employee asked to be reimbursed for babysitting costs after he worked late one night

A reader writes:

I have a salaried, exempt employee who worked until 8 p.m. one evening. He is our media manager; there was some breaking news happening and they were excited to get a story out. This situation is extremely rare.

He came in the next day requesting reimbursement for the extra babysitting costs he incurred.

How do you think we should handle his request? Our first instinct was no, but he claims many organizations practice reimbursing for extra babysitting costs.

Uh, yeah, no.

Exempt employees have to stay late sometimes; that’s part of the gig. It’s not at all typical for employers to reimburse for child care when that happens, and it’s particularly absurd for him to think he can submit that expense after that fact … as opposed to asking for it ahead of time — where “no” would still be a reasonable answer, but at least he would have asked, rather than assuming.

Explain to him that no, this isn’t an expense that you reimburse, and that the nature of his job does require that he stay late on occasion, although it won’t be a regular thing.

I’d also take this as a flag to look at his overall approach to his role. A media relations manager who doesn’t get that sometimes the job will require staying late and that that simply comes with the gig is one who I’d be concerned is out of touch with what you need in other ways. I could be wrong about that, but when someone is this out of touch with business norms, there are often other issues going on too.

And if you don’t already have a clear policy laying out what expenses you do and don’t reimburse, this might be a useful flag that you need one.

{ 226 comments… read them below }

  1. Receptionist Without A Cause

    I get that childcare is expensive, especially after-hours care… but that’s a little extreme.

    1. AMG

      Oh, but if there were a company that did I would apply in a second! I hemmorage child care expenses.

      1. MP

        I work in a Big 4 Accounting firm and they have emergency babysitting as a benefit for all employees

        1. Jeanne

          That’s wonderful I think. I suspect in the end it means you have to work some really long hours. But at least you don’t have to scramble and call everyone in your address book for help.

        2. FlowerGirl

          My husband works for a (non accounting) finance firm, and whenever he has to go away for business (about once a month) he/we get a $50 per diem for child care. The thought is that his leaving strains my resources (time, sanity, etc) and this is a way for making up for it. It is an AMAZING benefit, and I love it. I often do hire additional care in the evening if I have prior obligations, or just someone to help with the bedtime routine. I know it sounds pampered, but the company is providing it so use it I shall!

          1. Cassie

            I noticed that the National Institutes of Health allow for paying for childcare from their sponsored grants – I only glanced at the policy briefly, but it looks like they would be okay for paying for childcare if the parent had to travel for something project-related.

            1. Melissa

              The childcare benefit is for participants in behavioral research studies with human subjects:

              Child care costs: allowable to help people participate as subjects in research projects.

              It’s not intended for the principal investigators to cover their own childcare.

              It would be great if they did allow us to cover childcare out of grants for travel, though!

        3. Linguist curmudgeon

          I think “emergency babysitting” is the key phrase here. Nobody expects their employer to pay for daycare – but for an emergency evening situation that the employee did not cause? It’s within the bounds of reasonableness.

  2. Tom

    People should be reimbursed for their time and reasonable expenses … unless they’ve taken a job where they might be required to surrender some private time for work.

    Like a media manager position. Good Answer.

  3. Chorizo

    Expense report shenanigans.
    I’ve looked at many expense reports at many different companies, and I’ve never seen a single one reimburse for childcare expenses.
    Isn’t that what a dependent-care flex spend account is for?

    1. SJP

      Yea I was gonna say, I’ve never once seen or heard of anyone request reimbursement for child care

    2. HigherEd Admin

      I’m also confused about how he would report it. It’s not like there’s a receipt he can submit, and there’s no set rate of pay for babysitters.

      1. Cat

        Not every place is as set on receipts as universities, though – we don’t need any receipts below a certain amount and can sign an attestation if we don’t have one for a legitimate expense above that amount.

        1. Chocolate lover

          My university actually doesn’t require receipts for under $75 (I think), though they prefer it and I try to provide them anyway. Thankfully I don’t have to do it much for my position.

          1. Cat

            Sorry to paint with a broad brush! I have just heard a lot from friends in academia about the stress of trying to make sure they have the correct documentation for reimbursement and the problems they’ve run into when anything slightly weird happens (like changing a flight or trying to split a hotel room) and have gotten used to thinking of it as a bureaucratic nightmare. Those are mostly large state schools though.

            1. HigherEd Admin

              I was actually thinking back to my time at a Big 4 accounting firm when I posed the question about submitting documentation. (Though I suppose accountants are supposed to be sticklers for that stuff, too!) Most places I’ve worked at haven’t cared about expenses under $25, but I’ve never heard about signing an attestation, so that’s pretty interesting to me.

            2. Chocolate lover

              Oh you’re not wrong. They can be pretty rigid. I should have been more explicit about my university being (a little) more relaxed in that regard.

            3. LJL

              State schools are pretty strict in that regard. I had to submit documentation for an expense I did NOT incur.Seriously.

              I stayed with my parents for a conference and so I didn’t submit a hotel receipt. I had to tell them where I had stayed. Very weird.

              1. Melissa

                Oh, I remember that too, although it was for a private university. I can’t remember what it was, but I didn’t incur an expected expense (might have been a flight) and I had to write a narrative explanation of how I got to the conference without incurring an expense. WTF?

            4. Melissa

              UGH. Once I didn’t get reimbursed for a flight for a conference because apparently I was not only supposed to provide the receipt but also the *boarding pass* for the flight, which I didn’t know. Because apparently there’s an epidemic of people booking flights and then not getting on them and asking for reimbursement? (No, no there’s not. This makes no sense.)

              Interestingly, the worse bureaucratic nightmare was at an elite private university that had tons of money but liked to pretend that it didn’t. I currently work at a very large public university and it’s SO MUCH BETTER. They give us per diems for travel to pay for food and transportation and we don’t have to keep receipts, and they book our flights/train travel for us. The only thing we have to book on our own is the hotel, and those are quite easy to get receipts for.

          2. Anx

            May I ask, do you work for a public or private university?

            We’re pretty meticulous about keeping receipts. What really makes me sad is carrying interest on credit cards waiting for a reimbursement (for my partner, not me).

            1. TeapotCounsel

              There was a long discussion about waiting for reimbursement and the resulting credit card interest. It was within the last few weeks. Much weeping and gnashing of teeth in those comments.

          3. Cassie

            My university (public) doesn’t require receipts for expenses under $75 per day (stuff like taxis, buses, etc) or meals (although there is a max cap on that) – it’s up to each dept if they want to require it but the university doesn’t require it. I prefer not to keep them, actually, since the university doesn’t require it (except if it seems like the student/professor is trying to sneak some personal or extravagant expenses in).

    3. Van Wilder

      Working late, we get dinner and a car home. If we come in on the weekends, we can charge our travel costs, including NYC garage if we drive. But childcare costs? Just doesn’t feel like the same thing. Nice try though.

      1. Dana

        We get dinner for working late as well. It’s usually just Jimmy Johns or pizza, but it’s nice.

    4. Xay

      The company I work for contracts with a service to provide emergency back up dependent child or adult care and they reimburse up to $100. So this may not be typical, but not completely unheard of.

    5. HR Wannabe

      +1 to Sep Care flex spending account. That’s where he,should go to get reimbursed – if he doesn’t have one, then he’s probably filing for the deduction at the end of year.

      Always deny double-dipping.

      1. Artemesia

        I don’t see paying for child care for long hours double dipping. And those dependent care accounts are piddly and don’t come close to paying regular workday day care much less the very expensive after hours care that working late entails. I get that this is not the norm and of course it can’t be expensed without it being part of the business policy but it is a policy that would be worth pushing for when people have careers that demand long hours sporadically. CEOs can afford the cost of a nanny 24/7 but the average grunt is financially stressed by this. And dependent care accounts are not only inadequate but it is the employees money so there would be no double dipping if the employer picked up late night sitter expenses when people are required to work long hours.

        I do find it amusing that all sorts of things the average man would find nice e.g. buying him a suit when he had to work over the weekend, massages, dinners, car service etc are considered reasonable but the expense that falls most heavily on women is not .

        1. HR Wannabe

          “And those dependent care accounts are piddly and don’t come close to paying regular workday day care much less the very expensive after hours care that working late entails”

          $5,000 % 52 weeks = $96 weekly. Although this may not be a huge amount of money, also keep in mind that it lowers your taxable income *from the highest tax bracket* so you save more money on top of this via less tax liability. (Of course this also assumes a married tax-payer/employee) But, even on top of this, there are numerous other options to look into that may lower the total cost of child care, depending on the age of the child. (Babies/newborns, possibly less options. School age children, hook up with another parent to see if they could basically do the ‘sleepover’ routine, but without the actual sleeping over)

          But, that’s besides the point and more into the whole “always have a Plan B” area of personal responsibility.

          “I do find it amusing that all sorts of things the average man would find nice e.g. buying him a suit when he had to work over the weekend, massages, dinners, car service etc are considered reasonable but the expense that falls most heavily on women is not .”

