my employer wants me to stay in hotels that feel unsafe, being told to repay $3.91 for expensing aspirin, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My wife has to repay for $3.91 for expensing aspirin on a business trip

I’m asking this question on behalf of my wife. Because she travels for work, she was issued a company credit card for food, hotels, flights, and other miscellaneous expenses. On a recent business trip, she came down with the flu. She bought a small bottle of aspirin with her company card and continued to work through her illness.

When she returned, her boss had written “aspirin is not a business expense” on her expense report. He has apparently directed accounts payable to reject the charge and request that she send the company a check for $3.91. This strikes both of us as absurd and petty. On similar trips, this manager has used his expense card to buy expensive bottles of wine at dinner (not with clients). He has a history of micromanaging behavior and bizarre personal boundary violations that’s too long to recount here, but this is a little over the top.

I told her that she should say, “When I’m working with you, aspirin is a business expense.” She was wise enough not to follow this advice. She’s an excellent employee, was recently promoted, and has never misused company money or property. Yes, she is actively looking for new jobs because of her manager’s ongoing behavior.

Yes, this is petty.

I actually think that your wife’s manager is right that the aspirin shouldn’t really have been charged as a business expense … but directing her to pay back $3.91 is nickeling and diming her in a way that will ultimately cost the company more in employee good will.

It can be hard to know where to draw the line on this stuff, at times, and so some managers decide it’s easier to just draw a big, bright line, even if means creating situations like this one. He’s wrong to handle it this way, but I bet it wouldn’t bug you nearly as much if he weren’t so problematic in other regards.

2. Being asked to apply for a job I’m not qualified for

I’m a full-time student in a graduate program that requires an internship to graduate. So far the search has been tough, but I had a break recently when I attended a job fair. I met with a very nice woman who reached out to me on LinkedIn and seems strongly interested in having me work in her department. She is asking me to apply that that specific internship within the organization, as well as to email her a resume directly (I left a resume with her at the job fair as well).

However, after looking at the posting, I am seriously unqualified for the position. It requires heavy technical skills that would beyond the scope of learning over a few months. There are other open internships far more suited to my skills and background. How do I let my contact know that I would love still to work at her organization, but that I might be unsuited for that specific role? Cover letter? Email?

Well, she might have a slightly different role in mind for you, but you also want to make sure that she knows you’re interested even if it’s not for this specific role. I’d say something like, “Looking at the job posting, I’m not sure if I have the background in ___ that you’re looking for; I wonder if the X or Y internships would be a better match? Either way, I’d love to work with you, and hope to talk with you soon.”

3. My employer wants me to stay in hotels that feel unsafe to me

I work at a nonprofit organization that is desperately trying to keep its doors open after losing funding from a large foundation. Our E.D. has made conference attendance and “networking” a top priority (a policy I agree with). Recently, in preparation for attending these conferences, I have been discouraged from staying at hotels at or near the conference centers because they are “too expensive.” Now, I am about to attend a conference in New Haven and was told that the city is “dangerous” (I live in Brooklyn, so that term is very relative/silly to me) and that I should look into AirBnB instead of staying at a traditional hotel because this will save even more money. After a week and a half of searching, I was unable to secure an AirBnB pad, and now find myself once again staying far outside of the normal walking distance (my primary concern) from the conference center. One of the reviews for the hotel mention a shooting that happened during a reviewer’s stay. Once again, the conference hotel was deemed “too expensive” and, no, I am not allowed to rent a car.

Do I just need to suck it up and deal with these less-than-ideal circumstances because we’re a nonprofit or should I seek another path to securing safer/better accommodations, like speaking to the president of the board?

Well, it’s not at all unusual for nonprofit staffers to stay in less expensive hotels away from where the conference is in order to save money. So that part, yes, I think you just need to deal with. And if it really rankles you, it’s possible that life at this particular nonprofit just isn’t for you.

But safety concerns are different. You should not go to the board, because it would be really inappropriate to go over your boss’s head — much less to the board (!) — on something like this. But you can certainly speak to your boss and explain that the only accommodations within the organization’s price range are ones that you don’t feel safe staying in. It might come down to a choice between paying slightly more for somewhere safe or not going at all, but that’s a conversation that you should be having with your boss. (I’d also try to reality-check those reviews if you can; surely there are reasonably safe but affordable places to stay in New Haven? Even if they’re far from the conference and require taking a cab to and from it — which you’d also need to factor into overall costs, of course.)

But ultimately this might be a question of whether the organization can afford the full costs of these trips; maybe it can’t, in some cases. And if their answer is that you need to stay somewhere you feel unsafe, at that point you’d need to decide if that’s something you’re willing to do.

4. Interviewer said my major was “pompous”

I just had an interesting piece of feedback from an interview. It was for a spot on their science education team at a retreat/camp. Let’s ignore the fact that the interviewing group knew me well because I have been volunteering there for a year and have been doing the work for the position they were filling. I didn’t get the job and I was left feeling a little led on so I asked for feedback.

The feedback from this science education team was, “great interview,” “excellent resume/application,” “strong background,” and “a little high and mighty about a pompous degree. Feel free to just says it’s ‘biology.'” Uh…

My undergrad was a Zoology degree. I’ve run across people who think that I have a degree in kittens, but they were never from within the science community. During the interview when that came up, I took in the scientific educator audience and briefly explained that I was a zoology major who concentrated on comparative animal physiology. When asked to explain, I said that my senior project was on cardiology in various lizard species. Unique and pretty useless? Sure. High and mighty? I didn’t think so.

Do I change my resume to say “biology” so that it doesn’t draw as much attention? Since when is zoology a pompous major? Were they just jerks?

They were just ridiculous people. Don’t change the way you refer to your degree — which is perfectly normal and straightforward — just because of one bizarre experience. Someone over there is a kook.

5. Mentioning an interviewer’s son’s college search in my thank-you note

I recently interviewed for a job, and at the end of the interview, a member of the interview panel showed me around the office. During the tour, she mentioned that her son was applying to the university I currently work at. We talked briefly about it, and I mentioned how great the university was, something I really do believe.

Would it be strange to say “Good luck to your son in his college search” or “Call me if you have any questions about touring or applying to [University]” in my thank-you note?

The first one is fine, but the second one comes up a little too close to the sucking-up line for my tastes (not that you are — just that it could sound like it). It’s stick just with the first.

{ 378 comments… read them below }

  1. EngineerGirl*

    #3 – Can you convince your employer that it is actually cheaper to stay at the conference hotels? Do you have to rent a car if you are outside of the walking distance? Or take public transportation? What about the cost of your time walking / commuting to the conference? These expenses usually add up to more than the difference in the hotel rooms.

    1. AdjunctForNow*

      Also, I know it’s common at academic conferences for people to find roommates if their funding is tight. Maybe there’s something similar here? Is there another organization that is sending a person of the same gender, and you could split the room?

    2. Katie NYC*

      OP – This would be a PITA – but could you take MetroNorth to the conference every day? Or just go for a day? I’m in NYC, work in non-profits, and I’ve gone up to New Haven for conferences just for the day. It makes for a long day, but it’s quite doable.

      1. Candy Floss*

        I could do Brooklyn to New Haven via Metro-North for one day but getting up and doing it a second (or third) day – ugh. I like New Haven, but would not feel comfortable walking around some areas at night.

          1. College Career Counselor*

            Can you personally make up the cost difference to stay in a closer/more desirable hotel? I agree that you shouldn’t have to, but if you can swing it financially, maybe that’s an option?

        1. Candy Floss*

          Whoops, to clarify, I am not the OP, was just commenting that I personally would not find that commute doable for more than one day and that I understand why the OP might not feel comfortable in some parts of New Haven at night.

          1. Anonsie*

            Agreed on both points, though honestly I think I’d rather commute than deal with trying to find a hotel somewhere they’ll approve of.

            I’m always highly skeptical when someone says an area seems unsafe from the outside because you never know what their standards are, and my standards are pretty high I guess. But even I felt uncomfortable in many parts of New Haven.

      2. LizNYC*

        I was going to suggest this as well. I know people who live in Brooklyn who do the commute to CT every day. Not ideal, but at least you’re not staying in New Haven over night. (And yeah, it’s not the greatest place — though the pizza is apparently wonderful.)

        1. Office Mercenary*

          I live in Brooklyn and my roommate commutes to West Haven everyday. It’s a PITA, but doable.

          1. Jackson*

            Maybe I just need to suck it up next time! For now, I was granted permission to take a cab, and so will be staying at a “Days Inn” a few miles from the conference. I don’t mind trains! Or “dangerous” neighborhoods, as I definitely know that that term is very relative.

          2. Cristina in England*

            Never ever before have I heard West Haven mentioned before by a stranger (internet or irl). I cannot believe someone commutes from BROOKLYN to West Haven! It’s like the reverse of everything that I know. Obvs, I’m from there.

    3. holly*

      i used to live in brooklyn and heard the same stuff about new haven from former brooklynites. it is surprisingly unsafe.

      i’d go with finding a place that is safe even if it is far from the org. if your org cannot afford cab fare, then they cannot afford to send their employees to conferences. that is just absurd.

      1. Jackson*

        Thanks, Holly. I agree. I might steal and augment that line and say, “If we cannot afford to pay for cab fare and a halfway decent hotel, then we cannot afford to attend conferences like this.”

        1. Keren*

          Hey all,

          I recently moved away from New Haven, and while it is true that parts of the city are quite dangerous, you are not likely to be in those parts of town during a conference. (Additionally, I would say that the violence is not random or directed at tourists.)

          This hotel is not too far from downtown and offers free shuttle service to most parts of town:

  2. Anonie*

    OP #4 Do not change your degree. They are being ridiculous! My undergrad is in Biological Sciences that is what is says on my diploma. I had to take several different classes including biology and zoology. I don’t say I have a degree in biology. I say I have a degree in biological sciences. You earned a degree in Zoology so that is what should be on your resume. Those people were being jerks!

    1. Clerica D. McClerkykins*

      What kills me is that, while I could see someone “outside” thinking in both your and the OP’s case that “it’s really just Biology,” these were educators. I assume science educators, at that. And they don’t understand that the fields of study are different? Yikes.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Or maybe you interviewed with Sheldon Cooper, who thinks anything less than theoretical physics isn’t really science and that biology (and zoology) is beneath “pure” scientists like him?
        But otherwise I’d go with the jealous or obnoxious theory. Any chance you went to a “better” school than the typical applicant there? I went to a top “name” school and people often assume I think I’m better than people that went to the state or regional schools – not the case for me, although some of my former classmates have this snobbish attitude.

        1. TK*

          I had a physics major suitemate in college who actually had this attitude about the sciences. It was only one of his many eccentricities.

          1. The Pompous Zoologist*

            I’ve met many people with a “science is superior” mindset. They are the people that I will avoid chatting with via G+ or Facebook because I really don’t want to hear about their latest work/publications/opinions. The interview was the first time that I’ve had to go “Oh my god, am I one of them?!”

          2. Office Mercenary*

            My high school physics teacher would go on and on about how physics is the only real scientific discipline. Sadly, it was the least of his bad behavior.

            1. myswtghst*

              I’m still pretty certain the only thing my dudebro of a hs physics teacher knew how to do was light stuff on fire so his students thought he was *cool*…

            1. Sarahnova*

              Ha, that cartoon is exactly what I thought of as well. “Oh hey, I didn’t see you guys all the way over there.”

        2. The Pompous Zoologist*

          This was what a friend (one of my former classmates) pointed out. I did go to a highly respected school. Maybe that was a turn off… though I would have LOVED to know that’d count against me before being delivered a six figure student loan.

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              Yes. Love the screen name. I am also giggling at my desk imagining what a “degree in kittens” would entail. “Variations in Tummy Fuzziness: an Analytics-Based Approach”. “Insights into the Purr Response to Variegated Stimuli.”

              1. The Maple Teacup*

                More please Lynn!

                How about Classic Readings in Feline Conservation Biology or a Meta-Analysis Report of Cat Cafes in North America?

          1. myswtghst*

            Yay, another zoologist! Although I’m not using my degree at all now (I work as a corporate trainer, go figure), it is always interesting to explain to people that my degree required a lot more than just “playing with animals”… you know, stuff like taking organic chemistry and comparative anatomy, and all those other fun things.

      2. Penny*

        Even from the outside of the science field it’s clear that Biology and Zoology are distictly different degrees. Those people were just jerks. If you put Biology you’d probably get an employer saying that was misleading. Nothing wrong with saying the actual specific name of your degree.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          I used to advise students with an unusual major designation. Something like “The Rise and Form of the Metropolis.” Not only was it long, it was occasionally confusing to prospective employers (and could come across as pompous). In some cases, I advised the student to go with something that was a little more accessible–in this instance “Urban Studies” (which is what the major was).

          That said, the OP should definitely stick to Zoology and recognize that the “pompous major” feedback is ridiculous. (Belatedly, it occurs to me that they might have been scrambling for something ‘critical’ to say to justify not hiring you and decided to go with that.)

          1. Nichole*

            “Belatedly, it occurs to me that they might have been scrambling for something ‘critical’ to say to justify not hiring you and decided to go with that.”

            This occurred to me as well. Since you mention that the interviewers knew you and all the other feedback was glowing, I wonder if there was a less tangible reason (poor fit, they think you might leave if offered another job, bigwig’s niece is also an applicant, etc.) that they didn’t want to have to tell you, so they nitpicked. No one wants to tell someone they know “we like you, but not enough to hire you,” even though that probably would have been kinder than advice that if blindly taken to heart could hurt your future job search.

        2. Lils*

          I too have a degree in Zoology and list it as such on my CV for this reason–it’s different from Biology. If people don’t know what it means, I cheerfully explain. I’ve never had anyone call me “pompous” (to my face, anyway). In fact, I think using the word pompous is pompous. What are they going to say next, that you’re impertinent? Do they by any chance resemble the Dowager Countess?

      3. TL*

        Depending on the state/program/level, not all educators have to have degrees in the fields they teach.

        1. The Pompous Zoologist*

          Maybe not, but for a group that is built on science education, it would really bother me to know that they are rejecting experienced science educators for someone with a background in art or history. I know from experience that historical societies or art camps are pretty confused when they see my science background on their educator applications, no matter how much I push that Intro to Art History course on them.

          1. TL*

            Eh, a lot of people get degrees in education and not the subject fields they want to teach in.

            A degree in science education would be very, very different from a biology degree.

            1. The Pompous Zoologist*

              Very true, but I would hope that someone with a science education degree would know the different subsets of the field of biology. Even if it was as general as ‘someone who studies animals is called a zoologist’.

              1. TL*

                Oh, yeah, but they may not realize there’s an actual difference in classes and course material, ect…

                People know molecular and microbiology are two different fields but most don’t really understand how different. So when someone introduces me and says I work in a micro lab and I correct them, people usually look really puzzled. And if I’m not careful to be light and funny about it, people think I’m pompous.

    2. Amy B.*

      In colloquial speak: It sounds like someone was jelly.

      It has been my experience when people use terms like “high and mighty” or “thinks he’s better than me” they actually have their own insecurity issues.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Eh, I think it s would be worth the OP’s time to reflect on her tone. A zoology degree is (obviously) not inherently pompous – in fact, that’s such a strange complaint that it makes me wonder why the interviewer thought it.for It’s possible that her explanation sounded condescending or superior.

        1. The Pompous Zoologist*

          I’ve gone over my response over and over in my head because that was my first thought – that it was the way that I said it. Though, honestly I have explained the major and my work within it 1000x, it’s basically a regurgitated answer at this point. If my tone or explanation was the problem, I would hope that I would have gotten that vibe from someone’s reaction before.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            It’s probably just weirdness from one of the interviewers! You truly can’t please everybody.

