Weekly Wrap: Bet Your Company Wouldn’t Let You Get Away With This

© Mike Thomas - Fotolia.com
© Mike Thomas - Fotolia.com

In the private sector business world, virtually every company has a policy covering travel advances to employees.

I’ve dealt with a number of different versions of the fabled travel advance policy at various companies, but they all had one thing in common: they were monitored closely and were usually tough as hell.

Travel is something I have done a lot in my career, and for the most part, the option on travel expenses was either to A) put it on your own credit card (rare was the company I worked for that had – or let you use – a company card) and then put in for expenses; or, B) get an advance and then file and expense report minus the advance when you returned from the trip.

Negligent and incompetent accounting policies

I quickly learned that option A was usually the better approach, although it meant loading up your own credit card with company expenses. The reason? It was because all the company accounting departments I dealt with treated travel advances the same way that a cat does guarding a cornered mouse. In other words, they closely watched money advanced to employees and were quick to subtract the advance from your paycheck if you didn’t file an expense report and reconcile it quickly enough.

In fact, I found this quick-on-the-draw accounting approach to settling travel advances so much of a bother that I simply refused to go this route and loaded up my own personal credit card instead. That’s because I could take a little more time on the expense report, and, because accounting departments don’t worry all that much when it’s your money tied up on your credit card.

That’s why this story about how my home State of California negligently and incompetently forget about millions of dollars of cash advances made to employees is so disturbing, because it is something you would rarely (if ever) see happen in the private sector. Here’s the gist of it, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Article Continues Below

Gov. Jerry Brown ordered state agencies … to do a better job collecting money after an audit discovered that 11 state agencies had failed to gather $13.3 million in debts, mostly from employees who received cash advances.

At issue are millions of dollars in salary or travel advances that were paid to employees and never recouped by the state. An audit issued by state Controller John Chiang in 2010 found that many departments were failing to collect this money, in some cases for years. The Department of Transportation was named the biggest scofflaw, with $3.2 million owed.

“It’s shocking that the state has apparently failed to collect millions of dollars in salary and travel advances owed by state employees,” Brown said. “This situation reinforces the worst stereotype of ineffective and inefficient government, and I have ordered state agencies to immediately investigate the backlog of uncollected debts and find every penny owed to taxpayers.”

State employees are required to pay back all money advanced to them for trip expenses that isn’t spent on state business. Salary advances are supposed to be taken out of future paychecks.

The governor ordered managers to clear salary and travel advances within 30 days and review revolving fund reports on a monthly basis. If salary and travel advances are not resolved within a month, the governor ordered state agencies to deduct the money from the employees’ paychecks.”

It’s good that the State of California is going to crack down on this, but it makes me wonder: where is the accounting department in all this? How is it that something that is a routine practice in the private sector – closely tracking and reconciling cash advances made to employees for travel – is handled in such a lax and cavalier manner in at least one, huge state government?

You know the answer to that, I’m afraid, and it just goes to show you that yes, government would do well to operate more like a business sometimes.

Microsoft raises boost economy

But there’s a lot more in the news this week than bad government accounting procedures. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Microsoft raises expected to boost Seattle economy. Rarely does a company giving raises create any large-scale economic impact — unless the company is a giant like Microsoft, of course. According to the Seattle Times, “Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said Thursday in an email to all 88,000 employees that the company is making ‘the most significant investment in overall compensation we have ever made.’ … ‘This is exactly the kind of positive news that encourages me about the prospects for our state’s recovery,’ said Washington state Chief Economist Arun Raha. ‘I expect this to have an impact in the areas surrounding where Microsoft employees live in every kind of standing — cars, consumer goods, houses.’ As part of the new compensation plan, Microsoft employees will receive higher base salaries. More employees, 80 percent instead of 50 percent, will earn the full amount of their cash bonuses. Some of employees’ stock awards will be awarded as cash instead of stock.”
  • When a termination turns tragic. Anyone who has had to terminate an employee knows that the process is never, ever easy, and that’s why this New York Times report about the termination of a Princeton University instructor that turned into a suicide is so heart-wrenching. “Dr. (Antonio) Calvo’s suicide has devastated a tight community of scholars and students who so valued his generosity and vivacity that they called him St. Antonio. And on the Princeton campus, private grieving has erupted into public recrimination, with Dr. Calvo’s admirers faulting the university for how it handled the episode.”
  • More workers moving on to new jobs. This may be more anecdotal than a lot of the surveys that show that many employees are ready to move along to other jobs, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found a lot of workers in the Twin Cities who say they’re ready to go. “We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people willing to look outside their company for jobs. In fact, March was our best month ever,” said Sean Keating, founder of Oggi Professional Search in Minnetonka, which finds accounting, finance and administrative workers for 3M, Starkey Labs, Pentair Co. and others. Each week, Keating approaches some 125 people about changing jobs. A year ago, two out of three were unreceptive. “They were just in a hunker- down mentality,” he said. Today, two of three will consider a job change, and employed professionals are now calling him.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *