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Build Your Career Office Life

3 Ways to Avoid Embarrassing Expense Report Missteps

3 Ways to Avoid Embarrassing Expense Report Missteps
Credit: Graja/Shutterstock

Employees have little shame when asking their employer to reimburse a purchase, and that could pose problems for both workers and their companies, experts say.

From small items like parking-meter change and toilet paper to big-ticket items such as rental homes and flat-screen televisions, the number of inappropriate expense-report requests is on the rise, according to a new study from Robert Half Management Resources that surveyed business executives.

Specifically, 23 percent of the executives surveyed said they have seen an increase in the number of improper expense-report requests over the past three years, and just 11 percent said they've seen a decline in these requests. Some of the inappropriate items employers have been asked to reimburse are new cars, vacations, pet day-spa visits, rent, medications and dance classes.

"These outlandish, and sometimes funny, examples shed light on what can be a serious problem for businesses," Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, said in a statement. "Inappropriate expense reports are costly, both to the company's bottom line and to the careers of the people who submit them."

Hird advised organizations to make their expense-report policies clear and easy to understand. [See Related Story: Signs Your Employees Might Be Stealing Money]

"Ensure your policies are clearly communicated and accessible to all employees," he said. "Removing ambiguity can help reduce the number of problematic requests."

Robert Half Management Resources had some advice for employees as well, including these three tips to consider when filing expense reports:

  • Make sure it adheres to the guidelines. Your employer should have a policy on what can and cannot be reimbursed. Be sure to read the entire policy before submitting any claims. If you have any questions, ask your boss or human resources representative. Just knowing the rules could save you the awkwardness of making an inappropriate request.
  • Don't make it confusing. There should be no confusion on whether an expense-report item is for business or personal use. Be sure to discuss with your manager any items that could be interpreted as a personal expense before you even make the purchase. For example, to avoid any confusion, let your boss know that the baseball tickets you are buying or the expensive dinner out is to entertain a client.
  • Ensure it's not embarrassing. Consider what your family would say about the item you are expensing. If you'd be uncomfortable talking about it with your parents, don't try to expense it.

The study was based on surveys of more than 2,200 chief financial officers from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.