Employment and Migration Blog

Expense reimbursements: Lessons from Bronwyn

Posted by Stephen Booth, Lisa Qiu on 24 Jul 2015

What life lessons can we learn from Bronwyn Bishop’s expenses claim for a $5,227 helicopter ride on taxpayers’ money to a party fundraiser, for a trip that would have taken an hour to drive?

Firstly, know your employer! Some employers are amiable and forgiving. Some are rough and tough - Australian taxpayers (and their social media) are clearly not a forgiving bunch.  Forethought would tell you not to mess with an employer like that.

The second lesson is to always check the reimbursement form yourself, before you sign it. Especially when you’re telling others to read theirs before signing… Saying that someone else prepared the form and you didn’t read it is hardly appropriate.

Thirdly, what should you do if caught out? Paying back the money is good. Some regret and contrition wouldn’t go astray either. If you say that you really didn’t need to pay it back because you think, really, it could be within the guidelines, it doesn’t look like you accept the rules your employer is enforcing. The employer might just decide that you don’t get it, and it‘s better to move you on now than wait for you to err again.

Fourth, keeping your records in order and submitting them promptly are the best way to go.  Accuracy and honesty are essential. Your personal credibility suffers if claims can’t be substantiated, or if they are submitted late so you can’t recall details when asked. Paying attention to the details (any relevant limits, only claiming within the limits) is important.

Fifth, if you’ve been provided with a company credit card and you’re in a position where the company evidently relies upon you to be honest and transparent with your use of it, keeping the record of what the expense was actually for is important. Unless it is clearly OK with the employer, never put personal expenses on the company card, or if you do, be upfront about paying them back. Adding personal purchases to the fuel for the company car looks bad if it comes to light. You can read more about use of company credit cards here.

We see quite a few disputes about expenses. It’s usually not the main issue, but it is a significant aggravation to other issues between employer and employee, and the image of dishonesty, or at best carelessness, can be hard to shift.

As Bronwyn’s case demonstrates, the higher you fly, the further you (potentially) have to fall. 

If you would like more information or have questions on how to handle your work expenses, please contact our experienced Employment Law team: