Are your employees abusing travel expenses?
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Recently, I have been hearing stories regarding the abuse of corporate travel expenses, not just in small businesses but in large Fortune 500 companies as well. For example, lavish dinners and libations are being charged during the course of non-sales related events; unauthorized gifts are being purchased for family members; employees being sent to seminars and meetings, only to blow-off the meeting to return home early; and several other indiscretions.
It used to be, managers would scrutinize travel expense reports carefully before approving them for payment, but this doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. The abuse of travel expenses is a serious matter as it can be costly to companies, yet some are treating it like a fringe benefit. If left unchecked, travel expenses can drive any company into the poor house.
Policies regarding travel expenses should be spelled out in a company manual of some kind, be it a policy manual, employee handbook, or something from Human Resources. Such a manual should clearly define what expenses the company will assume, and what they will not. This includes limits of daily costs for lodging, transportation, and meals. If the employee went over the prescribed limit, they were responsible for assuming the expense.
What worries me though, is that some managers are no longer checking the expense reports for excesses, and just rubber stamp them off their desk. To make matters worse, employees can become offended if you question them about an expense, particularly Millennials. It is like they are entitled to the expense for traveling on the company’s behalf.
One way of verifying expenses is to simply attach paperwork to the expense report, particularly receipts. To substantiate an employee’s participation at an event, it is wise to ask for a “trip report” detailing what the employee did at the event and what was learned. If the employee attended a workshop or class, proof of participation should be included, such as a certificate or letter of accomplishment. The point is, no paperwork, no reimbursement.
The one problem here is in the area of smart phones where purchases can be recorded on the fly without any printed receipts, including travel tickets, and hotel expenses. This may be convenient for purchasing such items, but the employee should still be held accountable for producing the necessary paperwork. Digital expense reports may be convenient for the employee to use, but they may not be adequate for recording all of the related documentation.
Thanks to the Internet and smart phones, employees are spending more time making their own travel plans. This does two things: it distracts them from their normal job, and; they do not necessarily find the best travel deals, thereby wasting more money. This is why a corporate travel planner is important, to get the best deals while saving time for the employee.
I guess what I do not understand is all of the hubbub regarding travel expense reports, which is actually quite simple to do. Managers have a fiduciary responsibility to manage such expenses, and implementing them should be a no-brainer. As much as you may want to empower employees, they should obviously not be given carte blanche to do whatever they want. This would be a recipe for disaster.
One last note, should an employee ask indignantly, “Why do you want this documentation, don’t you trust me?” I would make it clear to the person, “If you insist on wasting the company’s money, NO, I do not trust you.”
Keep the Faith!