Forgive me, for I have sinned

Nov 26 2007 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

I am, my reputation for crankiness notwithstanding, a rule-abiding citizen. I don't cross except at the crosswalk, I drive WITH the arrows in the parking lot (unlike some people I could name - you know who you are) and I would rather gouge my eye out with a spoon than show a Chicago Blackhawks game without the express written permission of the National Hockey League.

For our overseas readers, let me explain that we are told every game in stentorian tones that this is a punishable offense. I have yet to meet anyone on parole for it, yet even without fear of punishment I don't do it. That's what a good guy I am.

So when a ruling came out from the nice lady in Accounts Payable (AP to those of us who love and fear her) that we now had to submit itemized receipts for all meals, even if they are under the allowable daily limit, I was outraged.

I was insulted

I was mortified

I was completely busted.

The reason for this ruling was that company policy is NOT to pay for any alcohol whatsoever. Some folks (ahem) had been submitting credit card receipts rather than itemized bills to hide the one beer or glass of wine they have for dinner.

The rule is clearly stated in our Employee Handbook and it's unambiguous. I was, as you can imagine, guilty as hell. So why do I feel so hard done by? I'd broken a rule - gotten away with it for years in fact- and it finally caught up to me. I should suck it up and just comply. But I'm of two minds about this - and I'm curious where you stand on the matter.

First, I know that the rule is there because many of our customers (my expenses are billable) have it in THEIR policies. They don't want to pay for consultants getting drunk on their time.

I'm okay with that. The company doesn't want to pay to support behavior that could result in litigation; things like sexual harassment, drunk driving, and damage to department store mannequins. (Don't ask, just trust me).

Like most corporate policies, it's designed to punish the occasional egregious offender - the person (usually from Sales) who rings up a huge bar tab, drinks away their per diem and can't function the next day or tries to expense that lap dance. Good, slap their wrists.

But does every policy have to be applied equally with no room for common sense? Let's take a look at the facts here.

First, I was well under the amount allowed daily. If I'd spent even more of the company's money but not on that beer, I'd have been fine so cost savings doesn't seem to be the primary driver.

What's more, it was after working hours, during a (yet another) flight delay on company business. One frosty beverage with a meal seems a reasonable request for putting up with the indignities of modern travel.

In the company's defense, why should the company support my bad habits? They don't buy cigarettes for the smokers or subsidize whatever the IT guy sells to the guys on the loading dock when he thinks no one is looking. Alcohol is generally bad for you, creates behavior and image problems and results in at least one case of involuntary downsizing at each Company Christmas party.

On the other hand, I am a grown man capable of exercising good judgment. They trust me to hire and fire people. I can spend the company's money up to an amount equaling a good European vacation and have never shown I can't be trusted.

More importantly, I think it's that "it's bad for you" part that bothers me the most. If they can tell me I can't have a cold one with dinner, what else can they dictate in the name of the company's and my own best interests?

"I'm sorry Mr Turmel, I see on this receipt you had the steak. I'm sure there were healthier choices on the menu."

"But I was under the expense limit."

"Yeah but WAY over the cholesterol limit. And would it kill you to see a little salad on there once in a while?"

Tsk at me and scoff if you will, but when they outlaw chocolate cheesecake, only outlaws will have chocolate cheesecake.

Where do employees like me get off thinking the company should sponsor my good time? They call it 'work' for a reason, doggone it.

But when does a rational company policy cross the line and isn't there room for judgment?

I'd love to have you post here and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile I'm going to wait for the nice lady from AP to show that hockey game without written permission and I'll be all over her like white on rice. Let her try to wiggle out of that one. Rules are rules.

more articles

About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.