update: I resigned, and my employer asked me to write them a check

Remember the letter-writer who resigned and her employer asked her to write them a check to cover the plane ticket for a conference she now wouldn’t be attending? Here’s the update.

I really appreciated all the support and insight from the comments section. I followed your advice to say that I wasn’t able to cover the expense of doing business for the company and that I would need to see the policy that she and the travel office referred to that would require me to do so. She got short with me and then left for a conference for a few days and I didn’t hear from her at all.

In the interim, I did some research to find our HR liaison (we’re a big university and don’t have a department HR person) and was looped around to a number of people, most of whom didn’t know our department existed. Turns out our HR liaison had left like six months prior and they hadn’t yet replaced her. The guy I ended up asking about clarifying policy on travel expenses said he couldn’t release that information to me without talking to my manager first. Which was, frankly, baffling to me. I said to forget about it and that I would not appreciate him taking that step and he said “well , there’s nothing I can do then.”

Helpful.

We have a business person in our office who handles a lot of what HR normally would do during the hiring process, so I went to her and asked her if she knew of a person to talk to. She gave me a name and then said she’d go ahead and follow up with the travel office to see what she could do because it didn’t seem fair, with the caveat that my manager did have final say over the decision. At this point I’d decided that it wasn’t worth it to push back and that I was just going to not pay and move on. My manager never brought it up again.

A couple weeks after I left, I got an email from the business person in the office asking for the ticket confirmation number. I sent it back and she forwarded an email from the university’s travel office and airline rep who confirmed that, in this one instance, they would process a full refund for the flight and that I could expect that by the end of the month. I waited to see if the charges would actually hit my bank and lo and behold: last day of the month there was my refund. For those at home doing the math, this means I’d been both refunded the money by the airline AND reimbursed for the cost by the university, so I did end up writing the university a check for what they’d originally reimbursed me for.

All things considered, it wrapped up pretty easily with all accounts balanced. I did get confirmation from the CFO of our department that it was a call made by my boss for the department’s budget based on a woogly policy (still unsure what policy, but whatever), which only made me feel more secure about my decision to leave. And I’ve heard from friends who still work there that the department is now using the travel office to book official travel instead of the process that caused this whole kerfuffle.

{ 98 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Amber Rose

    This was pretty confusing. Sounds like way too much to go through for a job you left. But it all worked out in the end so hurray!

    Reply
    1. Paul

      I feel like an idjit, but I am having a hard time following, but it sounds like OP isn’t out money? That’s good. Is happy.

      Reply
      1. Jessen

        It sounds like what happened is – OP was refunded directly by the airline for the cost of her travel. OP cut a check to the company for the cost she was refunded by, which matched the amount the company had originally given her to pay for the ticket.

        Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      Me too, because it was one of the “you may also like” links from this morning’s post. Glad it worked out for you, OP!

      Reply
  2. VinegarMike

    “For those at home doing the math, this means I’d been both refunded the money by the airline AND reimbursed for the cost by the university, so I did end up writing the university a check for what they’d originally reimbursed me for.”

    You are a much better person than me because given all the runaround, they would have at least had to ask nicely for it back.

    Reply
    1. CM

      I was thinking that too!
      But I was also confused by this part. In the original letter, the OP said she got a credit. I wonder if something happened after that and she got a refund from the airline instead?

      Reply
      1. OP

        Hi! So, I cancelled the flight originally and thus had a “credit” for the flight minus change fees. After this whole run around, the airline just did a full refund for the fare. So, no more credit, just the refund. I hope that makes sense?

        Reply
    2. Fish Microwaver

      Yep. I’m usually a straight arrow but in this case, I’m with Vinegar Mike. There is omly so much stuffing around that I will bear.

      Reply
        1. ProfessorPlum

          It would become my policy not to refund any overage. Sorry, but I can’t show you the policy–just take my word it exists.

          Reply
        2. Specialk9

          I would have strong revenge fantasies about keeping the second refund… But keeping it would have been stealing. Them being a bit sketchy with policies and the manager being manipulative, doesn’t justify stealing.

