I oversee accounts payable for a small, struggling company. Last week we received a statement showing we owed two hundred dollars for an invoice dated January 2019. I’m not sure why this got overlooked, maybe because it was for parts originally on back order which delayed payment processing.
It was our error. We should have copied the purchase order to our back-order files. If we had, I would have tracked the invoice down within months of the original order and paid it.
I called the field superintendent. He located the freight invoice and verified that we had received and used the parts.
I forwarded the invoice with a short note asking that it be paid immediately. To my surprise, I received a response from the Chief Operating Officer, “CFO and I discussed this. The vendor needs to write this off. They were negligent. They didn’t follow up to ensure their invoice was paid. They can’t expect us to pay an invoice more than one year old.”
I emailed back, “We received the parts.”
He wrote back. “With an invoice this old, how can we know we received the parts?”
I wrote back, “We did. I checked with the field superintendent.”
He wrote back, “He can’t verify the parts he used were from this vendor. How can we know for sure? Maybe we went to another vendor to get those parts. The CFO would like for you to discuss this invoice with the vendor and let them know we think they should write it off. It’s likely they were just sending us the statement in hopes that we would pay and were prepared to write it off.”
I didn’t respond, and got one more email, “Let me know when you’ve done this. It’s standard business practice.”
I don’t right about this. We ordered the parts. We received them. We used them. We should pay for them. Yes, the vendor could have followed-up, but it was our fault for not copying the PO to track the back order.
They didn’t put a late fee on this. If they had, I would feel okay about asking them to write it off.
How do I tell my boss that I don’t want to stiff this vendor? Can I refuse? I don’t want to put my job on the line.
I’m angry. I question if I want to work for a company that would ask this of me. Is this standard business practice? Am I over-reacting?
You’re not over-reacting. You want to do the right thing. That’s integrity.
What your COO asks for isn’t standard business practice. At the same time, he has a point. Many vendors will write off an invoice if they have neglected to follow-up on it. They do this out of embarrassment and because they realize their accountability.
The ethical action—pay them.
Keeping your job—until you decide you want to give it up—depends on how diplomatically you handle this.
Don’t make your COO wrong. He may have shaved the truth so often he has cut himself. He may also feel squeezed by your company’s financial picture. Stepping back from this situation, your COO and CFO have spent considerable time on a two-hundred-dollar invoice. That tells me the two hundred dollars may be dollars the COO or CFO don’t feel your company can afford to part with, and so one or both now grab a reason for not paying.
In similar situations I’ve often said, “I understand why you are saying what you’re saying.” Then, you can add, “I’m not arguing with you, but actually writing the email makes me uncomfortable, and I’m wondering if it can come from the CFO.”
If you receive a direct order to write the email yourself, you can write truthfully, “Our CFO feel you should void this invoice because it’s nineteen months old. Will you do that?
After that, you’ve done your best and because you have, you can let this situation go, and look for a position elsewhere.
© 2020, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016, https://amzn.to/30V5JO6) and “Solutions”, https://amzn.to/2GYlnAN (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). This article was co-authored by Richard Birdsall, JD. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her @ www.communicationworks.net or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.