Why your expense account could turn into a career-killer

Expensing that extra champagne cocktail could give you a bigger headache than you suspected
Don’t jeopardise your position by splurging on that plush hotel room.
How tempting is it to claim on expenses for that extra round of champagne cocktails? Or what about expensing an extra night at the Shalimar after that, oh so tedious, conference? Or even booking a cab on the company account without approval?
The majority of employees no doubt submit legitimate and reasonable expense claims, supported by receipts. But for some, it is just too tempting to sneak in that irregular expense which, as done successfully before, slips through the bureaucratic net.

A POWERFUL WEAPON

In the good times, a manager may happen to overlook the odd discrepancy. But watch out. In harsher times, your boss could be less forgiving. If revenue is down, or your performance is below par, what better way to hasten your exit than to rummage around for an inconsistent claim?
And no surprises, submitting a fraudulent expense claim is likely to be deemed gross misconduct and entitle the employer to dismiss you without notice. Also, provided that the reason for the dismissal is the misconduct, the employer carries out a reasonable investigation, and the sanction of dismissal falls within the reasonable range of responses open to the employer, a resulting dismissal would be fair.

BRINGING A CLAIM

If you believe that your employer has acted unfairly, you may wish to consider bringing a claim for unfair dismissal. Generally, you would need to have at least two years’ service, and would be required to follow the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service’s (Acas) early conciliation process prior to doing so. Any such claim must be filed at the Employment Tribunal within three months (less a day) from when the employment ends, subject to the rules for extending time for early conciliation. The maximum compensation award is the lower of 52 weeks’ pay or £76,574.
But it may be worth obtaining legal advice on your options when faced with any serious allegations. Likewise, before embarking on a claim, you ought to seek advice on your prospects of success. For example, even if an Employment Tribunal were to find the dismissal unfair, should fraudulent expenses have been claimed, there is a high chance that compensation would be reduced (possibly to nothing) on the basis of contributory fault.

REFERENCES

Employees who are dismissed for gross misconduct may have real difficulties in securing a new job. Although some references may only state your job title and dates of employment, other references may be more detailed and state reasons for leaving. In any event, at interviews, employees are often asked their reason for changing jobs.
So think long and hard before expensing that extra Bellini. And if you do get caught out, grovelling may be your best option.
Matt Gingell is a partner at law firm Gannons, which specialises in employment and commercial law. www.gannons.co.uk

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