          First, OP confirmed that it was a man requesting this. Displaying gender bias is not amusing though.

          Additionally, unless you grew up in the 50’s, those things would also be rejected as a reimbursable expense from the business. Exceptions to that would be the dinner and car service – provided there’s a legitimate reason for them. (And the assumption that women don’t find dinner out appealing is quite baffling) Plus – most research I’ve read (at least recently) has shown that most children born since the 00’s are by women who tend to be slightly older and married. Logically speaking, expenses by a married couple are also the expenses of the man, not just the woman.

          1. ReanaZ

            I don’t think Artemesia was ‘displaying a gender bias’ or implying it only mattered of the OP was female.

            I don’t think the company is under any obligation to reimburse. But I do think it’s a valid point that the dichotomy that it’s considered a nice standard perk for places that require a lot of long hours to offer a bit of luxury like a car home or a dinner service on late nights, but that those don’t extend to family support. Male employees aren’t expected to have sole family responsibilities, because the cultural expectation is that there’s a wife at home who is available at the drop of a hat for family responsibilities and whose own career never gets such considerations.

            I don’t think this is an automatic answer in either direction, but it is interesting to explore why people think it’s outrageous that this guy asked.

    6. Reix

      I actually work for a company which offered me to pay for child care expenses and extra time of housekeeper when I was in a project that included extremely long hours for a 6-month stretch. This extremely long hours had not been planned before-hand and were atypical for my previous role in the company.

  4. aNoN

    I am on the fence about this. My employer and field require extensive hours sometimes and we are actually reimbursed for dinner and cab rides for when we stay more than 10 hrs. We could probably get away with some form of reimbursement in this situation if we phrased it correctly. I know this is a perk not offered by all companies and perhaps I am off base in disagreeing but when work, regardless of your field, cuts into your personal life, the sacrifice should be recognized. I want to stay at this company forever because of these perks.

    1. Retail Lifer

      No place I’ve worked for has done either, and I’ve worked for many companies and worked many days over 10 hours. Don’t ever quit this job!

    2. The Cosmic Avenger

      The difference is that this is something that is usually done at your company. Do they usually give you a stipend to cover your gas to and from work (assuming you drive)? What the OP did is much like you suddenly saying you wanted to be reimbursed for gas to get to and from work.

      Not a perfect analogy, I know. And it leads me to see why it might be considered reimbursable, as many employers reimburse for traveling somewhere offsite, which is an occasional additional expense. But many don’t reimburse for the additional travel if they send you to a local training session/class. And the time to address that is when you’re asked to take the class, or in the OP’s case, when they were asked to work late.

    3. Lily in NYC

      Reimbursing for cars and dinners is extremely common in workplaces and makes sense – can you imagine the fallout if someone worked late and got mugged on the way home? But to me, babysitting is a slippery slope and would lead to more of these types of requests. For example, I would be annoyed if my coworker got his babysitter covered but I couldn’t get reimbursed for having to pay someone to go walk my dog.

      1. aNoN

        well, to answer your question about travel. I get a subsidy for using the public transit here. It covers half the cost for a monthly pass. Now that I think more about this, perhaps the person asking for babysitting reimbursement doesn’t feel like there are other perks to make up for the long hours. If it wasn’t for getting these perks, I would hate my life here.

      2. Cass

        +1 on the dog comment. I work in media but don’t have children so I related it that way in my mind.

        1. Lily in NYC

          I feel like I need to confess that I don’t really have a dog. I just wish I did. I would name him Ragnar.

          1. Cass

            bad ass name for a pup! (Mine are just named after Rocky characters – we’ve had Rocky, Mickey and Apollo.)

          2. Cath in Canada

            I was just saying on Sunday that I want two dogs called Ragnar and Rollo! But my husband thinks it should be Wag-nar. I also want to use Hodor as a pet name at some point.

        2. Dana

          Agreed. It would really bum me out if my co-workers got childcare money, especially when my dogs go to doggy daycare. Same thing on expensive after-hours pickups!

          1. Melissa

            Man, if a job would reimburse me for doggie daycare expenses I would never leave. I want to put my dog in day care so bad – I think she’d benefit from it a lot – but I simply can’t afford it right now. And if I had to stay late frequently I’d definitely need to have someone on call to come let the dog out to pee and feed her.

    4. whisperingsunbeams

      Yeah, my boyfriend worked at a large law firm for a while and if you stayed late you got dinner paid for and a taxi home (this happened A LOT). But child care costs is a bit different – it’s not about looking after the employee, it’s about looking after the kid, which is OP’s job. Also, as OP doesn’t have to stay late often I do think it’s all the more cheeky.

    5. Alter_ego

      yeah, we get reimbursed for dinner if we work later than 7-ish (I don’t know that there’s actually a set rule there), and parking or a cab if we have to work later than the train is running. which is awesome, because parking is 36 dollars a day here.

    6. Green

      This sounds similar to biglaw. You get a dinner budget if you bill X in a day and stay past a certain time, and if you live in a big city (NYC, for example) you get a cab ride home. I’ve been reimbursed for lots of things: fine wine, internet at the airport, drycleaning when a trip was extended, $40 I paid a random man at 3 a.m. to help me carry my deposition boxes, room service, lounge fees, overnighting a suit to me, hosting a party at my house and taking my friends out for drinks (client development budget!).

      I have never heard of anyone getting to bill for reimbursement of child care expenses, even a single mom who did this same crazy job with no father in the picture. I had to board my dog pretty frequently when my husband and I were both traveling for work. It was expensive, but it was part of taking a job with crazy hours and unpredictable travel.

      1. Anony-moose

        Advertising firms do this a lot, too. Where my partner works, you are required to stay more than 8 hours (due to a deadline or a client request), they’ll pay for dinner and a cab ride home.

    7. sam

      it’s a different thing. I get reimbursed for meals if I stay late, and I get to take a taxi home and get reimbursed if I stay passed a certain time in the evening, because that’s all part of the cost of doing business for my company.

      Look at it a different way – when I have to take a trip for the Company, they pay for everything – travel, meals, lodging, etc. because that’s all expected and ordinary course expenses of business. But they’d look at me like I had three heads if I asked them to pay for my catsitter that I had to hire while I was away. Having and caring for a cat is my personal decision and not their problem.

      Also, most, if not all, corporate reimbursement policies are tied to how they are ultimately accounted for and taxed/not taxed. personal babysitting is simply not something that corporations are set up to account for.

      1. Adam

        Agreed. Having pets and children are personal choices/responsibility of the employee, not the employer. If an employer wants to offer some sort of child care benefit, more power to them, but everyone here would give an interviewer the side eye if they asked a job candidate if they had any kids or were looking to have any in the near future. So if an employee goes into any line of work where staying late can happen, even if only once in a while, it’s on them to be prepared for that situation.

        1. My 2 Cents

          My job is not one that requires travel at all, but my employer asked me to go on a business trip once because my husband was going and his company was paying for the room already so I could stay with him (I did offer, they weren’t being greedy). Since they specifically knew my husband would also be out of town and travel was not a condition of my job I made them pay for my dogsitting, which they rightfully did, and it was only fair. I should not be forced to eat $50 a day for my job when I didn’t sign up for that.

          1. Adam

            If I understand your comment correctly, you and your spouse work for different employers and his company was sending him on a trip where they were covering lodging and your employer decided to capitalize on that by sending you at the same time even though typically you don’t travel for work? If that’s the case I could see them covering a dog care fee.

    8. Allison

      I once dated someone who was reimbursed for Uber rides when he had to commute to work early in the morning, during a time where we got a ton of snow, there were parking bans everywhere and public transit was unreliable. He basically told his manager “I can only do opening shifts if you reimburse me for my rides.”

      1. Allison

        Although I should clarify, he said he’d need reimbursement if he was expected to work multiple morning shifts a week, with no end to the snow-related issues in sight, and that was going to get expensive over time. If he only needed to take a cab/Lyft/Uber once or twice, he probably wouldn’t have said anything. Similarly, if an employee only incurs extra childcare costs once, it’s probably not a big enough deal to fight for reimbursement over, BUT if this employee found him or her self suddenly working that late often, they might have a case for a slight raise to offset the cost, although they’d probably be expected to remedy the issue themselves before going to the boss for accommodations.

      2. Cath in Canada

        We’ve just, after much hassle, got TPTB to allow AirB&B as an eligible accommodation cost – we had a student who left their conference travel arrangements too late and couldn’t find any other room for less than $300 a night. We don’t have Uber here yet but I predict a similar battle… and they definitely won’t let us buy anything from Craigslist or eBay, even if the item would usually be an eligible expense. Public sector, though.

        1. sam

          our office was actually investigating Uber as a potential corporate supplier, but the biggest hangup for them was the surge pricing. The prices were fine and competitive when they were the standard rates, but the surge pricing was completely stratospheric and outside of our billing guidelines. Our accounting policies just can’t accommodate those fluctuations, and to leave people scrambling to find alternatives at the last minute because they can’t really guess when surges will be in effect just isn’t going to work.

