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

A reader writes:

I work for a state university in Washington state. Part of my job requires me to travel to conferences, and we book flights, hotel accommodations, and registration far ahead of time. I gave notice last Friday and today my boss came into my cube to let me know that she’d like me to cut them a check for the flight I won’t be taking for the conference in a few weeks, since it’s a nonrefundable and non-transferable ticket and I’d be getting flight credit for the balance. I’m shocked. I said that if they’re planning on sending a colleague in my stead (they are), I’d be happy to make sure that flight credit goes to their ticket cost, but she waved it off and said it was too late and especially with how expensive that last minute ticket was, they would need a check before my last day.

I’m not sure what to do. I bought this flight (and was reimbursed) in good faith and see this as a cost of doing business on their end. Clearly they don’t agree and my boss waved off my questions saying “it has to do with being a state agency, you’re lucky we’re not charging you the whole cost of the conference.” Can they make me pay? What could they do if I just don’t write the check? I’m pretty sure my last paycheck will hit before I leave and she’d previously mentioned that the way payroll works means they couldn’t just deduct it from my paycheck. I’m just not sure what the best way forward is. (In the interest of transparency, I’m not going to have this boss as a reference so I really don’t care about preserving my relationship with her.)

You are right, and your boss is wrong.

This kind of thing is a cost of doing business. If employees had to pay for this kind of thing when they resigned, no one would ever want to book travel more than a month or so out, because they wouldn’t want to risk having to pay in case their circumstances changed.

These are business expenses — expenses incurred in the course of doing your work. It’s absurd to suggest that you should pay for a work-related flight that you’re not going to take.

And no, they cannot make you pay. To make you pay, they would need to have a written agreement with you where you agreed to cover the cost of the flight if you ended up not going on the trip. They have no such agreement, and they can’t magic one into existence. They have no standing to invoice you for random things you never agreed to pay.

The exception to this is if there really is some bizarre exception for state agencies, like your boss claimed, but I would bet money that she’s wrong about that because this is really not a thing that happens. You should check your employee handbook to be sure there isn’t some weird policy in there on that, but it’s highly unlikely that there is. You could also ask her to show you the policy she’s referring to, because she likely won’t be able to.

And you don’t need to worry about them deducting it from your paycheck, because your state law prohibits deducting this kind of thing from an employee’s paycheck (they have a very limited list of the times when paycheck deductions are allowed, and this isn’t one of them).

So no, absent some unusual policy just for state agencies — which, again, it’s pretty likely she has made up — they cannot make you pay this.

Start by saying this: “Can you show me the policy you’re referring to that requires me to pay this?”

Then, assuming no such policy materializes, say this: “I’m not able to cover a business expense for the university. This is a cost of doing business; people leave or can’t complete travel plans for other reasons, and I’m not able to shoulder that cost on the university’s behalf.”

If she makes things unpleasant, you could also suggest she contact HR for clarification about the policy, or you could do that yourself.

But since you’re not concerned about preserving the relationship with her (which makes this much easier), you can stand firm; they don’t have a legal claim to that money from you.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 170 comments… read them below }

    1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

      And “Pay back half your salary because you didn’t add enough value to the team.”

      1. Thumper*

        It’s the first article in the suggested list (the one about wanting 20% of their salary)

  1. TotesMaGoats*

    Alison is 100% right. I would second talking to HR or even someone in finance. I held off on buying a flight for a conference I had hoped I wouldn’t have to attend because I knew that current job was in the works. There was no way I could avoid it anymore, so I bought it. On the company card, as is procedure. However, I quit and couldn’t attend. The flight was non-transferrable and the credits would be in my name. I turned it all over to finance and they were going to deal with it on a corporate level. And this was at a small, private college. State institutions go through this all the time.

    1. OP*

      Thank you! This is actually really helpful and replicates my process almost exactly–I waited to purchase it until I couldn’t put it off any longer. I will reach out to the finance office.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        If it helps, the only times I’ve heard of state institutions requiring repayment was in the case of fraud. So, illegal things. This is not that. Best of luck!