            Aldo, if you’re not already a regular you should use that as your permanent username. It’s awesome.

          2. hildi*

            And what I find extra odd is that these people have known you and your work for the past year. So either they think you as a whole person are pompous and annoying (which I think is probaby unlikely since you seem to be pretty open to feedback and self-reflective), or someone had an axe to grind on this particular issue.

            1. CarDen*

              What hildi said.

              “Let’s ignore the fact that the interviewing group knew me well”

              I say a lot of things to people I know well that I wouldn’t say to a complete stranger… and that includes being more direct about things they specifically ask me about that *I* think they could improve on. And, of course, I’m always right ;)

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “It has been my experience when people use terms like “high and mighty” or “thinks he’s better than me” they actually have their own insecurity issues.”

        When I hear “high and mighty” I kind of figure the listener has no clue what was just said. It’s much easier to write off the speaker than for the listener to try to figure out where their lack of comprehension is.

        OP, you end up working for people like that and you get to listen to “you need to stop talking over my head, you are doing that deliberately JUST to put ME down.”
        Then you have to figure out what you said that was so darn difficult to understand. This really slows down the progress on the real work in front of you.
        Better to learn this on the interview than to learn it after being employed for a few months.

    3. Chinook*

      OP#4, never say your degree is in anything that isn’t on the actual diploma. Not only is it what you studied, which you you should be proud of achieving, but it could lead to problems if they ask for verification. It would be like changing the name of a job position to make it easier to understand/less pompous.

      1. Anonsie*

        I wouldn’t say that’s an absolute rule, though, since a lot of schools use very broad categories and would need specification on an application. My university’s just say “engineering,” “anthropology,” “biology,” when the subset within those is quite important.

    4. Anonathon*

      Agreed, this was one person’s (irrational) opinion. I am in a similar position with my degree. Basically, people tend to think that my degree in X is just a fancy way of saying Y — but in fact, X and Y are fundamentally different, X requires skills that you wouldn’t need for Y, etc. When asked about my major socially, then I may simplify. But I’ve always kept it accurate on my resume, and it’s really only come up twice. (Both because the interviewer was curious.)

  3. EngineerGirl*

    #4 – They are silly. I don’t put down mere “engineering” because there are so many kinds. For the same reason I wouldn’t put down “biology” because it is too generic. Really – it sounds like someone is threatened that you actually have a specialization.

    1. shellbell*

      Many people do, in fact, have a degree in biology. That’s my degree (it is on my diploma and everything), and that is what I always put down. To be more specific, I would have to make a fake name for my degree. A degree in Biology or chemistry is super common.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Even in grad school (OP was referring to a graduate degree)? I would think it would be more specialized by then (but I really have no idea).

        1. De (Germany)*

          I have an MSc in Biology. Of course I specialized in something, but that’s not on my degree.

        2. Another Cat*

          Yes, even in grad school (M.S., Ph.D) – depends on the school, but just bio or just chem or whatever is possible/common.

      2. Heather*

        But her degree is in Zoology, so it’s not like she just thinks plain old biology needs to spiced up a little.

        1. shellbell*

          Oh yeah. I agree!! I was responding the person who said not to list “just” biology because it was too generic. A degree in just biology is totally common and normal.

    2. TL*

      My university offered a straight-up engineering degree and I have a straight biology degree (now, most of my knowledge and all of my skills are on the molecular/microbiology lines). They have their purposes – broader background knowledge – but they’re different from a more narrowly focused degree program.

      1. the_scientist*

        Same- my degree says “Honours Bachelor of Science in Biology” and then underneath it says “molecular biology and genetics specialization”. My resume lists both for clarity, but I often describe my degree as being “in” molecular biology and genetics because it’s true in the sense that all my courses were mol bio/genetics and had the associated course codes.

        1. simonthegrey*

          Likewise mine lists Masters in Religious Studies, emphasis in Theology. Depending on who I am talking to, I may say I have a degree in Religious Studies or, if I think they’ll confuse that with a degree in Divinity (I am not a pastor and never will be), I may say I studied Theology. It depends on the audience.

          1. Amy*

            Super late, but that’s really interesting distinction because here in the UK it’d probably be the other way around. ‘Religious Studies/Religious Education’ (RS/RE) are the names the subject goes by at primary/secondary school, so ‘Theology’ is more obscure title and thus more likely to be confused with Divinity.

            (I’m talking for laymen here- Theology and Religious Studies are synonymous academically and often courses use both).

  4. Lillie Lane*

    #1: Dumb and petty. The other thing I wish employers would factor in is that even if you have an expense account, there are things that you need while traveling but can’t necessarily expense and are expensive because you are sometimes restricted to buying them at the hotel or airport. For example, I’m on a business trip now and I needed some band-aids. I forgot to bring some with me, so I had to buy them at the hotel. Same for snacks, which are not allowed to be included at my company, even if you skip a meal or can’t get to a restaurant because it’s too late. Or tipping for housekeeping, shuttle drivers, etc. This stuff adds up.

    OP, I also sympathize because a few years ago, my husband bought a pair of work gloves at the local hardware store and charged them to his company’s account (he works in agriculture and needed the gloves). They threw a fit and made him write them a check for $9 to pay for the gloves because “he didn’t *need* them”. Luckily, he was fired shortly after, became a consultant and is happier than ever. But the “glove incident” is what he always remembers about that job!

    1. Julie*

      Fortunately I’m able to expense snacks or other food as long as it’s under the daily limit for food expenses. When it comes to tips, my manager said that she had trouble getting housekeeping tips approved, so now I just list it as a food expense and say that I lost the receipt. I wouldn’t be tipping the housekeeping staff if I weren’t traveling for work, so work needs to pay for it – and the housekeepers shouldn’t have to suffer because a company is too cheap to cover what ends up being a few dollars.

      1. Dan*

        Huh. I only tip housekeeping I throw a party or otherwise leave a huge mess.

        But for a quick “change the towels” and “make the bed” I won’t tip. Heck, when I’m by myself, most of the time I just leave the “DND” sign up permanently.

      2. Dan*

        Oops, should have said: Housekeeping suffers because their management pays what they pay, not because guests don’t tip.

        AFAIK, waitstaff are the only folk paid less than minimum wage with the expectation that tips will make up the income.

        For just about anything else — including cab rides — I consider “basic service” to be part of the rate I paid. I only tip for above and beyond service, which most of the time I don’t require.

        1. Broke Philosopher*

          I hope you will at least rethink this policy! Cab drivers have a huge number of expenses, so their take-home is significantly less than minimum wage without tips.

          Also, the housekeeping staff can make less than minimum wage because they make tips, so if you do not tip them, then they are making under minimum wage.

          Yes, it’s unfair and employers should be covering the cost of their employees’ salary, but I don’t think that the right response to that is to ensure that poor people make less money by refusing to tip. If you don’t like the system, don’t take cabs or stay in hotels…if you do choose to do those things, it’s really only fair to tip so that the people who drive you around and clean up after you don’t starve.

          1. Jackson*

            Totally agreed with Broke Philosopher (I’m OP#3, btw) on this one. Cab drivers are often immigrants who practically become indentured servants to their companies (not to mention the city licensing costs, etc) and you should try to tip them 20% if you can afford it or just find a different way to travel. What’s 20%, anyway, in the grand scheme of things?
            That said, I have never considered tipping housekeeping because (1) I do not carry cash ever and (2) I’m young and apparently dumb and didn’t realize they weren’t being paid minimum wage as well. I feel terrible about this. I’ll try to remember this tomorrow in New Haven when I’m checking out.

            1. Jamie*

              I tip housekeeping, but I didn’t know until reading this that they can be paid under minimum wage.

              How does that work when you are staying over several nights? I just leave it when I’m checking out and I assume it’s not the same crew each time. How do they split it?

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                I leave a tip every day – I had never really thought about splitting it up it before a colleague I was on a business trip with mentioned that she left a tip every morning to ensure that each person who worked on the room got something, which made sense to me.

                1. Jamie*

                  I don’t travel much so fortunately it hasn’t affected too many people, but that would never occur to me.

                  If they are > min wage they need better PR to get the word out so people will know they need to tip as they do when they go out to eat.

                2. AnonAnalyst*

                  @ Jamie – I totally agree about the PR. I never knew that some were being paid below minimum wage until the same coworker told me. I’m just glad I traveled with her then so that I could change my tipping practice going forward!

                3. Collarbone High*

                  This is what I’ve heard too — it’s best to leave a tip every day. My family never stayed at hotels, so this was new information for me. The article where I read that also said to put the tip in a clearly labeled envelope so the staff would know it was for them and not part of the guest’s property, and couldn’t be accused of stealing it.

                  In a fit of super organization one day, I made dozens of envelopes labeled “housekeeping” and put them in my suitcase. That way I see them when I pack, it reminds me to get small bills for them (since I rarely carry cash), and I take as many as I’ll need for the trip.

                4. Jen S. 2.0*

                  I, also, try to tip hotel housekeepers every day, unless for some reason I know it’s the same crew each time. I just leave a dollar or two on the pillow.

                  If I’m feeling super-organized, I’ll take a sheet from the pad of paper, write “Housekeeper” on it, fold it, and put the dollar in there. I read somewhere you that are supposed to do that so they know for sure it’s for them and not spare change.

                  Side note: Last time I did that, the housekeeper wrote a thank-you note on the same slip of paper and put it back on the pillow. I was all verklempt.

              2. Broke Philosopher*

                I think you just leave a couple bucks per night at the end of the stay. My guess is that it’s all pooled and split, but my very cursory research seemed to show that they can be paid under minimum wage…correct me if I’m wrong, though!

            2. Ilf*

              Nobody can be legally paid under minimum wage. If the employee receives tips the employer has to make sure that direct wages paid by employer + tips is at least minimum wage.
              Form DOL site “An employer may pay a tipped employee not less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equal at least the federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. If an employee’s tips combined with the employer’s direct wages of at least $2.13 an hour do not equal the federal minimum hourly wage, the employer must make up the difference.”

              1. TheSnarkyB*

                This isn’t exactly how things shake out, though.
                For those jobs where employers have the possibility of paying below minimum wage, they usually take the opportunity not to, without keeping track of whether it’s ending up fair on the employee’s side.
                (To be clear, I didn’t know that this included housekeeping staff – I think the custom of tipping in that sector is weak enough that they should be paid at least minimum wage regardless.)

                1. Heather*

                  +1 – they employer is supposed to make up the difference, but that’s not what usually happens.

                2. myswtghst*

                  Agreed – while this is what is supposed to happen, it doesn’t always, and sadly, it’s unlikely an employee making less than minimum wage is going to have the time, energy, and resources to challenge it if their employer does not make up the difference.

          2. Elle*

            Not true, not true, not true.

            In NY, the average cab driver makes $37,000 a year. After expenses. This is above minimum wage. I agree that it’s not the most lucrative job and I tip, but cab drivers are not equal to restaurant staff. If you view tipping as enabling people to make minimum wage, then there’s no rationale for it.

            My friend and I had this argument (very strongly) and we called 311 and they sent us an information packet about it to settle it. Cab drivers do NOT typically make under minimum wage.

            1. Elle*

              And I tip. 20% because the machine doesn’t even have an option for 15%! But I see it as a scam, just like tipping hairdressers and USPS carriers. It’s another way to extract money at the point of sale which effectively drives up the price of your goods. I follow social norms but it’s a scam. And I reduce tip immediately if the cab driver starts driving a crazy route, breaks the law or is too rude. Whereas I would never reduce a tip in a restaurant basically no matter what. If the service is bad, I get the manager. Otherwise, they get a tip.

              1. Jamie*

                Do people really tip USPS drivers for deliveries? I know it’s customary to tip your mail carrier at Christmas – but I’ve never even considered tipping for a delivery.

                Hairdressers – yes – I want them to like me more than other customers so I get the best haircuts. (and I know that’s not how it works, but it does in my head)

                1. Sharm*

                  I never thought of tipping hairdressers that way! I thought they also were paid low wages (maybe not minimum wage, but low), so I “should” tip them.

                2. Sharm*

                  My comment makes me sound jerky, but I just mean I always thought I was helping make up the difference. I doubt I’ll change my policy, but I never even stopped to think before.

                3. Woodward*

                  I tip my hairdresser really well because it makes me one of her favorite clients so when I need to reschedule on a tight day or have a “hair emergency”, she goes out of her way to help me. She even cut my hair at her house once because the scheduling just didn’t work out to go to the salon – so I always tip 25%.

                4. OhNo*

                  Absolutely, I always tip my hairdresser. She’s amazing – the first time I had her, she gave me the cut for free because I told her I was donating all the hair she was chopping off. That kind of awesomeness deserves a good tip in my opinion.

                  I’ve heard of giving a small gift for the mail carrier at Xmas, but never regular tipping. My family never did either growing up, since our mail carrier was also our next-door neighbor. Would you tip just for large package delivery, do you think?

                5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  No! In fact, you can’t tip postal carriers. You can give gifts valued under $20, but that’s it.


                  I don’t give gifts to my mailman. He’s a government employee earning a decent salary to do a job that I have no control over whether he does or doesn’t do (i.e. I didn’t decide to have mail service to my address; I couldn’t make it stop if I wanted to).

              2. Esra*

                Yikes, you don’t tip your hairdresser?

                Like others, I’ve never heard of someone tipping CanPost/couriers.

            2. JustKatie*

              Just because $37k isn’t below minimum wage doesn’t mean it’s a livable wage in NYC!

            3. Broke Philosopher*

              Thanks Elle. I guess I was just thinking about my city (Seattle), where it’s not unusual for a cab driver to come out to less than $100 for a 10+ hour shift after you take into account leasing the car from the company, fuel, tolls, etc. Since minimum wage in my state is almost $10/hour, that comes out to about minimum wage…might have been overstating slightly, and I definitely was not thinking about other cities. I only know this about Seattle because there’s been a big hullabaloo here recently with UberX, lyft, etc. I still think that $37K is not that much in NYC considering the number of hours they usually work and the danger involved, but it is above minimum wage!

              1. Elle*

                I appreciate your sentiment and I tip – but I’m not happy about it. I used to live in New York 7 years ago and you tipped a couple of bucks. Now you tip 20%. It’s a fairly new invented norm to drive up the cost of cabs. And this is in line with the widespread taxi fraud.


                I don’t think $37k is that much money – but then what is, for a job with what are very low barriers to entry? I make a lot more than a cabbie but I also paid a lot more (hundreds of thousands of dollars more) for my education. The cabbie has a higher net worth than I do (as mine is extremely negative). I just don’t buy that every person who earns above minimum wage, regardless of wealth or other concerns, has some moral responsibility to compensate every person who earns less money than they do, aside from paying taxes AND charitable giving.

            4. Anonsie*

              This depends majorly on the city you’re in and the cab company you’re talking about. There are a lot of different systems and they vary wildly.

              In some places, the drivers rent the cabs from the companies, meaning there’s a minimum amount they have to make total in a day to just break even. This is less common than it used to be, but it still happens. With others they own the car, but depending on where you are they make a base rate plus tips and the fare goes to the company, or it’s split in a set percentage with the company, blah blah blah. Tons of variation… And $37k in NYC is not such fantastic money that a tip is unreasonably lavish. Besides, there’s no reason to not give a good tip to someone who’s done a good job.

          3. JustKatie*

            Yes, please rethink. I know that in Chicago, cab drivers are only able to charge a fixed rate that has not kept pace with our crazy gas prices- I think it hasn’t changed in nearly a decade. Many are suing the city of Chicago, since they’re currently considered “contractors” rather than employees of the cab companies. They have to HUSTLE to make money, and often aren’t making much at all.