          Reply
      1. sstabeler

        I wouldn’t, because effectively, the university reimbursing the cost of the ticket can be thought of as the university buying the ticket from you- and the airline refunding the ticket is effectively the airline buying the ticket from you. Hence, it’s kinda hard to justify keeping the reimbursement from the uni.

        Reply
  3. Falling Diphthong

    I like the idea that this entire department might drift around the giant university, like the Room of Requirement, impossible to disband or defund because no one knows it’s there.

    Reply
    1. Else

      Unfortunately, that sort of thing happens… There was one at OldAcademicJob that had somehow gotten missed in a re-organization and no longer had any kind of real reporting line other than to the very top. It merrily went on for more than two decades just doing its thing without any close supervision without anyone realizing. It would still be doing this except that a bad apple or three got in there and caused the entire thing to implode very very messily all over everyone else with full-on applesauce.

      Reply
    2. Artemesia

      A corollary of my University survival rule for ‘unimportant people’ — ‘never accept an office that someone else might want.’ Universities make all major decisions based on space. Departments can drift along for decades until someone important ‘needs’ their space.

      Reply
  4. Big10Professor

    IME, big companies/entities/whatever are able to get refunds from airlines that individual consumers wouldn’t get. Never hurts to ask.

    Reply
    1. Lies, damn lies and...

      Yep! I unexpectedly got a full refund less $20 processing fee for a trip that was cancelled because I did it through our Amex booking site.

      Reply
    2. Mary

      It’s a massive source of tension between academics and financial admin systems in most U.K. universities because good financial systems won’t let people book low-cost non-refundable flights for work travel. The amount the university saves is dwarfed by the costs of people’s schedules changing or conferences getting cancelled, and the costs of processing payments and chasing up complicated audit trails if you’ve got a ton of tickets from random low-cost websites. So usually the organisation has a single travel provider so everything is really straight forward from Finance’s point of view. But academics hate it, because if you’ve got a £2000 annual travel budget, then the difference between the £600 ticket the university says you have to get and the £200 one you found on Flights4less.ru is massive!

      Reply
        1. meagain

          We had this going on at our old place, too. You had to buy refundable tickets, which means the $150 flight on SW, booked early, wouldn’t be allowed, but the $1300 flight would. I always booked on SW because they had no cancellation fees, and if I had to cancel and couldn’t get reimbursed, I could at least use the $$ to purchase a ticket for a personal trip.

          A few years into the wasteful policy, and you can now buy non-refundable tickets, but you have to go through their ticket agency who is loyal to the fly you through ATL land. Think NY-ATL-ORD instead of NY-ORD.

          Reply
      1. Specialk9

        My mega corp would rather buy all lowest cost tickets rather than more expensive refundable. I think in aggregate, across thousands of employees, it still saves money. (I mean, it must, given the level of financial analysis and cost cutting we do.) We have a software program that mandates what ticket we must buy (any exceptions must be ok’ed by manager, and not be too much more expensive) and what hotel we must stay at.

        Reply
  5. Ama

    OP either worked at the same university I used to work for or general disorganization is a bigger problem with HR departments in academia than I thought. Neither the “HR rep left six months ago and they hadn’t replaced her” or the “people weren’t aware our department existed” would have surprised me from my previous university employer. (Our HR rep once was preparing to go on maternity leave and the *only* reason we were told is that my boss happened to call her about an issue the day before she left. She had no idea who we were supposed to contact in the interim.)

    Reply
    1. The OG Anonsie

      I mean, it’s definitely endemic, but I remember with the original letter I was pretty sure this was a former employer of mine as well. Especially the “at manager’s discretion” addendum to every single policy, even ones where including manager discretion was a horrifically bad idea.

      Reply
  6. FCJ

    “And I’ve heard from friends who still work there that the department is now using the travel office to book official travel instead of the process that caused this whole kerfuffle.”