      2. MommaTRex*

        WA state local government employee here – as far as I’m aware, the law would only require you to pay something back if it was for travel that was unallowed or illegal for a government to pay for it (like a plane ticket for your spouse).

      3. Justme*

        I work for a large University and just checked our policies and procedures for travel. No stipulation on paying back the cost of travel. I’m willing to be your boss wrong.

      4. healthnerd101*

        I work for a private university but my position is paid for by a federal grant. We pay for trainee’s travel and have had last minute cancellations due to unforseen circumstances. We just have to write off the tickets as lost expenses. We do tell our trainees if they decide to use the credit for personal travel then for auditing purposes, they may have to reimburse that ticket. This has generally been an honor system and we try and find ways that they can use the travel credit within the scope of our grant. But so far, we have not had any of our trainees pay back for last minute cancelled flights.

    2. FelineFine*

      I work for a university as well. Any travel booked through our agent can be credited back to the university. This is precisely an example of why I make my employees book through the agent and pay the agency fee.

  2. twig*

    I work at a state university as well, although in another state. We have a fairly extensive employee manual, I expect that you may too. You may be able to look for this “policy” in that manual (I used quotes there, because, like AAM, I don’t think the policy exists).

    I don’t know if this would apply at your university, but, In your place I’d also check with the Main HR office, the controllers office, or the travel office (if you have one) to verify if this is something that is usually (or even can be) done.

    1. Cyril Figgis*

      Even if it’s in the employee manual, there’s no reason that the OP needs to obey it. Employee manuals aren’t contracts.

  3. Jeanne*

    Just say No. When your boss says pay me, say I won’t be able to do that. End the conversation. Keep calm but just don’t pay. Your last day will come soon. It could be fun for you to watch her fuming when you know she can’t enforce it. (Of course check your handbook but I bet it’s not in there.) Congrats on the new job.

  4. Ann O'Nemity*

    I went through something similar in a university setting where I was in the OP’s boss’s shoes. The university denied my purchase request for another conference registration. Their take was, “Your budget was $300, you already spent it. Request denied.” But I, as the project director, was required to send a representative to the conference. In the end, the conference ended up breaking their own policy of non-transferrable or refundable conference registration.

    I’m not going to lie – it crossed my mind to ask the departing employee to pay. I also considered paying it out of my own pocket. Thankfully I didn’t have to do either.

    1. Electric Hedgehog*

      I had a similar experience, as the employee. I had a conference scheduled for the 36th week of my pregnancy. It wasn’t required that I attend, or anything – more of a ‘you have to do some external training this year and this is a good one’ type thing. Anyway, I had booked my travel expenses and registered and everything and then I went to my week 35 OBGYN check up and discovered that I was looking like I might go into labor at any minute and couldn’t go out of town. I was able to cancel my travel plans and transfer my theoretically non-transferrable registration to a coworker after I called the conference organizers and explained the situation. However, I would have been really peeved at my employer if they had tried to recoup from me any costs I hadn’t been able to mitigate.

      The baby, of course, didn’t show up til week 39.

      1. Artemesia*

        36th week is always too close to be traveling. When my son was born, a colleague was right at that moment delivering my paper at a professional conference. Arrival time is not predictable and it is very risky to travel after about 7 mos.

      2. Old Admin*

        I don’t if a flight was involved in your plans. If yes, most airlines will refuse a pregnant passenger in month six or higher!

        1. Dan*

          That’s not true, at least in my experience. American Airlines’ policy, for example, is that they will require a medical certification for travel less than 1 month from due date, and prohibit travel less than 7 days from the due date.

        2. Lies, damn lies and...*

          What? No. I flew at 34 weeks. You can fly later than that, airlines have different policies and the closer to your due date, the better it is to have a note from your doctor that you can fly.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      So what did you end up saying/doing to resolve the situation, since it ended well?

      1. Edith*

        ” In the end, the conference ended up breaking their own policy of non-transferrable or refundable conference registration.”

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        You mean resolve it with the conference organizers? I asked nicely once, was refused, and then explained that I was in a rough spot and they grudgingly agreed to transfer the registration to one of my other team members.

