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Monday, December 8, 2008

Employee Reimbursement Tips: Part II. What's Reimbursable, Anyway?

This is Part II of a two-part post. See Part I for some ideas about how to keep your work expenses out of your private life.

I've only been back in the workforce as an employee for 9 months, so I'm a little rusty on what kinds of expenses employers will pay for these days. But here are some that make sense. It never hoits to ask:

1. Mobile Phone

Mid-sized and larger corporations may actually pay the whole bill. Smaller companies may reimburse you for business expenses on your own phone. Where it gets tricky is when you have an unlimited minutes plan that you use for both business and personal calls. How much do you expense?

2. Landline

Do you use your personal phone for business? Make sure to log and expense all the outgoing calls. And, if you work hard to save your employer money by using Skype instead of the landline, maybe the company ought to spring for your headset. The should definiately pay the minimal annual Skype fee that allows you to call VOIP to landlines.

3. Home Office Expenses

Remember we're not talking about the IRS here--we're talking about what an employer will pay for. If you work at home 2-3 days a week, like I do, who pays for paper, toner cartridges, and office supplies. Is it kosher to take them home from the office? Do you just eat the expense? Clearly you pay for utilities (heat, lights, water, toilet paper) and Uncle Sam won't kick in on these if your employer provides you with an office away from your home. I'm actually interested in reader feedback on this one, as it seems to be a grey area.

4. Gas, Parking, Public Transportation

This may be more of a benefit than a reimbursable expense, but do check to see if your employer provides any commuting benefits. Some may subsidize parking. Over the summer when gas prices rose so rapidly, employers started adding gas subsidies. Other employers may pay for or provide subsidized public transportation vouchers.

You may even have a company car. If not though, and you make trips by automobile for business, do not forget to claim the mileage for each trip. And tolls. And parking. Save those receipts. If you forget to set the trip odometer, use MapQuest Driving directions to get a good approximation of the distance, and submit it as backup with your expense report.

5. Internet Connection

If you you work at home a fair amount, would you consider it reasonable to ask your company to kick in a certain amount for your internet service, without which most of us would be completely unable to do our jobs?

6. Mobile Data Service

For institutions with their own Blackberry Exchange Servers, this probably isn't an issue--the company will be direct billed for data service. But for smaller organizations, if your manager expects you to be responsive to emails when you are in meetings or travelling, they will likely spring for the cost of data service on your mobile phone.

7. Clothes and Care for Clothes

Mr. Poorhouse works retail, so his employer buys his embroidered shirts. It's a small, local, business, so he also bought polar fleece jackets with the company logo embroidered on for him, and for me too. The owner figures both Mr. Poorhouse and I walk around town alot--we might as well be billboards for the store.

Also, employees who must wear a company-supplied uniform (think fast food) often also get a maintenance stipend for washing the onion smell out of the smocks.

If you're more the business traveller type, you may be able to expense the cost of dry cleaning when you're on the road if you're away for an extended period of time.

8. Passport Fees

What about the fees to acquire or renew a passport? I'm facing a couple of upcoming international business trips, and it will cost $75 to renew my US passport. Should my company pay?

9. Computer Accessories and Software

Sure, your employer buys your computer, but who pays for the video interface to your external home monitor, your USB backup drive, your essential software that moves Windows files to the Mac, creates wonderful address labels, or scans your business cards. Your company should probably.

10. Subscriptions and Licenses

Do you pay for industry journals or magazines or online subscriptions that help you do your job better? Don't. Let the company take care of those.

11. Association Memberships

Submit those to the company. It's possible they already sponsor the organization and get a few free memberships with their package.

This is a wide open area, but the general wisdom is if you're attending a conference, take a customer or prospect to a meal, the per diem expands from subsistence to entertainment expenses.

In summing up, in no way am I suggesting that you abuse the employee business expense reimbursement offered by your company. Managers can pretty easily see who's making unreasonable requests. On the other hand, you don't want to spend your own money on your employer's behalf.

As usual, I did some googling to find the kinds of expenses that are reimbursable by most business, but didn't come up with much. Please post your experiences on what's reimbursable in the comments so we can all gain information.

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