          4. OhNo*

            +1 for tipping cab drivers. I have a personal policy of tipping cab drivers 50%-75% of the fare because I have a rigid-frame wheelchair that they have to help me with, and it’s a pain in the butt if you’re not used to it. But I don’t take cabs often, so I can afford the extra expense for an occasional ride. If you take cabs a lot, I can see the tipping expenses adding up fast – but you should still do it.

            Also, I never knew about tipping housekeeping staff until just last year. My family never stayed in hotels when I was a kid, so it’s not something I ever learned about.

            Can anyone tell me – is there a standard dollar amount per day or percentage of the bill that’s appropriate for housekeepers/hotel staff? I haven’t really been able to find a solid answer by googling it.

          5. Dan*

            One of the things I dislike about American culture is this notion that the working stiff has to watch out for the paycheck of another working stiff. Your pay is between you are your boss, I don’t want to be a part of it.

            Also, you should know that if a tipped employee does not make enough money to reach minimum wage, then the employer has to cover the difference.

            BTW, if tipping housekeeping staff starts getting pushed a lot harder, I’ll just leave the “DND” sign permanently attached to my door. For short stays when I travel alone, I simply don’t value maid service that much. Heck, Starwood Hotels (Sheraton, Westin and the like) actually give you extra points for declining housekeeping.

            I hardly consider making the bed and changing the towels as “going above and beyond” and therefore don’t tip when I don’t leave big messes.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              I agree with Dan’s sentiment, and I’m especially irritated by discussions about servers when it’s claimed that they don’t make the minimum wage (they do, given that their employer is in fact obligated to make up the difference between their earnings and the minimum wage).

              Buuuuut tipping isn’t about ensuring that people make the minimum wage. It’s a cultural truth, and that’s factored into market prices for labor (and services provided by that labor). It’s all well and good to object to tipping (as I do, in most cases), but I’d argue that it’s wrong to decline to do it. If you want to participate in a system that uses tipping as a part of it’s pricing, then you pay that price, end of story. Otherwise you’re keeping money to yourself that (ethically) belongs to someone else in the system; if tipping weren’t common, wages for servers (e.g.) would likely be higher and prices for meals would likely be higher… and you’d be paying those higher prices. You don’t get to skip out on that extra cost because it’s called a tip.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I basically agree with you.
                However, the whole concept that the employer is supposed to make up the difference is mostly fantasy.
                I waitressed for years when I was in school. Never, ever once did an employer ask me how much I made in tips so he could calculate the difference. And no difference was ever offered.
                It is my understanding that not much has changed today.
                The jobs cleaning hotel rooms? It’s really awful the way some folks are treated by their companies.

                1. Heather*

                  This – no one I’ve ever known who’s worked as a server has ever had their employer make up the difference.

                  I’d be happy to pay more for my food to let the servers be paid enough not to need tips. But the restaurant industry has enough power that they would rather push the cost onto customers and I don’t think that’s likely to change soon.

                  For hotel housekeepers, I crazily overtip. I don’t care if they’re making minimum wage or not – that is just a shitty job (sometimes literally). And as you said, most are treated miserably by their employers…Hyatt comes to mind.

                  Especially when I’m on vacation, I figure if I can find the money to pay for drinks & fun activities, I can find $20 to leave for the housekeeper. An amount I’ll barely miss might make life a tiny bit easier for someone else. Not saying that everyone should do that, but at least leave a couple of bucks for the person who cleans up after you.

            2. BW*

              Not tipping cab drivers is wrong. Employers paying their employees a pittance is wrong. Not tipping someone whose livelihood depends on tips is also wrong. Not mutually exclusive, and two wrongs don’t make a right.

              I agree with Victoria that when you choose to use a service where tipping is the norm and is part of the pricing scheme, then you should tip. Like AAM is always saying, people need to look at what IS and not just be preoccupied with what SHOULD be. Otherwise, don’t use the service. Because that cab driver could have spent the time cabbing someone around who would tip him properly. The waiter could have spent the time serving someone who would tip him properly. Etc. So when one knows that tipping is the norm for workers in an industry, whether one agrees that it should be the norm or not, one should just grit one’s teeth and do it.

              Because I mean come on, let’s say you take 2 cab rides a month and they’re $30 each. 20% of $60 is $12. Is $12 really going to break the bank of someone [who is in a position to be taking 2 $30 cab rides a month]?? Yet, if every 2-$30-cab-rides-per-month rider tipped $12, that cab driver would be A WHOLE LOT BETTER OFF.

              1. myswtghst*

                Like AAM is always saying, people need to look at what IS and not just be preoccupied with what SHOULD be.

                Yes, absolutely this. “The employer has to make up the difference” always strikes me as people justifying something they know they shouldn’t be doing by sticking to what should be happening, rather than what is happening.

            3. myswtghst*

              Also, you should know that if a tipped employee does not make enough money to reach minimum wage, then the employer has to cover the difference.

              As someone mentioned above, while this is “the law”, it isn’t always upheld, since it’s something which isn’t actively enforced, but which must be contested by the employee. Often times employers are able to skirt this, and an employee who is making less than minimum wage is unlikely to have the time / energy / resources to pursue a claim. Plus, they risk being fired (which again, might not be legal, but is still something that happens). So while it’s nice to think this should be the case, the reality is that it often isn’t.

    2. PEBCAK*

      Okay, so I could see where the manager doesn’t want to open a whole can of worms with paying for medical expenses while on a trip. Slippery slope arguments are typically weak, but even if I give the manager this one, the proper response is something like, “Hey, that’s a personal expense, so it isn’t covered. Please do not expense stuff like that in the future. Let me know if you have questions.”

      If the company is at all large, the hassle of dealing with a random paper check floating through the A/R department is going to cost more than $4 of employee time.

      1. doreen*

        My credit card wouldn’t even work for the aspirin- somehow or another there’s a way so it can only be used for transportation,hotels and restaurants. And I also wouldn’t have been able to be reimbursed $3.91 or the tip for housekeeping or charges for internet service . But it’s not because they aren’t business expenses- it’s because my per diem is supposed to cover those “incidentals”

        1. Sydney Bristow*

          Internet wouldn’t count as a business expense? It’s been an long time since I traveled for business, but if I were expected to have my laptop with me and do business at the hotel after a conference I would hope the internet charges would be covered.

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            ?! Seriously. If I were told I could not expense Internet access, my response would be, “Okay, just understand that I won’t be able to work from the hotel room.”

          2. KerryOwl*

            I think doreen actually said that it IS a business expense, but it’s to be covered by her per diem.

            1. Doreen*

              Exactly – whether aspirin or internet or tips busuwhether they are business expenses or not (and my travel is normslly to another of our offices so internet sccess geney isnt) business expenses other than travel and hotel are to be covered by the per diem.

        2. Michele*

          My corporate travel card was like that too! It had to be used at places that were typical for travel. So if I tried to use it at a shoe store it would be declined but I could buy a pair of flips flops at CVS. If we needed to buy inspiration samples or other market samples there was a completely different card that I am now blanking on the name to make the purchase. That became a bit annoying since they were not issued to everyone. So we would have to borrow one from a director.

          1. Judy*

            I’ve certainly worked at places where (some) people had two company cards, a “P card” and a “T card”. One was a procurement card, and one was for travel. The P card was given to far fewer people, and could charge many more things. In my current job, the boss has one, and his assistant. So if I need to order X which is less than $1000, I send the particulars to her, and she orders for me. More than $1000 needs more approvals.

            1. ArtsNerd*

              In a former job, I had a “P card” that blocked purchases to florists, because the org didn’t want to pay for everyone’s birthday bouquets, etc. Which was a fair enough policy, I think. But when I had to legitimately buy flowers for the green room for some visiting performers (it was in their rider), it seemed a bit silly that all I had to do was go to Trader Joe’s and the purchase cleared just fine.

        3. Dan*

          I don’t travel for work, but do for job interviews. One of the most bizarre policies I’ve encountered are those that won’t reimburse tips. In everything but a restaurant, I get it. Sort of kinda maybe. But the server needs to get paid, and I shouldn’t have to pay the server out of my pocket (the tip) when the company is more than willing to pay for the cost of the food. It just doesn’t make sense.

      2. Lisa*

        There is always someone reasonable who thinks that this is stupid. That person prob isn’t the one told to reject the expense. I usually find a way to tell the reasonable person about the unreasonable behavior.

        So… Write the check – Note ‘aspirin bought on X trip’ and hand it to the reasonable person pref a manager in AP- with the caveat ‘Susan isn’t at her desk and I didn’t want to leave my bank information out in the open. I know she needed this ASAP, can you give this to her when she gets back?’ and then let it go. You paid for the expense, someone reasonable will see this, might question it to the expense person, and you weren’t the one making an issue. Passive aggressive, but always makes me feel better even if nothing changes out of it.

      3. Candy Floss*

        I have never worked anywhere that would reimburse me for aspirin that I bought while traveling. It sounds like there are bigger issues with the boss that are influencing how the OP feels about this but looking at this one incident in isolation, expensing $3.91 for aspirin is more unreasonable + petty than not reimbursing it.

        Managers are on the hook for expenses they approve – my company has a 42 page book of regulations on expenses and if you approve expenses, you’re required to go by the book (literally).

        1. Jamie*

          That was my thought as well. I didn’t see this as being petty as much as it reads to me they have strict polices and what does and doesn’t qualify for a legit expense.

          In accounting if their criteria is written in stone I can see this being a non-negotiable thing. And wine falling into the “food beverage allowed” category but aspirin doesn’t sounds like they are just following guidelines.

          FWIW I don’t consider medication a valid expense either, but for > $4 I don’t know that I’d make an issue out of it unless I was bound by firm guidelines – then I’d ask for it.

          These little things seem so petty, but it can be a slippery slope. If I don’t pay my employer back for the $4 shipping charge incurred by sending something from work then what does the UPS bill look like once everyone starts doing that – wait until the holidays.

          I don’t see this as petty as others seem to.

          1. Andrew*

            OP for #1 here. At my wife’s company, managers have sole discretion over whether to reject a charge — accounts payable won’t kick anything back if the manager doesn’t care. Basically, if he had told her nicely that she shouldn’t expense aspirin, it wouldn’t have seemed so insensitive. As it was, it was kind of like, “Thanks for working over the weekend with the flu, now give us four bucks.” Completely tone-deaf.

            I said this in another comment, but he’s often tried to quibble with her other, perfectly legitimate expenses, even though he’s known as a big spender himself on conference trips. It’s really hard to know what his motivations are other than being right about something.

            1. Jamie*

              Yeah – if it’s not an policy on which they’re audited or likely to become an ongoing issue I do think that’s strange.

            2. Beth NYC*

              I am 100% on the side of the manager here. I really can’t figure out why you try to why a person would buy aspirin on the company card or expense it at all? If you got sick and you were at work – not a business trip – would you try to get your the company to pay for it? It’s your aspirin, you should buy yourself. I don’t understand how this is a thing.

      4. Agile Phalanges*

        Even for much larger (and more blatant) violations of policy, my company just asks them not to do it again in the future, but doesn’t ask them to reimburse the offending charge. I agree, it seems like especially for such a small dollar amount, it wouldn’t be worth the hassle of accounting for it. Just ask them not to do it again, and pay it.

        I do agree that in general, medication shouldn’t be expensed, but if I was the manager, I probably wouldn’t even mention it unless it became a pattern or happened to come up in conversation.

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          Replying to myself, but anyone who travels, or especially anyone in charge of reimbursing travel, will find it eye-opening to read “How to Pad Your Expense Report – And Get Away With It!” by Employee X. ( Absolutely crazy the stuff some people dream up to scam the company.

          I bought it when I was in AP (and passed it around to others in AP plus my manager) to know what to look out for. Some of the scams are nearly un-catchable, unfortunately, and I don’t think we had anybody try to pull anything super egregious. Just things like expensing a restaurant meal back in their home city at the end of the trip, or trying to charge laundry on a trip shorter than our policy allowed…that sort of thing. Usually a situation of “I’ll submit it and see if they’ll allow it” rather than outright blatant scamming.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      YES. I think any money employers save with silly policies like this backfires many times over in lost goodwill. I suppose the boss could argue, “OP’s wife would have had to buy aspirin whether she was on a business trip or not,” whereas that is not true of restaurant meals and hotel rooms. But maybe OP and his wife have an economy-sized bottle at home, and she had to pay $3.91 for two tablets at the airport because she was desperate. In that case, okay, boss, you got your $3.91 back, but don’t be surprised if OP’s wife remembers it to her grave and tells all her coworkers, “Watch out when you travel — wait’ll you hear how Boss nickel-and-dimed.” Especially if the trip took OP’s wife away from her family for several days and/or involved long hours.

      No, this isn’t based on personal experience. Not at all. ;)

      Let’s see, there was the nonprofit whose policy it was not to pay for any meals in our home city — *even if that meal was eaten at the airport*. So, when I had to leave home at 5 AM to make a 7:30 AM flight, I was told I could not expense the Egg McMuffin I had at the airport. I guess I was supposed to get up even earlier to make myself breakfast. Okay, this was a nonprofit…but I was working for a for-profit division of theirs and I was doing work that they had previously been paying a freelancer $125 an hour to do (whereas my wages looked a lot more like those of a McDonald’s line worker!). I still remember that Egg McMuffin eleven years later.

      Then there was an ad agency that had a weird policy about reimbursing for snacks only if they weren’t “frivolous” by the managing director’s (who personally checked all expense reports!) standards. I could never quite understand what the yardstick was, especially when, on one business trip, my clients wanted to get snacks. So my account exec went to Starbucks to get them — and himself — some muffins and Danishes. I was eating gluten-free at the time, so I passed but went next door for a scoop of ice cream. The company paid for account exec’s muffin, but not for my ice cream. Given that I had worked 12- to 14-hour days on that trip…yeah, I’ll remember that ice cream for the rest of my life, too.

      1. AVP*

        Based on the comments above, I do think there’s a difference between nonprofit and for-profit (maybe not in your case, since you were working for a different wing of the business, but in general). My company’s policy has always been to reimburse (or flat out buy for you) almost everything imaginable – toothpaste if you forgot yours, meals, snacks, drinks, nice hotels, internet, room incidentals, etc. Magazines at the airport!

        For us it’s a business decision because we’re constantly asking people to work really long days, and we need to buy some good will and that’s a relatively inexpensive way of doing it. But I could see how maybe nonprofits don’t want donors to think you’re “living large” on their dime, sort of like the government office bottled water situation? And yes, in your case I guess that Egg McMuffin was “living large!”

      2. Arjay*

        When we were at a client site, we could expense treats for the clients – doughnuts, muffins, etc. – but we were forbidden from partaking ourselves. If we ate one doughnut out of the 2 dozen, the whole thing suddenly became unreimbursable. I never quite understood that. And it made clients a little uncomfortable that they had to eat in front of us.

    4. CAA*

      These policies are largely about what can be deducted as a business expense and what will pass an audit. Aspirin and band-aids are just not considered business travel expenses by the IRS.

      I have had to tell an employee that she couldn’t expense mittens. I knew finance would reject that expense report if I signed it and passed it on to them. Even if you don’t need mittens at home in California, the company won’t pay for them just because we asked you to go to Colorado in the winter.

      1. Elle*

        Agreed. With business expenses I’ve learned that you have to draw the line somewhere and some times it may seem like nickel and diming. What if she needed $35 allergy meds? Is that okay? What if she needed to refill a presciption she forgot at home that’s $100?

        Where I’ve been we are subject to open record laws, and yes, people can see that we’ve bought your asprin and they don’t want to cover it. So in some cases it might be the IRS, a regulatory agency, etc who is saying what’s a business expense vs. not. Sometimes policies need to be very black and white, so while your wife might be a stellar employee and have charged one time $3.91, the line may not be abled to be blurred for her. Try not to take it personally, the manager may just be doing their part to enforce the policy appropriately.

