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Some employees try to beef up expense reports

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The number of improper expense report requests – from the surprising to the mundane, from big-ticket items to everyday necessities – shows little sign of decline, new research suggests.

In a Robert Half Management Resources survey, chief financial officers (CFOs) said they have seen employees ask for reimbursement for everything from rental homes to beef in bulk to toilet paper. Only 11 percent of executives reported a drop in inappropriate requests over the past few years.

CFOs cited the following examples of unusual items submitted for expense reimbursement: 

  • New car
  • Rental homes
  • Vacations
  • Flat-screen TV
  • Toilet paper
  • Doggie day spa
  • Loans
  • Rent
  • 10-cent parking-meter charge
  • Medications
  • Taxidermy
  • Dance classes

There were even a few items that defied categorization:

  • "A side of beef – somebody bought half of a cow"
  • "A welder"
  • "Somebody else's salary"

View a Robert Half Management Resources blog post with additional examples.

CFOs also were asked, "Have you seen inappropriate expense report requests increase or decrease in the past three years?" Their responses*:

Significantly increase 3%
Somewhat increase 20%
No change 65%
Somewhat decrease 8%
Significantly decrease 3%

* Total does not equal 100 percent due to rounding.

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

Hird added organizations should make the expense reporting process as simple as possible. "Ensure your policies are clearly communicated and accessible to all employees," he said. "Take a big-picture view of the program. Is it spelled out completely? Are you using the latest tools available? Removing ambiguity can help reduce the number of problematic requests."

Robert Half Management Resources offers workers three questions they should ask themselves before submitting an expense report:

  1. Is this within the company policy? Before preparing an expense report, review your organization's guidelines. If you have questions, check with your manager or human resources representative. Taking a few minutes at the outset can spare the embarrassment of an inappropriate request.
  2. Could there be any confusion? Clear any request that could be interpreted as a personal expense with your manager beforehand. If your boss doesn't know the baseball tickets you bought were to entertain a client, for example, you could unnecessarily put yourself in hot water.
  3. Would Grandma approve? Got an item that's on the border of being inappropriate? Think about what your family might say. If you'd be embarrassed to talk to a parent or grandparent about something, don't try to expense it.

About the Research
The survey was developed by Robert Half Management Resources and conducted by an independent research firm. It is based on telephone interviews with more than 2,200 CFOs from a stratified random sample of companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas.