Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Manager accuses me of falsifying my “Travel Expenses”

I received the following question from a reader:

I recently resigned from a role in a very male dominated environment. I had been on the fast track to promotion, but as my knowledge and confidence grew my boss/mentor seemed to use every opportunity to undermine and belittle me in front of my male counterparts. On numerous occasions he stated "Oh you're just a woman what do you know.” This even became the Friday sport.

Bullying is a common occurrence. I was sent interstate to work and thrown into a role I had no experience in. I worked directly with hostile customers and internal management. I tried discussing it with my boss on numerous occasions. After one incident, I called him to report the bullying. He responded by telling me to modify my behavior when dealing with this particular manager. Fed up I accepted a job in another industry.

Upon receiving my resignation, my manager accused me of not performing (which was a complete contradiction to the performance appraisal given to me two weeks prior.)

The following weeks have been difficult ones with my manager isolating and ignoring me. Now I wish he would have continued this behavior. With one week remaining, I submitted my expense claim and Amex reconciliation which turned out to have errors. He brought it to my attention and I offered to fix it immediately. He refused, involved HR and launched a massive investigation into my claims. I spent 3/4 of last year interstate with no support or guidance in what the travel reimbursement or reconciliation process was. So I did the best I could. With one day left working there, I will be presented with further 'evidence'. I admitted to making the mistake, I offered to rectify the issue and even repay monies owed however he insists on digging further.

I spent the afternoon in the doctor's office having an anxiety attack (never had one of these before) and await another interrogation tomorrow which is meant to be my last day. I have worked there 4.5 years and have achieved a great deal. To have my reputation tainted by a mistake made due to lack of education, support and guidance upsets me a great deal.

I have owned the mistakes and will continue to do so, I have offered solutions to avoid this sort of error happening again, but I'm afraid he's not going to stop. He even suggested not letting me leave after the four week notice period expires.

Can anyone offer any advice?

First, I want to congratulate you on finding a new job. Your current company sounds at the very least mismanaged. Lucky for you, you only have to work there one more day. Your manager under no circumstances can require you to work past your notice period. So you are done, finished, out-of-there.

As to your expense reports, I question that there is truly no policy or guidance on this. How do other similarly situated employees handle their reimbursements? It’s unfortunate that you “guessed” rather than researching further first. Did someone approve your reports, if so why didn’t they question your expenses at that time? What about accounting? The accounting group at my company audits every expense report and returns them to the manager if there is a question.

What happens next most likely depends on what you submitted incorrectly (was it obvious you submitted things you shouldn’t have – i.e., did you purchase clothing or personal items and expense them?) Or were your expenses all work-related (you spent $25 on dinner while traveling when your company didn’t want you to spend over $20, but you didn’t realize that?). If there’s truly no policy, I think they will have to pay you for work-related expenses. If you charged anything personal, it’s a problem and will likely be viewed as intentional. You will at the very least be required to reimburse the company for these items. Depending on the dollar amount they consider personal I think they could even press charges.

Does anyone else have any additional advice? Did I miss anything?


  1. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Hi Savvy Working Girl, my manager approves all expenses, I only claimed items such as food, car hire, accommodation and stationary. Unfortunately the system used by the company doesn't involve the auditing by accounts.

    I am more than happy to pay anything that was done incorrectly. I have also gone through and reviewed the process I used to do complete my expenses. Unfortunately it was all manual and when sifting through hundreds of receipts errors are most likely to happen

    I have also come up with some suggestions on how to protect the company and other employees from making the same mistakes.

    My naiveity and assumptions made room for these errors and unfortunately gave my boss the ammunition he needed to discredit me.

    Thank you for your advice. I do only have one day to go. I want this all resolved so that I can leave with my head high and leave today.

  2. Anon,
    I am so glad you provided additional information. Your boss is a jerk. If he paid you incorrectly in the past, it is his own fault for not performing a proper review at that time. DON’T OFFER TO PAY FOR PRIOR EXPENSE ERRORS. You should still expect to be paid for your current expense report at the correct amount in a reasonable time period, but I wouldn’t count on it. He also might try to do something crazy like withhold monies from your final paycheck for “supposed” prior expense errors. If he does this, you could contact the department of labor (unemployment) in your state. I think you may have a case.

    At this point though, depending on the dollar amount it might be best to just move on. I also wouldn’t give him any more suggestions for improving his processes. He isn’t going to listen and is most likely the problem.

    Hold your head high knowing you did the best work you could with the tools and processes you were given. Walk out that door and don’t look back. Put all your energies into your new job. I do hope you are taking a couple days off. You could use a little R&R. You could also review some of my older posts on working with a “Master Manipulator,” there are some suggestions throughout and tips for moving on. Good luck.

  3. Double ditto. Savvy, you have it right. If her errors were in the hundreds of dollars - depending on the state - the company might have a reason to come after her legally, but it would probably have to be at least $500 - and it would definitely have to be the last expense report only. If he approved the others, then it is his error. (Well, I will step down off my high horse long enough to admit that if it is big dollars and repeatedly, there is a pattern there, BUT no company in the world would expose itself to to the public scrutiny of admitting that they have been paying expenses to someone for months that are wrong.)

    Head up, Anon. I hope you have learned somethings from this: as questions right up front about how to do routine things; read the employee manual from cover to cover - twice; and develop a relationship/mentorship with someone who is not your boss. Early you described this creep as your mentor. He was never that. You can do better the next time. Good luck!

