WARNING: This post contains mentions of bodily harm and injury. Please proceed with caution.
Sometimes, you're just doing your thing at work, your brain running on autopilot when you realize...oh no oh no oh noooo, I messed up. Sometimes, it's a small thing, like accidentally replying-all to an email. Other times, though, the mistake might be something a little more costly.
Let's start off with some simple oopsies:
1. "I work for a professional association that puts on live programs, one of which was supposed to be at the ski area 'Snowmass.' Proofing for the flyers that were sent out fell through the cracks (this was years ago when flyers were more common than emails for marketing), and 40,000 people received flyers inviting them to 'Snow Ass.' Now, any time someone messes up, we all say, 'At least it isn’t Snow Ass.'"
2. "I worked at McDonalds during the dollar menu days. This guy's order was $2.14 total. He gave me 14 cents and said he has coin dollars. He proceeded to show me a quarter with his thumb over the word 'quarter,' so it only showed the word 'dollar.' I told him those weren't dollar coins, and I needed the other $1.50. He argued that I was too young to know what they were, so I got my manager — who was twice my age — to come help me. He gave her the same spiel, but she told me to accept it, so I did, putting them in the spare change compartment despite being just like the other quarters."
"About two minutes later, she popped my drawer open and looked at the coins again. She exclaimed, 'Those weren't dollars, they were quarters!' No shit, Sherlock. I then watched as she put $1.50 of her own money into the register. This nice man with a small child came over and said he got the license plate number of the guy, but she declined and just looked ashamed."
3. "I worked at a movie theater and would build 35mm prints. The studios typically send out the films on five to eight smaller reels that you splice together to build the much larger print that is played. I put together the Nicolas Cage movie Season of the Witch, but didn’t realize that the studio had mislabeled the second to last reel and marked the end of the reel as the top (or beginning), so near the end of the movie, I put a reel on backwards. This wasn’t caught until the first showing, in which 60+ people came out to tell us that the movie had turned upside down."
"There was no way to salvage the showtime, and we had to issue over $500 in refunds as I scrambled to fix the print for the next showing. Ultimately, I didn’t end up getting in trouble because I was able to prove that the reel was mislabeled, but I was very unsure about my job security for a bit."
4. "I was new to waitressing, and I accidentally poured piping hot coffee on some poor old woman's foot. I have no idea how I even did it. She ended up having to put her foot in the restroom toilet to cool it off, because she was older and couldn't reach her foot up to the sink. I felt so damn bad! She was gracious and ended up comforting me because I was in tears over the ordeal. She still tipped me, too."
5. "My friend was writing an email to our entire company congratulating an employee whose name was Virginia, but she accidentally wrote, 'Vagina.' It was one of the funniest days in the office; no one could stop laughing. The subject line read, 'Congratulations to Vagina!'"
Next up, some mistakes that left a bit bigger of a mark:
6. "I had an office job of random tasks, and one day was assigned to send the results for scholarship applications. I thought I was efficient and clever by folding, stamping, addressing and packing these letters assembly line-style. In my genius process, I got the letters and envelope addresses mixed up, so the wrong people got the acceptance and rejections."
"This is also when they realized I was only 15 and not legal for employment, so they brushed it under the rug somehow."
7. "I worked at Radio Shack. One day, a customer came in to look at a TV and asked if they could bring it out to their car to show their girlfriend. The employee he asked said sure, thinking nothing of it. The customer, obviously, walked out with the TV and never came back."
8. "I worked at a small coffeehouse and was left to close one night by myself before they had trained me how to close. They left a list, and I did each thing. The last task on the list said to turn off all switches that were on. So, I turned off the big fancy espresso machine's big glowing light switch, and it shut down. List completed. Well, I got a call at 4:30 a.m. the next morning from the panicked owner, screaming at me, asking why the hell I turned off the espresso machine."
"Apparently, it is a big computer that won't turn back on without the manufacturer coming to service it, so we NEVER EVER turn off the espresso machine. Perhaps they should have written that on my list. They were unable to make espresso drinks for a week. I'm happy that I was blithely calm about the whole thing and just referenced the list that I followed to the tee and said that it would have been nice to have been trained on how to close before I was assigned to do it."
9. "I wait tables as a side hustle. I was brand new to the job and misunderstood someone’s drink order. We had a cocktail and a mocktail with almost the same name. When given the bill, the gentleman asked me why his drink was $13 instead of $4. Turns out, he was a few days shy of celebrating his one year sober anniversary. I had to hide in the back and choke back tears. Luckily, he was really nice, but holy shit, I’ll never live that down."
10. "I worked for a small auto shop where I was new and tasked with changing oil for a fleet van that came in. I had just emptied the oil and was told I could go for the day. Well, I forgot to tell someone that I had yet to fill it with oil. So, the lead mechanic assumed it was done and took it for a test drive, as they always do. The engine seized and had to be replaced to the tune of $5,000. I was fired, but luckily, they let me keep my last paycheck."
11. "We make medical devices. Everyone has their specific job, but we're cross trained in other areas, too. A coworker — who works directly with me — was helping in another area, gluing parts together. This was a huge order that needed to be shipped in a few days. It takes about a month for this product to be made, so we couldn't afford to mess it up. Well, not only did she use the wrong epoxy on the devices, but she also glued all 40 of the products to the assembly stands."