    Wow, it’s almost like there were structures in place that your boss could have utilized from the very beginning. Glad you’re getting out of there OP. Here’s hoping your next boss is better.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Seriously. My favorite part of this is the HR liaison who refuses to share HR information without manager approval. This isn’t entirely abnormal for a large state university, but it’s the sort of thing that would drive me out of my mind. So happy OP was able to wrap up and move on and that hopefully this department does a better job of all this going forward.

      Reply
      1. Ange

        I once put in a query to our hr portal which they closed without (I thought) answering. So I rang them. Turns out the answer was “we can’t give you the answer to this question, your manager has to ask us” but they made this answer confidential from me!

        Reply
    2. The IT Manager

      Like maybe, they were required to go through the travel office the whole and the boss asking for reimbursement was because she was trying to hide that fact.

      Reply
    3. Oh boy oh boy

      I work at a university and we’re trying to get everyone to use the travel office but it’s extremely hard: people see that a flight is £200 from EasyJet and £300 from the travel office and just book EasyJet.

      Really I can see why people gamble with the cheaper option to keep from going over budget, but as soon as something goes wrong: “hard luck, act of God, no refunds”. Meanwhile the travel office will help you get a refund or rebook in such cases.

      Reply
      1. Violet Rose

        Or, given that it’s EasyJet, the flight arrives two hours late and borks up everyone’s plans. (I say this as someone who will happily fly with EasyJet for everything, just not without a contingency plan or three :) )

        Reply
  7. k.k

    All of this runaround makes me think that this elusive policy doesn’t really exist, or if it does your boss was using a creative interpretation of it.
    Glad it worked out well for you in the end!

    Reply
  8. DrPeteLoomis

    “The guy I ended up asking about clarifying policy on travel expenses said he couldn’t release that information to me without talking to my manager first.”

    That seems… not right. Can someone with a better understanding of HR than I please explain this to me?

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed

      We have no idea that the guy is part of HR. My hope is that an actual HR professional wouldn’t have handled it that way. (It sounds to me like he didn’t believe the poster, and so just pushed back.)

      Reply
      1. OP

        He was indeed in HR and said he needed to corroborate the story. I asked “I’m just asking if you can provide a policy on travel reimbursement policies” and he said he couldn’t provide that information without speaking with my manager first.

        Reply
        1. SarahKay

          Because internal policies are top secret? Or will self-destruct in five seconds? That sounds incredibly sketchy. Granted, I’m in the UK, so things may be different here, but our policies are all available to everyone on site, and HR intermittently sends out reminders of where they’re located on the server.
          So glad the problem was resolved in the end, and fingers crossed for you that your new company is much, much better!

          Reply
          1. OP

            The new place is so, so much better. Especially for travel– there’s a travel office that books for you! Amazing. Not that there aren’t pitfalls (nowhere is perfect), but it’s amazing to be somewhere where you aren’t belittled every day or asked to take on the cost of doing business on the regular.

            Reply
        2. teclatrans

          My guess is that some part of the story implicated your manager (like, that there was no such policy), but his directive is to not give employees ammo against higher-ups.

          Reply
    2. ArtK

      It’s likely because the OP no longer worked for the university and wouldn’t have access to internal policies like that. Stupid, but not surprising.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        It sounded like she tried to do it before she left, so there’s no reason to withhold that from her except that this person was being a bad HR person.

        Reply
    3. Jadelyn

      This isn’t an HR problem. This is a bureaucracy problem. A petty bureaucratic enforcer mentality problem.

      Reply
      1. Cassandra

        That, sure, or a petty bureaucrat who doesn’t know policies or where to look them up and is trying to cover their posterior. Also a fixture in academe.

        Great update, OP. Glad that was resolved in a way that left you financially whole.

        Reply
    4. Elsajeni

      I can imagine a circumstance where it makes sense to say “I want to be sure I’m clear on the specific situation you’re concerned about before I give you a general policy answer that may or may not apply to it,” but I don’t see any reason you’d have to get that from the manager; even if you think the employee might be misunderstanding or misrepresenting something, surely you can just put a “In the specific situation you described…” disclaimer on your policy answer or something.

