I was working in a company where we had a meal card that had 7 euros each day credited so we could buy our meals with it.

After I quit the company, I continued using the card with the intent of draining it. But, after a few months, to my surprise it had still not run out, so I came to the conclusion (which I am now sure of) that they keep adding money to it.

When I left the company the remaining balance on the card was mine. I am allowed to use it, and am not required to return any of it. What I believe is not mine is the money they added AFTER I left, which I used without being aware that they continued to credit it.

What could happen from here - if I tell them, could they ask me to pay back the money that's in it? Or if I don't, am I at risk?

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    Is this a card that YOU can also add money to or is your former employer the only one allowed to? Do you know how much of the money they added after you left that has been spent? Jul 5, 2017 at 14:38
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:34
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    A question: did you check if your new company (assuming you are with one) provides compensation for meals? The company I'm with also provides meal compensation but does so through an external party. If I were to switch employers, the new one could pay any compensation they decided to give through the same external company. It could be that your new employer also pays you your meal compensation through that same external company.
    – Valthek
    Jul 6, 2017 at 7:56
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    @IDrinkandIKnowThings Having just reviewed the revision log, I agree with psmears here. His changes were all legitimate grammatical corrections. There was no need to roll them back. That said, further discussion should be brought to either chat or meta.
    – Doc
    Jul 7, 2017 at 16:51

9 Answers 9


What could happen from here, if I tell them would they ask me to pay back the money that's in it? Or if I don't am I at risk?

In every locale I'm aware of you will be required to pay back the funds. Make sure to save enough so that you can cover the costs when you are inevitably caught. If you put it in the bank, you might earn a euro or two in interest, which you'll likely be able to keep.

It's unlikely that you will face more than a risk of having to pay back what you inappropriately kept. I suppose it's possible that the company could prove that you willfully "took" money that you weren't entitled to, and thus face prosecution - but that seems very unlikely.

Just let them know about their mistake and pay back their money. That way you won't have to worry.

  • 66
    This is the answer. Once you realize what is going on any of the money you spend of theirs is theft. And now that you realize it, you probably have a responsibility to notify the former employer of what is going on and request that they stop as well as paying it back. Jul 5, 2017 at 14:48
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    Yeah. Let them know, and present compensation right away. Since he knows the date of termination and the date of report, he can multiply those days by 7 to get the value, so bring paying back right away.
    – Mindwin
    Jul 5, 2017 at 16:01
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    One thing to add after "Just let them know" is "in writing". You need proof that you notified them.
    – Peter
    Jul 5, 2017 at 19:29
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    Do not present them with compensation straight away. You have a vague suspicion as to what has happened, but you do not know for sure, and may be wrong about the amount owing. It may be larger than expected, or it may be $0. Immediately tell them that you will present compensation as soon as they provide you with an answer as to how much they put on there after your employment ended.
    – Scott
    Jul 5, 2017 at 22:13
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    @Scott Definitely have them provide the bill (with data to back it up). Because they might've stopped paying the card a month ago, which the OP won't know yet. If they have no paper trail /receipts, there is nothing to reimburse..
    – Chieron
    Jul 6, 2017 at 12:22

In most places, it would be absolutely fine to spend the money that was put on the card while you were employed. I'm sure the tax office has been informed of that money and you paid income tax on it. So the "I'll keep spending until the card is empty" isn't wrong. If it was slightly different: The company gave you a gift card with 140€ every month to pay for lunch, then obviously they would have stopped giving you gift cards when you left, and there would have been no reason not to spend the remaining money. It was part of the payment for your work.

Now two things happened: The company acted in a stupid way by continuing to pay, and you kept spending. I personally don't feel very bad for companies being stupid. Well, you stopped spending. Maybe a bit late. What to do now?

You can give them a phone call saying "Can you make sure that you are not paying on my card anymore"? That's because the money will leave the company and end up with the provider of the card, even if you don't spend a penny. So they need to stop that. And then it's up to them what happens next.