    9. LBK

      You aren’t reimbursed for taxi rides or dinners because they’re your own expenses that the company has decided to cover for you, they’re company expenses that they’ve pushed on to you temporarily and are repaying. You’re basically giving them a loan for expenses that they consider the cost of doing business and then they’re paying you back.

      You aren’t loaning the company money by paying for childcare that they then owe back to you; it’s your own expense that you’re trying to pass to the company.

      1. LBK

        To put it another way: if the company wouldn’t have paid for something directly in the first place, they don’t owe you reimbursement for it. I’m assuming no manager would hand out the corporate card to pay for a babysitter, so there’s no reason to believe they owe reimbursement to the employee for that expense.

  5. Anonymous Educator

    This is the double-edged sword of being an exempt employee. On the one hand, you can come in one day and leave early and not get dinged for pay. On the other hand, you can stay late and not get any extra pay.

    1. Mike C.

      On the one hand, you can come in one day and leave early and not get dinged for pay.

      Many places now set minimum hours for exempt employees. Leaving early is becoming quite rare.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hmmm, I’m not sure that’s true, or at least that there’s data to show it. Plenty of places still give exempt employees leeway on their hours (and certainly the more senior you become, the more this is true).

        1. Joey

          Eh, I tend to agree with Mike. It’s not like a lot of folks who are known for working short days or weeks get the promotions. usually the higher you go the more of your life is work.

          1. puddin

            Leeway on hours worked does not mean less hours worked. I work about the same hours as my director, but he has a bit more leeway about leaving to see his son’s ball games and emailing during the games than I would have. Namely, I would have to get it cleared first, he would not.

        2. Ann O'Nemity

          I would love to see data on this.

          I’ve never once worked for an employer who allowed full-time exempt employees to work less than 40 hours a week without taking PTO. (Some offered flexible scheduling and/or the ability to make up time, but the expectation was always 40 or more hours per week.)

            1. TCO

              Nonprofit status isn’t really relevant to this. I’ve worked at several nonprofits, some expect 40 hours, some 35, some 50.

              1. Anony-moose

                +1. Most nonprofit folks I know (me included!) work far more than 40 hours per week!

                1. Anon-na-na

                  +1 Me too! (Also nonprofit.) Whenever I work an evening event (which happens somewhat regularly), I have to work the full day leading up to it and not come in late the next day. It’s the culture/expectation here.

        3. Green

          It’s not really “leeway” on the actual *number* of hours, it’s flexibility on when you do those hours. Sometimes that looks like “leeway” on the *number* of hours (e.g., after an 80 hour week, I did a 20 hour week the next week) but it stems from a place of: “We know you all work more than 40 hours a week most of the time and check e-mails from home, etc., so it all comes out in the wash eventually so we’re not going to quibble about you stopping for coffee on the way in or man the door waiting for you to return from lunch or if you cut out to see your kid’s ballet recital for an hour in the afternoon.”

        4. Kyrielle

          It’s true here. Exempt employees have hours and are expected to hit those hours per week, keep core office hours as far as schedule, etc.

          And work late when needed.

        5. Mike C.

          I don’t have widespread data for this, but at the last place I worked all the exempt folks were expected to put in a minimum of 8 hours/weekday (usually 9-10) and at least a half day on Saturday as well.

        6. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          My organization sets minimum hours for exempt employees. I don’t know if they are ever enforced (or what that enforcement would look like).

        7. Clever Name

          Every place I’ve worked where I was salaried required me to put in at leas 40 hours per week. Never less. More was awesome! For them. Now I’m part-time hourly, so I get paid for each and every hour I work.

      2. Anonymous Educator

        I totally believe you, Mike C. but I’ve never worked in one of those places. I mean, if someone started coming in for only one hour a day every day, that person would probably be reprimanded or fired, but having to leave early for an appointment or just not feeling well (and not using a sick day) and going home early—haven’t seen anyone at places I’ve worked been told there are minimum hours per day.

        1. Ann Furthermore

          Yep, me too. The work I do tends to ebb and flow. So when it’s busy, I’m working tons of hours. The upside is that when things slow down, no one is going to give you any grief about ducking out an hour or 2 early here and there, assuming that all your work is up to date, emails are current, and so on.

        2. AnotherAlison

          There are entire industries that require you work 8 hour days or use PTO. Engineering, consulting, anything where an individual’s time is directly billable to the client on a T&M basis requires you to be accountable for 40 hours per week. I get a fair amount of flexibility, where if I need to leave at 4:00 one day, I can work through lunch or stay later another night. I can’t legally bill clients for hours not worked, though.

      3. LBK

        Are we talking about minimum hours per day or per week? Most places aren’t super strict about working exactly 8 hours per day if you’re salaried-exempt as long as you’re making it up over time.

    2. Buggy Crispino

      I’m also wondering – as a salaried, exempt employee, how does this company deal with the hours the guy puts in? If employees have to work 8-5 every day, but they hit them with PTO usage for coming in at 10 am even though they work until 8 pm, maybe this guy thought he was justified. There’s nothing in OP’s letter that hints to this, but if you nickel and dime employees, they have a tendency to nickel and dime you back. Maybe this request wouldn’t seem so out of line to someone in that kind of situation.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        If the employee is exempt, I don’t think legally you can make him use PTO for coming in at 10am. Isn’t that the definition of exempt (vs. non-exempt)?

          1. LBK

            Question related to that – exemption rules say you can dock pay in whole day amounts for exempt employees if the absence is not due to sickness or if the employee is sick but has exhausted a “bona fide” paid absence plan (aka if you’ve used up all your PTO). Is there some legal standard by which “bona fide” is judged in this case?

  6. The IT Manager

    I agree 100% with Alison’s answer. Depending on how he responds to your “no,” I’d also be on the look-out that he might try to avoid working late in the future because he thinks that your company is taking advantage of him by not paying for extra childcare. His request is very odd to me (as it is the the LW). Salaried workers might have to work extra hours on occassion – that’s just part of the job.

    1. SJP

      Yea I just figured this, if it’s part of his job then he’s going to have to. Also the OP noted that “they got excited and wanted to get a story out” but didn’t actually say whether it was imperative/a higher up had said he had to stay late to write the story…

    2. Jeanne

      He is in a manager position. It sounds like he has some responsibilities. He took the job knowing he was exempt. You are right he should have known to expect some overtime. He is either naive, greedy, or not committed to his job.

  7. NickelandDime

    I laughed out loud. Working late sometimes is part of such a role. When I hear “Media Manager” I think someone with several years of experience, so it’s not like he doesn’t know the deal.

    I would never dare ask someone to cover my child care expenses. That’s what my paycheck is for. And the fact that he pushed back when they questioned it? Being that wildly out of touch doesn’t bode well. Be on the look out for other issues with this person.

    1. Lily in NYC

      I was actually wondering about that title – where I work, our media managers are only slightly above entry level, so I could see it being someone who is a little green and not all that well-versed in this stuff. But I could easily see the same title being high-level elsewhere. So, I guess I just made a pointless comment.

      1. Steve G

        Oh, I didn’t know this! I don’t work in media so thought a media manager would be someone around 40yo with a solid track record.

        1. Lily in NYC

          But I really don’t know if our titles are standard – for example, our project managers are also entry-level, but I know in industries like construction, it’s a much higher-level role. So OP’s guy might be senior for all I know…

      2. hayling

        Yeah I was a “PR Manager” straight out of school, just because “it looks better when you’re on TV and it says ‘manager'” apparently.

    2. Jeanne

      I agree to look out for other issues. The title to me says seniority since the letter makes it sound like he chose to stay late. Entry level would have been told to stay late. Either way, someone needs to talk to him about what his job requires and what exempt means.

  8. YandO

    My old company reimbursed staff for lunch, dinner, cabs every single day as long as employee works through lunch and stays at work later that 7pm. Regardless when they came in. Breakfast, cab to and from work are reimbursed on weekends.

    If an employee missed important event, flight, and/or something similar do to work, they were reimbursed for it. Company even reimbursed for the cost of a suit, when an executive had to stay extra day on a work trip.

    With all that said, nobody would reimburse childcare because that’s outside of scope for employer to employee reimbursements.

  9. AdAgencyChick

    I wonder whether this guy made the request because the situation is rare. (Not saying it’s justified.)

    In advertising, no one would dream of asking for babysitting reimbursement. Late-afternoon client requests that extend hours into the evening are, unfortunately, fairly common, and the expectation is that employees will either shoulder the expense of any child care needs associated with that, or work around the situation in some way (going home and working from home if the situation allows, or if there’s truly no way around it, picking up the kid and bringing her to the office for a couple of hours). It’s because the situation is so commonplace that people know what’s expected of them.

    I wonder whether this employee is thinking that, because his hours almost always are confined to a regular routine, that this situation was some kind of exceptional hardship and therefore something that should be reimbursed. (Again, not saying he’s right!)

