business expenses are cutting into our receptionist’s pay

A reader writes:

I’m the office manager for a pretty small office. We hired a receptionist a few months ago who’s really great, always willing to jump in and do whatever needs doing without me having to hold her hand (or even ask sometimes).

She runs a lot of errands for us–until she came to me recently, I didn’t realize how much it adds up. She does mail runs and gets our boss’s lunch every day, but the boss is always sending her after this or that besides. Two or three times a week, she drives to a store 15 miles away. She came to me recently because the boss won’t comp her for mileage–when she asked, she said he looked at her like she had three heads and told her she’s still on the clock even though she’s away from the office. But the receptionist showed me a spreadsheet of all her trips during the month of June, and at roughly .15 a mile (depending on gas prices), it added up to over $60. She only makes minimum wage to begin with and gets 32 hours a week.

I told her that I’d see what I could do but that since our boss had already balked, that might unfortunately be nothing. I know your advice is usually that this is the job and you have to decide whether you want it on those terms. But after I got home yesterday, I thought about it and realized that the boss is basically cutting her pay to below minimum. If she can only work there if she makes these runs, and has to pay out of her own pocket, even one mile puts her whole week below minimum wage. Am I right about this? I’d like to talk to the boss about it anyway because this woman deserves some reimbursement, but I’d be doubly concerned if we were actually doing something illegal here.

Please do talk to your boss about it. It’s not reasonable or fair to ask your receptionist to pay the business’s expenses out of her own pocket.

And your boss’s argument that the receptionist is still on the clock even though she’s away from the office doesn’t address the point at all; it doesn’t matter if she’s on or off the clock, because the point is that she’s incurring expenses in service of the business. You might point out to him that it’s very common for businesses to reimburse for mileage, and that most use the IRS mileage reimbursement rate.

As for the legal side of this … Yes, he should be worried there too. While there’s no law requiring reimbursement of business-related expenses (with the exception of some states, like California), if the non-reimbursement takes an employee below minimum wage, there very well could be a violation of the minimum wage requirements. In fact, there was recently a lawsuit over this exact issue: In 2009, Domino’s Pizza delivery drivers sued the chain, alleging that they were deprived of the federal minimum wage as a result of the company’s failure to fully reimburse them for vehicle-related expenses. I can’t find a final outcome to the case yet and think it’s still pending, but given that the case has been found viable enough to make it through four years circulating in the courts, does your boss really want to mess with that?

But really, the overall principle here to take to your boss is this: You don’t ask employees to pay the costs of running the business of their own pocket … particularly not someone already the lowest salary level in the office.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 159 comments… read them below }

  1. Camellia*

    “But the receptionist showed me a spreadsheet of all her trips during the month of June, and at roughly .15 a mile (depending on gas prices), it added up to over $60. ”

    Kudos to the receptionist for providing her info in a professional manner that made her point for her and gives her office manager something concrete to discuss with the boss!

    1. Chinook*

      Not only am I impressed that the receptionist tracked her mileage, but she also gave you a very reasonable mileage rate. If you are going to reimburse her, it needs to be at the IRS mileage rate because she not only has to cover gas but, wear & tear, repairs, and increased insurance rates. Also, who is liable if she is injured in a car accident while running these errands (whether or not she is at fault)?

    2. Kou*

      Absolutely. If boss has any sense he should see that he has a sharp, forward-thinking employee here that he’s about to nickle and dime straight out of his company.

  2. Camellia*

    Oh, and I should have added: For goodness sake, comp her mileage AND give her a raise, she sounds like someone any business would be glad to have and you can and should lose her if you can’t address this.

    1. Ruffingit*

      +100 million. It’s crap like this that makes people lose good employees. You get what you pay for has never been more true.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I was wondering where the receptionist came up with that — maybe just for gas rather than full mileage (which normally includes wear and tear).

      1. OliviaNOPE*

        Yes, I get the government rate of .55/mile at my job. This is outrageous! I can use the company vehicle for any work-related issue. Sometimes I prefer to take my own car if I am not driving far and don’t bother to ask for reimbursement, but I always have the option to take a pool car.

      2. Chinook*

        I would say that 0.15/mile has to be gasoline only for a fuel efficient car. With that line of thinking, would that mean she gets no compensation if it was an electrical car?

      3. Kay*

        At $4.00 per gallon and 30 miles per gallon, that would equal about 13 cents a mile. I imagine the OP made a similar calculation.