      2. JuliB*

        I travel 100% – have been doing so for over 15 years. I would have subtracted the amount out of the total prior to submitting it. While the amount may seem petty, the item itself simply is not a reimbursable item.

        If I were the boss, I would be ticked at you since I would have to be the one who points it out and feels like the bad guy. The only proper response is ‘Oops! I completely missed that.’

        It’s business, not personal. The rules are there so that the lines are already drawn, rather than let bosses arbitrarily set them, possibly changing them depending on the employee.

        1. Agile Phalanges*

          I agree–even though I posted above that my company would probably just remind you that it’s not reimburseable and not to submit similar things again, they’d pay it one time just to not deal with the hassle. But with my background in accounting and my rule-follower nature, I agree with you that I wouldn’t have expensed it to begin with. It’s easy to either subtract one item off a receipt with multiple items and only submit the lesser amount to begin with, or use the itemize function to mark a portion of a receipt personal once it’s in the system. I have purchased both personal and work-related items on one receipt before and used either of these methods to not request reimbursement for the personal portion.

          I also see the point of all the people saying their employer (or they as a manager) wouldn’t allow the expense–I agree that it’s not work-related, I just know that my company wouldn’t request reimbursement because the hassle wouldn’t be worth the <$4. But we're a private company and can do that. I can see why government, non-profits, etc., need to be more careful about the appearance of things, regardless of dollar value.

        2. Ellie H.*

          I totally agree. I do travel reimbursements for work and it is completely not a matter of it being “petty” or discretionary, it is simply not a reimbursable expense. Despite the fact that AP may not “kick back” something approved by a manager, they technically should.

    5. Meredith*

      It doesn’t sound like #1 is in this situation, but I work for a state agency and they are extremely strict about what is and isn’t covered for work travel expenses. I would not have even bothered charging the aspirin to my corporate card, because I know for a fact that they wouldn’t consider it a reimbursable expense. I have certainly written checks for less than $5 to cover overages on my meal allowances. It’s silly, but that’s how travel expenses go at my workplace and I’ve come to accept it.

      However, it sounds like this OP is in a situation where her manager has much more oversight about expense reimbursements, and could allow some leeway for a piddly expense like this. I would also feel really annoyed about this, and if it’s part of a greater trend of behavior from the manager I don’t blame her for wanting to look for work elsewhere.

      1. Andrew*

        This is the OP for #1. The manager has sole discretion over what gets expensed, so it’s not a case of the charge potentially being rejected or audited. If he had called her and said something like, “I’m sorry, you can’t charge stuff like that in the future,” it would’ve been perfectly understandable. In this case, she was working in spite of an awful flu that he knew about, so the way he handled it seemed really insensitive.

        He’s been weird about expenses before, and at one point tried to reject a rental car charge that he thought cost too much (it was Hertz, their usual vendor, renting the cheapest car possible). In other words, he was going to stick her with the expense of a car he asked her to rent because Hertz charged more than he wanted to pay. It’s hard to know his motivations at this point — sometimes, it seems like he just wants to feel righteous.

        I’m not sure how she’s going to follow up about the aspirin expense. I’ll post an update when I talk to her.

        1. JuliB*

          Ahh. So my statement about ‘rules’ is proven in that he is acting arbitrarily. Still, I don’t think this is the hill to die on. The rental car – perhaps, aspirin – no. FWIW, I’ve gotten sick on the road, but never expensed any OTC meds even though I have them at home. Some things are just the cost of doing business when you travel.

        2. Cara*

          I hope she is not planning to follow up about the aspirin at all. Best to just let this one go.

  5. Lillie Lane*

    #4: What????? Fellow zoologist here! My university did not even have a biology degree when I started there — it was Botany or Zoology, nothing else. That’s ridiculous.

    1. monologue*

      are you and #4 from U of T downtown? if you are and you’re looking for jobs in Canada but not in Toronto that would explain this. As long as you’re not talking yourself up in an obnoxious way they’re just being petty. A lot of people think the Botany or Zoology thing is antiquated and pompous.

      1. Chinook*

        Hold it – on behalf of those Canadians who do not live “in the centre of the universe” (a.k.a.Toronto), many of us know the difference between biology and zoology and think OP#4’s interviewer was a jerk for saying that it was a pompous sounding degree. In fact, many universities out here have degrees just like that. Plus, anyone who works with animals for a living would understand the need to understand comparative anatomy.

        Please keep your generalizations of those of us outside of Toronto to a minimum.

        1. Laura*

          They do have a zoology degree in Sudbury too! It isn’t an especially common degree, but I think most people would know what it is.

        2. Esra*

          Agh, we’re not all like that Torontonian. Man, this is why we have such a bad reputation. That and our crack-addled mayor.

      2. Colette*


        If someone asks you what your degree is in, you need to answer with what your degree is in. I’m in Canada, and I can’t imagine thinking anything of it.

        1. HannahS*

          Yeah, I’m with you. The answer to the question, “What degree do you have?” is the name of your degree.

          But I don’t think what monologue meant that people outside of Toronto don’t understand the distinction.

          I think he/she might have meant is that some people think it’s pretentious and unnecessary to draw distinctions between subsets of the same degree–people at my un-prestigious university get “Biology” degrees no matter how they specialize, whereas some older, (fancier) universities divide it into “Microbiology” “Immunology” etc. when everyone’s getting a Hons. BSc. It does cause some soreness among students, but it would be pretty stupid for an interviewer to care.

          1. HannahS*

            Oops sorry, Colette, that wasn’t supposed to be a direct answer to you–I haven’t figured out threads yet.

          2. Colette*

            I think it would be a mistake to not specify, even if the official major is Biology. That’s somewhat specific to this scenario, where the OP did specialize and the job is related to science education. It would be just as misleading to say you have a biology degree when actually you have a zoology degree as it would be to say you have a zoology degree when you actually have biology, and it’s directly relevant to the job.

            1. HannahS*

              Yeah, I agree with you! I was trying to reply below, to the people who thought that monologue was implying that people outside of Toronto don’t understand that.

              1. Onymouse*

                I read that post as people viewing U of T as a stuck-up institution, what’s with their “fancy” degree names and whatnot. There would be a significant enough concentration of U of T grads in Toronto to negate that perception, but perhaps not in other places.

                1. Colette*

                  I grew up outside of Ontario, and I’m not sure I knew the U of T existed, so I doubt that’s a problem for most people.

      3. Diet Coke Addict*

        That is an incredibly generalization about the entire rest of Canada, where people are indeed aware of what biology and zoology are.

      4. Laura*

        They do have Zoology degrees at the University of Guelph too :) – I went there, but not for that degree. I think they have it at UBC and U of Calgary too. But I do think it’s a relatively uncommon degree in Canada.

      5. The Pompous Zoologist*

        Not a Canadian (Toronto is nice but not for me). American grad searching for jobs on the west coast. Until this run-in, I’d never thought of Zoology, Botany, Marine Bio, Genetics, whatever, to be viewed as a posh way of describing your education.

        What I’m realizing is that someone with a Biology degree would have had to explain what subset that they focused on anyway. I have no idea why my (encouraged) explanation of an already “specific” subject rubbed this guy the wrong way. Unless I listed my major as “Cardiac Physiology in Northern Climate Terrestrial Lizards”… it shouldn’t have mattered. He’s a jerk. I’m better off not getting the job.

  6. Anon*

    Which hotel is it in New Haven? I went to college there and the danger levels are often overrated

    1. Sal*

      Ditto this. But happy to weigh in on the specific hotel. For reference, I had some of my wedding guests staying at the New Haven Hotel, which was perfectly fine (although I would walk home on Chapel rather than Crown for the bulk of the walk if it’s nighttime). Most of the New Haven shootings center around the nightclubs and happen between young men who know each other.

      1. Cristina in England*

        I have posted below regarding desirable areas for an AirBNB; I have always found actual hotels in New Haven not to be in areas I would want to stay. This is true for noise as much as anything else, I’m sure the small hotels on Chapel Street are fine, safety-wise, as long as you remember you are in a city.

        I think that, back in the 80s and 90s, visitors to New Haven would be put off by the location of the Holiday Inn, then one of the only hotels in the city, and not in a nice area, but adjacent to Yale facilities.

    2. A Jane*

      Agreed on overrated danger levels. Have a sense of street smarts, and you’ll be completely fine.

      1. Jackson*

        Hi! I also figured that the danger levels were over-rated (as I mention, people think Brooklyn is “scary” too and I live there, and that’s definitely just their micro-aggression talking), but I’ve never been to New Haven before so I’m totally ignorant. My biggest problem is that my terrible boss is always requiring me to stay at the cheapest place regardless of where it is. I didn’t even get into the fact that my co-worker, who is female, is held to an entirely different standard because she “is a female and has to wear heels at conferences to look good and do a good job.” (That quote is verbatim from my boss, who is from Czech Republic!)

    3. Jackson*

      I tried to stay at New Haven Hotel (and if I’d book months in advance, I probably could have), then I tried the La Quinta, where the supposed “shooting” happened according to the internet reviews, and finally now I am staying at a Days Inn over three miles from the conference. I’ll be talking a cab. Know any car services? ;-)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, are you saying that you have a problem with the 3-mile distance though? Because I think that’s a completely reasonable distance, and you’ll just call a cab. Three miles is nothing.

        1. Jackson*

          Yes. She agreed, finally, to let me take a cab. In Indianapolis a similar situation took place, in below freezing temperatures, and I was instructed I should not take a cab, but instead “take the bus.” (Indianapolis is not a role model for good public transport, as you can imagine.) I need to stop traveling for work! ;-)

            1. Jackson*

              I was able to convince her that there is just a necessity to take cabs, rather than public transportation, when traveling around most part of the U.S. She has trouble understanding (and trusting!) me when I tell her this, because she is from Czech Republic (where p.t. is good) and has only ever lived/been in NYC and D.C. since coming to the states. It really comes down to trusting that I’m not trying to be “bourgie” when I want to take a cab. (And yes, it is a bad sign, and I am trying to find a new job, with the help of your great website!)

  7. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. My company has a travel and business expenses policy which I read through recently (it gets updated every so often), and there is a whole list of items which cannot be claimed when travelling, such as toiletries, newspapers and magazines, and dry cleaning.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      So if you are deployed for a month you’re not allowed to dry clean your suit? Gahhh! or better ewwww. Really – you can’t take your whole closet while on travel so you are going to wear and wash the few clothes you have frequently.

      1. Raupe*

        But – would you be compensated for dry-cleaning your suit at home? Arguably, that is an expense you would have had sooner or later anyway, even if not travelling.

        1. Clerica D. McClerkykins*

          Not necessarily; if your office is business casual and you’re used to wearing polos or dress shirts and pants you can throw in the wash, and then have meetings during travel where you have to wear a suit, then it becomes an expense you wouldn’t normally have.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          The issue is the number of suits I take on travel (usually 2) when I have around 8 at home. So the 2 will get dirty faster. You also forget that many of my laundry services are “free” at home because I have a washer & dryer, spot cleaning equipment, a steamer, etc. I don’t have those on the road so have to pay for it.

          1. Raupe*

            I went from the assumption that suits cannot be cleaned yourself, but have to be dry-cleaned.

            If you had the same number of meetings at home, you would have the same number of overall suit-wearings.
            And in the end, it makes no difference whether you pay for 2 suits to be cleaned after 10 meetings total or 8 suits to be cleaned over the course of 40 meetings total. The expense is the same, it just comes sooner.

            The possible difference I see is that dry-cleaning services in hotels may be pricier than those you would otherwise get.
            But of course, if it’s someting that at home you would just throw in the wash, the dry-clean is an extra expense!

            1. Betsy*

              You also need to pay for quicker turn-around while traveling. My home dry cleaner gets them Thursday for Monday pickup. When traveling, I need 24-hour service.

            2. FiveNine*

              A friend of mine to this day still repeats the story about how he was assigned to cover a week-long conference, had two suits with him, and the company balked at him turning in a dry cleaning receipt for one of the suits for late in the week. I mean people do NOT forget. I’ve heard him tell that story at least three times in the past year, and he had that job years ago.

        3. Elysian*

          Under this logic, companies shouldn’t pay for food while traveling because you would have to eat anyway. It’s hard to come up with a bright-line rule.

          My company doesn’t have a ‘policy’ for expenses while traveling, but generally seem pretty generous in that regard. I’m told to use my best judgment. For my own purposes, I think that if traveling for business constrains choices that you would otherwise have, then its a business expense. Like, if you have to buy aspirin at the airport where its extra expensive and you otherwise would have gotten it at the drugstore, or if you have to use the hotel’s laundry services when you otherwise would have done it yourself, or have to eat out when you otherwise could have cooked, I think think those are properly expensed. But I’m sure it will be different in different places.

          1. KellyK*

            Yeah, I think that’s a good rule of thumb. Even if you would’ve had a similar expense, your options are more limited (and pricier) while traveling.

            I think that applies to the dry cleaning or hotel laundry pretty well. Sure, you’d have to pay for it yourself at some point, but you wouldn’t be paying the hotel premium and needing a quick turn-around.

            My company actually has a policy for how many nights travel has to include before you can expense laundry/dry cleaning costs. I think it’s something like 4 nights, which seems pretty reasonable to me. If you start having to wear more than you can reasonably pack, getting those clothes cleaned is a business expense.

            1. AVP*

              It also comes back to bite them eventually…if you’re traveling for a week and you KNOW your company will pay for dry-cleaning, then you might pack a small bag that you can bring on the plane. If you know they won’t do that, then you pack a bigger bag with more clothes, and they get expensed for the bag check fee, which may well be more expensive than dry cleaning. (Although that does depend on the hotel.)

                1. AVP*

                  I check bags for work all the time (long trips, heavy equipment) but somehow the only time they’ve ever lost one was on the way home after it was no longer needed. I don’t know which deity to thank for that, but there must be one out there somewhere.

                2. Dan*


                  That deity coulda been me. In a prior lifetime, I was an airline baggage handler.

                  While few bags are ever truly “lost” they do get mishandled a bit. While the numbers are pretty decent (last stat I saw with a quick google search is 3.09 bags/1000 passengers in 2012) the risk can go way up in certain situations.

                  But I gotta tell ya… if you’re checking bags and you need them within the next 24 hours, you really should rethink your plans. Don’t check bags, fly in a day early, or ship them FedEx overnight. Taking the last flight in for an early AM meeting and checking your suit/meeting materials is a huge no-no.

              1. HM in Atlanta*

                Exactly – last company had no problem with paying to let the hotel launder a a single pair of slacks/shirt. Current company – not allowed. Thus, current company gets to pay for checked baggage instead of just a carry-on for the same length trip. (The 2-way checked bag costs much more than the laundry.)

                1. Dan*

                  Then there’s the issue of what happens if your bag gets lost. The old airline baggage handler in me won’t check bags unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

                  If you show up and your suit doesn’t, well, good luck with that.

                  Your company should just pay for the cleaning.

          2. Sunflower*

            We don’t really have a policy either but our company is very small and only about 4 of us travel. I am rushing around a lot when I’m traveling. Usually I don’t have time to do anything more than pick up a quick sandwich so I probably expense a lot less than other people. My company is pretty stingy but since I’m not spending outlandish amounts, they let a $15 charge from the drug store for a magazine, aspirin and snacks or something slide.

          3. Need to think of a name*

            I’ve worked for two (for profit) companies that did not reimburse lunch when travelling. Nobody liked it, but nobody quit over it.

      2. Chinook*

        No, you would be expected to dry clean your suit if traveling for a month but that it would be covered under the per diem or incidental expenses that may be part of your travel compensation. In my mind, companies that allow for flat rates for incidentals and meals with no no receipts save frustration and money (in manpower for processing expenses) as well as make it easier to budget for travel.