    1. Hlyssande

      I can see his POV if they asked him to stay late with very little notice, which would have caused him to scramble and probably pay top dollar for a short-notice sitter.

      1. Editor

        Similarly, I wondered if he used a daycare center where they will do after-hours care but the rates are high. I knew of a daycare center that charged a dollar a minute for time beyond whatever the parent was scheduled for. Maybe the media manager was blindsided by the added cost and so asked after the fact because he was so shocked by the bill. It might have helped his request to give more context, although I wouldn’t necessarily have expected the employer to help out with the cost.

        Nevertheless, even though the expense of childcare isn’t normally reimbursed by the employer, I don’t think it hurts to have a discussion about whether that’s something that in the future more employers should do. I’m a little dismayed by all the disapproval. And I come from an industry where most employers don’t reimburse anything and expect you to pay for your own fast food if you have to work late.

        1. Anon369

          I agree. . . making the employee scramble to me is a cost of doing business. I’m in an exempt position and the cost of providing emergency care to my disabled spouse is very high//hard to arrange (note this undercuts the “kids/pets are a choice” argument – this wasn’t a choice, but we bear the costs). Even planned travel has become very expensive to arrange because of this (or I have to rely on the kindness of family members who may or may not be in town).

          1. Linguist curmudgeon

            Well, you “choose” (HEAVY scare quotes) to continue to be married to your disabled spouse in exactly the same way that another person “chooses” to have a child. The rhetoric of “it was your choice; therefore you get no support for it” is pretty icky.

            I strongly agree that unexpected emergencies are a cost of doing business, in other words.

  10. Name

    I don’t think this is a red flag, just a case of ‘it doesn’t hurt to ask’. Sometimes you get things if you ask for them.

    1. fposte

      I think that’s a reasonable point. It’s better to ask before the event, and I don’t know that I’d just silently submit the reimbursement and cross my fingers, which is what it sounds like he’s doing. I get that this is an outlier on the reimbursable category, but it also sounds like an outlier event, so if I were asked politely if there were a possibility of reimbursement I probably wouldn’t hold it against him. But I also wouldn’t reimburse him.

      1. TheLazyB

        I think it he acknowledged it was an unlikely request I’d have more sympathy. Where I live the saying is ‘shy bairns get nowt.’ But you have to acknowledge you’re pushing the envelope.

    2. Green

      Except it did kind of hurt to ask; it demonstrated he was out of touch with professional norms. It’s not like asking for them to cover a conference he wants to go to because “it can’t hurt to ask.”

    3. LBK

      That would be fine if he had asked but instead he just submitted the expense report. To me, the acceptable “it doesn’t hurt to ask” stage is before you initiate a formal process of requesting money.

        1. fposte

          The actual phrase was “requesting reimbursement,” which I read as submitting paperwork, because that’s what we’d call it; however, I think you’re right that it could also mean a direct request.

          1. LBK

            Ah, that’s true. I read it as actually submitting the request to be approve/denied and processed, which I would see as fairly bold, but I suppose it could’ve also just been a verbal request.

    4. SevenSixOne

      I think it’s all in how he asked. If he DEMANDED reimbursement every time he had to work late, or just tried to sneak it onto an expense report without saying anything, that’s definitely inappropriate, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say something like, “Hey, I had to pay my babysitter an extra $100 when I worked late last week, any chance I can get reimbursed for any of that?”

  11. PEBCAK

    I think the second part of the answer, that the guy might be out of touch, REALLY depends on how he asked. It’s very possible that he acknowledged the weirdness, but for some reason incurred a huge expense with the unplanned late night, and thought it couldn’t hurt to ask.

  12. Juni

    Our communications staff make heavy use of the Dependent-care FSA. If you don’t offer one, and see this happening often, might be something to look into.

    1. Anon369

      This only covers $5,000 of care – as someone noted above, that equates to $100/week. That’s about 1 day’s child care.

  13. Jen

    I agree that routine childcare should never come into question. And Media Managers should expect to have to stay late sometimes with little or no warning – such is the nature of breaking news.

    That said, I have seen companies reimburse for other “lifestyle” things before, when needing to bring an employee in on an emergency basis. I know people who have had airline tickets or holiday packages reimbursed when it turned out a previously approved, pre-booked holiday had to be cancelled. Also, I’ve personally experienced it when I’d started a new job (and had no time off available), and my husband had booked some time off to deal with our moving house. He was needed to come in to shepherd a critical project to completion, so the company covered packing and moving services for us, so he wouldn’t have to take the time off.

    But both of those situations were discussed and compensation agreed to *before* the emergency project work.

    So if this Media Manager had already set an expectation that he had an external-to-work commitment (childcare – which can be very difficult and expensive to arrange last-minute), and had said up front (when the news was breaking) that he’s happy to stay, but it’s going to cause him financial hardship, and was the company willing to make a gesture of goodwill to help him out with that, I wouldn’t find the asking unreasonable. Especially if, as you mention the situation is rare.

    But to ask after the fact? Especially if, as the LW stated, his team was “excited to get a story out” (read: the activity’s value wasn’t necessarily business-critical)? No way. Totally out of line.

  14. Steve G

    My friend who used to work at Merrill Lynch said they’d pay for your taxi home if you stayed past a certain time (I forget what it was, maybe 10pm?), but I’m not seeing 8pm as some crazy late-night work hour. I regularly worked til’ 7:30 in my past job.

    I’m wondering what type of salary range this person is in, maybe this is their way of saying that they think they are underpaid? Most of the exempt people at past companies were paid enough so that they had extra cash to cover all of these type of expenses that pop up. No one was talking about double-digit expenses.

    1. fposte

      Underpaid or generally unsatisfied–yes, that’s a good point. This does sound like somebody who feels he’s not being fairly done by.

  15. LaraW

    My husband’s former employer reimbursed him for a day of childcare once. We had our kids in daycare 2 days/week at the time, and my husband had arranged to take a vacation day on a Friday, when I was traveling to go to a family wedding. His work load necessitated his working that day, and since I had to get on a plane, we had to pay an extra day of daycare for him to be able to work that day. And his boss gave him the extra hundred bucks or so it cost for that. We really appreciated it!

    1. NickelandDime

      This was very nice. I do think it’s a bit different than the situation in the letter though. I think they did it because it hindered your vacation a bit and they wanted to make it up to him. But a media manager that has to work late for a story or other issue that has cropped up at work – that’s part of these positions. I don’t think he should be reimbursed for that. In past positions, companies would pay for our dinner sometimes if we had to work late.

    2. Connie-Lynne

      I once offered to reimburse a report for child care. He was in Germany on business travel, and there was an airline strike. On the day after he was originally supposed to arrive home, his wife, who was a supervisor in another department of the company, had an all-hands dept meeting with our CEO.

      He was able to get home, but the $100 or so it would have cost would have been a negligible and reasonable expense to reduce a star-performer’s stress levels.

  16. Alter_ego

    I doubt my company would reimburse for childcare, but I do appreciate that, if I know I’m going to have to work later than 11PM because of a deadline, I know I need to drive in instead of taking the train. When that happens, my company will reimburse me the 36 dollars it costs to park in the parking garage here.

    1. Cat

      I think the issue here is that there are a few things that professional norms, at least in the U.S., dictate are just never reimbursed, even if work “causes” the expense to be incurred – child care, pet sitting, clothing required to look professional (unless maybe a uniform). Whereas non-routine travel and non-lunch food expenses often are. So the worker here either looks like he’s trying to get away with something or like he’s completely clueless about professional norms.

      There are always a lot of grey areas though. One I have been having issues with lately* is lunch costs when you’re in town but required to be an event that keeps you out of the office (so that bringing your lunch isn’t a practical option since pulling out a brown bag would look odd). I’ve surveyed people and some people submit, some people don’t, and some people say they don’t even submit lunch receipts when they’re traveling since they would have had to buy lunch anyway (I think that’s idiotic).

      * I over think these things.

      1. NickelandDime

        We have had discussions in the past in our office on whether lunch costs should be expensed if you are out and about at meetings or a training, etc. My manager stated he didn’t think we should try to expense those costs. So I don’t. Meetings, trainings, I don’t expense my food, but I expense mileage and parking costs. They do expense meals for overnight travel, but only for certain meals. For instance, you’re gone for three days. They only expense dinner on that first day, because you probably traveled on that day. But they expense meals for every day after that.

        But childcare? What’s next, expensing my work clothes? Hair and nail appointments? Facials? Where does it stop?

        1. Green

          No lunch while traveling? That is nickel and dime.

          If you’re traveling you have no access to your own refrigerator and kitchen and your time/choices for food may be limited by your work duties.

        2. sam

          our company recently instituted a policy that if we’re traveling to another company office, and we eat in that office’s cafeteria, we don’t get reimbursed. the idea being that we would have bought lunch for ourselves at the home office cafeteria anyway. (our cafeterias are partially subsidized already). other meals are covered.