      4. Loose Seal*

        Isn’t .15 per mile what you can deduct for charitable driving or driving to a medical appointment? Maybe that’s what she’s used to keeping up with and assumed that business mileage is the same.

      1. Natalie*

        And incidentally, in case anyone’s curious, the receptionist apparently drove 400 miles in June and would get $226 using the IRS rate. At 32 hours a week minimum wage, that’s about 1 full week of her pay.

    2. Jennifer O*

      I read the “.15 a mile” as the distance covered (as in “quarter mile” or “half mile”) – with the point being that even the tiny trips add up.

    3. The Other Dawn*

      I came here to say the same thing. .15/mile seems incredibly low. We use the IRS rate, which I think is around .55/mile. And I think the higher rate is what the receptionist should get. I would be pretty upset if I were making minimum wage and driving all those miles at the boss’s direction without any reimbursement.

    4. The OP*

      This was only for gas based on her car’s mileage and the average gas price last month. She didn’t even bring up wear and tear. She’s really into fairness–I swear you can have a random discussion about something on the news and she’s sitting there speculating why everyone involved did what they did–and probably thought it would sound greedy.

    5. Brightwanderer*

      But I would assume the purpose of the spreadsheet was not to show what she ought to be reimbursed, but to illustrate how much of her own money she was out on a week by week basis – so it would make sense she would only put in the basic figure for gas.

  3. NutellaNutterson*

    And mileage is more than just the price of gas, since it accounts for wear-and-tear and maintenance requirements. I get $.51 – I’m at a non-profit, so I think they could get away with the IRS’s .14, but 56.5 cents per mile is the current IRS Standard Mileage Rate. Sounds like it’ll be a LOT more than just the estimated $60.

  4. claim it on taxes*

    If the employer doesn’t pay it, she should just claim it on her federal taxes. It’s what we have to do with SO’s mileage & travel meal costs every single year.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, but it won’t save her as much as she’s spending, so they really should do a straight reimbursement. (Also if she doesn’t itemize deductions that won’t help at all.)

      1. claim it on taxes*

        If she is not willing to itemize so she can claim the expenses at tax time (like everyone else whose employers do not reimburse), she could always say no or offer to run errands but in the company vehicle instead of her own personal car.

        1. Cat*

          It’s not really about not being willing to itemize; it’s whether the itemizations get you above the standard deduction. If she’s making minimum wage, she might well be below the standard deduction but that doesn’t mean she should have to eat business expenses.

          1. Rana*

            Agreed. I’ve never made enough in a year as an employee that itemizing generated more tax savings than just taking the standard deduction.

          2. claim it on taxes*

            That’s the thing, though. She does not “have” to eat these expenses. Just like every other at-will employee out there, she can say no to the task in the first place. The rude boss may not like it and there may be repercussions for her longevity with the company, but frankly this is a learning experience for her regarding setting healthy boundaries and not enabling a bad employer. Employers can ask employees to run errands like this and they don’t have to comp the costs; employees can say yes, track the costs and possibly claim them on taxes, or they could (gasp!) say no. The employees could even ask about expectations in this regard during the interview process.

            Frankly, while I don’t think it is nice of this employer to make her rack up expenses like this, she is also in the wrong for not asking about it ahead of time or putting a stop to it when it first began.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Not everyone is in a position to risk their job by refusing to do something they’ve been instructed to do by their boss, particularly in this economy. I wouldn’t blame the receptionist at all, especially without knowing more about her situation.

              1. claim it on taxes*

                Conversely, I can’t blame the employer at all, since he is not doing something illegal (regardless of how jerky it is) and the receptionist allows it to continue. Perhaps she should simply say “I would love to run this errand for you. Since my vehicle is not available for this trip, would you prefer I drive yours?” She is still willing to do the task, but is also protecting her pocketbook.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  There are tons of things that it’s reasonable to blame an employer for that happen to be legal. The law doesn’t prevent against all types of bad behavior, nor should it.

                2. Observer*

                  Actually, he is doing something illegal. Given her pay rate, by not compensating her, he is causing her actual pay rate to be below the minimum wage.

                  And, being a major league jerk (ie pushing a fairly major business expense onto your lowest paid worker) is FAR more blameworthy than being afraid to lose your job in a bad economy.