They would try to get money back from the card provider. Who might tell them "sorry guys, you were stupid, you can use the card, but you won't get anything back", and then they'll ask for the card back. Or they might ask you to pay back money that you spent that you shouldn't have spent.

They might try to get the police involved, but that will probably not be successful. You could ask on law.stackexchange.com.

  • 10
    Maybe email rather than call, so that it is traceable?
    – nic
    Jul 6, 2017 at 2:57
  • Maybe it's not stupid but they are reviewing bonus cards at the end of the year? Maybe someone forgotten to do that for released worker, maybe it just doesn't matter.
    – user50700
    Jul 6, 2017 at 9:51
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    "They might try to get the police involved". No they won't.
    – Michael
    Jul 6, 2017 at 10:01
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    @9ilsdx9rvj0lo: Continuing to pay benefits to employees after they left the company is stupid. Note that the money is gone and it would have been gone if the OP hadn't spend a penny. There should be a checklist what to do when an employee leaves the company, and this card should have been on the checklist, and any payments should have been cancelled. Anything else is stupid. If someone forgot it, yes, that's stupid.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 6, 2017 at 11:11

1. Act quickly. (Without feeling any guilt.)

Inform the company about the problem you discovered and stop spending any more money from the card. Informing the other party ASAP when the problem was discovered demonstrates your best intention to correctly resolve the problem. These things do happen, it is not a big deal. Especially when the card is not showing remaining balance. Maybe from your previous employer's viewpoint you are not even the first person to which this happened after leaving. It might be possible they need to improve their processes triggered on leaving of the employee.

2. Prepare to return all money spent after contract termination.

Calculate estimated balance on the card on the day you left your previous employer. That money is yours. Prepare to return all other money. It is your former employee's job to inform you about exact amount to settle. They should be able to determine it by checking their monthly reports from restaurant card provider or by opening support case with the card provider. If you are showing your best intent to correct the situation, they can also be open to possibility to wait some time in case you cannot send all the money immediately. Remember, if the card did not offer a way on informing you about remaining balance, the mistake is more on their side so this should create you some maneuvering space for agreeing upon the deadline of payment. If you are interested, you can also ask them to share transactions report for your card. Valid business reason: in this situation you would like to check history of your transactions, too.

Anecdotal evidence:

Something similar recently happened to me. I reported the issue next day I discovered it. The report did not reach the correct persons and few weeks later they found out by themselves. They approached me by throwing a shame on me for keeping the money. I shown them evidence that I reported the problem ASAP. This changed the game and they started apologizing to me for not reacting properly to my report.

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    "Calculate the balance on the card on the day you left your previous employer." It sounds like this is not possible. If it were, he wouldn't need to infer money was still being added, nor guess when it should have run out if the money weren't being added.
    – Michael
    Jul 5, 2017 at 16:34
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    @Michael – no problem, it might be easily doable by other parties as mentioned in the answer. One method or another, the OP will still end up with some calculation.
    – miroxlav
    Jul 5, 2017 at 16:41
  • It might be possible to check with the card holder for a report of the funds added since the termination date. While the old company can also provide this information, asking for this information would prepare the OP to know exactly what funds are at stake.
    – Phil M
    Jul 5, 2017 at 17:25
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    @skymningen not necessarily. If the card keeps a running balance and you are allowed to use the funds when YOU want, any money put before he left should still be his to spend.
    – Patrice
    Jul 6, 2017 at 12:13
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    @skymningen from my understanding, he knows he spent SOME of the money they gave him after he worked. Not all. So it wouldn't work. If he repays 7*number of days, then he might overpay. Unless you're saying "keep the card, the money is yours, and repay 7* amount of days to make sure you repaid everything?"
    – Patrice
    Jul 6, 2017 at 13:58

You've provided not enough information but one thing that you should do is immediately reach out your former employer and explain the situation. Tell them that your idea - probably wrong - was that the сash is accumulated on a daily basis but you can spend it however you want - just like a salary.