          This doesn’t really account for people who try to save money by bringing lunch from home, and the only thing this has really done is encourage people to find excuses to go out of the office to (more expensive) lunches when traveling.

        3. V.V.

          I had a job once where I was stranded during travel in a winter storm but my baggage had already traveled to point. The company was indeed willing to pay for a cab to and from the local shopping center to purchase clean clothing (also at their expense). I always pack some clothes in a duffel bag just in case, however if I had been stranded longer or if it was much colder I would have taken them up on it.

      2. Lurker

        Please tell that to my co-workers who think it is appropriate to purchase clothing (non uniform) when they have to work outdoors – even though they know that’s part of their jobs and we are located in a climate where they should already own clothing to wear in all seasons.

      3. Chocolate lover

        I’m with you on the lunch while traveling. I often (not always) bring lunch to work, which is of course cheaper, so I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to incur extra costs for the sake of my employer requiring me to travel. I don’t go overboard on buying meals when traveling, but it still costs more than bringing my own lunch.

          1. NickelandDime

            I understand where everyone is coming from. I often brown bag it, but I do treat myself once a week. I just look at it that way. They do reimburse for most other things so I don’t nit-pick.

      4. the_scientist

        The way I look at things like childcare (especially emergency childcare which is $$$$), pet care, professional clothing and personal maintenance is that if I’m looking for a job where I’m going to need to spend $$ on those things (more than I would in another work environment) in order to be successful, my salary should darn well reflect that and I’d be sure to negotiate accordingly. I would (and do!) give serious side-eye to a company paying its admin staff minimum wage and expecting them to wear a suit every day, for example.

        For meals, I’m a habitual brown-bagger as well, so I kind of do expect to be reimbursed if over the course of my work day I’m put in a situation where a packed lunch isn’t acceptable, because that’s money I’m not likely to be spending otherwise. Certainly for any business travel, I would expect to reimbursed for any and all meals purchased over the course of the trip. Day trips/training sessions/meetings are a bit trickier….but I come down on the side of expecting to be reimbursed because I otherwise would have packed a lunch on those days. My SO makes occasional trips to retail locations during core working hours and I’m pretty sure if he leaves the office to go to a store (even if it’s <30 minutes away) he's allowed to expense a meal that day.

      5. Malissa

        Accountant perspective: In-town reimbursement for lunches are a taxable fringe benefit to the employee, if they occur on a regular basis. If the lunches are out of town, provided for the employers convenience, or occur so infrequently that tracking them would be a pain then they are normal business expenses.
        Because of the tracking requirements many companies just gave up reimbursing for in town lunches. They opted to follow the IRS logic that a person would have had an opportunity to pack their lunch and save money if they had wished.

        1. Rebecca

          That’s how I see it. My job doesn’t require out of town travel, but I’ve done some in-town training and off-site meetings. In some cases, my company provided a catered or boxed lunch and in some cases we were left to our own devices. We were always told up front which would be the case and nobody ever expected to be reimbursed if we needed to get our own meal. If I really wanted to, I could figure out a way to bring my lunch (use a cooler or pack something that didn’t need to be refrigerated) but grabbing a meal out was just more convenient.

        2. mskyle

          I’m curious about when a company provides lunch all the time… like a free cafeteria kind of situation. If I get a meal worth $10 every day, is that a taxable fringe benefit?

          1. Malissa

            If they do it for their convenience it’s a regular expense. If the employer can call a person back from break at anytime for an emergency, it’s for their convenience. The convenience could be that other places to eat are too far away for employees to travel to and consume lunch before their lunch break is over.

          2. sam

            it could be – I think google is actually going through a whole thing with the IRS right now because they give free lunch to their employees every day, and the IRS wants them to account for it as a benefit.

            1. Malissa

              The story behind that is that Google has gourmet chefs and uses its food program as a tool to attract and retain employees. Which brings up the question of whether it’s a convenience or a perk.
              I expect this issue to end up much like the luxury car issue. Yes you can buy a Maserati for a company car, but the IRS will only grant you a tax deduction for a Taurus.

        3. Cat

          Interesting, thanks. In this case, it’s more like you’re in an all-day meeting at a government agency and the only place you can eat in the time allotted as a meeting break is in that agency’s cafeteria. So almost like traveling but in town. I wonder how that plays in (it’s irregular but not necessarily infrequent – say, twice a month on average).

  17. Cass

    As usual, I think Alison’s response is spot on. As a media producer, I don’t think I’d ever consider asking. It’s apart of the gig!

  18. Alex

    Response is reasonable, but to those making comments about Dependent Care Flex Spending, the amount of money you can put in those is a drop in the bucket for what child care usually costs overall. It covers a couple of months of our regular childcare at best.

    1. Lily in NYC

      Sure, but if it’s used for things like “having to work late once in a while” instead of for full-time child care, then it’s a great option.

      1. john b

        It’s actually much better if you’re using it for full-time childcare because you know you’ll use all of the money allotted. Occasional expenses mean that you have to guess at how much you’re going to spend at the beginning of the year (at least with how the two DC FSAs that I’ve used). And then if you don’t spend it within the calendar year (plus a bit of a cushion), you’re out of that money.

      2. Xay

        It’s not free money, just money that is set aside from your paycheck and not taxed. With a $3000 cap, a parent is absolutely better off using it for full time child care than on the possible need for emergency care because if you don’t use it all, it’s gone.

  19. Mike C.

    As l0ng as we’re not talking about a situation where “one person’s lack of preparation became someone else’s emergency”, then yeah this reimbursement feels a bit much.

    1. Green

      One person’s lack of preparation becoming someone else’s emergency is part of working in almost any environment.

      1. Chinook

        “One person’s lack of preparation becoming someone else’s emergency is part of working in almost any environment.”

        Yes and no. I currently have a position, as a contract worker, where I negotiated an expensive cab ride home if I am ever required to stay past the last bus (at 4:45). I have had a few times where a non-moveable deadline (which was known about for weeks in advance) meant they needed my help on something 10 minutes before I left for the day. By requiring that extra transportation fee, it was amazing to see how something went from “emergency” to “it isn’t really due until noon tomorrow.”

        1. Green

          Transportation fees are more commonly paid by employers (in the same way that parking passes, etc. are often provided). Childcare expenses for your personal provider? Not so much.

        1. LBK

          I don’t know if that’s really true…it depends what you mean by preparation. If Joe gets hit by a bus and I’m his backup for a presentation that’s happening today, it becomes my emergency, but I don’t think that means I should expect Joe to be be preparing me along every step of his development of the presentation just in case I have to give it.

          1. Mike C.

            I’m thinking more along the lines of actual incompetence, not force majeure.

            Joe not making a presentation at all because he was reassigned two weeks ago only to have your manager dump it in your lap the night before, that sort of thing.

            Having backup plans for important situations is exactly the sort of thing I would expect to see in countering last minute BS.

            1. LBK

              Oh, I agree in that case. I think “preparation” is maybe just the word I disagree; it’s more like someone else’s incompetence should never be your emergency.

            2. Editor

              Sometimes backup plans fail. When I was expecting my second child, I arranged backup care for our first so that my husband could drive me to the hospital. To make a long story short, I lined up four possible people who expected to be available a week or so before and after the expected due date. Not one of them was available when my labor started, including the only relative of mine who lived in town. I ended up waking up a parent I knew (just after midnight after about an hour of increasingly frantic phone calls and unanswered calls) and asking if she or her husband could come over, and her husband came over and crashed on our couch until I was able to finally get hold of my relative.

              After that experience, I just don’t feel it’s fair to assume that failure to plan is always the cause for failure to have backup childcare.

  20. neverjaunty

    “But he claims many companies practice reimbursement” – this sounds to me like the workplace equivalent of “but everybody else’s parents let them stay out after midnight!” (Or borrow the car, or drink beer at parties, or skip school, or whatever else it is you aren’t allowing your kid to do.)

    It’s one thing is something is an industry practice, and you should have a good sense of what is typical. You should not be learning about industry practice from and employee who 1) has been told no and 2) has a vested interest in you believing that all the COOL employers do it.

    1. Mike C.

      Well to be fair, many work policies are based on “industry norms” or “what the market will bear”. These sorts of standards are always based on what everyone else is doing.

      1. neverjaunty

        Sure, but if OP has never heard of such a thing, she needs to find out, rather than assuming it’s true that everybody ELSE does it, mom.

  21. justcourt

    It’s bizarre he would ask for reimbursement for childcare at all and even more odd that he would ask when, according to you, he is not typically required to stay late.

    I definitely wouldn’t reimburse him, but I think it’s probably worthwhile to investigate and find if his request is a result of poor work ethic or maybe the way he was asked to stay late was poorly handled.

    For example, I was occasionally asked to work late in my previous role, which wasn’t a problem, per se; however, these requests were often made at the last minute (either the same day or the day before) when our boss knew far enough in advance to give the team more notice. I lost a significant amount of money on tickets for a play I was not able to attend, and I know co-workers had similar issues; however, we never asked for reimbursement. I know there was some resentment and frustration from the team.