              2. claim it on taxes*

                In response your post below, I agree; the law does not prohibit *this receptionist* from engaging in the bad behavior of making her personal vehicle available for work tasks. She would be wise to check with her auto insurance company, as doing this on a regular basis may have implications were she to be involved in an accident while driving for work.

                Besides, what if she walked or rode a bike to work? Had a friend drop her off? Had mechanical issues with her car? As a receptionist, one learns to tactfully say no in a variety of situations; this is one of them.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  So you’re defending the employer and blaming the receptionist for not saying no?

                  Again, refusing work is something that many people get fired over. We don’t know enough about the receptionist’s situation to know if it’s reasonable to expect her to do that or not.

                  We do, however, know enough to know it’s unreasonable for the employer not to be covering the business expenses of the business.

                2. claim it on taxes*

                  Because I have been in her shoes, had the unreasonable fear of getting fired for politely declining unreasonable requests, and finally realized that I was an employee, not a slave, and had the right to say no. Never once have I experienced negative repercussions for this, but rather experienced less stress and actually gained respect from that employer once I finally stood up for myself.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  That’s good for you, but you should be aware that not everyone is in that position. Your experience, while not uncommon, is also not universal.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  No. (Have you ever seen me advocate that people be doormats?) I’m advocating that you not blame her for something that’s the employer’s fault.

                5. claim it on taxes*

                  Regardless of how rude the employer is, he is within his rights to not reimburse those expenses. If he is unwilling to change that stance, she can either accept it (which sounds like it would be a hardship for her), or she can work to improve her situation.

                  I am not blaming her for the employer’s refusal to reimburse. I do blame her if she does nothing about his refusal.

                6. So Very Anonymous*

                  Also, the fact that the receptionist has been keeping a spreadsheet of expenses and discussed it with the OP seems like pretty strong evidence that she is NOT being a doormat: she’s documented her situation reasonably and is raising questions about it.

                7. claim it on taxes*

                  While it would be awesome if the employer realizes what a jerk he is being by refusing to reimburse his minimum-wage-receptionist’s business expenses, I doubt it will happen.

                  All the spreadsheets in the world won’t guarantee that he will change his mind. She needs to either accept that and live with it, or do something about it.

                8. claim it on taxes*

                  …and how exactly is going to the OP supposed to help if the manager himself is not willing to change? To paraphrase your response from today, “They’re paying you to work there, whatever you think of their [reimbursement policy], you accepted the job of your own free will, and you owe it to them to perform at a reasonably high level — or, if you can’t, to acknowledge that and leave.”

                9. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I’m not sure what you’re getting at. You’ve said you “can’t blame the employer at all” and you’ve said that the receptionist is “in the wrong for not asking about it ahead of time or putting a stop to it when it first began.” Everything I could say in response to that has already been said above.

                10. Anonymous*

                  If the OP gets involved and employer still says no, what exactly do you recommend the receptionist do?

                  My two suggestions were for her to either keep on as is and perhaps claim it on taxes, or to politely tell him she is willing to use his or the company’s car because her personal car is not available. You have only offered that the first option may not be fair if itemizing is not beneficial to her, and have ignored the second option.

                  So far it seems you are simply commending the receptionist for complaining to a co-worker who really has no authority to change the situation. How this is supposed to bring healthy resolution about is beyond me.

                11. Anonymous*

                  Wow. I can see you’ve never been in a work situation where your hands were truly tied and where you had no power in the workplace.

                  You clearly Just Don’t Get It.

          3. kasey*

            …. or own a house where you’re taking serious interest deductions. Minimum wage, likely the standard.
            She needs to get reimbursed up front.

        2. A Teacher*

          Exactly. I couldn’t itemize until last year when I bought a house so with my mortgage and student loans I was finally able to itemize and be above the minimum.

          1. Malissa*

            Your student loan interest should be an above the line AGI deduction. Not an itemized deduction.

            1. Anonymous*

              You are right – I don’t itemize and I successfully deduct my student loan interest every year.

            2. Anonymous*

              I know, I got the 20% or whatever back that I paid in on that and have for a few years but because I didn’t have any other major expenses I didn’t have above the standard deduction until the 2012 tax year. My account was excited because I could itemize…

                1. Sara*

                  I’m not an accountant (tax preparer) and I get shivers (the good kind) when I see a Schedule A.

          1. Natalie*

            I’d say practically impossible – even with no children, the receptionist makes so little she qualifies for EITC. I suspect the Venn diagram of people who itemize and people who qualify for EITC has no overlap.