        I never involved the departing employee in this mess throughout all my struggles with the university purchase rejection and conference organizer discussions. They probably had no idea it was even happening. At one point I considered asking the departing employee if they wanted to pay for the registration and use it (which would solve my dilemma), but I knew the answer was probably “no” and it would be silly to ask.

        1. NK*

          That’s kind of a ridiculous policy on the part of the conference organizers. If organizations are sending representatives on their behalf, those representatives should be entirely transferable within that organization. Especially for conferences targeted to schools and nonprofits.

          1. Anon Anon*

            From the conference side, I completely understand why organizers do this. Because it gets out of hand very easily, and it gets hugely time consuming after just a few. We allow transfers, but there is a transfer fee. It helps cut down on organizations that are constantly trying to change their attendee list.

        2. Meredith*

          I think reaching out to the conference organizers is a very smart thing to do. I am a conference organizer, and I’m very understanding about situations that come up that might be grey areas in our cancellation policy, and I’m almost always willing to help out registrants who are in a bind. Worst we can do is say no.

          1. Tiny Orchid*

            As a former conference planner, you have that policy because otherwise you’d do nothing but process reg changes for the last 3 weeks. But when someone has a good reason and asks nicely, you help them out.

            1. Turtle Candle*

              Right. I used to volunteer for a smallish literary conference, and at first we had no such policy… which meant that we spent a huge, huge amount of time doing transfers of the “I might not be able to go, so I’m sending it to my friend!” “Oh wait, now I can go after all, so transfer it back!” Etc. Add to that that for security reasons we had to be sure to verify both that the person who was transfering it was who they said they were (a surprising number of people registered under one email address and then requested the transfer using another), and that the person they were transfering it to wanted it, *and* winding up in the middle when someone asked us to transfer the registration to her friend, who then failed to pay her, so asked us to transfer it back… it was a mess.

              The current verbiage about not allowing transfers does include a line about, if you will be unable to attend please contact us and we can provide you with options–so if someone really is in a bind (resigned from the job, pregnancy, unexpected travel restrictions, etc.) we will bend the rules to help them out, sometimes by offering a transfer, sometimes by offering a refund even past the cancellation/refund deadline. It just helps to reduce the frivolous and time-consuming back-and-forthing.

        3. Adam V*

          > At one point I considered asking the departing employee if they wanted to pay for the registration and use it (which would solve my dilemma)

          I don’t think there would be any problems with that (even if she ended up saying no). If it’s going to be of enough value to her, she or her new employer might be willing to pay you back to take over her current registration and plane tickets.

    3. Kathleen Adams*

      1. Of course the OP doesn’t have to pay them back. That’s ridiculous. I wonder if the boss genuinely believes the OP owes money or just thought she’d give it the old college try? But either way, RI.DIC.U.LOUS.

      2. I actually don’t believe that in most cases, conference fees are non-transferable. I mean, they often say they are, but come on, what possible reason can there be for this policy aside from a desire to avoid paperwork? Sure, if you try to do it just a day or two before the conference, I can see why that would be a problem, but days or weeks ahead of time? I don’t buy it.

      1. Amber T*

        Your point #1 crosses my mind every time we read about something absurd a boss tries. Did you really think that was gonna work? Or were you just trying and keeping your fingers crossed? Seriously…

        1. LBK*

          I think often when managers hand down these bizarre decisions, they do it without really thinking it through, and then when they get questioned by an employee they get defensive and double down rather than admitting their mistake.

    4. AMG*

      This was my first thought–she took a hot to her budget and is upset that she can’t get it back. Tell her to pound sand.

        1. Duck Duck Møøse*

          That’s older slang that really needs to come back. I use it when I’m trying not to swear. :) I’m not sure if I picked it up through my family, or old movies :D

  5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Seconding Alison’s advice. I now work for a large state university, and we don’t have a policy like this (in fact, they pay a premium to buy more expensive tickets that are then transferable and refundable). It’s true that state funds are often treated differently and that state universities tend to be more nervous about lost costs because there’s been a huge contraction in funding and enrollment. But unless there’s a specific university- or system-level policy, what your boss is doing is super petty and not really reasonable.

