The vast majority of travelers consider business trips a job “perk.” But intelligent folks who travel for a living would never jeopardize their career to steal a few extra dollars using a false expense report. Or would they? Well, there’s a fraction of this traveling population that thinks that “the company” represents some enormous money machine and that somehow they’re owed as much of that money as they can get their hands on.
Admittedly, we’re talking about a very small minority of any traveling group. However, this small minority can be responsible for significant financial loss and fraud. Many managers polled usually say it’s that “one traveler” who costs them 90 percent of their personnel management time, while they only have to spend 10 percent of that time managing the other 15 people in the group. So how can you identify such an offender, what sort of antics can you expect them to pull, and what should you do when you find them?
Finding them isn’t hard. If you’re going over your receipts and travel finance reports, it won’t be long before this person bubbles up to the top. If you have limits for rental cars, hotels, meals, and other travel items, you can expect this person to be bumping right up against the limit (or just barely over it) every time. Confront this individual early and ask about some of their habits. If they seem contrite and honestly unaware of their fiscally irresponsible behavior, give them another few weeks and trips to turn it around, but keep an eye on them. If the changes are slight or if they shift from one account to another, that should be your signal to dig a little deeper into that person’s itemized receipts and travel behavior. If necessary, check their Internet records, call hotels they stayed in — basically you’re looking for bad habits.
It’s unbelievable what some people will attempt to defraud the company of for such a comparatively small amount of money and resources. Here are some actual examples:
- One employee frequently sought companionship from Internet matchmaking sites and expensed meals and shared hotel rooms with some of these companions in different cities.
- Another employee rented cars in cities that had free shuttles and other excellent public transportation to drive more than 100 miles out of town at night to visit friends and family.
- Another employee frequently over-tipped bartenders to garnish some false receipts from the restaurant, or they would regularly eat very cheaply but they would expense “fake dinners” up to the policy limit and then claim a lost receipt.
- One employee actually recreated his weekly parking receipt using a word processor, and then he would have his wife drop him off at the airport and print a fake receipt for submission at the end of the week.
- Perhaps the most ridiculous example was an employee who expensed nice meals and liquor for his friends, under the guise that his friends “might be customers some day.”
Unfortunately, lawsuits and other legal issues make it fairly difficult to discipline such an employee through human resources at a corporate level; so you’ll need to create a file and start collecting examples of irresponsible behavior as quickly and as completely as you can. When this sort of behavior is discovered, the traveler in question needs to be put on a very short leash, and quickly. The last thing you want to do is impose a bunch of new and more restrictive policies on your good travelers.
One approach that’s effective at reining in an unscrupulous traveler is to give them a “cash upfront” allowance for a trip. Look at your past records and determine what a cost-effective traveler has spent for a week in the same city, divide that by five, and issue the allowance. Tell the traveler, “If you want to spend more, it’s on you.”
One last note: Always remember to privately communicate with your top travelers, specifically about the good things they do. Most employees who travel alone have no idea where they stand with respect to fellow travelers. Often they think, “Do I spend more than my peers? Less? Should I be supercareful all the time, or am I being overly cautious?” If a responsible employee learns that their expenses and travel habits are well within reason, they’ll be much more likely to continue behaving properly.