        1. Liz in a Library*

          Yep, I completely agree. My company does expense reports and are fairly generous with what they expense. My husband’s just has a per diem…no more or less will be paid than the per diem, which is calculated by trip. They also directly book hotels and travel. I think it works better for the employee (because who hasn’t lost a receipt?) and also for the employer.

        2. Windchime*

          My company also does a per diem. It makes things so much easier. I only have to submit receipts for the airline tickets, cab/shuttle, parking (my car at the airport) and hotel. It makes filing an expense report a 10 minute task–very nice.

    2. Celeste*

      Mine is the same, and always has been. They reimburse strictly for lodging, hotel taxes, meals allowance with tips allowance, parking, tolls, airline, rental car, gas, shuttles…basically anything to do with the travel itself. We have had people do emergency response and try to expense toiletries or clothing items if they left without a suitcase, and it was denied. I believe that the thinking here is those are not travel-related in the categories above, and they are for things you could keep for yourself after the trip (unlike the other expenses which are in the moment).

      Agree with AAM, it’s more upsetting because of the boss and how he treats you.

    3. Lora*

      Aaaaand how much does it cost by the hour to pay a manager, an employee and a finance person to argue over $3.91 worth of aspirin?

      Yeah. Just pay up or set a per diem and forget about it.

      In my industry we have to be able to account for EVERYTHING, to prove that we haven’t spent extravagantly on clients (i.e. bribery)–and we still use a per diem system and it’s all good, because if your meal per diem is $50-60 you probably aren’t feeding more than one person anywhere other than Olive Garden, which is not considered bribery for what I hope are obvious reasons. I don’t buy it that this is anything other than micromanagement and pure pettiness.

  8. Carrie in Scotland*

    #4 I think Zooology and your senior project sounds fascinating. Don’t let one mean person get you down!

  9. Cristina in England*

    #3. New Haven was really unsafe in the 80s and 90s, and has gotten much safer since then (like NYC). I would say you should look for an AirBNB between State Street and Prospect Street, ideally Orange Street, north of Trumbull Street. I have seen AirBNBs on Autumn Street, Eld Street, Bishop Street, and close to East Rock Park that would all be fine. I myself would be less likely to stay in an AirBNB in one of the downtown high-rises, but that’s my preference, one of the ones in the ninth square area (Orange Street/Crown Street) is close to amazing restaurants.

      1. Cristina in England*

        Oh no, sorry to hear!! I saw above that you’re in the Days Inn a few miles outside of town. Luckily the cab number couldn’t be easier to remember: 777-7777!

  10. Clerica D. McClerkykins*

    What I find especially petty about #1 is that if the OP’s wife had been in a car accident or fallen and broken a bone on this trip, she’d most likely be covered by worker’s comp. The incubation period for flu is only a few days, so she probably caught it on the trip. If she ended up in the hospital with complications (like if it was swine flu or something), again, she might have a claim. And they’re going to quibble over $4 for aspirin when she probably didn’t get the flu at home?

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think most states would count hospitalization from flu under worker’s comp, though–it’s not an accident or injury.

      1. Dan*

        Yeah, I agree. I filed a worker’s comp claim once (it was legit) and you have to basically point to a specific injury from a specific event to get it to count. Carpal tunnel or back pain won’t count.

        1. Anonymous*

          If it really was swine flu it might be because that tends to break out in certain areas but for regular flu yeah, she’d be out of luck.

        2. Jamie*

          Exactly – you need to factually tie it to the workplace and that can be really hard to do even with it’s totally legit.

          No way of knowing where you picked up a flu bug, in flu season…especially when traveling. I can’t see that ever going anywhere.

  11. Agile developer*

    Alison, I’ve been a great fan and silent reader of your blog for a few months now, and it’s funny that I almost always agree with you, but now is the first time ever that I wildly disagree, so I felt the urge to comment :)
    Regarding the last sentence in the reply to #1, of course it would bug me at least as much even if the manager was the best manager in the world in any other respect! Maybe it’s a cultural thing (I’m from Israel), but asking an employee to reimburse the company – with a check, no less! – for such a ridiculously small amount of money is insulting and disrespectful on so many levels.

    1. Elle D*

      I agree. I’d be annoyed anyway as well, but I think Alison’s point is that this situation is made worse because the OP’s wife has had bad experiences with the manager in the past.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think if the manager were otherwise great, I’d roll my eyes at this but not be outraged. But against the backdrop of the rest of this behavior, this is one more piece of evidence of what an ass this guy is. But Agile developer, I can see how you might feel differently!

  12. MR*

    For #4, definitely stick with what your stated degree was. Don’t change it to biology, because then you run the risk of being rejected from a job due to conflicting/false information when a background check is run on your credentials.

    While that may also be a bit of an overreaction, it’s best to present your credentials as they are – not as how some people may wish to see them.

  13. Elysian*

    Am I the only one that thinks its weird that the writer in letter #3 was encouraged to use AirBNB for a work trip, instead of a hotel? Is this a thing that businesses are doing now? I know some people have had good experiences with the service, but it seems like there is the potential for so much trouble for the business (potential for damage or conflict with the homeowner, unsafe or uncomfortable boarding situations, etc).

    1. Mike C.*

      Not to mention the sketchiness of avoiding hotel taxes that are charged everywhere else.

        1. Sales Tax query*

          Alison, can you point me in a direction that shows me that nonprofits are exempt from paying sales tax and hotel tax? I work for a nonprofit in California and the State Board says we are not exempt. And I monitor a large (for us) federal grant and they say in their budget instructions to calculate the hotel tax into the travel budget when we submit the proposed budget for the next year. Would love some clues about this. And, thanks for your blog; I’ve learned a lot.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It might vary by state, since sales tax is state-imposed, but here’s info on how it works in DC and VA:



            And then I found this from Guidestar: “Individual state sales and use tax laws provide exemptions for nonprofit organizations that range from broad and general to limited and quite specific.”

            1. sales tax query*

              Oh, California, we’re so special :) There are a few nonprofits that qualify under special exemptions, but not across the board. Thanks for the links.

    2. FiveNine*

      Yes, it’s unregulated, which generally would seem to come with a whole host of possible risks that companies especially wouldn’t want to take on when they have an employee traveling for business.

        1. FiveNine*

          Liability, of course. But also just general course-of-business type things that a company might take for granted when it comes to business travel practices. Like, I don’t know, anything from proper receipts for tax purposes to knowing that if the facility advertises there is Wifi or Internet access for business purposes that it is in fact there, to refunds or comp payments for a night’s stay at another hotel in the chain if something goes dramatically wrong, etc. (Aside from all that, however, as a former hosteler, I’d love to try it just for personal trips. While the unregulated aspects do poses risks, I also suspsect there’s probably something to NYC hotels wanting the service to be illegal merely because it’s competition and they’re flexing their muscles.)

    3. LBK*

      Yeah, that was a super weird suggestion to me. I know it’s getting more reputable as time goes on, but I’d be very uncomfortable if my company asked me to stay in someone’s house when a hotel was available.

    4. Sunflower*

      It sounds like the org is on it’s last leg and needs to cut corners literally anywhere possible. There was one post on AAM a while back a bout travel arrangements and some people said they’ve had to share a bed on business travel and I think that is really bizarre.

    5. AVP*

      I know of one friend who had to do that, but it was because he was covering a major event in a smaller town, he joined the company only directly before the event, and when he went to book himself a hotel room the nearest available was hours away. So in that case, AirBNB to the rescue. In pretty much any other case though…ew. (And I’ve had 3 really positive experiences with AirBNB! But in my opinion the inconvenience is something I’m willing to deal with when it’s on my own time and money, but not something that would be palatable when I’m also being asked to work long hours and be places on time and look professional.)

    6. Jackson*

      Thanks for saying so. I think it’s dumb too. If we can’t afford a reasonably priced hotel at the time we sign up for the conference, then we shouldn’t be going. That said, I’m young and don’t have a bad feeling about AirBnB. If I had been able to find one to stay in (I was rejected by 5 different people) I would have been fine with it. So long as it was nice/good quality. I’m not trying to stay in the Ritz or something, which is what offends me most about her constant pressure on just me to go cheap.

    7. Turanga Leela*

      I work for a nonprofit, and I’ve used AirBNB for work travel. I was hesitant at first, but it worked out well.

    8. Anonathon*

      Hmm, I could go either way. I work for a nonprofit and we don’t have a big travel budget, so last time I went to a conference, they asked if I could stay with friends or relatives. (No problem.) Had that not been possible though, I think they either would have paid for a hotel or re-thought the trip. I probably would have needed to propose AirBNB all on my own for it to be an option; I don’t think that they would have been comfortable encouraging it.

      1. Jackson*

        Anonathon. I agree with you entirely. I always stay with friends when I’m in a city where my friends are. In fact, I’ve even stayed with friends of friends (because I totally understand that hotel expenses can really add up, and I know we’re in tough financial times). That said, that previous courtesy on my part should be remembered when the difference between a bad hotel and good hotel at a future conference is within a $50 range. Especially when that extra $50 is going to be the same price as the car service I will be taking to get to the conference.

  14. CH*

    #4–My daughter will graduate next month with a Zoology degree. I’m certainly not going to tell her to change it to something else on her resume! They are being ridiculous.

    However, did they give you any other reason that they didn’t offer you the job? It sounds like you were well qualified and you had an “in.” Could there be something in the way you talked about your research that sounded, well, if not pompous maybe professorial, that was a turn-off for them? Maybe your presentation was not right for the audience that you’d be working with? Since you know them and have been working for free for them, I think you could go back and ask nicely for more detailed feedback, not to argue with them, but just to improve for the future.

    1. The Pompous Zoologist*

      Congratulations to your daughter! For such a “specific” major, there are thousands of amazing (and diverse) opportunities if she’s up for adventure.

      I went it over and over again before writing in. I gave the same concise answer to that question that I always do. This was an education position… and not my first. Describing my undergrad research wasn’t going to benefit me. In fact, I turned the conversation from that question right into a description of the education programs that I’ve designed (none have anything to do with lizard hearts).

      I think I will have to ask for clarification at some point. Honestly, I’m insulted. So that conversation may have to wait until I cool off.

  15. Sunflower*

    #1- This is why it’s better to give employees a stipend and let them do with it what they want. When I travel, I’m usually pretty swamped the entire time. My boss, who used to do my job, can’t believe I pick up a sandwich at a deli for dinner and I’m not ordering lobster Capital Grille. The last time I went to NYC for 3 days, my entire trip total was less than someone else’s dinner in a much less expensive city.

    Then the times that I go to NYC, the rooms are tiny and loud so I sometimes have to take Nyquil to sleep through the night- I’ve never taken sleeping pills at home to sleep so I would consider this a business expense.

    1. It depends*

      It all depends on the amount of stipend you get. I was thrilled when my company moved away from stipends. Try traveling on a $25 per day stipend (exclusive of airfare, car rental, and hotel).

      1. Raupe*

        We get EUR 24 per day for most countries, and 20% is deducted from that if breakfast was included in the hotel room rate, and 40% each for lunch and dinner if that was sponsored by the employer in any way (as in: lunch at seminar that the employer paid the course fee for).

        So it’s not much, and it’s obviously only intended to cover food in our case, no incidentals.

        1. Jen RO*

          Wow, that sounds really low! We got 35 EUR for Western Europe, only for food and non-alcoholic beverages, or 45 EUR if we didn’t have breakfast at the hotel.

          1. It depends*

            In my case we’d have to add our own money in each day so that we could actually eat. Breakfast was cereal and milk in our hotel room purchased on the first day at a grocery store, lunch was a deli sandwich and dinner was at a normal restaurant (nothing fancy). We had to throw in $5-$10 a day of our own money. If the rental car needed extra gasoline that also came out of the stipend and was not reimbursable. Any other expenses also were part of the stipend.

            1. Raupe*

              I just checked – the 24 EUR is actually (tax) law here – and it is intended to cover the extra expense you have for food & drink while on the road – so just the difference between eating out of your own pantry and eating at restaurants, which means you are supposed to end up out of pocket… :-(

              There are official tables covering any conceivable destination, sometimes down to the city. Traveling to the US, you would get e.g. 57 EUR for Washington D.C., and 48 EUR if the city is not on the list.
              The highest per diem of all, at 77 EUR, applies for Angola.


  16. H. Rawr (formerly AnonHR)*

    #1- While I’m not arguing that the boss is right here for such an incidental amount of money, one of the hardest things to get across when you are the poor soul who approves expense reports (me), is that a lot of times, it’s not about nickel-and-dimeing for the budget. Since we don’t have company paid cards, I don’t run into situations where I have to ask anyone to pay anything back, thank goodness, and that does make a difference in how I’d handle this situation. But, I’d remove $3 aspirin from a reimbursement if I saw it. When the company pays for a business expense, they write it off on their taxes. When they pay for something and it’s not a business expense, that’s income to you, and everyone owes taxes on it. It’s a lot safer to just make sure everything is right than to try to bet on how many of these an auditor will ignore or at which dollar amount it will start to matter.

    I had to ask someone recently to stop expensing all his morning coffees in the course of his regular work days. Despite trying to explain the above, he’s convinced that I’m just trying to save the company that $2, despite the fact that people in his group have basically carte blanche when it comes to spending when entertaining a client or traveling. So, he now tells clients to buy the wine, goes to great lengths to find public transport instead of using taxis on travel, and even through I’ve blatantly said that’s all incredibly unnecessary, it just won’t translate.

    While one $3 expense in this case should really slide this time, this is just a little PSA to please remember that you’re probably not the only one with an extra expense (they add up), and the people in the back office are not personally invested in paying you as little as possible, they’re just trying to do their job :)

    1. FiveNine*

      I totally understand what you’re saying. There is a flip side, though: When I was in my 20s I wound up with serious credit problems primarily because my boss was so obsessed with and anxious about every single item I submitted to expense. She had me travel to distant cities one year several times a month — I hadn’t established myself yet in any financially secure way, and wound up always out of pocket for all sorts of things. She’d want me to stay at a distant hotel because it was cheaper but not pay for a rental car or taxis or tips for anything, etc. Like you said, it all adds up. It was in some ways a self-imposed mistake I learned a hard lesson from — I could have and should have pushed back on these. But really, if they couldn’t foot the bill at the time they shouldn’t have required that I go to every single one of these events.

      1. H. Rawr (formerly AnonHR)*

        I think default assumption IS this flip side- that the reason people don’t get paid is because the company doesn’t want to spend the money that it owes. Unfortunately that does happen plenty, like it did to you. I’m just saying that it’s worth it for people to consider the other possibilities before letting their day, or their feelings about their company or boss or back office be ruined by what’s perceived to be penny-pinching if that’s not actually the case.


        1. H. Rawr (formerly AnonHR)*

          Oops- I decided to remove my disclaimer that I do still think it’s not worth the hassle to get a check from an employee for $3 one time, but I left half so I might as well add it on :)

      1. some1*

        +1. I prepare expense reports as part of my job and when I have to shoot them back because they can’t expense something, I often get attitude like I’m trying to be difficult.

        If it’s unexpensable then it won’t get approved. If the approver misses it, then AP won’t and they will make me do the whole thing over causing a delay. For some people if they have to put several hundred dollars on their card, they need reimbursement ASAP and it’s not worth fighting the good fight over $4.00.

    2. Reix*

      I totally understand your point… but….

      If you require that your employees travel under less than desirable circumstances (in this case, work while sick while away from home, or it could be loooong hours with short notice and without knowing when the return back home is, as could be the case with emergency response activities) the you have to understand that it will cost you employee good-will.

      The same way employees have to understand that HR denies expenses for a reason, HR has to understand it may cause loss of employee good will.

      And stop calling themselves poor souls. Decisions have consequences. (Sorry but the poor soul thing triggered my ill-will, sorry again).

