Birthday drinks at a nightclub, vet fees for a poorly rabbit and ‘a three-piece suite for my partner to sit on when I’m doing my accounts’. Those were among unusual expenses claims that HMRC revealed earlier this year. All were rejected.
We wanted to know about more unusual and extravagant requests that employees put on expenses – and wanted to share some insight on how best to deal with them.
What becomes clear in the examples we uncovered, revealed below, is the need to find a balance between allowing staff freedom, while ensuring they are aware of a clear and transparent company expenses policy.
My cinema ticket and false eyelashes – surely you’ll pay for those?
Sara Gaughan, Chief People Officer at recruitment company Finlay James, says: “We have had two previous employees submit rather unusual expenses claims. The first was for a cinema ticket (located 80 miles from work) and the second was for a pair of false eyelashes – the second clearly wanted to make a good impression during their first day in training!”
THE VERDICT: Both claims were roundly rejected. Sara says: “It highlighted the need to update and review our policy, to make it clear what was and wasn’t appropriate to claim. Since doing this, we are pleased to say no more outrageous claims have been made.”
I can expense my daily calls home to my wife, right?
One employee of a UK company who was posted to Germany called his wife every night for a long catch up.
This was before free mobile roaming in the EU, and he assumed the company would foot his huge phone bill. He was not best pleased when he heard otherwise.
THE VERDICT: The chatty employee in this example should have been made aware of the company’s expenses policy. On the flipside, flexibility is important. Emma del Torto, Managing Director of EffectiveHRM and PitStopHR, who relates this story, says that in the end the company – aware of the importance of keeping staff on side – agreed to go halves on the phone bill.
I can’t travel first class? Outrageous!
Emma also relates another example. A company decided to end its policy of allowing its employees to travel first class. “There was outrage from the employees,” she says.
THE VERDICT: Emma explains, “this could have been avoided if the company had clearly communicated the reasons for the decision, rather than just removing what the employees clearly thought of as a benefit”.
I’m just popping to Rio, OK?
Clare Lassiter, senior HR consultant at Pure Human Resources, says: “A long time ago, I worked for a business that sent their staff to glamorous places all around the world on a daily basis. Once, a junior team member, who helped arrange travel at the company, was flummoxed by a request from a senior manager to fly out to Rio when they were due to undertake work in Barbados!”
THE VERDICT: A seemingly outrageous request needn’t always be rejected. Clare goes on: “Our policy was to allow reasonable requests on the understanding that the difference in flight cost was met by the traveller, and all accommodation and transfers not in the place of assignment was arranged and paid for by them. They also needed to provide all contact and travel details in order for us to be able to maintain contact with them before (or after) the assignment and for insurance purposes.”
She stresses that companies need to ensure expenses policies are adhered to while also looking after their staff: “It’s all about balance: ensuring that benefits are facilitated whilst sticking within reasonable boundaries for expense payments.”
Will you pay for my cat sitter?
This is one dug up by DPG, specialists in HR, learning and development. The employee in question said her new kitten needed round-the-clock care, which she wanted to charge to company expenses.
THE VERDICT: DPG thought it unlikely many companies would agree to this. But instead of outright refusing the bizarre request, it suggested the employee could take annual leave. Or, failing that, they could consider allowing a home working arrangement.
Can I get my hair done and expense it?
Another one found by DPG: an employee asked to use spare budget on hair and makeup to spruce herself up for the company Christmas party.
THE VERDICT: There’s little chance such a claim would be accepted by most companies, DPG suggested.
How to manage tricky expenses claims
The key to managing difficult expenses claims is to have a clear expenses policy, Emma explains: “When there are clear guidelines set out between employer and employee, there is less room for blurred lines and uncertainty. For example, this might include the specific rates that an employee can reclaim mileage for petrol, the maximum spend for overnight accommodation when travelling for work, but will also include the date, specific type of form and to whom expenses should be submitted.
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