          2. Loose Seal*

            We don’t know what her spouse (if she has a spouse) might be making. It’s possible the combined income lends itself to itemization.

            That still doesn’t excuse the boss here. She should get reimbursed at the IRS rate, period.

        3. BellaLuna*

          If the boss doesn’t want reimburse her she should ave use of a company vehicle or the bosses personal car.

  5. Anonymous*

    If the boss doesn’t want to reimburse her (and I believe he should) then he should be handing over his car keys.

      1. Jessa*

        This, she should have said no a long time ago. There’s a point where you have to stand up for yourself.

        1. Anonymous*

          True, but she probably needs this job and I’m willing to bet that’s the reason she hasn’t said anything until now.

          1. FD*

            Yeah. Most people I know who make minimum wage took the job because they *really* need the job and can’t afford to hold out for a higher paying one. (Not as a reflection on them personally, only that they may be in an economic or other situation where they simply can’t trade off a longer job hunt for a higher paid job, even if they’re a really good employee.) So she may not be able to risk losing her job over this.

            That said, she sounds very professional and competent, and frankly, if your boss won’t reimburse her for mileage, I hope she’s able to find a job that pays and treats her better. (Without meaning any slight against the OP.)

          2. Laura*

            It also might be one of those situations where it started with a trip to the post office every once in a while and has slowly snowballed into three Wal-Mart runs a week (or whatever — I don’t know the specifics, but you get my point).

        2. Anonymous*

          Someone who’s fine with paying his receptionist minimum wage is also probably fine with firing her for saying no and sticking up for herself.

          1. FarBreton*

            Seconding anonymous: I worked for a close relative’s practice, and while he is very concerned about being fair, one of his partners is not, and she often overrules or convinces the others. I was probably more efficient than most other people they could have found for the position. But they paid barely over minimum wage because her philosophy was that they could find -someone- who’d take it if I didn’t. This same person would give me more work than anyone else, and then complain to the relative that I was working too many hours. (I was paid hourly.) It was great for morale!

            Even though they’ve managed to attract some great staff, they’ve also had some of those great people leave because the pay was too low. Recently, a new hire barely lasted a few months before being snatched up by another business in the same building! It’s short-sighted on the business’ part, but some people are too tight-fisted to see the long view.

  6. A Bug!*

    The boss is an a-hole if he expects her to pay for her own gas, an expense which is being incurred for the express purpose of fulfilling his business’s needs. Does he make you guys pay for your own paper and pens?

    And +1 to Camellia’s comments – this receptionist sounds way more professional and accommodating than your boss is apparently paying for. If you can’t get him to compensate her better you might discreetly let her know that you’ll give her a glowing reference if she wants to find an employer who will.

    1. Chinook*

      I suspect the receptionist may already be looking for another job since she has already escalated her request for reimbursement and was shot down. She sounds very organized and professional and would be valuable to any business.

  7. Katie the Fed*

    You mistreat admin assistants at your own peril. A good one is worth his/her weight in gold.

    1. littlemoose*

      True story. Our admin assistants are awesome, and very good at getting things done!

  8. CubeRat*

    At $0.15 a mile, that $60 is 400 miles.

    With the current IRS rate of 56.5 cents/mile = $226.00!!!

    1. CubeRat*

      Since she only works 32 hours/week, that means she worked 128 hours in the month of June.

      At minimum wage ($7.25), she made $928 for the month.

      At 15 cents/mile she is making $6.78/hour.

      At 56.5 cents/mile she is making $5.48/hour.

      1. Amanda*

        Although, and I’m surprised no one’s asked, but is this FEDERAL minimum, or state/county minimum? Some states do allow their minimum to be the same as federal, where as some states are higher. I believe the minimum in San Francisco, CA, is above 10.00/hr.

  9. AP*

    Do you pay for gas, and she wants mileage as well for wear-and-tear? Or is the boss expecting her to provide gas as well? I think it should be paid either way, just wondering because that makes a BIG differenc and it wasn’t clear.

  10. RLS*

    Don’t get me started on this minimum wage business. It makes me sick what bosses can get away with these days for minimum wage.

    Either pay her what she’s worth or reimburse her, tightwad manager! I’m going out on a limb here: she probably doesn’t have benefits. Even with a second job, minimum wage at 32 hours a week is barely getting her to work each day, healthy and clothed. Cough it up. Covering her expenses ensures she can actually get there and do more work for you (!)

