I am the HR manager of a large insurance company. We are currently processing all employee expenses from January, and have noticed that one employee has claimed several large travel bills. He is entitled to claim back any business travel costs. However, the handwriting on the taxi receipts looks suspiciously like his own, and the amounts seem very high. Can we tackle him about it, and do we have to pay them?
Your starting point here should be to consider how expenses are dealt with in the employee’s contract of employment or the staff handbook.
A well-drafted expenses policy will outline that an employee will be reimbursed for costs reasonably and properly incurred in the course of employment. The policy should set out in clear terms what can be claimed, the procedure for making such claims, what authorisation may be required and the method of reimbursement. Ideally, the policy will also state that evidence may be required to substantiate claims, and that the organisation reserves the right not to pay expenses if a claim is made in breach of the policy. Any attempt to falsely claim expenses may be defined as gross misconduct, which could ultimately result in dismissal.
You should be diligent in assembling evidence to show that the employee’s expenses claim is fraudulent. You would need to assess whether the guidelines for submitting expenses are clear, and whether it is obvious what can be claimed. Consider also whether you have applied these rules consistently with all employees.
If the company does not have an expenses policy, any disciplinary action should be undertaken with caution.
The onus is on you as the employer to make it clear what the rules are, and the employee must have an opportunity to offer an explanation. Your employee may argue that the rules are ambiguous and, if this is true, it will be difficult to take formal action unless you have definitive proof. If this is the case, perhaps the company should consider drafting a new expenses policy to avoid similar situations in the future.
Claire Reddington, employment solicitor, Davis Blank Furniss