      That said: I work in a company that will let me charge many a thing on my expense report. I always ask beforehand about it. And I work happily and loyally because I usually get a yes.

  17. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-While I agree the boss was over the top in his response, I think OP’s wife should’ve known better than to buy the aspirin on her company card. I’ve got state pcard and our rules (and punishments for misuse) are pretty rigid. I realize that private sector has different rules about things that can be expensed. If she had bought dinner for a client while at the conference and gotten flak for it, I would feel very differently. This is aspirin. You should always know your company rules for spending on a company card. No excuse for that regardless of what you boss has done in the past.

    1. Cara*

      Yeah, I kind of think the pettiness was on both sides here. On the boss for kicking back a <$4 expense, sure, but also on the employee for trying to expense that to begin with.

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        I agree that this really shouldn’t be expensable, and the best thing to do would have been to not include it, but do we know that the OP’s wife actually used the card for ONLY aspirin? Or did she buy it in the hotel gift shop, charge it to her room, and pay the room charge with her company CC? Or stop by a grocery store for yogurt for breakfast for the next three days, and also buy aspirin? Etc., etc. It could have been an oversight, or even a slighly less kosher matter of not feeling like deducting it from a larger reimburseable expense.

        1. Andrew*

          This was it — she would normally pay for it with her own credit card, but I believe she was buying food at a convenience store at the same time. She’d written “food and aspirin” on the expense report. Her company has a pretty liberal expense policy, so it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary under any other manager.

      2. myswtghst*

        Agreed. I tend to err on the side of not expensing things if I’m not sure I should. Thankfully our system makes it pretty easy to itemize a charge, so I can buy everything I want at Target, then split it out and mark the nail polish & trashy magazines as personal, while still letting work pay for my food & drink.

    2. LBK*

      Agreed. It wouldn’t even occur to me to expense something like that unless the company had a policy that said something like anything you buy on a business trip is a business expense.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        We have a per diem that we get reimbursed when we travel out of the state. And you can just take the per diem and not have to submit receipts. In that case, since I had a conference provided lunch, I had like $40 just for dinner. So, I could’ve expensed aspirin or alcohol and just never turned in receipts. BUT all of that was on my personal card. The bottomline is know your company rules.

        1. Annie O*

          See, that’s why I love that my company does per diem. I generally eat light meals and rarely drink while I’m traveling. But I do prefer to take private cars instead of shuttle buses, and I usually end up buying some sort of medicine or toiletry that I wouldn’t have needed to buy if I was at home. In my mind, it all evens out with the per diem.

      2. Gilby*

        Yeah, the boss’s response was a little over the top.

        Has she done this type of thing before? And now he finally said , ” Hey, we can’t expense type of these types of thing out like, like I have said before”.

        If she travels for work as indicated, she has done all this expense stuff before. I would think she knows the rules as far as what is OK to expense out and what is not. And if this wasn’t a covered expense then say, sorry didn’t know, and pay for it.

        Bringing up what the boss does with his expense account is not relevent to this. He is the boss and if his boss doesn’t like it that is between him and his boss. It seems like the OP/Wife are using that as to why it was OK for her to expense out asprin.

        Like AAM said, I just think the OP’s wife doesn’t like the manager and this is just one more thing not to like about him.

    3. some1*

      It’s a good lesson to learn here that when traveling it’s good sense to have a small bottle with at least a couple of pills of anything you might feasibly take.

      I might get an upset stomach maybe three times a year, but it’s uncomfortable enough that I want to take some something right away. And it’s much cheaper to have something on hand than paying $11 for a roll of Tums in the hotel gift shop.

      1. myswtghst*

        I’m one of those over-the-top people when packing – I try to think of anything I might possibly need (including immodium, tums, excedrin migraine, etc…) and put it in my carry-on, just in case. Whether or not I could expense it (and to be honest, my boss probably would let me), I’d rather not if it’s going to be overpriced and inconvenient.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I can see her doing it, though, if she got caught needing it and only had the card handy. In that case, I would have paid it back if it were me or at least offered.

    5. fposte*

      Yeah, I’m state and I just found out that we have to write a check if we put non-hotel stuff on the hotel bill, even if it’s food. I guess the state likes to keep the food and board separate.

  18. LQ*

    For #1 I’m guessing from the tone of the letter that this is a business not a governmental agency or nonprofit. But if it is a government or nonprofit there should be no surprise at all that this is a requirement to pay it back. Expenses at these institutions are extremely closely monitored and even a $3 could get your name on the news. Pay it back and don’t do it again.

    1. fractals*

      Actually, you’d be surprised what kind of expenses slip by without much scrutiny in government. We’re talking about a few extra bags checked for a three day business trip, car rentals when the convention center offers a shuttle to and from the airport, parking for off-site meetings located less than half a mile from the workplace, room service with a hefty price tag that no doubt includes bottle service, and “miscellaneous items” that conveniently fall under the per diem category. After a while I began to wonder if these were business expenses or the cost of a vacation getaway sweepstakes.

      1. the_scientist*

        I agree….there are lots of ways to “hide” business expenses and some auditors aren’t as thorough as they could be- a rental car looks perfectly reasonable as an expense, unless you were to do the research and find out that a shuttle was offered, for example.

        1. the gold digger*

          I was shocked that some former co-workers all claimed mileage for a trip from Boca Raton to Miami (about 60 miles one way) after being quite open that they had ridden together in one car.

          Later, a guy was fired for submitting a false expense report. He claimed he had stayed in a hotel in Nicaragua but had stayed with friends instead. T&E had had a question on the hotel bill, so they called the hotel, only to discover it didn’t exist. (The guy had made up a fake invoice!) I thought he was so dumb – all he had to do was say to our boss that he would be staying with friends and would it be OK to take them to dinner and expense it? I have done this before and my boss has always said yes.

          1. KarenT*

            When we first got laptops we were all given allowance to buy laptop bags. You went out, bought a bag, submitted the receipt and were reimbursed. One of my co-workers already had a nice laptop bag, so she went out and bought herself a nice purse, and submitted that receipt. She was fired.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Firing sounds like a wild overreaction (were there other issues?), but I also think your coworker was in the wrong there! I mean, if you’re staying with a friend on a business trip and thus don’t need a hotel, you couldn’t expense a new dress to make up for it.

              1. MJ*

                Our company policy states that if we stay with friends/family while travelling in lieu of staying at a hotel, we can expense a nice bottle of wine or similar as a gift to our hosts which I think is pretty neat!

  19. Lily in NYC*

    #1: I would be annoyed if I saw aspirin on an expense report. To me, it’s similar to something like mailing personal letters using work postage. I am 100% positive our accounting dept. would not reimburse aspirin, regardless of cost. We have strict policies (quasi-governmental office) but they are written out clearly in our employee manual.

    1. AVP*

      Yes, but everybody has wildly different policies, so I think it’s understandable to be confused about them on occasion.

      1. Onymouse*

        Exactly. For example, there are workplaces that wouldn’t mind if you used the company postage machine every once in a while.

  20. A Jane*

    Zoology started to be pompous when those scientists were walking around the zoo acting all cool because they have a sea lion feeding show. I blame the sea lions. *shakes flipper angrily*

    1. Arjay*

      Ooh, ooh, our local zoo has a special sea lion exhibit for the next month or so. I really want to go, especially now that I know it’s pompous and high-brow!

  21. alma*

    “Those pompous zoologists” is the type of complaint that belongs on Seinfeld, up there with anti-dentites.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Your comment reminds me of the episode where Jerry tells a woman that George is a marine biologist. “Why couldn’t you make me an architect? You know I always wanted to pretend that I was an architect!”

    2. Anonsie*

      It reminds me of the whale biologist from Futurama.

      “Also, you’re lumpy and you smell bad. I calls em how I sees em. Whale biologist!”

  22. AmyNYC*

    #3 – if it’s in your budget, can you pay the difference? Say the unsafe hotel is $200 a night, and the one you want to stay in is $250 – employer bays $200 and you chip in the extra $50

      1. Annie O*

        Yes this!

        I don’t think I would like working for an employer that is so cheap that I’m required to do AirBnB or stay at unsafe hotels that are outside of reasonable walking distance.

        And I hate the idea that the OP should pay out of pocket just to stay at a safer hotel.

      2. Sunflower*

        I wanted to say this esp because the org is struggling to keep it’s doors open I’d recommend OP start looking elsewhere

  23. klaygenie*

    #1 – As someone who travels 100% for my job, I know my company wouldn’t reimburse for aspirin (or dry-cleaning, internet, toiletries, alcohol, etc). I’ve definitely had them reject $3 items, though it’s more a matter of them not reimbursing rather than me paying it back. I don’t think it’s strange not to pay for it as a business expense though.

    But my company also has a very clear policy for travel expenses. Food, hotel, travel, rental car – that’s it. OP’s letter says “miscellaneous expenses” which is vague. Perhaps they need a clearer policy?

    1. LQ*

      I’m kind of surprised they wouldn’t pay for internet. I guess I would assume it would be a requirement for my job so I’d expect my employer to cover that.

      1. klaygenie*

        Since I travel so much, hotels will almost always include complimentary internet. If not, I can usually work it out with the hotel to increase my room rate a bit to include it. So essentially it’s a bigger hotel charge (covered) rather than hotel + internet separately. This might only work because I’m at the same hotel for weeks in a row usually.

        1. LQ*

          That makes more sense. I just can’t imagine that a company would want you scrounging around for starbucks wifi.

          1. AVP*

            I know! I think they’re hoping you’ll suck it up because you want it, but I feel like I would do the Starbucks thing just on principle.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          We all have aircards, so we don’t get reimbursed if we want to use hotel Internet instead.

      2. Mallory*

        I’m at a state university, and we don’t automatically pay for internet. For instance, if I send an expense report to the travel office where internet is included in the price of the hotel, they will send it back with the price of internet deducted, paying only for the actual lodging amount.

        They will pay for the internet, however, if I include a special justification for the internet service (“internet expenses for so-and-so for university work done while traveling” or some such). There are actually lots of things like that (sunscreen, aspirin, etc.) that are not ordinarily reimbursable but can be paid if we can add a line to justify it. The justification line is to create a paper trail for the auditors.

  24. the_scientist*

    I do all the pcards and expense claim processing at my office and I’m on the fence about number 1. My company has pretty strict policies- no alcohol, at all, ever, there is a per-meal limit and an overall daily limit of $50 (and for international travel, you’re reimbursed at the exchange rate on the day you made the purchase, even if you bought the currency before at a different rate). My gut feeling is that incidentals such as band-aids, toiletries, aspirin/pepto/tums, magazines, and gum, are not business expenses. But to ask a by-all-accounts responsible, excellent employee to cut a check for $4 when they have no history of abusing their pcard is extremely petty.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      I completely agree with you. I manage a big budget in my nonprofit job, and while I keep a really tight reign on non-compliant spending (we get government grants so we’re in danger of losing big money if we can’t properly account), the initial message here would certainly be “We consider aspirin a personal expense and thus we typically can’t cover it. Please don’t put these kinds of purchases on your card in the future.”

      Frankly, the labor time to process that check is probably significantly more than what the company will get back. Why bother, especially in a case where it seems clear that the expectations were murky?

      1. the_scientist*

        Yep, also government grant funding here- we get audited on a yearly basis too, so we have to be pretty careful!

        The labour thing is a really great point that I hadn’t thought of- how much, in manpower, did it cost the company to argue a $4 expense?? I bet the answer is more than $4.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      We not only can’t expense alcohol (which I’m 100% fine with), but can’t expense food if there’s any alcohol on the bill, even if we’re not trying to claim the alcohol itself. Trying to explain to a waitress in Berlin that we needed the alcohol on a separate bill was NOT easy – we spoke a tiny bit of German, and so did she (it was a Thai restaurant), but the German words we all knew did not overlap by nearly enough.

  25. AB*

    I am super lucky that my boss believes that, if you’re on a business trip, pretty much anything you purchase that isn’t a souvenir should be expensed (coffee, that shake you bought at the airport, shoes that were ruined at business function because it flooded, sunscreen because the client wants to go golfing, etc). However, there are managers in our company that nickel and dime employees to death. One employee had back to back long business trips, but in between the trips he had to stop through at home (got in on Sat., left again Sunday). He ended up expensing hotel laundry. Our policy is that you have to be gone a certain number of days before you can expense laundry, and his manager denied the expense because he had stopped at home (although the stop at home wasn’t even 24 hours and so not long enough to get dry cleaning done). I get the practice of drawing a line, but there should be leeway here and there depending on the situation. If the OP’s wife doesn’t have a history of expensing superfluous items, then they really should have let it slide given the situation. I typically bring tylenol with me, but if I were to get sick and needed more than I brought, I might expense it. Of course, our office does provided tylenol and band aids when you’re in the office, so it isn’t that out of bounds to say if it’s something you provide in the office, it’s something you should provide on the road.

    1. BW*

      “I get the practice of drawing a line, but there should be leeway here and there depending on the situation.”

      I agree with this. My company is a small private business, and everyone who travels gets a business card, which can be used for everything as far as I can tell. Our policy is also simply a “Be Reasonable” policy. And you know what? The honor system works on the vast majority of the people. I really make an effort to save my company money–googling for deals and coupons, arguing with the hotel if I disagree with the charges, etc.–and so do my co-workers. I haven’t heard of anyone ever charging surf and turf + champagne at French Laundry, and so my work lets the lattes when you’ve landed at the home airport slide.

      A company that nickels and dimes its employees should expect the employees to nickel and dime them right back and maybe even to try to find loopholes to indeed “live it up on the company’s dime”. A company that has a policy that indicates trust for its employees will find employees most unwilling to betray that trust.

  26. Katie the Fed*

    I kind of like the way government travel works. We get a per diem for meals and incidentals, and that’s that. It’s based on the locality. I usually end up banking a bit of it because I’m pretty thrifty, but it’s good for those kinds of expenses that pop up.

    Tangential – I always thought you weren’t supposed to take aspirin with flu because it can cause Reye’s syndrome?

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I just checked – it’s kids and teenagers. Huh. I think it was one of those things my mom kind of freaked out about when I was young so I’ve always carried around this idea that you NEVER combine aspirin with the flu.

        1. Susan*

          Wow – first time I’ve heard someone other than me mention Reyes’. (My parents gave me aspirin when I had chicken pox, and yup – Reyes’. Almost killed me).

        2. Elsajeni*

          I believe this is actually something Bayer has struggled with as a marketing problem — because aspirin isn’t recommended for kids and teens and people tend to be brand-loyal on painkillers (or at least formulation-loyal — I prefer Advil, and I’ll take store-brand ibuprofen before I’ll take brand-name Tylenol), they lose a lot of potential customers to a brand preference they formed when they weren’t yet “old enough” for aspirin.

  27. Nodumbunny*

    Does it make a difference that she bought the aspirin so she could keep working through the flu? If I were her, next time I’d think screw you, I’m going to stay in bed here at the hotel.

    1. Heather*

      Yeah, this is what I was thinking. That would be the last time I made an extra effort for that manager.

      If he had prefaced it with “I know this is ridiculous and I’m so sorry to have to ask, but accounting insists…” it would have been different.

      1. AB Normal*

        “If he had prefaced it with “I know this is ridiculous and I’m so sorry to have to ask, but accounting insists…” it would have been different.”

        Really, if I were the manager, I’d take 10 bucks from my pocket and pay for it myself, not to cause a morale problem with a supposedly good employee.

  28. some1*

    I do think the interviewer who quibble over the degree was being a tool and that LW should not change her degree on her resume.

    That being said, the LW stated she specifically asked for feedback because the interviewers knew her and she’d already been performing the role. So it sounds like the LW was (quite understandably) coming from a place of defensiveness about not getting the job. I think if she had been an outside candidate it would be much easier to dismiss the feedback.

