There are extra supplies at work. You are told, by your direct supervisor, that you may take some of these extra supplies if you like, so you do. The next day it turns out that you took home the wrong ones; what you took home is needed and missed. The supervisor who needs them (a different one than before) is quite angry and upset, and is known to be vindictive. No one knows it was you that took them, and the next morning you return everything; nobody sees you returning them.
At this point, do you:
A) Explain what happened to your direct supervisor and accept any consequences.
B) No harm, no foul-- never say a word to anyone; let it be a mystery.
I know you know this, but that’s not really the important part. Could be anything; office supplies, tools, appliances, buildings materials, cleaning products, whatever. Depending on what you do, there are always plenty of work things that could be personally useful at home.
I am not seeing how quietly bringing them back fails to qualify as “the right thing”: you acted in good faith, you remedied the situation as quickly as possible. Where is the ethical responsibility to make your honest mistake public?
I wouldn’t tell. Why make life more difficult for me? I returned the goods, I don’t feel like having the vindictive manager make my life hell. Look out for No. 1 - no one else is going to. And that doesn’t mean do unethical things, but no reason to be public about everything.
ETA: How are you a thief? That makes no sense. Supervisor said it was OK; you just took the wrong ones, and you brought them back.
People’s black and white morality aside, this isn’t even taking things that aren’t yours - it’s taking something that was given to you and you just made a mistake. Good heavens.
If it weren’t for the dickhead supervisor who’s overreacting, I’d have said “Oops, my bad. I thought that was the stuff you said we could take home. Sorry, I’ll bring it back tomorrow,” and expect that to be the end of it.
But I voted “don’t tell” under your given scenario. It’s always best to avoid the wrath of unreasonable people.
What fault? And the question doesn’t actually ask about making anything public. It’s about mentioning the matter to your own supervisor–the one who is going around telling people, apparently with some ambiguity, to help themselves. He’s the one that made the mistake. I’d clue him in, and I certainly wouldn’t expect any negative consequences. Not mentioning the matter to anyone, after there’s been public attention, is an implicit admission that there was maybe something a little bit wrong about what you did.
I voted for “explaining” although I find it difficult to admit my mistakes in public; nevertheless, long-term it’s the better strategy.
If you own publically to all minor mistakes, then when there’s a mystery of who to blame for the latest fuckup, people will know it’s not you, because of your reputation for owning up (that also assumes that you don’t make 10 mistakes a day).
Conversly, once you suspect a colleague of ass-covering by staying silent and not owning up, you don’t trust them when they say “Honestly, it wasn’t me that made the mistake” because of their reputation.
Well, given that the OP’s scenario says that my direct supervisor told me it was okay to take the items, then I see no problem with returning the items and telling the supervisor, “Whoops, apparently I took something I shouldn’t have and I’ve returned it now.” I don’t see why this implies that my supervisor is going to rat me out to Mr. Vindictive. I suspect it would be more like, “Ah, looks like this stuff got misplaced, Mr. Vindictive. Here it is!” Since the space of time between his looking for the items and my returning them is a day, I just don’t see how it would cause problems.
I would go to my own supervisor and say, “Hey, I seem to have caused this kerfuffle when I did X and Y.”
What you don’t want to have happen is the other person to come to your supervisor and say, “Hey, did you give anyone permission to do X?” and your supervisor to say, “Oh, no, I gave permission to do Z!” and then all eyes turn to you.