Canadian Underwriter

Some questionable items employees have expensed

July 18, 2019   by Adam Malik

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If you haven’t been paying attention to your employees’ expense reports, you may want to take a closer look.

A recent study has found that despite strict guidelines around expense reporting, a number of questionable items are still being submitted for reimbursement. It’s also happening with increasing regularity, chief financial officers across Canada told Robert Half Management Resources, a human resources and staffing management firm. It risks sucking up valuable time, the firm warned.

Respondents found their employees submitting items like speeding tickets, carnival costumes and cowboy hats for reimbursement. One even tried to claim the costs of renting goats to cut grass. Other infractions included cat food, a helicopter ride and a lawnmower.

The survey found that 58% of respondents said they’re seeing more inappropriate requests compared to the last three years. Claims run the gamut from child expenses like daycare to household items like an ice cream mixer and others that Robert Half described as “incredulous,” like a live octopus as a pet.

It’s easy to get a chuckle out of these mishaps, but it’s not good for companies having to weed through them, explained David King, senior district president of Robert Half Management Resources.

“While some expense requests may seem humorous or even bold, they can cause problems for businesses,” he said. “Organizations benefit from having clear company policies and effective review processes. Otherwise, things like expense reports can become time-consuming issues for the company.”

About 20% of small firms with up to 50 employees still use a manual expense reporting process. Most use a technology-based solution, whether it’s developed in-house or outsourced to third party software. But letting technology be your guardian is a mistake, King warned. The key is still communication.

“Take measures to resolve any uncertainty among staff about what is considered a valid business expense,” he said. “Make policies readily available, include examples of various potential situations to clarify grey areas and train accounting staff to address questions or head-off problems before they arise.”

Include policies in employee newsletters or in emails as regular reminders, Robert Half recommended. If an employee puts through an improper expense submission, the company advises employers to sit down with the employee to discuss the problem. “An improper submission may be the result of a staff member’s simple lapse in judgment or an attempt to push boundaries,” it says.

Finally, Robert Half recommended employers to continue monitoring expenses to ensure rules have been understood and the employee is complying with company guidelines.

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