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Recently, I traveled on company business with a colleague. To save money, we agreed to share a hotel room. My colleague booked and paid for the accommodation in its entirety. I paid nothing for the room, or the rental car that they also booked.

Now that we are back, the company is telling me that I need to request reimbursement for half the cost of the hotel room. And, when I get the reimbursement, pay that to my colleague.

Does this sound correct? No other company I've been with would think it's correct to apply for reimbursement for something that the employee didn't pay for.


Even curiouser: the company has now said it wants to authenticate that I paid my colleague, and to do that they require a cancelled check to be presented to them once the whole fiasco is over.


Addendum

The travel office eventually decided that they wouldn't pay either of us until I had paid my colleague, and they had received a copy of the cancelled check to validate that I had paid. I refused to give in to this insanity, and deleted both my expense report and my original travel request, saying that I wouldn't be claiming my airfares or per diem allowance for meals (nor paying for "my share" of the accommodation that the company was eventually paying for in full).

Then, magically, they found a way to pay both me and my colleague what we had spent without involving me in the accommodation transaction at all.

My advice: DO NOT GIVE IN TO INSANITY IN ACCOUNTING.

  • 13
    As long as you keep a paper trail, I see no problems with this approach by the company. It's not entirely as it should be, so I understand your concern, but it's not fraud either. – Mast Jan 28 at 7:54
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    Did you colleague already file his expense report? Did he claim the full cost of the room and car? Or only half? If he claimed only half, then it would be normal for the company to repay him the other half through you. If he claimed all of it, then he would get extra money, and that wouldn't be quite normal and would probably be fraud because he would get extra revenue that is not taxed. – jcaron Jan 28 at 9:34
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    Also, just to be sure, is your colleague working for the same company? They are probably in a different service/department or whatever, though? – jcaron Jan 28 at 9:35
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    Please clarify if you and your colleague work in different departments of the same company. If so, it would make sense to split the cost between different internal budgets. – donjuedo Jan 28 at 13:09
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    @RonJohn to be fair there is no indication in the question that the company is permitting the colleague to claim 1x what he paid and not just the 0.5x left after the OP reimburses him for the other half. – Will Jan 28 at 17:51
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It does not sound like fraud, if your colleague is also told to expense only half the room cost despite originally paying all of it. The company's position seems to be that since two employees benefited equally from the room, its cost should be allocated equally for tracking purposes.

Otherwise, it would be potentially unfair (though not illegal) if your colleague did this a lot and looked like they were "blowing their travel budget" when they were actually sharing the room (and/or car) with "free riders" who didn't take a hit to their travel budgets. So, the two of you "should have" split the hotel cost, and by giving your half of the reimbursement to your colleague, it will be as if you did so. The same argument could also apply to the rental car.

Some companies might not care or might assume that shared expenses will "even out" over time for corporate tracking purposes. Regardless, the principle is strictly upheld that each employee is "made whole" for their out-of-pocket and no one profits or loses.

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  • but then the company is asking the 2 employees to engage in a financial transaction without much ways of enforcing that it happens correctly, no? – njzk2 Jan 29 at 8:46
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    @njzk2 with these sums a verbal contract is usually binding enough. Breaking this verbal contract could probably be cause for termination of a working relationship and the non-compliant party could reasonably be sued for the money they owe. – Falco Jan 29 at 10:17
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    Two expense claims but only one receipt? – James Jan 29 at 14:25
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    @James No problem with that as long as the total of the expense claims matches the amount on the receipt. – Mike Scott Jan 29 at 16:47
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    @Falco that kind of termination would depend on a country tag on the question, though – njzk2 Jan 29 at 21:16
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I don't understand how you can claim half the expenses. Every company I work for requires receipts, invoices, bills or statements of account or similar proof of having made the expense. You don't have a bill from the hotel, ergo you can't claim an expense made on the company's behalf. Your colleague has the bill for the room, if he claims only half of it then he's losing out on half the repayment.

If you can claim without a receipt then you are leaving yourself liable to the tax authorities for tax on the non-salary payment the company made to you for monies you can't prove you spent. If that weren't the case most contractors would be putting in expense claims for spurious large amounts to avoid paying tax.

The other possibility is that the company has a per-diem payment for miscellaneous costs incurred (one company I worked for provided a company flat and paid an amount per day to non-local workers using it to cover things like purchasing food. But that was approved by the tax authorities and was way less than the cost of (even) half a hotel room. If I remember, it was something of the order of £20 / $20 a day and meant meals couldn't be explicitly claimed). These are usually only acceptable to the tax authorities if for sensible amounts to cover small transactions that getting receipts for may be not easy.