  4. Anonymous6:15 AM

    Hi thanks for the encouragement. I went in there addressed all concerns. Unfortunately he was not satisfied with the outcome of our discussions and attacked my character.

    I was naive and have definitely learnt an extremely valuable life lesson.

    I'm just glad to be out of there and starting a new chapter in my life. My only regret is I didn't report the bullying when it occurred because I know doing so now will appear to be sour grapes.

    My advice, always ask questions, get everything in writing and speak up when something like bullying occurs.

    I've got a week off before my new job starts and I am looking forward to some rest.

    Thanks again ��

  5. Webb,
    As usual good points. You are correct - most companies would not want the public scrutiny. I have several fraud seminars and all of them talk about companies who do not press charges against employee who commit fraud/ embezzlement because they don't want the negative pr. The problem is the employee moves on to a new employer and does the same thing.
    I love that you recommend Anon read her new company manual - twice. So many employees read only the time-off section.
    And so true Anon's boss was not and never was a mentor.
    Read and follow Webb's suggestions, she is giving you excellent advice. I would add one more thing. Seek out a local professional organization in your field or for women. Consider joining or at the very least attend a meeting or two. Search for a mentor. It always helps to have someone you can talk to outside your company. Someone who can offer unbiased advice and suggestions.

  6. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Hi Webb and Savvy, I will definitely be reading things more carefully and am hearing everything you're saying. I have also found someone to mentor me. She's retired now but was an extremely successful business woman.

    I wanted to thank you for your advice and support. It was really nice having people offer me sound and objective advice.

    I will do everything differently going forward and will be more careful.

    Thanks again!!!

  7. Interesting. This sounds like the new "thing." I was too questioned about my expense report, but this time they were questioning incorrect expenses, that totalled less than what was actually paid out. At the place I worked, all travel had to be paid out of pocket up front, then you put the receipts together to get back what is owed. Sometimes when faxing receipts things get overlaid, you grab the wrong eticket. I was put in a room after 25 years and told I was submitting incorrect receipts and that the receipts did not look formal, mind you the receipts were actually from a prior itenerary that was for LESS money than what was spent. They made me feel so bad that I resigned on the spot. I did not get a chance to go back to my desk and fix the error, I think they said something about we will send you home for the day. It would have been different if it was for more money, but the expenses were for LESS than what the other reciepts would have been for. I feel bad that I resigned and want to go back and fight, but I decided that if you can treat your employee's of 25 years as criminals I did not want to work there any more and said that on my resignation letter. I walked out, but I do have trouble sleeping thinking about wanting to go back and show them how wrong they were, show them that they should have looked at the "math," it was for LESS money, of course it was a mistake. Now I just want to move on. I believe this is the new, "intimidation" to force resignation and not have to pay severance. I admitted I submitted the wrong reciepts and they did nothing and started to question why I ate lunch at 1:00 in the afternoon. I told them cause the plane was on the tarmat for over 4 hours waiting for a storm to clear... it was bad and I just wanted to get as far away from them as I could. Now with a clear head, I want to go back and fight. But fear of them sticking to their story is making me think twice. Savvy Working Gal.... in your new job, just be sure you don't give them your soul, or you will be like me trying to find it in a room with the internal auditor and HR. Contract for yourself and get your contract signed in writing before you hire.

  8. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Same thing happened to me, after 25 years of service, I submitted the wrong reciepts. Mind you they were for LESS than what was spent. I have to put all the money up front and then get reimbursed, I grabbed the wrong package and faxed to expense and the next thing I knew I was in a room with the internal auditor and HR and they were asking me why the reciepts were wrong. I said, your right, you own me more money then I expensed. I need to fix this, they did not even hear me, they started asking about why I submitted a breakfast receipt for 1:15 in the afternoon, I said cause the plane just landed I was traveling all morning. At that time I knew I was fighting the Corporation and someone was going to loose and that was me. I resigned on the spot. I was so intimidated and scared that I can't even remember half of what they said, I told them what was the next steps and they said they were going to send me home and then talk to my management, I said after 25 years if you are sending me home then I don't want to come back. I would never do anything on purpose and in fact you owe me money. Now that I think about it, they really were in the wrong. I'm out 800.00 in travel expenses and I don't even care. Now I can't sleep night thinking they will come after me and I did nothing wrong. It's the new "resign" or we will find something to fire you for world.

  9. Anonymous,
    I have seen plenty of auditors who live for the day they can say “Gottcha.” I’ve also seen HR managers who when putting a case together to fire an employee ask to see their expense reports. They are looking for something they can use to substantiate their case or they may no longer trust the employee.

    In saying that though, I think you should have tried harder to explain yourself. You made an honest mistake. I know how you felt though; I too have trouble communicating when I am put on the spot. I have learned to say something like “Let me look into that” to give myself some time to research the issue. (In this situation I doubt they would have allowed you to do this). I have also seen long term employees who have resigned when in meetings such as yours. They see the meeting as an attack on their dignity. The problem is you are now unemployed, out $800 and most likely unable to collect unemployment.

    Can you contract your manager and explain what has happened. He may fight for you or at the very least help you get reimbursed the $800. If not call your local unemployment or legal aid office. You are entitled to be reimbursed for your work related expenses. Also, I highly doubt anyone is coming after you.
    Good luck to you.