    Tl/dr: just because you ask for and get feedback doesn’t mean all of it will be at all relevant, true or helpful in the long run.

    1. The Pompous Zoologist*

      That’s very true. I was shocked to hear that I didn’t get it and I made sure to talk it out with a friend before sending a note to request feedback.
      I also wondered if maybe my position on their “inner circle” made me come across as too relaxed within the interview. It’s not like I was cracking jokes myself, but I certainly smiled at the inside jokes that were made. Maybe my answer came across as sarcastic or snobby. Either way, I’m definitely going to be checking back once I cool off. I’d hate to throw away those contacts, even though I would admittedly be pretty self-conscious to help them out anymore.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Can I ask why you were shocked? Is it because you’d been volunteering for them? I’ve been thinking about this reaction lately (you’re far from the only one has it) and want to write something about it.

        1. Annie O*

          You asked the OP, but I’ll share my own story just in case it helps.

          I started volunteering at an org and was assigned to do highly specialized work that should have been a full-time permanent job. For months, I was told I was so wonderful and that the org was looking to find funding to make “my” position permanent. When that finally happened, I was asked to interview as a formality. I thought the position was mine! So I was shocked when I was rejected, and I felt like I had been used. And it did not make me feel better when the org encouraged me to continue volunteering until another position opened.

          At the time of the interview, I really felt like I had earned that position because I had been doing it for months without pay. Since then, I’ve realized that they hired the best candidate for the job, and it wasn’t me. Doing a wonderful job in the volunteer position did not automatically make me a better candidate than external folks who had more education and experience. Still, I do feel that the org led me on deliberately and used the potential job as a carrot so I’d volunteer more hours. And the weird thing is, I didn’t start volunteering with the hope of employment, but that’s what I ended up expecting.

          1. The Pompous Zoologist*

            Annie O really summed it up.

            This was not my first long-term volunteering position and I never expected to be hired at the other organizations. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I ever wanted to work for them because they weren’t stimulating nor did they fit into a career goal.

            In this case, I started volunteering with them while working for a seasonal employer (I’ve been between a winter and summer job for years). I started with small organizational tasks and then really began to enjoy it because as I began editing old programs and designing new curricula, it felt great to be creative.
            I almost stopped volunteering last fall because of a lack of time but they told me that they were trying to arrange funding to create a position for curriculum development. It seemed like staying on board would obviously work in my favor. While I was trying not to hold my breath about getting the job, the work that I submitted was almost always used.

            So, to answer your question… I think I was shocked by their decision because I saw myself as the logical choice (the only other volunteer did not apply). I saw myself as largely trained. After the time and creativity that I openly donated to them, I was just expecting that they were in my corner, liked having me around and were willing to give me a paycheck.

            I was told that the person they chose has more experience. That’s fine. That’s an answer. I’m a little grumpy that I surpassed their requirements and had the inside experience but I’m not upset that someone else surpassed me. I’m young, I just haven’t had the time to build that number. I just thought they were going to help me do that.

            I too got the “we’d love for you to continue volunteering” bit… but I had this flash of me training the paid employee. Probably a little dramatic, but THAT wasn’t going to happen.

            1. The Pompous Zoologist*

              I think there’s a fine line between being a volunteer and being an intern. Maybe I felt like because I was giving so much to it, that I slipped into intern mode and expected to get something from it.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That makes sense. Thanks for filling in the details for me!

              So often I hear people shocked about it with less reason than you or Annie has!

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think this part is key here: “For months, I was told I was so wonderful and that the org was looking to find funding to make “my” position permanent. When that finally happened, I was asked to interview as a formality. ”

            I think your shock is totally understandable here, because of how they framed it for you!

  29. CanadianWriter*

    #3 Most hotels have had a murder or two; the expensive ones just keep it out of the reviews. If there’s only one mention of a shooting I would still stay there.

    There’s one hotel in my town where all the reviews mention hookers and drug dealers and bloodstains, that’s the only sort of place I would avoid.

  30. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – would they allow you to use AirBnB or something like that? I know that’s a little…out-of-the-box, but it might be worth a look.

    When I was in grad school, I was super broke and was invited to present a paper at a conference. My program for whatever reason wouldn’t pay for us to stay at the conference hotel, which was like $200 upwards a night. Some of the students shared a room. I opted to check out the local hostel – ended up finding a perfectly nice place for $30. Plus it was nice to get away from my insufferable fellow grad students.

  31. Mena*

    #3: Early in my career when working for smaller firms, there was the directive to stay in less expensive hotels. Fine – no need to waste money un-necessarily. However, I stuck with staying in hotels that I would stay in personnally while vacationing. So no, if I’m on vacation and paying my own expenses I would not stay in a Motel 6 or a Super 8 so no, I’m not staying in these hotels to save the organization money.

    A conversation with your boss is needed; perhaps the organization cannot afford this trip at all. Please don’t compromise your safety. Years back I arrived at the company-recommended hotel and got back in my rental car and called to re-book. It wasn’t safely laid out and I didn’t like the area. I booked into something that was about 10% more and explained when I returned to the office. I offered to pay the additional 10% myself and was told that wasn’t necessary.

    1. TK*

      Maybe this is a cultural thing or maybe I’m just cheap, but it strikes me as weird that Super 8 is thought of as a hotel one wouldn’t to stay in. Motel 6 I can see why some would be concerned. Maybe it depends on the area, but Super 8 always strikes me as on the nicer end of big-chain hotels– not a Hampton or Holiday Inn perhaps but plenty fine to stay in on vacation.

      1. Jamie*

        For me it’s not the brand name as much as the neighborhood – which is why it’s invaluable when you’re not familiar to have someone who can tell you where to go and where to stay the heck away from.

        I make arrangements for someone to come about twice a year – we pay but because he’s very considerate he always wants the lowest rate to keep expenses down.

        We suggested a Hyatt Regency nearby and he nearly had a stroke over staying somewhere so spendy (we just want him comfy and safe – money wasn’t a deal on our end) so he suggested another hotel which was 45 minutes away and – as it turns out – quite the drug and murder den.

        Seriously, if I refuse to drive into a neighborhood to pick you up you really don’t want to sleep there.

        Finally won that fight and he liked the Hyatt…but kept talking about how extravagant it was. Maybe the Drake next time? :)

  32. Bwmn*

    #4 – In general I am in agreement about not changing the name of your degree – but to play devil’s advocate this might be a good time to perhaps practice talking about your degree/academic focus to some friends/peers/nonscientists to get an idea of how they interpret the tone of how you’re presenting your studies.

    I have a super wordy multidisciplinary sociology department Masters degree title, and if I get into talking about my Masters thesis – it can end up sounding a bit dry, and perhaps even ivory tower pompous. This is not to say you should dumb down your degree or achievements – but practice talking them in a nonacademic style can be helpful. I know that personally I struggled to find that sweet point between dumbing down what I did versus coming off overly academic and perhaps “smarter than thou”.

    Basically – I wouldn’t take the feedback verbatum – but it might be helpful to get the feedback from others in how you talk about your academic experience just for tone check.

    1. bridget*

      Yeah, I was wondering if it was really the tone rather than the word “zoology” that gave them a “pompous” feeling. Along with, perhaps, the explanation about your concentration and senior thesis, IF that information didn’t come up naturally in conversation.

      I have a work acquaintance who often seems to present his perfectly normal degree in terms that make it seem like he is presenting it as an Unusually Amazing Thing. For example, in conversation, I’ll say that “John over there majored in poli sci,” at which point he will ruffle himself up to full height, deepen his voice, and cut me off to clarify “Political Science and Government with an emphasis in International Monetary Fancy-ness and Scholarly Genius” or whatever, without a trace of irony. It always causes me to internally roll my eyes. Just be cool, John!

      Not saying that you did this, but think back about your tone/presentation/how much specific information you volunteered on your own. Maybe it felt more high and mighty than the specific words themselves were.

      1. Mints*

        I try not to do this. I majored in political science too, and sometimes people will react like “oh I just saw (something congresses)” and then I’m like, well I actually concentrated in comparative politics (so studying the different domestic politics or political economies of different countries in comparison to each other). And I see some people just tune out or not understand. It can be a little tough when you’re excited about your study, but nobody else is

        Anyway, Op’s interviewer sounds like a jerk, but it might be worth practicing a little summary of zoology that’s accessible and accurate

        1. bridget*

          Actually, his major wasn’t even political science – I just used another not-unusual major as an example :)

        2. The Pompous Zoologist*

          I am definitely going to be practicing my delivery during my daily commute! Even if that wasn’t the only reason I didn’t get the job, I’d hate to make that mistake again and be thought of as a pretentious snob. Though maybe my response did come across wrong, I did stick to a quick, “I took a lot of classes in physiology. My senior project looked at heart rate in lizards.” This is the answer that I give to any adult because I understand that, honestly, most people just don’t care. There are few and far between (generally of the high and mighty science types) that want to know more, and even then I have always sensed that they were quizzing me rather than actually interested.
          Oh well, can’t win them all. Just wish that I could have a few of those weekend hours of volunteering back!

          1. Bwmn*

            I just want to reiterate – this in no way was to tell you to feel the need to dumb it down or find a way to make it seem unimpressive. Just that a lot of pretty standard academic language (regardless of the field) when spoken about in a different context (i.e. the professional world) can feel out of place.

            Basically just to say that it’s worth practice on not selling yourself short and not coming across as pretentious. This is something that I have always struggled with, and it wasn’t until I recently worked with a job counselor during my last job hunt that I just practiced over and over talking about my academic background to get the tone right.

      1. Bwmn*

        Oh, I agree that their specific advice was bizarre and not worth dwelling on. Just a potential observation related to an attitude that some employers are super sensitive about regarding new graduates thinking because they studied xyz that means something in the job market.

        I am a total academia cautionary tale (two masters degrees…..) and finding the right way to talk about them in the professional world wasn’t an automatic.

  33. C average*

    Re #1:

    I have some sympathy for the person processing expense reports who had to deny this request. Often, expense report forms have drop-down options that don’t provide much flexibility. It’s either approved or not approved, and if it’s not approved it can’t be reimbursed, and someone has to come up with the $3.91 to balance the account. Petty as it seems, it’s a pretty bright-line thing.

    Now, whether a reasonable person WOULD expense aspirin isn’t 100% clear cut, in my mind. I think that kind of depends on the circumstances. If you’re buying a to-go lunch from the hotel deli and pick up a pack of aspirin at the same time and put the whole thing on your company card, that doesn’t seem weird or inappropriate to me. Nor would it be inappropriate to take a pack of medication from the hotel minibar and charge it to the room. It seems like a well-thought-out expense processing system would allow for these kinds of circumstances.

    (An anecdote from my own experiences: early in my career I spent nearly a month in Amsterdam and grossly underestimated what things would cost and how much local currency to bring. It turned out that my debit card wouldn’t work in-country. And I sprained my ankle. I wound up putting painkillers and an Ace bandage on my company card because I was hoarding every euro I could hang onto to make it through my trip. I’m really glad my company didn’t quibble with those expenses!)

  34. Elizabeth West*

    #1–aspirin expense
    It seems like the problem with the manager isn’t the aspirin per se. I can’t imagine someone leaving over one aspirin expense. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    #4–pompous degree
    Having a degree in kittens would be completely awesome.

  35. Carla Ehrenreich*

    Alison Redford former Premier (Governor) of Alberta (Canadian Province equivalent to US State) resigned over a scandal of expensing $45,000 on a plane trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral. She paid it back (eventually) but the political pressure still forced her out. There was a lot of controversy over how much this had to do with her being a woman and whether this represented a feeling of entitlement. Ironically the public only knew about the cost because of transparency measures she had put in place during her time in office.

    I think she did feel entitled but I assume that so does every other Premier or Governor. She came from outside the traditional political system and wasn’t able to form the allies within the party that she needed which is the real reason I think she was pushed out.

    1. KarenT*

      True, but wasn’t her expensive plane ride was so objectionable because she had the government pay for her (understandable) and her daughter, and her daughters’ friend?

  36. Kay*

    #1 – Aspirin

    I feel like the minority in saying this, but I really think that Aspirin is a business expense when it allows you to keep working. Most offices I’ve worked in have had a medicine/first aid cabinet of sorts with bandaids, tylenol, sometimes dayquil or claritin and other first aid supplies. The idea is that if you get a splitting headache in the middle of the day, you can take some tylenol, work through it while it kicks in and be more productive during the afternoon. Otherwise, you might need to go home to get some and then what’s the likelihood you’ll come back to work or work from home? Wasting sick leave for a headache that could be easily “headed off” (if you’ll pardon the pun) is inane. Someone at the office orders these supplies and replenishes them when they run out, so there must be an account to expense them to appropriately.

    I do understand the desire for a bright line policy, unfortunately in this world, there’s a heck of a lot of grey areas and sometimes we have to feel things out and figure out what works and what doesn’t.

    1. C average*

      It’s awesome when offices or companies take the long view about stuff like this instead of nickeling and diming. I wish that were the norm because I totally agree with you!

    2. Jamie*

      We have a first aid kit – but we’re not allowed to stock or make medication available to anyone. It’s just bandages and stuff.

      I have a bottle of Excedrin migraine in my desk and whatever else in my purse. I think the deal with traveling is it’s not like you have access to your medicine chest at home, so it’s understandable you’d find yourself without it.

      I see what you’re saying about it being a productivity thing – but I agree with my businesses policy about not providing medication because we don’t know who is sensitive to what or what they are taking that might be contraindicated and why risk the liability.

      And tpf – businesses don’t usually provide you with food to stave off a headache and keep you productive. Or prescription meds without which some people would need to take off…I do think this falls into the provide it yourself category.

      1. Gilby*

        I keep a small bottle of asprin in my purse. I have a cosmetics bag that I put in my desk that holds lots of stuff that might be needed. I have another cosmetics bag of stuff for traveling.

        I really don’t believe it is a companies obligation to provide me with stuff like asprin and other stuff that I should really be responsible for.

        I am not saying they shouldn’t and it is great if they do. But I just don’t see it as their problem.

        I can provide my own asprin, etc. What I need from a company is good management, good pay, benefits etc. Those things will make or break how I like it there not that other stuff.

      2. Colette*

        Our first aid kit has medications, I think . IMO, the onus is on the adults who take the medication out of the kit to make sure it’s something they can take – just like if you offer a coworker an over the counter medication, it’s their responsibility if they take it.

        Having said that, I don’t know what the legal implications of that kind of policy are.

        1. Emily K*

          I carry 4-5 doses of Aleve in a little pill container in my purse so I have a small supply for emergencies that I refill every so often.

          My employer, though, does provide Tylenol and aspirin for us. Big boxes of the little single-dose packets in the kitchen. Near the free coffee, coffee fixin’s, and water cooler.

  37. Andrew*

    I accidentally added my comment as a reply to another comment, and I don’t know how to delete it! Here’s my comment:

    This is the OP for #1. The manager has sole discretion over what gets expensed, so it’s not a case of the charge potentially being rejected or audited. If he had called her and said something like, “I’m sorry, you can’t charge stuff like that in the future,” it would’ve been perfectly understandable. In this case, she was working in spite of an awful flu that he knew about, so the way he handled it seemed really insensitive.

    He’s been weird about expenses before, and at one point tried to reject a rental car charge that he thought cost too much (it was Hertz, their usual vendor, renting the cheapest car possible). In other words, he was going to stick her with the expense of a car he asked her to rent because Hertz charged more than he wanted to pay. It’s hard to know his motivations at this point — sometimes, it seems like he just wants to feel righteous.

    I’m not sure how she’s going to follow up about the aspirin expense. I’ll post an update when I talk to her.