The company expensing system appears to be very peculiar. I'd want to have a written guarantee that the procedure is following company policy and that any liabilities that this highly unusual way of claiming expenses incurs are down to the company. Otherwise you end up at risk of tax or fraud liabilities.

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  • So in other words, make sure there's a paper record when you reimburse your colleague for half the costs. – WBT Jan 28 at 15:34
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    I'm not sure even a paper trail that the OP paid the money to their colleague would be enough to shield the OP from the tax authorities. I'd suggest the OP may want to check with their tax authorities what would provide protection. – houninym Jan 28 at 16:12
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    @houninym: the colleague can write a proper bill/receipt for OP's share in the room. For OP's income tax, that should be fine. The only thing is that the company looses their possibility to get VAT reimbursement, but that is of course their lookout. And it isn't anything that puts them bad with the tax authorities, it's just an unnecessary expense/loss. – cbeleites unhappy with SX Jan 28 at 18:03
  • @WBT - the important part is you finding that paper trail when the IRS wants 'your' money. The question is why you would shuffle papers around that only cause you more work, or if you can't find those papers: less money. – Mazura Jan 28 at 22:22
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    @Mazura These days, email counts, and it's quite searchable, or you can include it in the folder with the rest of your expense report for that trip (whether physical or digital). – WBT Jan 29 at 2:01
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Is this fraud (i.e. a crime)? It depends. What is the source of the reimbursement? And is your colleague requesting a full reimbursement?

If your colleague only requests 1/2 reimbursement, then that is just stupid accounting. But, maybe your companies accounting system is setup to force this lousy solution.

If your colleague requests a full reimbursement, and it is a US government contract, or related to anything funded by the government, then that is fraud. Don't do it.

If your colleague requests a full reimbursement, and everything is completely funded by the company, then it is cheating, then you and your colleague could be fired.

For the last two cases, cover yourself with an email. Document that you are assuming that your colleague is only requesting reimbursement for 1/2.

My opinion only, I am not a lawyer.

And now that I am done, this should probably be in Workplace SE.

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  • 3
    You're not responsible for your colleague's behavior. If the company's explicit policy is that both declare 1/2, then you can't be fired if you follow it, but your colleague breaks that rule. – MSalters Jan 28 at 9:59
  • @MSalters that's presumably the point of the fifth line. Document that you're acting in good faith on the knowledge or reasonable presumption (i.e. company policy) that your colleague is only reimbursing half, then whether they do that or something else, that's on them. Always have a paper trail. – Doktor J Jan 28 at 13:22
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    @DoktorJ: The chief thing you need to document is that you actually paid the colleague for the trip. It shows you followed the company policy. There's no need to try to document fuzzy things like "good faith" or "presumptions". The payment is a fact, and the only thing you need to make explicit is that the particular payment is tied to a particular trip. – MSalters Jan 28 at 13:27
  • +1 for stupid accounting. The great thing about this scenario is that OP can in future "reward" the company for causing him hassle, by not being nice enough to save it money at the cost of his own comfort, and instead book his own private room (assuming the reimbursement policy covers it). – JBentley Jan 28 at 14:13
  • "If your colleague requests a full reimbursement, and it is a US government contract, or related to anything funded by the government, then that is fraud." Unless rules have changed, this is not necessarily true. Reimbursement is based on per diem rates based on location, so, say you stay in a location where lodging per diem is $129 per night, you can choose to stay at the Four Seasons for $500 a night or you could choose to sleep in your car, either way, the government will give you $129. In the 1st case you would have to make up the difference, and in the second you pocket it. – Glen Yates Jan 29 at 21:39
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In such a situation, I'd write on the expense claim something like:

Paid for by [Other Employee Name] - receipts for full amount will be attached to [Other Employee Name]'s expenses claim. Please re-imburse directly to them.

However the other employee fills in their claim (full amount, or "only their half"), it makes it relatively easy for the accounts department to reconcile, and it can't possibly be misinterpreted as you trying to defraud your company.

If the accounts department can't cope with that and insist on paying you "your half", you would of course want to promptly forward that to your colleague (by means that leave a paper trail).

Certainly it seems unusual to me for a company to refund one employee's out-of-pocket expenditure by paying it to a different employee than the one who paid; the onus is then on you to obtain adequate documentation that the other employee was in fact re-imbursed for the expenses they paid on your behalf, and you can't reasonably be expected to already have the other employee's bank details etc.