  22. Ann O'Nemity

    I agree with the advice and don’t think employees are owed reimbursement for childcare expenses. That said, I’d sympathetic to working parents, especially when they’re trying to balance lower salaries and astronomical childcare rates. If you’re dealing with round-the-clock or off-hours childcare, you can run into a situation where childcare costs are more than the wages earned for those days.

    1. Dana

      I worked with a woman who quit because she was only making enough to cover her daycare. Since it was a wash, she figured she was better off being the stay at home mom. How pathetic, though, that daycare is so expensive compared to wages (in some industries).

  23. Elysian

    I could see a situation in which it would be reasonable to reimburse for childcare, but this isn’t it. Someone up-thread mentioned when someone else’s lack of preparation becomes your emergency – I might see something like that. But it would almost always be hashed out beforehand, and it doesn’t sound that was the case here. If it interrupted a pre-approved vacation and was not a necessary and common part of the job…. maybe. But this guy works in news – news breaks when it breaks. I’m in litigation, and we’ll get things served on us at weird time and might need to turn things around quickly (including overnight). It’s a part of the job.

    My gym charges a cancellation fee/I lose the appointment and can’t reschedule if I make an appointment and then cancel at the last minute. I’ve had to do that a few times for work. It sucks, but as long as it isn’t happening constantly its just the kind of unexpected thing that you have to eat the cost of.

  24. Case of the Mondays

    I was paid relocation expenses by one employer but I had to itemize them. I included the cost of registering my dog and cars in the new state. They were all paid but my parents were appalled I had included the cost of registering the dog. It was a moving cost!

  25. Aeonist conspiracy

    I’m on the side of the Media Manager on this one, based on what the OP wrote. Exempt or not, OP mentions that this situation is “extremely rare”. It could be that MM commonly works late – but in this instance, the late work was a surprise that he could not schedule for? I don’t know. Even if that’s not the case, the basic facts are: this guy stayed late at his employer’s ‘extremely rare’ request, and incurred unexpected expenses over it.

    You can tell me that it’s not a standard industry practice, sure, but I really don’t see how childcare expenses are different than any other additional expenses an employee might incur, which might be reimbursed by the employer.

    I also don’t get how asking beforehand makes any difference. It sounds like there was a lot of frantic activity going on to cover an u usual circumstance. It seems unreasonable to expect someone involved in that to spend time tracking down the correct person to ask “can I get reimbursed?”

    I’d also ask: how much money is at stake here? Maybe the best thing to do is to reimburse the MM for his $25 (or whatever) and then establish a policy on this kind of thing when it happens again?

    There’s a Scott Adams book that ends with the story of a guy who was caught in the rain while traveling on business, so he bought a cheap $10 umbrella. When he claimed it as an expense, it was denied. The next time the guy traveled, he filled out his expense report and wrote “*NOW* find the umbrella!” on it.

    1. fposte

      I’ve wondered how that Scott Adams story could play out in reality. At my workplace that would just put your entire reimbursement on hold until you itemized properly.

      1. Ann

        I’m clearly missing something, because I don’t even understand the story’s kicker. What does he mean, now find the umbrella? Did the guy add the $10 from last month’s report to this month’s report but just misreport what it was for? Like, “coffee with clients” or something?

        1. LBK

          I don’t quite understand it either but I think it’s meant to say that he rolled the $10 for the umbrella into the overall reimbursement request for his trip. Which, as fposte points out, doesn’t really make sense because most places require itemized receipts for reimbursements. You don’t just say “I spent $5000 on this business trip” and they cut you a check.

          1. Ann

            Right, that’s what I thought. There’s no way it would work at places that required receipts. And even if you were allowed to submit only an itemized expense report, I’m pretty sure that the snarky umbrella comments would, as fposte said, just cause the company to slam the brakes on your reimbursement.

      2. Aeonist conspiracy

        Really?

        I’m sorry, but your company sucks.

        No, seriously, it does: They allow the beancounters in accounting to seriously inconvenience other employees because they don’t like a smart-ass comment they made? Come to think of it, the other 99% of the Scott Adams book is pretty much exactly about how companies like this – that are over-focused on secondary concerns (like making sure everything is properly itemized) versus primary concerns (like making sales or developing new products) – suck.

        1. HR Wannabe

          “They allow the beancounters in accounting to seriously inconvenience other employees because they don’t like a smart-ass comment they made? […] companies like this – that are over-focused on secondary concerns (like making sure everything is properly itemized) versus primary concerns (like making sales or developing new products) – suck.”

          Are you sure you want accountants talking to clients? :)

          But, honestly – what do you think the primary job of an accountant is? To give away money on a pinky-promise or to ensure that when the books are audited at the end of the fiscal year, every penny that should be there, actually is there? Additionally, as pointed out down-thread, expense reports have to be tied back to a legit business expense – itemizing is the best (and widely used) way to do that.

            1. HR Wannabe

              $10, to one person, once: probably fine, but not the accountant’s call.

              Keep in mind that if you approve a $10 purchase of an umbrella for one employee, you’ll have to approve a purchase of a $20 windbreaker for another.

              If you give a mouse a cookie… :)

      1. Elysian

        Or my non-reimbursable gym appointment?
        Or the medication I’m taking because I’m so overworked and don’t have time for a day off?
        Or the suits that I need to wear every day?
        Or lunch because I eat it at my desk?

        There are some things employers do because they’re trying to be good people/build goodwill (see above re dinner and cab if you’re staying late) and there are some things that just cross the line to ask for. But we have to draw a line because there are too many things that are tangentially “business related” but are really personal expenses that we can’t expect a business to reimburse for on a regular basis – childcare is on that list in most situations.

        1. sam

          Not so much that they’re trying to be good people, but because the business itself gets to deduct these expenses from its own taxes as business expenses. The business can’t deduct your dogsitter.

          There may be times when an employer will go above and beyond and “eat” an employee’s unusual expense because of an extraordinary circumstance, but I guarantee you that 99% of the time, your employer is being exactly as generous with you as the IRS is being with it.

          1. Elysian

            I’m pretty sure your employer cannot deduct dinner for employees if they stay late. I think employees have to be traveling over a meal and even then I think you can only deduct 50% of the cost.

      2. Alma

        This is especially costly when I have to board my dog Thursday night so I can be on the road before the kennel opens Friday morning, then can’t pick him up until Monday before closing. I regularly have meetings that are all day Friday and Saturday until 3pm.

        In a previous life, I worked for a statewide employer that had “sick child” care available through the local hospital. If the child was not contagious, they would be cared for, and have meds administered – which was a great deal.

        And I have known family affected by late pick-up penalties at day care: at that time it was $10/minute after 6pm.

    2. Underemployeed Erin

      I agree with the person above as well. We know absolutely nothing about this person’s situation. We don’t know if he is a single parent or if he is getting paid well. We don’t know if the company offers an FSA or if his situation allows him to use one or how you would even file for babysitting expenses since babysitters are not typically licensed childcare centers.

      Most childcare centers charge you an additional fee if you are late to pick up a child to encourage people to not be late to pick up children. It may cost something like a dollar a minute to really discourage late pickups.

      Children are not like pets in that you cannot legally leave them alone at home unsupervised unless they reach a certain age which maybe about 12 or 13 in most places.

      1. LBK

        The point isn’t that a child is the same as a pet in terms of care required, the point is that they’re both responsibilities that fall to the employee to handle, not the company. It’s no more the company’s problem to figure out how to pay for my childcare expenses than it is for them to figure out how to pay for my dog walker or my cat kennel while I’m on a business trip (or for that matter, my rent, my car payment or anything else for which I’ve decided to take on the financial responsibility). Your company pays you your salary to cover whatever expenses you choose to incur; you don’t get to bill your company when something you’ve decided to take on unexpectedly costs more than your salary can normally cover.

        1. Aeonist conspiracy

          > they’re both responsibilities that fall to the employee to handle, not the company.

          You can say this, yes, but it’s just your opinion. What is lacking is any kind of bright-line test to determine what goes to the employee versus what goes to the company. It might be “standard” for businesses not to pay for this, but I’ve yet to see anyone toss out any real reason for this to not be covered. And some businesses do cover it. It is not at all self-evident that Expense A is “the employee’s responsibility” but Expense B is “the company’s responsibility”. Dinner when an employee works late, for instance – why is this a “responsibility” that falls to the company?

          And to be clear, what I mean is, for instance, the IRS will not allow you to deduct pet care expenses. But they do allow for the deduction of childcare expenses (at least under certain circumstance; I’m not a tax expert). Using a criteria of “is it tax deductible?” (for example) allows one to objectively categorize expenses in to two categories. Maybe I missed it, but (aside from “that’s not how most businesses do it”, which is a rather weak argument) I haven’t seen such a criteria.

