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That Time I Almost Got Fired For Following The Rules

October 14, 2014


Rodney, I have a question about your expense report.

Yeah, I thought you might.

You wanna explain this?

Sure, I noticed in the company handbook that if you go on a business trip and stay with friends you can use the money you saved from the hotel to buy something for the person whose house you stayed at.

So, what did you buy?

I bought them a vacuum. It’s a little more than a hotel stay for that week would have been so I only expensed the portion that would have been the cost of a week at the Marriott.

Do it again and you’re fired.

It took me a long time to figure out how I screwed this up. At the time, much earlier in my career, I was sure that I was right. I even went to Human Resources because my manager was threatening to fire me for following the company handbook.

My current company has a fairly typical expense policy. They figure “about” $10 for breakfast, “about” $10 for lunch and “about” $15 for dinner. For a total of $35 / day for food.

I try to make it a policy never to spend over $30. Maybe in a ten day trip I might have one day where I use the entire $35, but most days, I want to keep it between $0 and $30. That’s actually not hard to do. The hotel I’m staying at has a complimentary breakfast, so that meal is taken care of.

I’m staying at a Marriott Residence Inn, and for much of my visit, I’m the only out-of-towner from my company. So, I end up cooking several nights. When we have gone out, often one of the executives picks up the check. Even then, I order mid-menu or lower.

Before I explain why I behave this way (and you probably should too) one more story of how I screwed up on this. Our team went out to eat at Sizzler restaurant. It’s popular on the west coast. It has a pretty good salad bar, but you can also order entrees. My boss was taking his team out to eat for lunch. My younger, dumber self ordered steak and lobster.

I cringe even writing that line. Fortunately, he understood I was young and dumb and didn’t say anything, but I’m positive he noticed.

So, why not? Why not spend the maximum daily food expense? Why not expense a vacuum cleaner instead of just buying my hosts a nice dinner and calling it good? Why not order from the top half of the menu instead of the bottom?

Because, unless your job involves being in the restaurant industry, you aren’t getting paid for your food choices. You get zero bonus points for ordering an expensive meal. You could get major negative points for doing so. You have a travel budget so that you can go to whatever far off location the company needs you and conduct actual company business, not so you can go eat at fancy restaurants.

We have a client named Tammi. Tammi spends time at our site helping our agents learn the client’s software. Tammi is good at her job, but the thing that most people will tell you about her is that she spends way too much time planning her lunch and dinner locations.

You don’t want people to think of you as “That guy who worries more about what restaurant he’s going to than his job.” Don’t commit any unforced errors. In other words, don’t give people a reason to think you are overly concerned with squeezing every penny out of your expense report.

And given the choice, don’t expense a vacuum cleaner. . .ever.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one, soon to be two grandchildren.

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