It's possible, however, that the company just needs some written records that will unambiguously confirm that they've paid all the expenses relating to both employees - to protect them from later accusations that they didn't re-imburse some employees' expenses.

If sharing expenses in the future, given the implied policy, you might do better to ask the supplier (car hire company, hotel, etc.) to split the receipt so that each of you pay half the full cost of the service, and each have a receipt for half the amount to attach to your expenses claim.

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    This is a very good answer. It covers both the paper trail for the company, as well as clearly indicates to both the company and the other employee where the reimbursement (1/2 + 1/2) should go. – WoJ Jan 28 at 20:50
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 Does this sound correct?

Can be correct, but where I am it would be awkward. More for the company than for your or your colleague. (see below)

No other company I've been with would think it's correct to apply for reimbursement for something that the employee didn't pay for.

That is correct. The solution is that your colleague invoices you for your share of the accomodation (or gives you a receipt that you did reimburse them). That paid invoice is the proof that you did pay, and it is the basis for your reimbursement claim against your company.


Legal details may be different depending on legislation, but here in Germany, a private ("natural") person can write an invoice just like a [small] business. The only thing is: as they don't have a VAT number (like small businesses), there will be no VAT decared on the invoice, i.e. it gives the gross amount only.

I've had a similar request from an employer's accounting/travel reimbursement office: my car was parked at their hotel parking lot so the fee ended up on their hotel bill. My accomodation was somewhere else and didn't have a parking. Accounting said that for the sake of consistency they reimburse all car-related expenses to the owner of the car, as they don't like to have a "loose" parking fee without any other indication that the collegue has a car.

The invoice/receipt in this case was a letter written and signed by colleague and me explaining the situation, giving everything that needs to be given on an invoice (in that case: small amount invoice only), and my colleague signing that they had received the amount due. We also attached a copy of the hotel bill "just in case" (administration is best faught with their own weapons: paper).

With that, you, your colleague and your company have all the paper trail needed for proper accounting, and you should also be fine tax-wise.

What makes this awkward for the company is: as the invoice your colleague gives you has no (cannot have) VAT on it, the company looses its ability to get VAT reimbursement which is a totally unnecessary expense/loss as it could be avoided by reimbursing your colleague for the full amount, and then internally splitting the expenses as appropriate to different projects or internal accounts (which again needs a bit of paper, e.g. you declaring on your reimbursement request that you shared accomodation with was paid by colleague.).


  • In future, if you want to become friends with the accounting department, you try whether the hotel can give you separate bills.

  • There may also be a bit of administration psychology going on here: the accounting department trying to teach you a lesson that you better immediately do what they say and how they say - otherwise they'll create lots of unpleasant work for you.

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2

I am not a lawyer, not an accountant, not a tax lawyer. This is not legal advise. It is what I would do to cover my own personal liability. I can't be sure it would stand up if challenged.

In the United States, to keep yourself safe in the event the IRS audits your taxes, you would need to show that the money you received as "reimbursement" from your company is, in fact, reimbursement of actual expenses. Otherwise, it could be considered to be ordinary income, which would be subject to withholding taxes of all the normal kinds.

To demonstrate this, I would want a receipt from the co-worker for the funds you give to them, indicating that this is payment to him, reimbursing him for expenses you incurred for hotel, car, meals, and whatever else. This should be as itemized as possible.

All this seems like the company is exposing you to awkward conversation with the tax authority.

Of course, if you are outside the US, the rules may be completely different.

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I don't see any reason to think the company is committing fraud. I guess it's possible that your colleague claimed an expense for the full amount, and now the company is going to get you to claim an expense for half the amount, and then they will use this documentation to claim 150% of the actual amount as a deduction on the company tax return. But if your colleague was also instructed to claim only 50%, then I don't see anything dishonest about it.

This seems unusual. Any company I've worked for, the person who paid the bill claimed it on his expense report so he could be reimbursed. I've never shared a room on a business trip but I've had many times I shared a rental car, and in such cases one employee was picked to pay for the car, and then that employee claimed it on his expense report and everyone else claimed zero.

But maybe your company has some reason why they want to accurately track travel expenses for each employee. Like expenses get billed to different departments or different clients. Or employees who have excessive travel expenses get dragged into the boss's office and yelled at. In such a case, it would make sense for them to want to accurately allocate expenses between employees. If the two of you shared a room, then presumably half of the cost of that room is fairly applied to each person.

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