    Kudos to the OP for trying to help her. :D


  11. Lucy*

    Would your answer be the same if this was an unpaid intern? I don’t really want to get in the debate one whether unpaid interns are ethical in general, but I had an unpaid internship (which I really wouldn’t trade for anything because I got my first job from it – higher than entry level) and I used to have to do this kind of stuff.. pay for my own gas, not mention wear and tear. Probably about 30 miles per week.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, same answer. The general principle in all situations (whether employee or intern, paid or unpaid) is that you shouldn’t be out money for helping the business run. The business should pay its own costs of doing business.

      1. KayDay*

        Even more so for an unpaid intern. I had a completely unpaid internship at a non-profit (no travel stipend). However my organization always reimbursed me for any miscellaneous business expenses I incurred, including bus fare (~$1.50) to deliver a package to a board member.

        1. FarBreton*

          I’ve had two full-time unpaid internships, and one had a system in place to pay for a monthly transit pass for all interns, while the other paid me a flat amount each month to cover public transit or mileage. Another part-time unpaid internship not only didn’t cover any travel costs, but didn’t even bother telling me that there was free parking available for months even though they knew I was parking at a meter for hours at a time. They also once asked me to drive an hour round-trip in my parents’ car to run an errand for them–no reimbursement. Luckily, since it was my parent’s car, it was easy to refuse. I didn’t stay long there, though there were plenty of other good reasons to leave.

  12. marty*

    “Don’t get me started on this minimum wage business. It makes me sick what bosses can get away with these days for minimum wage.… “

    Now, now – we don’t want to demonize the “job creators”, do we?
    The fact that some of the largest employers of minimum and barely above wages are large, profitable national corporations is even more sickening.

    The increasing killing of full-time, decent-paying jobs in this country can only go on for so long. The 1% may find their lives finally being impacted – and not in a way they like.

  13. Brandy*

    I think this is ridiculous. I agree with an anonymous poster above. If the owner feels this is just the cost of being employed, he should be willing for his vehicle and gas being used. After all, he’s still on the clock while his errands are being run.

  14. PPK*

    Methinks if the boss had to pay for mileage, the boss might not be so keen on getting lunch catered to him.

    OP — I think if you voice your concerns — especially with the concrete figures of how much the Admin has to pay in gas (and you can choose to use the low or high estimate), the boss might realize that it’s a crazy thing he’s asking. Sometimes you need a new perspective to realize your own is not the average.

    Does the boss think because she gets to “take a break” while driving and getting paid balances out the mileage incurred? Maybe he missed the point about gas cost and thinks the Admin just wanted extra money for running errands?

  15. SaltWater*

    Yes, that the business should be paying for business expenses including travel. If no company car is available, she should be reimbursed for the use of her personal transportation.

    Another thing that struck me was this though: “Two or three times a week, she drives to a store 15 miles away.” 2 or 3 time a WEEK. Boss is either incapable or unwilling to do any longer term planning than one day. At most the trips should be maybe twice a month. Alternately, there are companies that will deliver or come to your office for services (e.g., shredding). This is unnecessary and wasteful in so many ways.

    1. Chinook*

      I was thinking this too. If the OP can’t get the receptionist reimbursed, he may want her to recommend looking into a courier service or businesses that deliver. Heck, I would often have birthday cakes brought to the office by ordering them at a grocery store and sending our downtown bike courier (they used a guy with a car) to get them and both would then either charge it the company credit card or bill us.

    2. HumbleOnion*

      Totally. You can buy so many things on Amazon & have them delivered! A $80 annual subscription to Prime means free shipping too.

    3. Anonymous*

      I was wondering about that too. What store 15 miles away requires visiting three times a week? Seems like a waste of time as well as gas!

    4. Ruffingit*

      Absolutely agreed! The only way that makes sense is if the “store” is actually a restaurant or deli or something and she’s getting his lunch there. Or, if what she is purchasing at the store is some sort of perishable item that quickly goes bad and is sold frequently by the OP’s boss so needs to be purchased often.

      Those are the only scenarios that makes sense to me.

    5. Anonymous_J*

      Yeah, but if the boss is too cheap to pay this woman a living wage to begin with and is OK with basically ROBBING her for the business’ sake, he’s probably too cheap to pay for a courier service or anything like that.

      This man sounds like a jerk. I hope she finds a job that is worthy of her skill and dedication and can move on soon!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! There were two issues in that case, though, and I haven’t been able to find out if the minimum wage one has been settled (so maybe it hasn’t been yet?).

