May 18, 2009
The political class in the United Kingdom is in crisis because of revelations by the Daily Telegraph that cabinet ministers and parliamentarians have abused their expenses accounts. The minister of Justice Shahid Malik was suspended while the government is investigating allegations of abuse of his expenses privileges. It was also reported that Ian McCarthy, the former Labor party Chairman had charged taxpayers some 16,000 pound sterling for furnishing and decorating his second home.
Expense reports serve a useful purpose mainly for practical reasons. It is easier for an individual and its employer that charges related to business be paid by the individual and then reimbursed by the employer.
Unfortunately many abuse that privilege. According the Wisconsin Law Journal, cheating on expenses is one of the most common thefts perpetrated by employees.
It is not always easy to determine what is right and what is wrong when submitting an expense report. Let’s look at two scenarios.
- You are out -of- town on business and spending the night in a hotel. You had a busy day and feel you need to relax and decide to watch a movie. Should you include the cost of the movie on your expense report?
- You are traveling for business to meet a client in Europe for two days. You arrive a day early and use the extra day for a vacation. Should you include the extra hotel night on your expense report?
Some people will argue that these charges are acceptable others, (I among them) think they are not.
One may argue that if the amounts involved are small it is okay to charge them. It is not a good argument. Taking what is not yours is stealing whether it is one dollar or $10,000. The amount does not matter as much as the principle. There is a difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. However the difference is in the penalty for breaking the law not the moral principle that prohibits stealing. Furthermore, a minor offence in ethical conduct often leads to a larger offence.
Here are some guidelines that might be helpful.
A. Find out what is the policy of the company that employs you and stick strictly to it. If the policy is not clear to you, ask for clarification.
B. Do not include a charge on your expense report that you would be embarrassed to justify to your boss or…… your mother!
C. Never include a questionable charge because “everybody does it” for the reason that:
- It is never “everybody”
- The fact that there are a number of people doing something wrong does not make that thing right.
D. Apply the popular adage that says: “when in doubt, abstain.” It may keep you from serious negative consequences such as embarrassment, loss of reputation, loss of a job or even jail time.
As Mother Theresa once said:
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”