Mr. Muller was being sent by his company on a business trip for the first time. “I’d like to know the company’s policy for travel expense allowances,” he told his boss, “so that I can plan accordingly.
“I’ll send you a link to the company’s policy,” replied his boss. “I’ll also give you a copy of the company’s travel expense reimbursement form.”
Mr. Muller noticed that the form required receipts for most expenditures. There was a maximum allowance for food and lodging. For use of a personal car, there was a standard mileage rate. He was a thrifty person by nature, and did not expect to spend the maximum allowance.
Mr. Muller spoke with some of the senior employees, who traveled often. He heard from them different approaches regarding travel expenses.
“I fill out the form carefully,” said one worker. “The point of expenses is exactly that. To take any more than I spent is dishonest and stealing from the company. Even an allowance that doesn’t require a receipt – I won’t take if I didn’t actually spend it.”
“I look at it differently,” said another worker. “Most people don’t like to travel. The least the company can do is compensate properly. If there is an allowance, I try to maximize it. Sometimes I even pick up spare receipts from other people to add to the report.”
“I’m somewhere in the middle,” said a third worker. “I won’t list expenses that I didn’t incur, but on allowances that don’t require receipts, I’ll take the full allowance.”
Mr. Muller decided to consult Rabbi Dayan.
“Am I allowed to declare the full amount of the allowance on the expense form?” asked Mr. Muller. “If I’m thrifty, can I keep the difference between the allowance and the actual expenditure?”
“This depends on the policy and expense form of your company,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Most companies require you to list actual expenses and submit receipts. It is prohibited to falsely list expenses or provide receipts from others. This is considered geneivas da’as, deceit with monetary ramifications, which is prohibited from both Jews and non-Jews.” (C.M. 228:6)
“On the other hand, the employer often compensates for mileage of a personal car at a standard rate, without consideration of the actual gas cost incurred,” added Rabbi Dayan. “You are entitled to the standard mileage allowance even if your car is fuel efficient and you used cheap gas.”
“What about food expenses?” asked Mr. Muller.
“This also depends on the nature of the report required,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Some companies require an actual listing, with or without receipts, up to a maximum amount. Others provide a flat per-diem rate. Some have an option of a detailed listing with receipts or a lower, flat rate with no need for receipts.”
“If there is a flat per-diem allowance and, in addition, the form does not require you to declare the actual food expenses, you can keep the difference,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “In this case, if you are thrifty and eat at a lesser expense, the saving is yours. However, you can only save on food expenses if it will not impinge on your work. For example, if you will be weaker and less effective by not eating properly, you cannot do so.” (C.M. 337:19-20)
“What about car rental or taxi fares, if I could suffice with public transportation?” asked Mr. Muller.
“Many businesses do not request this,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Some educational institutions or non-profit organizations encourage it, and require a reason for rental. The personal habits of the employee can also be a factor. Of course, if by traveling via public transportation you will not be utilizing work time efficiently, you should use the allowance for rental or taxi service. ” (C.M. 331:1-2; See Aseh Lecha Rav 4:63.)