"Nobody could get them apart. Thus, they ruined $250,000 worth of product, the expensive assembly stands, and put us over a month behind on the order because we had to start over."
12. "I was working in a restaurant in the '90s, and one of the chefs was using a mandolin (used to swiftly slice vegetables, fruits, etc). Ordinarily, you use the guard that goes with it that lays on top of the product. But this chef had used one for years and never had an issue, so he didn't use one."
"One day, he was slicing potatoes and chatting away, only to look down and see the potatoes were all red. He held his hand up and saw that he had expertly sliced the thenar (fleshy bit below the thumb) clean off his hand."
13. "I worked for a very large US communications company. Among other things, we sold dedicated circuits to large companies and the US government. With record keeping not always done correctly, we’d occasionally find circuits that appeared to be working for which we could not find corresponding revenues. A policy was put in place to temporarily disconnect these circuits. If a customer called in to complain, we’d know who the circuit was for and could determine if billing records needed to be updated. Unfortunately, as we later found, the US government intentionally hides the data on some of their circuits. Among other things, we managed to temporarily take down the data capabilities of a number of missile silos."
14. "When I was a scaffolder, we used to joke around and say, 'If only we had a sky-hook to come and get all this gear to the top!' So, one day, we jokingly yelled out to the apprentice, 'Hey! Go find the sky-hook!' He took off and — us knowing there is no such thing as a sky-hook — all have a laugh at his expense, and keep on doing our deal."
"Turns out the crane company on site was called Sky-hook, so he went and talked to them. They did a full-blown crane move (which, if you don't know how much it costs to move a crane, I'll just say it ain't cheap!) just to find out it was all a prank. My company got billed for the crane move as well as all loss of production costs that resulted due to not having the crane ready."
And finally, some genuinely terrible disasters:
15. "When working as an operations manager in West London, I activated my 'out of office' setting before I was set to be out. Well, it turned out that what I had actually done was created an automated response to all my contacts and all email chains. Due to the sheer volume of emails, I took down the servers of my company, one of the largest salon groups in the UK. This included the online booking tools for 300 salons, the online store, support pages, and the server of L’Oreal and Wella UK."
16. "A woman on my street ran an in-home daycare center. One day, her assistant called out sick, and she was over the limit of kids in her care. Rather than not operating that day, she decided to try and take care of them all herself. She went to take the kids on a walk and left one behind in her backyard. Someone found the kid — who wasn't even 2 years old — walking down the middle of the road on the busiest street in town."
"Thankfully, someone found him, stopped, and called 911, so nothing happened to him. Someone else had to go and find the daycare owner, who was on a walk on one of the side streets. Needless to say, that daycare is no longer in operation."
17. "I was installing metal roofs on a dairy barn in Southside Virginia that had been converted into an apartment. They were very nice — rustic and beautiful. While installing a sheet of 40-year metal on the lower portion of the roof, my coworker drilled the colored wood screw into the metal, then a loud pop came from the screw and was glowing red."
"He looked down at his drill like, WTH? Smoke started coming from the ventilation fans on the upper roof above us, and the whole structure ended up being burnt beyond repair. It was a total loss.
Upon inspection by us and the fire marshal, we learned that the electrician (from another company) had majorly messed up. They'd installed the breaker box wrong and ran his wires directly below the old roof along the rafters, violating building codes. It took about 30 minutes for the fire department to arrive at the remote location of the barn. We where just watching this poor woman's investment burn uncontrollably."
18. "When I was an airport baggage handler, we pulled the baggage carts with really heavy-duty tugs. Think the love child of a golf cart and a tank. Thick, solid steel. Planes, however, are covered in thin aluminum to minimize weight. Well, a guy on my crew cut a turn too close, and rammed his tug into a plane, ripping right through the thin skin and grounding the plane that we had just loaded with baggage, and in which passengers were being seated. Even worse, he hit the nose cone of the plane, which houses the radar and comms equipment. He caused over $100k in damage."
19. "I was working at a chemical plant where we had to feed a chemical that was classified as a category three chemical weapon into a reactor. The company that filed the cylinders had neglected to do the inspections for the cylinder for three years, and this highly corrosive chemical had eaten a hole through a weld. When the cylinder was pressurized to 50 psi, the chemical started to vent off. It was raining that day, and when the chemical reacted with the rain water, it created a gas cloud that ended up shutting down two factories, the local train tracks (which was the biggest part of the fine), and made the local hospital shelter in place."
20. And finally, "It was the first day at my first job working in a sporting goods department. A customer came in and wanted to see a shotgun. Retail person A handed him an unloaded shotgun, but then worker A got busy with someone else. The customer with the shotgun then asked retail person B if he could see shotgun ammunition, and retail person B handed the customer a box of shells, without realizing the customer had the shotgun in his person."
"The next thing we knew, the customer inserted live ammunition into the shotgun and was pointing it around the store. Chaos ensued, and the police were called. The customer was arrested because they had outstanding warrants in their name. Long story short, retail person B was transferred to the domestics (pillows and sheets) department shortly after."
Have you ever witnessed a workplace mistake like these? If so, in the comments below or via this anonymous form, tell us about the worst workplace mess-up you've ever seen — whether if was by someone else or you.
Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.