      Reply
    5. JGray

      So this might depend on the state but I happen to work in HR at a local government entity (not in Washington) and there would never be a situation where we would ever say we can’t release that information without your supervisor approval. Most information is public including pay rates for employees. The information that is in fact confidential the employee can release at any time but a supervisor can not. In fact, if an employee called we would refer them to the policies or union contract or whatever the appropriate document is to help them with whatever the issue is. We also would suggest that the person talk to their supervisor and probably actually call the supervisor to confirm that they had talked to employee about x issue. I think that this is more a case of the supervisor was annoyed and was trying to get at the OP with anything. This person sounds like a horrible supervisor and the HR person that the OP talked to needs to be fired.

      Reply
    6. The OG Anonsie

      We had a similar deal somewhere I used to work (hell, may have been the same place) and the idea was that managers typically had the discretion to ignore or change policies as they applied to their own direct reports. HR wouldn’t tell you what the deal was, only gather information and then talk to your managers, because often what your manager decided trumped the policy. They would basically ask the manager what they had told you, then come back and say “well your manager wants it x way so just deal with them on it, we don’t have any part in this.”

      Wasn’t there another letter some months ago with a similar deal– HR wouldn’t talk to the employee about a policy until they talked to their manager?

      Reply
  9. HR Artist

    I have worked for both a gigantic public university and a private ivy league adjacent one. Both these institutions AND any other university I can think of have all personnel policies posted on their website. You just have to google. What kind of university were you with OP that they are hiding their policies?

    And furthermore, as an HR Manager myself, I am baffled how they expect people to follow policies if they keep them under lock and key? They should be readily available to staff!

    Reply
    1. OP

      They do have HR policies on the website, but not one that would apply in this case. When I pushed back and asked them to clarify which policy they were referring to and if they could explain, all this happened.

      Reply
      1. HR Artist

        OP, that’s so shady! You’re right in assuming it wasn’t a policy and your manager and the random HR person (!) you spoke with were not being honest. Yeesh!

        Reply
    2. DrPeteLoomis

      Yes, thank you! That is what I was thinking. Policies should be easily accessible or at least available upon request. I have no background in HR, but it seems completely backwards to me that an HR professional would refuse to “release” a specific policy to an employee when asked.

      Reply
    3. Lemon Zinger

      Yes! I work at a large university and our HR website is wonderful. So many resources, every policy you could ever need, etc. I am working on creating a policy for my office and one of my colleagues reached out to HR for assistance and we got a ton of help from them.

      I’m appalled at how HR works at OP’s former university and I hope to never work there!

      Reply
    4. Antilles

      I don’t think the policy was hidden, I think the policy just flat out does not exist. After all, if the policy existed, at some point the boss or HR or business manager or travel office would have just pulled Policy 47-134A out of the drawer and pointed to that rather than going through all of this hassle.
      The HR person said that he needed to check with the boss first as a cover-his-rear move to avoid getting involved.

      Reply
  10. memyselfandi

    Kerfuffle. One of my favorite words. I would like to add ‘woogly’ to my vocabulary, but I am not sure what it means.
    In any case, so glad it worked out.

    Reply
      1. SarahKay

        Nah, I use it regularly, although possibly due to a childhood reading books set in girl’s schools written in the fifties and earlier…

        Reply
      1. Drew

        Higgledy piggledy
        Manager Alison
        Answers our questions with
        Wisdom and zest

        Asking a Manager
        Teleological
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        Reply
        1. JR

          I can’t believe no one has responded to this yet. A proper double dactyl is not easy to construct. Nice work!

          Reply
    1. Ego Chamber

      “I would like to add ‘woogly’ to my vocabulary, but I am not sure what it means.”

      Woogly
      noun
      Synonyms: Squidgy, poorly-defined, a grey area.

      You’re welcome. ;D

      Reply
  11. Hey Karma, Over here.