Provide data on how much you've spent to this moment and discuss what would be the options.

Also, you behaved non-optimal, to put it mildly. It's just not good at all, but actually it's also the employer who's in charge of stating loud and clear what are the rules and have a check-list of what should be done before one quits the job.

It heavily depends on the exact circumstances (which country, which kind of employment, what exactly type of card) but still it would not be an oversimplification to say that this can even led to criminal charges (though it's rather unlikely).

But the worst thing is actually that you can damage your reputation. You'd be surprised how often stupid mistakes can well, if not ruin your life but make it way more complicated than it could be.

UPD: The question itself was significantly edited and toned down - now it is claimed that the author was entitled to keep the remaining money. In that case, of course, it's not that dramatic. Still better to contact former employer though.

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    I largely disagree with this answer. (i) the OP clearly stated that he was entitled to keep the remaining money, so it is fine to spend it and (ii) obviously, there is no possibility for him to check the current balance, so it is fine to just keep draining it in good faith, and entirely credible behavior. Also it is very likely impossible to present a precise listing of all expenses weeks after. I would notify them by email that I'm suspicious that they still keep depositing money and then just wait what happens. Likely, they just say thank you and some guy gets reprimanded. Jul 6, 2017 at 18:08
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    @Dominik this answer has been given actually when OP does not stated clearly that he was entitled to do so.
    – shabunc
    Jul 7, 2017 at 5:57

I know people will disagree with this, but just to play devil's advocate: discontinue using it and wait to see if they contact you.

They'll realise their mistake eventually. In the best case for you, they'll see they have a large amount of unused balance and they'll get a refund from the card provider, or reassign the funds to other employees, or splash out on a big team meal (just kidding - get back to work, slackers!) and they'll consider that the end of it.

In the worst case for you, they'll contact you and ask you to pay back what you owe them. Do so promptly and do your best to make the process easy for them. If you do this, they won't hold it against you.

Financially, this will result in the best outcome for you in the average case. Is it ethical? We all have different opinions. You'll have to decide for yourself. That's more of a question for a different site.

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    Looking at the tags of the question, I don't think you answer is any help. You are just sinking yourself with misplaced greed.
    – Winter
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:43
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    He asked "if I don't [pay it back] am I at risk" and I sought to answer that. This isn't a site to discuss what is and isn't ethical, it's about workplace matters. Is he obligated to inform them? No. Should he do it anyway? He should use his own judgement. I'm not gonna force my subjective view of the situation on him and neither should anyone else
    – Michael
    Jul 5, 2017 at 19:11
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    -1 in the worst case, you'll ask you to pay back with interest. Penalty interests can be 20% over regular interest.
    – user50700
    Jul 6, 2017 at 9:49
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    @9ilsdx9rvj0lo They won't do that. There's absolutely no reason for them to be litigious or to otherwise try to enact some kind of punishment. Even if you're right, there's no good reason they wouldn't do the same thing even if you told them about it.
    – Michael
    Jul 6, 2017 at 10:08
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    @9ilsdx9rvj0lo The overpayment was the company's mistake: they have no right to charge interest. If they did, I could "accidentally" pay $1000 into your bank account and demand that you pay me $1200 back. Quite profitable. Jul 7, 2017 at 0:41

Start by requesting a statement for your dining card: this can usually be done either via a website of the card issuer, or by writing them a letter. This will confirm that there were incoming transactions on your account after you have left your employer, and show the exact sums involved.

If there are such erroneous transactions, inform your old employer, preferably in writing. Ask them to reverse these transactions so that they recover any money that are left in this account, then reimburse the difference if that would net a negative balance. Depending on how accounting is done, you may have to reimburse either directly to your old employer, or to the dining card issuer.

  • Nice idea but I wonder whether they'd provide that information for someone other than the account holder. Might be worth a try, though.
    – Michael
    Jul 7, 2017 at 16:48

I agree with a user's comment above about acting as quickly as possible.If you let them know before they find out about the card, they may even let go of the transactions which you have made after draining out the amount over which you had the right to use after leaving the company. This is a case where there is an error from the company's side as well. So they have to give you the benefit of doubt.