          Also – since a number of people are disingenuously suggesting “if they cover child-care, why not pet-care?” – I’d respond that the fact that the government sees a difference between the two is sufficient reason for there to be a difference.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            But what the government chooses to provide deductions and credits for doesn’t have any relationship to what an employer considers a business expense. Expenses in your personal life, as a general rule, don’t get reimbursed by employers.

            1. Aeonist conspiracy

              Sure. I advanced it largely as an example. Is there some other criteria that will allow me to objectively sort expenses into “company should reimburse” and “company should not reimburse” categories? Other than “as a general rule” or “that’s not common”? I’m not just trying to be argumentative here: If there is no objective criteria, that’s fine. But then deciding what gets covered reduces to basically a matter of opinion (or opinions).

              1. LBK

                I only think it’s unclear because some companies do choose to do more than the minimum and pay personal expenses for their employees as a perk. I don’t think the fact that some companies do choose to pay for childcare factors into discerning what the norm is; those are exceptions to the rule.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                I like LBK’s suggestion below of “if it’s an expense that would be incurred regardless of the person in the role, I consider that a business expense.” Or if the business asked for something wildly inconvenient that isn’t part of the normal expectations of the role, it’s not unreasonable to discuss it, but the employee certainly shouldn’t just assume it as a given (as the person did here).

                1. LBK

                  Yeah, and I think the “wildly outside of the norm” cases still come more as a perk than the business being obligated to reimburse it as part of the standard. It’s just a nice thing to do to acknowledge that you’re asking for something exceptional (unless the thing they’re asking you to do is something that would be reimbursed under normal circumstances, like being asked to go fly out to conference you’ve never had to go to before – then the business obviously pays because they should pay even if you did that every day).

              3. HR Wannabe

                “Is there some other criteria that will allow me to objectively sort expenses into “company should reimburse” and “company should not reimburse” categories? ”

                From IRS’s site: (http://www.irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Trade-or-Business–Defined)

                * The term trade or business generally includes any activity carried on for the production of income from selling goods or performing services.

                Pretend you’re a consultant for the IRS who get’s paid by the number of violations found and gets to use the strictest possible definition of the above.

          2. HR Wannabe

            “What is lacking is any kind of bright-line test to determine what goes to the employee versus what goes to the company. It might be “standard” for businesses not to pay for this, but I’ve yet to see anyone toss out any real reason for this to not be covered.”

            As has been said here before, power dynamics at play make this an “at the employer’s discretion” example. For instance, just because the IRS allows companies to deduct a mileage rate, doesn’t automatically mean that the company will reimburse for mileage. In the case of a very, very company, it’s possible that the owner may simply not know how to do that – or even if they can.

            “But they [IRS] do[es] allow for the deduction of childcare expenses (at least under certain circumstance; I’m not a tax expert). […] Maybe I missed it, but (aside from “that’s not how most businesses do it”, which is a rather weak argument) I haven’t seen such a criteria.”

            The *individual taxpayer* can deduct childcare, but a *business* cannot deduct childcare. Huge, huge difference in what is tax deductible for a business, versus an individual taxpayer. ‘Double Irish’, anyone?

            If a business allows someone to expense something that’s not a business expense, what they’ve basically done is given you a bonus. Note that this is perfectly fine – if the business agrees to it.

            Imagine it like this: the guy asks for a $200 Amazon giftcard because he spent $200 on childcare the night before. From my admittedly not-very-experienced knowledge of finance/taxes, that’s roughly the the fiscal equivalent.

            1. Aeonist conspiracy

              I agree with you. If it’s simply a matter of a business saying “I’ll reimburse you for dinner because I want to” (or because that’s a standard practice), I’m okay with that.

              But what it implies is that there’s really no objective way to decide what counts as a business expense versus what does not. I’m not trying to argue that the tax status of an expense is *the* difference. But it is at least *a* difference. I could write a program (in theory) to accurately and automagically decide what’s what.

              And the point of this is that, while some people are saying “of course the employee shouldn’t be reimbursed for that!”, there is in fact no such obviousness or self-evidence to their statement, except that it’s their opinion of what is fair.

              1. LBK

                There’s a difference between “the employee shouldn’t be reimbursed for that” and “the employer isn’t obligated to pay for that”. I think by and large the sentiment here is the latter; if the company wants to pay for it, there’s certainly nothing stopping them, and some companies obviously do. It’s the expectation that this is the norm that’s jarring and off base here.

                1. HR Wannabe

                  +1

                  Amen and agreed. The best comparison I can think of at this time is the difference between a 30 minute lunch and an hour lunch. (Hourly employees, of course)

                  Technically speaking, an hourly employee could be routinely given 60 minutes for lunch – but the generally accepted standard (coming from retail, entry level offices at least) is 30 minutes.

          3. LBK

            If it’s an expense that would be incurred regardless of the person in the role, I consider that a business expense. If the expense is variable depending on the person in the role, that’s personal.

            Having a child means taking on all financial responsibility associated with raising that child, which include potentially unforeseen expenses. I understand that sometimes your financial situation doesn’t make that easy, but that’s not the company’s responsibility, otherwise salaries would all be based on each employee’s personal budget.

        2. Dana

          You brought up a great related point (IMO) that you don’t get a higher salary because your bills are higher or you’re upside down on your mortgage. You get the salary for the position. Imagine if we were talking about this guy negotiating a salary and asking for more /by saying/ “I need more to cover my childcare expenses.”

          1. john b

            I think that would be totally acceptable. Why not? If the job is requiring more of his time and that time comes at the expense of more childcare, what’s wrong with that?

            Salaries are increased routinely for cost of living increases due to real estate, utitlity and other costs increasing. Saying to one’s boss “this salary isn’t adequate to cover my expenses, especially given the hours that I work” doesn’t seem out of line.

        3. Mel

          >It’s no more the company’s problem to figure out how to pay for my childcare expenses than it is for them to figure out how to pay for my dog walker or my cat kennel while I’m on a business trip

          Well, it is the company’s problem if I leave because I am regularly incurring very high childcare expenses that my salary does not adequately cover. Then the company has to replace me, and if I am a high performer, the cost to the company could be high.
          I think many employers are totally clueless about the cost of childcare. My manager was shocked when I mentioned that infant care at our (on-campus!) daycare is almost 2K/month (we don’t use that daycare – can’t afford it). Employers who want to keep their employees happy should factor in childcare (which is a really common cost) when they think about how to retain people – just like some employers will pay back student loans to recruit/retain employees

  26. caraytid

    i agree with Alison’s answer, but would the answer change any if the situation was extended?

    for example, i was hired for a job that did not require travel. while i understand that small trips may come up every so often, i was once asked to take a 10-day long trip (with really long work and travel days). i had some notice, but that kind of absence from home wasn’t anything i was even used to budgeting for, childcare-wise.

    i didn’t end up going after all, but would i have been out of line to ask for help with childcare costs? because it actually did cross my mind to do so. i was an exempt employee, so it’s not like i would’ve received any extra money for working all that additional time.

    1. Hlyssande

      I think you would’ve been within your rights to ask about it at the very least, especially if they didn’t give you a lot of notice.

    2. Dana

      To me, this is almost a different situation if you/the guy mentioned asked beforehand. Maybe I’m just a stickler for politeness, but just asking after the fact? To me that seems like it wasn’t a big deal before but now that you’ve thought it over (or talked to someone who convinced you), you want more money. Did he really not know come 5:00 (or whatever) that he would be staying late? Even a “Hey, if I’m going to be here as late as it looks, my daycare is going to cost me $$$, any chance we could discuss that later?” (assuming work is too hectic to have that conversation then) would show me that this was a real stress/inconvenience. If he’s all like “Wow, crazy story, got to get this out tonight! Woo! We’ll break the news first!” and then comes in the next day and possibly just submits an expense report, I’m going to be much more taken aback. Maybe I’m setting too much store by the attitude, but foresight to me is always much better received than hindsight.

  27. CommProfessional

    Actually, I had an amazing boss who did pay for my extra childcare expenses. I was a single mom and had a job that RARELY included travel. My boss knew I worked my tail off for her at all hours of the night for deadline sensitive projects without question. (I would work remotely after childcare pick up deadlines). That being said, when I had to hire a nanny to take care of my child for the 1 or 2 business trips per year, the company reimbursed me. The company’s standard policy was “no,” but individual managers had discretion.

    Of course, the cost of a nanny for overnight care and meals is far more of a financial burden than a couple of hours of extra baby sitting (which I would have eaten so as not to sound petty).

  28. Betty (the other Betty)

    The company my sister used to work for provided and would pay for a certain amount of emergency childcare (in the employee’s home), so if a child was too sick to go to daycare but ok to stay home with a caregiver, the parent could still go in to work for at least part of the day. So acknowledging that childcare is expensive and helping to cover some of the cost in unexpected situations is not entirely unheard of.