    “he couldn’t release that information to me without talking to my manager first.”
    because that’s not shady at all.

    Reply
  12. I'm Not Phyllis

    I’m glad it worked out for you! But … hold up … they couldn’t release a travel reimbursement policy to you without the ok from your manager? Weeeeird.

    Reply
    1. MicroManagered

      To me that sounds like someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about trying to get you off the phone…

      Reply
    2. Hey Karma, Over here.

      We were commenting on the same thing at the same time. This exactly. Sounds like LW explained that her manager said that the policy states she has to pay this travel expense. Person she talked to wanted to find out what manager was telling her she needed to pay for, not what policy said she had to pay it. The difference being, in the first case, person LW called would just find out what manager said and rubber stamp it, without doing research. In the second case, as a professional, this person would ask for enough information to reference a policy him/herself.

      Reply
  13. Sue Wilson

    I’m pretty sure they couldn’t release the policy without talking to the manager, because that dude had no idea what policy you were talking about and needed to know what your manager was talking about first, lol.

    Reply
    1. Decimus

      I suspect this is the right answer. The guy had no idea what policy was being referred to (because it didn’t exist) but either wanted to cover his own ignorance or felt he was obligated to “back” the manager because the manager is the manager.

      Reply
      1. MicroManagered

        Not to disparage OP, but sometimes people come at you with situation X that doesn’t sound right, and after some inquiry, you find out it’s really situation Y. My money is on, something didn’t sound right about the situation and he wanted to find out more to avoid misspeaking.

        Reply
        1. Decimus

          It’s certainly possible and I wondered at it. But the HR person still mishandled it if so, because the correct answer isn’t “you’re not cleared to see the policy” it’s “I need to research this situation first, I’ll try and get back to you tomorrow.” Saying “I need to look into this more” is reasonable. Saying “Your manager needs to approve you seeing this policy” makes your institution sound ridiculously secretive.

          Reply
  14. Bea

    Ah that guy trying to cover the managers ass by saying he couldn’t clarify policy without speaking to the dimwit who was trying to shake you down for a basic business expense is a delightful cherry on top. Good riddance to that place!

    Reply
  15. Thornus67

    It strikes me that with these various “company wants me to pay them back when I quit” questions could be resolved as if the company thought the person died instead. Like, instead of the company demanding reimbursement because an employee leaves, the company should think what they would do if the person had suddenly died. I doubt most of them would try to bill the estate to be reimbursed (or at least I would hope they wouldn’t).

    Reply
    1. Caro in the UK

      Ha! I think I’ve been reading this site for too long, because my immediate thought was that someone would totally try to bill the estate. (Once you’re read about liver-demand boss, everything becomes terrifyingly plausible!)

      Reply
  16. Managing to get by

    It makes more sense that the company would ask for reimbursement now that I understand the person booked the ticket themselves and then got reimbursed, because it’s pretty easy to transfer a ticket to another destination for a fee that is relatively small, or not use the ticket and have a credit balance with the airline. At my employer, we must book our travel through the company website, and the company owns the tickets. If my business travel gets canceled, the ticket credit goes back to the company and is used for whoever is next to book a ticket. That bugs me a little, because my budget gets charged for someone else’s travel, but it means employees don’t get to use the balance for personal travel. This person could have used most of the cost of this ticket for personal travel after leaving the company.

    Glad the airline gave a full refund and it all worked out.

    Reply
  17. Polymer Phil

    When I was in grad school, I used to spend an entire day getting pinballed from office to office anytime I had any kind of HR/benefits issue. “We don’t do that; try so-and-so” and I’d get sent to the office or person I’d already seen a few stops earlier! The university’s administration was unbelievably decentralized, to the point that no one knew what was going on or who was in charge of anything.

    Reply
  18. Jake

    I’m surprised you spent that much effort chasing it down. I would have just told them no, unless you prove I legally have to or arrange for the airline to refund me, and then stopped engaging on that topic.

    Reply

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