  16. Joey*

    My advice, when you talk to also show the boss exactly how much you’re shorting her. What Id be concerned with is retaining someone so new that is good at her job and so willing to dive right in and help for so close to minimum wage. Chances are if she left you’d have a really hard time replacing her.

    1. Adam V*

      > Chances are if she left you’d have a really hard time replacing her.

      Especially if you *helpfully* pointed out to interviewees that past employees in this position were required to use their own car and money for company trips and expenses, without reimbursement. That position might stay open forever.

      1. dejavu2*

        Exactly. This job is literally not worth it. The economy is tight, but not necessarily so tight that people are lining up to get jobs that even out to below minimum wage, and involve working for a blockhead boss. If she goes, her replacement is going to figure out the same thing pretty quickly, and so on.

  17. AnotherAlison*

    Just here for a different POV. . .

    We do not get reimbursed mileage for in-town work-related trips, such as seeing a local client or partner, or taking a team out to lunch. We do not get reimbursed mileage to the airport, which sucks because we used to, and it was about $60 per trip. You have to be traveling X miles away from the home office for mileage reimbursement to apply.

    I definitely see a difference in that our “we” is mostly professional staff making multiples of minimum wage, and our lowest paid admin staff are still above minimum wage. We don’t have them picking up supplies, generally. If they go get the boss’ lunch, 1.) it’s not 15 miles, and 2.) the boss buys them lunch, too.

    I don’t like the OP’s situation, but I did want to point out that it’s not unheard of.

    1. Mike C.*

      So what if it’s not unheard of? Just because other people are doing something doesn’t make it justifiable, reasonable or ethical. Such policies can be used to excuse just about everything so long as the party in question isn’t the first to ever perform said action.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I never said that us having a similar policy made it ethical, but everyone commenting above acted like the business was off its nut for doing this, but from my own experience, I would be more surprised if she was getting reimbursed.

        My thought is that the boss doesn’t see her position as one that requires a lot of driving, and is not considering her minimum wage pay rate, and possibly does not realize how much it’s adding up.

        When I owned a business that used $10/hr people who had to drive from job to job all day, they were reimbursed mileage. But, in that case, it was more visible that they were spending a lot out of pocket on gas, etc.

        1. Cat*

          I don’t think we should be assuming malice on the boss’s part – you’re right, he probably has plenty of money; doesn’t really grasp what it’s like to be living on minimum wage; and is a bit thoughtless as a result – but that doesn’t mean this isn’t nuts and possibly illegal.

          1. Mike C.*

            Why shouldn’t we be assuming malice at this point? If you want me to pay money into the company, you make me a partner and give me a share of ownership.

            It’s short-sighted greed, pure and simple.

            1. Cat*

              “I don’t think we should” was too strongly worded; I think you could or you could not. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter because you come to the same conclusion about the Company’s actions.

    2. dejavu2*

      “I definitely see a difference in that our “we” is mostly professional staff making multiples of minimum wage, and our lowest paid admin staff are still above minimum wage.”

      The thing is, that’s not a negligible difference. My first job out of college was an admin job that required running a lot of errands. Never occurred to me to ask to be reimbursed for mileage. But I was also making well over minimum wage and living at home to save on expenses, so it wasn’t a financial hit for me. For someone with a tight budget, however, the job as described by the OP is merely a time and money suck preventing the admin from having a job that actually pays minimum wage (or higher).

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I agree it’s not a negligible difference. But, a business with a one-size-fits-all policy may not realize the ramifications of applying the standard reimbursement policy to a minimum wage employee, if most other employees are not minimum wage.

    3. Joey*

      That’s not a good point of reference. I know execs that make six figures plus that don’t get mileage. The lower you go on the totem pole the more critical it is and the bigger deal it is in relation to your total pay.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        My example was not for executives. Our policy applies to everyone, we just do not have minimum wage positions. However, we do have $15/hr positions, which would still feel the pain of not getting reimbursed mileage much more than $50/hr. Interestingly, certain job titles do get reimbursed, and some of those are the healthy six figure jobs. Yeah, our policy sucks. Never said it didn’t.