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    This does not seem to add anything to the other answers
    – user8036
    Jul 7, 2017 at 11:03

Contrary to numerous baseless accusations of theft that have been made against you here, the fault, if any, is with the company, and it is up to them to rectify it.

If you are now of the opinion that you are dipping into the card beyond what was due when you finished with them, it is open to you to request a statement from the provider, and if you get one, which you may not, as it may be the company's statement not yours, you will then be in a position to confirm or refute your opinion. Only then are you in possession of sufficient knowledge to be sure there is something wrong, and only then need you stop using the card if it turns out you are right. If you don't get the statement from the provider, you could request one from the company.

If you don't get either, you should probably just return the card at the point when you think you're done with it, but there is no reason for you to take a business risk on the timing of that of under-claiming your own money.

If the company (a) agrees with your assessment, (b) cares, and (c) does something about it in the form of a demand, you should then negotiate a settlement, which may not necessarily consist of the full amount, and need not consist of a single payment in full, but of instalments that suit you. Business is business, and there has been contributory negligence here. Unless the amount is into $US four figures it is fairly unlikely that either (b) or (c) will be true.

My father quit the Army in 1945 and received a letter demanding return of some overpayment or other. He wrote back asking for a proper accounting, and never heard another word about it. I did a similar thing when an employer demanded reimbursement of an alleged overpayment of annual leave, with the same result.

This is all accounting, and business, not a morality play. You should certainly forget all about crime, ethics, or moral obligations. It is a business stuff-up not of your making. Nobody is going to haul you into court over this.

  • The fault is with the company. However, the asker has come to the belief that they are now taking money to which they are not entitled. This is a justified belief based on their perception that they have used this card to take more money than they think the final balance could reasonably have been. If this belief is true, it constitutes knowledge under classical definition. If the asker continues to use the card and the employer is still putting cash on it, the aker is yaking money they know they are not entitled to: this is fraud. Jul 8, 2017 at 12:26
  • Note, though, that the asker was not committing fraud before they came to the belief that they were taking money they weren't entitled to. But the asker definitely needs to stop using the card immediately, until the situation is clarified. And I agree that the clarification could happen in any of the ways you suggest. Jul 8, 2017 at 12:27
  • @DavidRichbery If it is true belief. That's why he needs a statement.
    – user207421
    Jul 9, 2017 at 0:15

You stole the money. Yes you need to pay it back. You should have stopped using the card when you left the job.

Regarding intent, what matters isn't your opinion but what the law is and likely the law in most countries is on the side of the employer. It is the same if they accidentally continue your paycheck, that is not your money to spend and they are entitled to have it back.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. It seems like there's strong disagreement on whether what happened here constitutes theft or not. Please move that discussion to the chatroom, but consider agreeing to disagree.
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:37
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    -1 for disregarding the fact that he left his job with a positive balance which he was allowed to use up. Using money owned by himself from a card where he had no way to check the balance, and then after a while growing a suspicion that it might not be running dry, is hardly the same as spending accidental paychecks.
    – AnoE
    Jul 5, 2017 at 21:01
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    I could say you are lying, because the intent doesn't matter, only the fact you've written something that is not correct.
    – user50700
    Jul 6, 2017 at 9:48
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    @Snowlockk, it is not about the law here, it is about what the OP stated in his post: When I left the company the remaining balance on the card was mine, **I am allowed to use it, and am not required to return any of it.** You can take it at face value, or you can chose not to, but it is what it is. As the question is posted, the money which was on the balance at the moment he left the company was his to spend, or else the whole question makes no sense at all.
    – AnoE
    Jul 6, 2017 at 10:25
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    An accusation like "you stole the money" is really inappropriate, given the facts that (i) he was entitled to spend the remaining money and (ii) he had no possibility of checking the balance. Jul 6, 2017 at 18:24

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