  29. Alston

    Ooof, I feel for the guy some. I’m imagining a scenario where he had a pick up time by say 6 at the daycare–and if you miss the cut off it’s REALLY expensive. Did the employee really know it was optional to stay late or did you imply/say he really SHOULD stay? The daycare my parents had me in a kid would have charged the guy about $200 for that late of a pickup.

    If this was for a babysitter not a daycare I am less sympathetic.

    Also Media Manager aren’t always high level/well paid. I know ours certainly isn’t.

    1. V.V.

      Thank you Alston. I have known daycares that charge $25 for every 15 minutes you are late billed in whole increments; unfortunately sometimes they are the only game in town.

      Here is an excerpt from another daycare’s handbook (admittedly second hand):

      “Late Pick-up Fees (after hours): Parents picking up children after 6:00 p.m. will be charged a late fee of $1.00 per minute, per child with no cap. Late fees are payable in cash to the closing teacher upon pick up. Unpaid late pick up fees will be billed to the child’s account balance. Upon three or more late pick ups within 6 months, a penalty of $30 will be billed for each instance in addition to applicable per-minute fees.”

      Mike C. mentions emergency by incompetence above. Exempt employee or not, I would be looking for a different job if this happened to me and my boss rattled on about business needs and how it is my job. Not because I wanted to stick it to The Man either (even if that is usually my motive); but because I would not have much of a choice. Especially if I wasn’t getting paid the salary to absorb this.

      That said, I am not qualifying this situation for or against anyone, they are just things to be considered.

      I am glad by the way that the OP wrote to Ask A Manager. I have not scrolled completely through the comments, but I am sure if it were any other website there would be much more virtiol and nastiness to be had for all.

  30. jess

    As I wrote in the previous open thread, a (former!) colleague of mine lied to the business and everyone in it, pretending to have a child when she really didn’t.

    She used this lie as an excuse to have time off and to attempt to alter her shift patterns. That was bad enough, but can you imagine if the company had paid out for her childcare costs?!

  31. Betty

    This makes me wonder what you guys would think of this. My husband is being asked to travel on a regular basis (ie gone every week). Normally I work part time and he manages school bus duty in the morning, and I’m able to get to work early, work my hours, and get the kids with no after care required. Due to the travel we can’t make that work (I will do bus, and will get in about an hour later than normal), and aftercare gets pricey if you are not thinking you have to pay it (ie $15/day per kid so $300 a week for 2 kids). He negotiated a sort of increase in pay saying this as the expense is incurred only due to him not being in town. He figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. Thoughts?

    1. Fiona

      $15/day x 5 days = $75/week per child. Two children would be $150 a week, not $300. That being said, if your husband’s job duties have changed, I see no harm in asking about a raise.

      1. Betty

        oops, that is right! It was $300 that we asked for bi-weekly. I am not sure how he asked, perhaps just something about traveling meant we incurred additional costs at home…

  32. Mel

    While I agree that requesting reimbursement when this is not in company policy is a bit much, I do think that employers would be well-advised to consider the childcare burden on their employees with children, particularly employees who would be hard to replace.
    I have a somewhat uncommon mix of skills and a highly technical job which I do well. I am also a new mom, and I spend SO MUCH mental energy thinking about childcare (first, finding good and affordable care, and now, getting my daughter to and from daycare on time). Quite frankly, it is not good for my employer or me, and I am looking at taking a job that I would enjoy less but that would pay enough for us to get a nanny , which would remove some of stress. If I leave, my current employer will be screwed – they have no one who could even temporarily fill my role, and we have tried to hire another person with my skillset in the past and have been unsuccessful.
    In other words, it may be worth it to pay a little more in order to keep your employees happy and productive and reduce turnover (I know this is true generally, not just for employees with children, but employers should be aware of the cost of childcare in thinking about how to keep employees with kids happy).

    1. snuck

      I do agree – this is something you can negotiate… especially if you have something they want (hard to replace skills! knowledge! company specific experience!) … maybe not the cost of childcare but it’s a perfect candidate for flexible working hours, working from home concessions, maybe covering a different cost for you (a company car? your travel costs? Your home phone or internet?) freeing up some of your cash at home to cover nannies etc.

      And it’s totally worth being flexible about these things – it actually increases employee retention massively, because they feel satisfied AND know they won’t get this elsewhere… and it means if you do get a curve ball and need to add in a few extra hours for a random extra push the employees while annoyed and put out might still be in a positive frame of mind and able to swing more happily with it.

  33. snuck

    I know in large corporations in Australia sometimes it’s standard practice to have taxis home if you work past 8pm or so (even if this is a scheduled shift, eg call centre with a 10pm finish) because transport options can become limited by then (and parking can be $20 to $50/day in inner city, not exactly in a call centre employees budget).

    Dinner is likely to be someone dialling pizza or chinese for a late over run evening…

    In jobs I’ve worked longer hours I often fend for myself – it’s part of the job – in middle management, in a job that has no set hours but an annual wage (as many hours as it takes to do the job), where I set my own project schedules and fight for my own deadlines…. so a taxi home or dinner were generally my own responsibility… but if I had staff working late I’d probably spring them a taxi voucher and dial in dinner, and give them notice (we weren’t in a time sensitive industry like media).

    It was normal to put a hotel room on for staff working late through or through weekends in Sydney for software releases etc, and a blind eye was turned if family stayed in them too (and sometimes a serviced apartment instead of a hotel room when it was more than two days/nights), and a stipend for meals, and taxis. Sydney is a spread out city with expensive and difficult travel in the wee hours of the morning, and asking staff to be available all weekend on call and do 2am releases etc meant respecting the impact on their family whenever we could. Sometimes people did this weekend after weekend which wasn’t ideal and then the family would be offered some nice accommodation formally in the city and dinner out on the company. In IT it can be hard to retain the right staff, so you do what you can along the way. Mind you this workplace also had regular late night hours, a Dunkin Doughnuts beanbag (idea of patronage??!!) and Katamari on the Xbox for everyone to destress with, amongst other things. A while back, policy might have changed now.

    1. snuck

      As for childcare… up to employer. I doubt most would even contemplate it, certainly not in the various banks, Telcos and other corporates I have worked in. These all allowed for salary sacrifice of child care costs and had good employee hour protections so it was rare for the average worker to be asked to work late without notice.

    2. TootsNYC

      I always thought the taxi home was a safety/liability issue. That asking someone to travel home by subway or bus (I’ve only worked in NYC) late at night made them vulnerable to crime, and the company was worried it would be held liable in some way if someone got mugged.

      My company lets me pay for taxis and dinners, and I use that as a recruiting/retention perk.

  34. Linguist curmudgeon

    This is why I’d never want to be in a conventional shitty job while having a tiny kid – and god forbid if I was a single parent! It’s okay to prioritize the little people for what, three stinking years out of your forty-year career? Americans have no sense of time or perspective. This post makes me sad.

    Now, to get coffee, get my kid to daycare, and go to my regular-hours job, which I’ll be extra grateful for today.

    1. LBK

      It’s not about you prioritizing your kid, it’s about the business not prioritizing your unique needs as the result of you having a child. It’s your responsibility to take care of them; maybe that entails getting a job with more consistent hours, but that doesn’t mean a business with varying hours has to change what they do to accommodate you once you have a kid.

      1. Mel

        >it’s about the business not prioritizing your unique needs as the result of you having a child

        Having a child is hardly unique, and if a business wants to retain someone with a child, they may in fact want to accommodate them in some way (flex hours, working remotely in the evening, or, yes, subsidized childcare. And yes, they should be offering these or other perks to high performers without kids as well). Your comment assumes that that employee is easily replaceable or has no other options, which is not necessarily the case. I think US employers are penny-wise and pound-foolish on this one, as employee turnover has a not insignificant cost.

    2. V.V.

      If it makes you feel better, Amercian companies do not usually keep people around for 40 years either. I know more people that were let go without notice at least one point in their careers than not. In the mid 90’s My Aunt was let go just before her retirement with meager severance (along with everyone else due to retire) just so the company wouldn’t have to shell out a full pension. Becoming a Mommy only would have ended her career sooner.

  35. TootsNYC

    Two stories:

    I worked with a woman who had left her previous job because her new boss there was always changing things in the middle of the day and ended up requiring her to work late a lot. She had a young kid in daycare, and she once said, “That woman cost me $35,000 in increase childcare costs. And I only lasted a half a year!”

    And when I was working on another project, we ran late into the night (like, 2am, after a full day). One of our hourly team members had kid-care duty in the evening, because his wife worked nights. He had to find and pay for child care, and he ended up saying, “I won’t stay unless you pay me more, because my cost for child care is MORE than what you are paying me to work. If you fire me because of it, so be it. I’m available during the day.” The company ended up doing something that got him to continue to work on the project; I’m guessing they paid him more money. They also said things like, “we have to wrap this up, Doug is leaving at X time.”

    I sympathize with the person who ends up incurring that sort of expense because their work suddenly and unexpectedly digs into their personal life. People who need someone to walk their dog, watch their kid. I’m not sure I’d go for “cook their family’s meal,” really.

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