  38. Anonylicious*

    #1: Does the company pay the card directly itself? Because with any work card I’ve had, I pay it myself after they reimburse me, and if an expense wasn’t approved, I pay it off out-of-pocket. But if they pay it, it makes sense that she’d have to give them the money, though a sub-$4 check sounds like such a hassle. And I can’t imagine getting aspirin approved, but I’ve worked in government my whole career and get a per diem when I travel that covers food and incidentals.

    #4: Your degree sounds awesome and their reaction was weird, but maybe, if they have specialized science backgrounds themselves, it’s feedback that *they* received at some point and now they are overly sensitive to perceived “pompousness” when it comes to degrees. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

  39. ArtsNerd*

    Ah, #1 reminds me of the time I had to fill out a special form and get it signed off by two different managers to buy a newspaper for our press clips archives. Good times.

  40. MJ*

    #3 Some hotels offer free shuttles to sites within a 5-mile radius. You might check to see if any of the hotels a little further out offer a convention center shuttle.

  41. Andrea*

    Once when I had to fly for work, the airline lost my bag. (It caught up to me a couple of days later.) I had a carryon with some essentials in it, but most of my toiletries were in the checked bag because I had too many for the carryon (too many to fit in the quart-sized TSA-approved Ziploc bag, that is). So I went to a Target to buy what I needed (only a few items and much cheaper than the things that were lost; it’s not like I went to a Sephora and bought the same items), including some clothing. My company later refused those charges and made me pay for that stuff myself. I immediately started looking for another job and left soon after. That was the last straw, but I’ve never forgotten it.

    That said, I wouldn’t have charged the aspirin, but then again, I always keep a small pill box in my purse with anything I’d need. Less than $4 isn’t a big deal, especially if that helped the employee continue to work while sick. Traveling for work while sick sucks, and some empathy from the boss would have been nice.

    1. Cara*

      I think I agree with your company’s decision. The airline lost your bag; the airline should be the one to cover the resulting expenses. My sister recently had this happen and the airline specifically told her to keep receipts for reasonable toiletries and clothes until the bag was found.

      1. KellyK*

        I can understand expecting you to follow up with the airline, and to pay them back if you get reimbursed, but flat-out refusing seems pretty harsh. These were legit expenses she incurred as a direct result of being on business travel. And I doubt anyone would have been okay with her showing up to a meeting without brushing her teeth or putting on deodorant.

        If the airline wouldn’t cover them (or it wasn’t resolved when the payment on the credit card came due), the company really should cover it.

        1. Cara*

          I’m starting to understand that I have a very, very different idea of what to put through as a business expense than is maybe the norm.

          I had a similar situation where I flew out to a business meeting. It was a one-day thing with my flight back the same evening, so I just had the clothes on my back and my briefcase. My flight was canceled and I had to stay overnight. The airline put me up in a hotel, but I had to buy toiletries and underwear. It never even occurred to me to try to expense those things. If I had, it would have been through the airline, not through my employer (which would have passed the charges through to the client).

          I guess I just don’t feel the employer should be on the hook for every possible thing that could go wrong, just because you’re traveling for business. And if it’s something that you could say is foreseeable (like lost luggage or a canceled flight), it’s equally reasonable for the employee to prepare for it by keeping a change of clothes and decanted toiletries in a carry-on or packing a spare toothbrush and pair of underwear in a briefcase.

          1. KellyK*

            Yeah, it’s just a very different philosophy. My general thought is that if it’s an expense you incurred as a result of your being on business travel, and it was necessary in order for you to do the work you went there to do, then it’s a business expense. (Other than things that are related to personal responsibilities—if I go on work travel, I might need to board my dogs, but since the dogs are my responsibility, I wouldn’t expect the company to reimburse for that.)

            I also feel like it’s a silly thing to nickel and dime someone on. If the trip is important enough to spend hundreds or thousands on hotel, flight, and rental car, then it’s important enough to spend $4 on aspirin so someone can keep working, or to spend $30 on toiletries to replace ones that were lost.

            (As a side note, I shudder at the thought of packing underwear in a briefcase—with my luck, I’d forget they were there until I opened the briefcase in a big meeting. :) )

            1. Cara*

              With my history of having flights canceled, I really should have brought the underwear. In a classy leather pouch or cosmetic bag of course–not just thrown in there with my files!

              I agree it’s silly for the company to nickel and dime, but I also feel it’s silly for the employee to nickel and dime. I can see trying to get the aspirin or Target trip reimbursed, but once the employer said no, I would just shrug and move on as these are borderline cases to me to begin with (absent a clear expense reimbursement policy).

  42. Lauren*

    Thanks so much for the response Alison! I’m OP #2. When I asked my career center for examples of polite language to use, they said they had “no idea” and “I’d just have to figure it out” or “be as blunt as possible”. I’m a regular reader, and I strongly agree with your thoughts on career centers.

    That aside, I just wanted to give a quick update. I e-mail my contact my resume and followed up with a quick note similar to the example you gave me. She didn’t respond directly, but the next day I got an e-mail from someone in her department to schedule an interview! It’s a group interview, and my contact is not one of the interviewers. So while I’m a little nervous about their expectations for this interview, I think I’ll probably go in and reiterate my interest in the company and the skills I *do* have. Hopefully it works out!

  43. Shortie*

    Good advice on # 3, Alison. Everyone has different feelings and expectations about safety.

    OP, I feel your pain. I work for a nonprofit in a shady area. A co-worker was actually assaulted in/near the subway station one evening, and we occasionally hear of innocent people being shot or otherwise injured. I do not feel safe leaving the office after dark, which is a problem in the winter.

    Luckily, this is my headquarters office, so I’m not there all the time, but I never really know what to do in the winter. The hotel that is only a couple of blocks away is somewhat expensive–although not completely outrageous–and exceeds our allowable amount. The walk still creeps me out, but at least it’s only a couple of blocks and I’m entering the hotel before anyone can “follow” me too long. And yes, they do follow.

    The other hotels on the subway line may be within the allowable amount, but I refuse to use that subway stop after dark. (We are not allowed to use taxis in cases where subway is available.)

    I usually convince my boss to let me stay at the closer hotel, but recently we have experienced some financial setbacks, so there are murmurs of not allowing that anymore. I get the feeling that others (always those with much more imposing physical presence) think I am overreacting. I hear “It’s only one subway stop” a lot. Sigh.

    1. Jackson*

      That sounds much worse than my situation. I’m not sure if you’re in NYC, and if so in what neighborhoods, but I just couldn’t do that. Being followed, etc, sounds like the 80’s. That said, I also dislike that those with the more imposing physical presence can’t see past their own “size” privilege (if you will) and understand that it’s different for petite women (or gay men, like myself) or for people not seen as “masculine” when traveling in neighborhoods with high rates of crime. Good luck and stay safe.

      1. Shortie*

        Thanks, you too. I’m going to apply Alison’s advice to my situation as well–if that becomes necessary.

      2. fposte*

        Though their feeling less at risk doesn’t mean they genuinely are less at risk–they may well be *under*perceiving their danger, given that men are considerably more likely than women to be robbery victims.

  44. Human Centered Design Engineer*

    4. Ugh I sort of feel like I have the opposite problem. The name of my major is Technical Communication… which sort of makes it sound like I majored in Communication. Nothing against communication majors, but I took a ton of high level engineering science and math classes that are not required in any communication major. Plus my major was in the school of engineering… with majors like Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Bioengineering.

    After I graduated, they changed the major to: Human Centered Design and Engineering….!!!

    The problem is neither of those titles is very descriptive of what I learned and both are pretty misleading. I challenge anyone not already in the field to figure out what my skill set might be.

    1. Sharm*

      Can you treat this like weird job titles, which is to say you list the major’s name as it was when you got it, but you give a short description of what it actually entailed to help clarify?

      I WAS a Communications major (but also did Econ), so I get what you mean! And no offense taken. :-)

    2. KellyK*

      Wow, even someone in the field might have trouble–I’m a tech writer, and I wouldn’t have pictured science classes in a tech comm major. (My master’s was English with a concentration in Technical Communication, so when you say Technical Communication to me, I picture writing and editing classes, not engineering ones.)

      1. Jamie*

        Some of you have such fascinating jobs I wish we could do AMAs. Maybe in the open thread sometime?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oooooh. That’s really interesting. People could just post their job titles and then people could leave questions for them in that particular thread.

          1. Jamie*

            Right? I think it would be fascinating and people putting themselves out there to answer questions takes away the hesitation of people not wanting to bother them or feeling like they are being nosy or whatever.

            Just as a weird aside – I don’t know that jealous is the word because I’m pretty okay with my lot in life – but topping the list of AAM commenters who I think have cool jobs and/or backgrounds – who if I couldn’t do what I do I’d like to do what they do (at least based on my limited knowledge of that):

            KellyK and Jen RO on the technical writer thing.

            JoshS on the analyst thing.

            And Mike C for his math major because I had a degree in mathematics it would be the first thing I told people about myself, before my name, and I would work it into every 3rd sentence with everyone – until I was absolutely insufferable and everyone hated me but I wouldn’t care because I’d be so impressed with myself because that would be AWESOME!

            And of course not a commenter – but the online part of your job would be awesome (not just because we share a love of working amongst cats and fleece – but there is that). The other part, where you actually have to go to meetings and talk to strangers and do interviews makes me twitchy, I admire people who can do that so much.

            Oddly enough I find academic research really fascinating although I don’t know much about the nuts and bolts. I love the idea of it, the gathering of information, sorting, looking for patterns and then organizing it and writing about it. Unfortunately even if I had the education required (which I don’t) I have neither the temperament nor the patience for it…long term projects are great but I need my immediate victories along the way or I stagnate.

            I know there are more – but if this were a sitcom dream sequence where I could switch lives with people just for a day I’d start there.

              1. Mints*

                This sounds really cool!

                Would the format be just titles, then follow ups? Or would you ask for blurbs in the initial post? I would ask for the latter because I think I’d have the same questions for everyone (what skills are most important, what are the biggest challenges)

            1. AcademicAnon*

              What you’re researching depends on how fast you get results. Cells = fast turn around, reproductive cycle of elephants = very long.

  45. JustKatie*

    Ohh, I just remembered a crazy expense story from my husband’s last (terrible) job. He was assigned to represent the company in Paris for a week, along with his boss. Since he’s originally from Eastern Europe, we decided to leave a week early to visit his family and a few cities along the way, understanding that he would pay for the initial flight from our hometown to Eastern European city, and the company would reimburse him for the return flight. He had the okay from his boss in an e-mail. Since he has no company credit card, he paid for the ticket, then submitted his expense report after the trip.

    They actually denied him for the payment, stating that he should have flown via an American carrier, since that was a “preferred vendor”. My husband had never heard this rule, and asked for documentation, since this stipulation was never told to my husband. They dug up some old handbook from a decade prior (NOT the one my husband had received) that stated this. My husband fought them on it, and they next tried to tell him since he was in Europe “for pleasure”, they couldn’t be responsible for his flight- because of course he would have opted to spend 9-8 M-F in Paris in a stuffy convention center! He was actually saving the company money, since his return flight they should have paid for was (strangely!) less than half the cost of a round trip flight they would have had to pay for had he gone directly to Paris in the first place! They finally coughed up the money, and he left for another job shortly after.

    1. Agile Phalanges*

      Your husband’s company definitely handle that badly. My company is pretty great about this–you simply price out the flight you WOULD have taken if you only went strictly for the business portion of the trip following company policy (cheapest flight, or within a reasonable amount or so if the cheapest has an unreasonable schedule). You click through all the way to the point where you’d have to enter your CC information, so you get the price including all the fees and whatnot. Then you actually buy the ticket for the trip you’re really going to take, whether it includes extra days or an extra destination or whatever. Then you submit documentation for BOTH (they require a receipt showing you paid, otherwise I guess you wouldn’t have to submit the actual itinerary), and get reimbursed only the amount for the former.

      If the flight you’re actually taking is cheaper, the company saves a little money and you still get vacation on top of business travel. If the flight you’re taking is more expensive than the business-only version, you pony up the extra, but still get a substantially discounted vacation on top of business travel.

      One thing I’ve seen mentioned in this thread that my company doesn’t allow is anything in lieu of hotel charges if you stay with friends or relatives instead. I guess it got out of hand and is too hard to rationalize, so they just don’t allow it. If you want to take your friends out to dinner to thank them, it’s on you, and your portion will be covered but not theirs.

  46. Maureen P.*

    Re: #4, and a word to the wise:

    I also have a degree in a sub-specialty of biology that is not offered by many universities. Right after graduating, I had a heck of a time getting any job interview (this was in the later 1990s). I think I was the victim of companies who were looking to hire someone with a BS in Biology, but their robo-resume-scanning software didn’t realize that a BS in Biology is pretty much the same as a BS in Physiology, Zoology, Microbiology, etc.

    After 6 months of submitting my resume to every biology-related posting in the city, I finally got an interview at a top-tier research institution, and was immediately hired. I think I could have been hired earlier if I had the word “biology” somewhere on my resume!

  47. Anonsie*

    #4 Somewhat related, since it seems like we have quite a few zoology folks around at the moment, you might get a chuckle:

    I had to go to the zoo and observe different primates for a physical anthropology course once, so I was standing around the exhibits for a long time waiting for them to do specific things. At one point I was watching the Francois’ leaf monkeys and one of the keepers came by and crouched next to me and started using a little hand saw to take this hose spigot out of a small tree that had kind of grown onto/around the pipe.

    She was near the enclosure and had her back to it, and the leaf monkeys would nonchalantly sidle up gradually to where she was and then try to casually reach through the wire for the keys on her belt– while looking the other way of course, all innocent like. Without even looking behind her, she would move out of their reach right as they stuck their hands out every time, like she already knew exactly how long before they were in key reaching range. She didn’t even look up from sawing the spigot out of the tree the whole time. After a while she looked up and me and said “When I was in grad school, this wasn’t what I pictured I would be doing.”

  48. Anonymous*

    #1 – Late to the game so this may have already been addressed, but government agencies are at least one type of organization that might have to be really specific about business expenses. If the local newspaper submits a FOIA request and reports that government employees are buying aspirin or other personal items with government funds, it would look really bad, even if it is only $3.00.

  49. EvilQueenRegina*

    When I worked at my old job coordinating the handyman scheme, one of the handymen went to the hardware store for stock bought some items that came to about £4.50 and because there was a minimum charge of £5 he bought a Mars bar to make up the difference instead of another work item. He did try and pay it back, but no one was quite sure how to put it back through the system.

    We later found out he’d done that a second time and just tried putting the Mars bar on the account. I don’t think anyone ever tried to get the second lot of money off him though.

  50. Lauren*

    OP #2 – Went in for the interview, and they asked me a lot of pointed questions about technical skills I didn’t have. I tried to answer both honestly and still professionally (i.e. I don’t know that specific software, but here is an example of a time I taught myself new software in a previous internship). I walked out feeling not very confident that I could fulfill the position, and was surprised when they made an offer. I ended up turning it down, and I now I have interviews with some prestigious companies that would be a much better fit! So it all ended up working out :)

  51. Casey*

    #3 – I would go to or some other travel site to look up the ratings on the hotels that the company wants you to stay in. I would (in particular) look for any written (emphasize: written) documentation online that notes that the places are not safe and email to the manager. I would do a screenshot of the reviews as well. If the hotel(s) is/are bad/unsafe – surely someone out there – Yelp, TripAdvisor or someone would have noted so. If there is one complaint, you might be out of luck, but if there are several, they may look at it and actually see what their money will get them and perhaps increase your stipend.

    In the end, I would not go and be prepared with my documentation as to the reasons why I did not go. IF they still force you to go AFTER seeing your documentation that it was not safe, I would most definitely get it in writing.

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