        1. KayDay*

          Where I’ve worked (small non-profits with (mostly) nice people), everyone was allowed to claim these reimbursements as long as they were “reasonable.” While I completely understand that such a vague policy might not work everyone, what it translated into in my experience was junior employees being encourage by their supervisors to get reimbursed for every small expense (see my earlier comment), mid-level staff using their own discretion, and the Executive Director only asking for reimbursement for the largest expenses. Only very rarely were request denied.

          Some days this blog makes me really grateful for and appreciative of the reasonableness of my co-workers :)

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      My company is the same way – no reimbursements for “local travel”within 50 miles. Positions that require a lot of travel get a alleged bump in salary. Someone like me who only travels occasionally gets nothing.

      And I don’t qualify for a tax deduction either. To be eligible, you not only need to itemize but also need to be spending more that 2% of your income on business expenses.

  18. blue dog*

    This is really stupid. If she is involved in a traffic accident that is her fault, the company will incur liability to the other driver under respondeat superior and workers’ compensation liabilty for their own at-fault employee. In fact, if she trips over a berm in the parking lot, they would be responsible for the work comp claim. Dumb. Really dumb.

    Plus, if she is doing some of this stuff on her lunch hour, on the way to/from work, or during a scheduled break, you could have wage and hour problems. That can be a huge mess. Just say no.

    1. HR Competent*

      There are lot’s of “if’s” and if we let “if’s” control all business decisions then we would have much less growth and innovation.
      I see very little exposure here.

      That said- I recommend advocating reimbursement to the boss. Show him what her Gross & Net earnings are and the loss % of what these errands cost. It may not be much to some, it would be to her.

      1. Blue Dog*

        Not exactly sure how having someone shag your lunch constitutes forwarding-thinking growth and innovation, but OK.

    2. JessB*

      After the inequality of the financial situation, my first thought was the potential for an OH&S issue to arise, as well @blue dog.

      Hopefully that is taken into consideration, too! Sure, the risk is small, but still there, and the fact that compensation for the mileage is an unresolved issue makes me wonder if there has been a discussion about OH&S.

  19. Cube Ninja*

    Boss may also want to consider that having an hourly employee running errands outside the office could also result in a big hit for the company if she gets into an accident. Worker’s comp, possible issues against the company, etc. Betting the company’s liability insurance wouldn’t cover it.

    Employee may also wish to consider that her current auto insurance probably doesn’t cover commercial use and that could be an even bigger problem if something bad happens. Could have a claim denied if it was made known that she was on the clock.

    Also, seriously – why would you not reimburse? Its a deductible business expense for the company too.

  20. Anonymous*

    I agree that the receptionist should be getting reimbursed for her mileage (and her boss’s lunch – is she paying for it out of her own pocket or does he give her cash every time he sends her out?), my mind is actually still boggling that she’s getting minimum wage. I know it shouldn’t shock me – I’ve worked at businesses like that myself – but it does, every time I hear of something like this. A receptionist is a skilled and very valuable position and not one everyone could handle. I’m a good legal assistant and hope to be a good librarian, but I’m a sucky receptionist and I know it. Hate that job! Why is it so difficult for people to see the value of support staff positions? They’re not money-makers, no, but could businesses run without them?

        1. Anonymous_J*

          Support staff everywhere love you for saying that!

          I wish more people understood our value!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I agree. But with the economy the way it is, that position has been demoted to minimum wage (and was, really, even before that) in a lot of companies. That’s one reason I had such a hard time finding a job–the higher-paying ones combined it with accounting, which I can’t do. The receptionist-only positions were all $7.00 an hour and completely unlivable.

      *former receptionist who finally got off the front desk–yay!

    2. Jamie*

      I worked reception at temp jobs back in the day and it was hands down harder and more stressful for me than IT.

      The OP’s boss is crazy not to value someone good in that position and pay them appropriately.

  21. Confused*

    “at roughly .15 a mile (depending on gas prices)”
    You can’t drive gas by itself. You need the car too.
    from IRS:
    Beginning on Jan. 1, 2013, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:
    •56.5 cents per mile for business miles driven.
    Remind your boss he is also liable.
    Simpel as that.

  22. Confused*

    Uh-oh. After I posted I stared to wonder about something. What if the boss really doesn’t want to pay the mileage (even after OP talks to him) and asks the receptionist to start walking to/from errands? Not the 15 miles away store, but errands requiring a long long walk in the summer heat? :(

    1. Ruffingit*

      I seriously doubt anyone would do that simply because it would take too much of her workday to walk to/from the errands. If the boss wants his lunch to be edible and delivered timely, he’s not going to make her walk two miles to get it. Also, it might be literally impossible to carry back certain supplies without a car.

