc).

Write down any ideas you have to try and mitigate this (is the training company even available on the correct dates? Can you find alternative training?). Note down the fact that the training people clearly only made a feeble effort to get in touch - a simple google should have found them a contact number for your company for example. That could be useful in negotiations for a rescheduling.

Then go to your boss and tell him what has happened, referring to your notes as needed. Explain what you've already tried, and any ideas you have. Show that you are trying to fix this. Having the notes written down ahead of time will give you something to refer to if you get flustered during the meeting.

I'll be honest. You may get fired. However I guarantee you that if you even try and cover this up or delay in reporting it then you will get fired.

I'm not a lawyer but it's unlikely the company could or would sue you for an honest mistake made while performing your duties. Especially since it is unlikely they would ever get back as much cash from you as it would cost to sue! Trying to hide this though could easily lead you open to accusations of or actual fraud which have not just civil but criminal penalties involved!

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    +1 for the next to last paragraph. If OP comes clean immediately, they will probably be fired. If they ignore it or try to play dumb, they will definitely be fired and maybe sued as well. – Dan C Mar 16 '17 at 19:35
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I think the thing to do has been established already - tell your boss. Tell them fast, admit your mistake, ask for advice.

But I gotta make this an answer, because there's something to be learned here. Mistakes happen! Everyone makes them. The only difference between successfull and not so successfull people is the handling of mistakes.

I'll be honest, if your boss is no great leader, you might get fired. But let me tell you a story about a 24 year old pretty junior manager at a big company who went out of his way to earn the company some money with a new chemical mixture. Sadly he blew up the plant because of a mistake. Certain he was going to get fired he confessed to his boss.

He didn't get fired. Actually, that man stayed with the company, advanced more and more and in the end became the CEO. The company was General Electric (GE) and the man was Jack Welch. (Source: His biography, this article http://vault.theleadershiphub.com/blogs/my-favourite-jack-welch-story-when-jack-blew-plant etc. / btw. I can recommend reading that bio).

Everyone here is cheering you up, which is great, but let's be honest. People do get fired for this kind of stuff. So go to your boss, tell them, expect to get fired. But if you don't get fired, if they accept a mistake as what it is - a simple ocurrence that a business has to deal with and that cannot be eliminated upfront - then you've got a good company. And if you don't .. you'll find another place, at a better company. Because the world needs people that don't hide their mistakes, call in sick or just run for the next border. That's no solution!

You'll need a lot of courage and I don't envy you, but you have my full support and you have to know that what you did had to happen. Mistakes scale with responsibility. The bigger your mistakes, the better you are at your job. Because people that can't deal with their mistakes don't get promoted to places where someone not dealing with their mistakes could cause real damage.

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    I once went to the CEO of the company with a mistake I made in a bid that was big enough to cost us the profit on the job if we won. I was sure I would be fired. But he was actually impressed that I owned up to the mistake (which was hidden in the depths of an Excel spreadsheet and no one would have known til we lost money a year or more later). It helped that I had a mitigation plan when I went in to talk to him. – HLGEM Mar 16 '17 at 20:31
  • @HLGEM that's the way it should be – DonQuiKong Mar 16 '17 at 21:29
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Be honest.

Now that it is done you must at least show that you can give your best to catch up your mistakes. Trying to recover your mistakes might help, but running away or hiding is clearly equivalent as giving up your resignation.

There is no way your employer will not know about it so try your best to save what you can, and hope you won't be fired. At least show that you can act with maturity even on difficult situations.

Many things are not under your control anymore and even if the consequences are bad you should not focus about it. Focus on saving what you can save. You will only be spectator of the rest of the event. I sincerely hope that this incident will have no significant impact on your career.

2

Well as others have said tell your boss.

But you (or your boss) may be able to beg and plead the training company to reschedule the training for the 20th. I know it's this Monday coming and it will be difficult for them, and they might have to charge an additional fee, and are possibly booked out, but it's a possibility you / your boss should definitely be exploring.

It seems strange that they tried to contact you (presumably 3/6 came and went without you showing up to the training) but didn't try to call your company when they couldn't get through to you... But I suppose you can't force them to take the blame anyway...

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    It's very strange that they gave up after trying to phone one number. No switchboard? No email? – Lightness Races in Orbit Mar 16 '17 at 17:48
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Tell your manager immediately and tell him you need to get accounting to stop the payment to the asshole vendors that won't reschedule you.

Then you renegotiate with the vendors and tell them if they want to get paid, then they will reschedule the course date.

If the vendors refuse to let it go, you may at least be able to negotiate the sunk cost down from $63k to maybe $10k if you agree to re-schedule with the same vendor for the full price.

  • There is some valid point in this answer. Depending upon how the booking was initially paid for, you may have some power and negotiation room. You may have full power to not pay and let them sue you where most cases of booking errors are never filed, or if charged to an account, there maybe some assistance if that account was a credit card or similar type of account. As well, the threat of not doing business with the company again is always a factor. You do me a solid on this one and I will continue to throw money at you. There are always options though it may be unwise to call any one an AH. – closetnoc Mar 16 '17 at 18:25
  • Well I wouldn't call them AH to their face. But I think if you approach the boss with an angry attitude toward the vendors like "These AH! I can't believe they're trying to screw us over like this! We need to stop the payment now!", rather than going to the boss like "Oh my god, what have I done! I made a huge mistake and cost us a bunch of money!", it would help redirect the boss' anger towards the vendors instead. Maybe it can increase the chance of not getting fired. – John K. Mar 16 '17 at 18:31
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    I like your pluck! I am ex-military and a retired IT business consultant known for a no-nonsense and aggressive management style (not mean). While the OP really got themselves in a mess and could get fired for it, the fact of the matter is, this should be easily resolved even if the vendor is being a total butt head. Being of the sea going variety of military, we are well known for our blue streaks. I would not call the vendor an AH, however, MF would not be out of the question. ;-) I am not sure I would do this before my boss depending. Cheers!! – closetnoc Mar 16 '17 at 19:09
  • BTW- I meant to up-vote with the last comment. I clearly spaced. – closetnoc Mar 16 '17 at 19:11

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