      At the end of the day, this really comes down to a lot of what AAM columns come down to – “that’s the way it is, can you/do you want to live with that?” The woman here may or may not get mileage reimbursed. If she doesn’t, she then needs to decide if this job is something she can or wants to continue doing.

      1. Cat*

        Actually, given the potential legal issues involved here, I don’t think that is precisely what’s going on; certainly not since the woman herself didn’t write in and someone else in her office, who might well have a bit more clout to deal with it, did.

      2. Confused*

        “She does mail runs […and] the boss is always sending her after this or that besides.”
        The boss has the receptionist leave her desk to go 15 miles to a store 2-3 times a week. Why pay for shipping? The guy didn’t hire a “receptionist.” He hired a min wage personal assistant. It’s up to her if she wants to stay and I wasn’t arguing with “can you live with that part of the job.”
        It makes me sad. I’ve been sent out and paid as a receptionist and had to do exec asst work etc. (Temp agency: receptionists pay scale was x, exec asst was x+. This was a way to get around paying).
        I know! This sounds like an excellent internship opportunity! ;) ;)

  23. Dr. Speakeasy*

    It’s worrisome that the boss said “you’re still on the clock” as if he thought that was generous. Does he think he could get away with not paying her for this time?

    1. AB*

      This boss is unbelievable.

      I hope the receptionist will start looking for another job right away after this reaction from the boss. With the skills described by the OP, I can see her finding an admin job that would pay much better than what she is earning (at least where I live, that would be the case).

      Lots of managers would be thrilled to get someone with her level of competence.

      1. Natalie*

        One thing the OP could do for this receptionist is offer to serve as a reference. Something tells me crappy boss would not provide a glowing reference if asked.

        1. chikorita*

          +1 this would be a great help, and also probably reassuring to the receptionist to know that there’s someone who’ll give her a good reference at current workplace even if the boss won’t

  24. Confused*

    If your boss doesn’t budge you CAN do something about it. You can give the receptionist a great reference when she moves on! I mean that genuinely.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Absolutely and I strongly suspect the receptionist will be moving on in short order.

  25. Been There*

    I used to love doing the errands as an admin because my company paid the IRS reimbursement rate which turned into an extra $300 a month extra plus I would get a free lunch out of it most of the time, AND get out of the office into the fresh air! It was great.
    In the OP’s situation, my gas tank would be on empty at all times or I wouldn’t have my car for some reason like carpooling.
    What a jerk. Totally inappropriate for him to expect this from a minimum wage admin. Good luck to you!

  26. Editor*

    Who did all these errands before and who paid for them?

    Also, can some of the longer trips be consolidated? I certainly think the receptionist should be reimbursed at the IRS rate, but in showing the owner the figures, maybe he would understand that some of the driving should be reduced or combined to save money, too.

    Because the receptionist probably can’t itemize, I feel strongly that OP should encourage the boss to reimburse at that rate and then deduct the reimbursement as a business expense. At lower reimbursements, the receptionist won’t be able to recapture for wear and tear, and at minimum wage, oil changes, tires and repairs add up. Like most of the people posting, I feel if the boss still wants that amount of driving done, the best solution is to allow the receptionist to use a company car.

  27. Chocolate Teapot*

    My current small(ish) office uses a courier service for delivering packages, but my previous company had a full time in-house courier whose job it was to collect and dispatch items.

    He was worth his weight in gold and could work miracles.

  28. Ellie H.*

    I have a semi-related question: what if you were getting reimbursed for mileage incurred on company business, and it’s extra hours (e.g. on Saturday whereas you normally work M-F and are nonexempt) as opposed to while you are already “on the clock” – how would you bill your time? Do you charge the company for the hours you spend driving to the atypical destination in addition to charging for mileage, or just for the hours actually working after you have arrived there?

    1. Chinook*

      I deal with invoices for contractors who have to travel to remote sites all the time. It is usual to charge the time driving to/from the location and for mileage. The time travelled covers the expense of the employee and the mileage covers the expense of the vehicle. So, if we had to contractors going out in 1 vehicle, we get charged travel time x2 but mileage x1.

    1. Anonymous_J*

      Yes! I’d love to know what happens. In particular, I’d love to hear how the OP and the receptionist both told Tightwad Boss to kiss their butts and found fabulous new jobs! ;)

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