  6. The IT Manager*

    My employer seems to pay way more for air travel than I do for personal trips but that is because they always buy the refundable/transferable option. That’s their policy. Your employer could have purchased the more expensive refundable tickets if this is a big worry for them. I don’t think they’d come out ahead with this policy, but that’s a way to never be stuck with a non-refundable ticket for a person who can’t travel for any reason including quitting, illness, or other reasons.

  7. copy run start*

    Actually I’d touch base with your HR rep and your union rep, if you have one. I never flew for work while working for the state (not yours) but this sort of thing did come up and is absolutely a cost of business.

    1. OP*

      I actually called the HR person for our group yesterday and they have someone new covering us temporarily. His first reaction to me asking if there’s a policy about this type of behavior was that he needed the full picture and would have to contact my supervisor to get her side. I noped out of that conversation so quickly after telling him that it’s not great process to imply that you don’t believe an employee when they come to you with a worry or a question or a complaint.

      1. animaniactoo*

        “There is no side to be gotten here. I was instructed to attend the conference and had no end date at that point, so I made the arrangements as directed. All I need to know is if there is a policy that states that I need to repay this cost now that I am leaving the institution and will be unable to attend on its behalf. Does it exist, yes or no?”

      2. Sarah*

        Unless you’re leaving something out of the conversation, this seems like a very normal response — I don’t think they were saying they don’t believe you, just they needed all the information to be able to fully answer your question and make sure they were giving you an accurate answer.

        1. Anna*

          See animaniactoo’s response. There’s no “other side.” It’s a simple yes or no answer to whether or not the university has such a policy. Having to get the other side implies they don’t believe that’s the situation.

          1. Sarah*

            I agree it’s not about “sides”, but the HR person could both believe that OP is telling the truth and also want to make sure they sure they had all the information so that they would be sure of giving an accurate answer (especially as a brand new employee). For example, as people have noted in other comments, it could be possible there were grant funds involved, or a state law that was just passed, or some other strange/unusual situation that OP is not aware of. This would in no way make OP untrustworthy, just not fully informed (hence why they are asking!). I think it only makes sense for a new HR person to want to gather all the information before saying “Oh, don’t worry, that definitely won’t apply to you” and then later find out they gave out bad information.

            1. OP*

              When pressed what sort of information he needed to make an informed suggestion, the things he responded with were all questions he could have asked me and then if that wasn’t enough, could have then responded with”Well, I need to know more about x in order to give you any guidence.” The first thing he said after I asked if there was a policy about this sort of thing was “Well, I’ll need to speak with your supervisor first.” It wasn’t handled well. For the record, grants don’t play into this situation.

              1. Czhorat*

                Yeah, this is fishy to me as well. You’re asking if the supervisor is following policy.

                The positive thing is that there’s not really all that much they can do to you; it isn’t as if they could fire you.

              2. Emi.*

                It sounds to me like he’s worried that there might be some detail you left out that would put your supervisor in the right, so he doesn’t want you going to them and saying “HR said I’m right” unless he’s sure about that detail. It’s obnoxious but I’m not unsympathetic if that’s what he’s thinking.

                1. Newby*

                  It seems like the correct response would be “I’ll look into it and get back to you” a part of which might include talking to the supervisor.

                2. The OG Anonsie*

                  This is reasonable on its face, but it’s not fantastic practice to refuse to illuminate the policies around this at all without telling the asking employee’s supervisor that the employee was asking around about their behavior.

                  The smart thing to do if you’re worried that you’re answering a question with incomplete information is to state what the policy is specifically. Not “here’s how it applies to your situation,” but “this is the policy and whether that applies to your situation will depend on all the details.”

                3. Mookie*

                  But hypothetical loopholes don’t preclude his ability to recite the policy. She’s not asking him to analyze it for her or apply it on her behalf, but to confirm its very existence. Waffling about something straight-forward implies deception and is not cooperative; it’s signaling that he won’t be easy to work with and will refuse to confront reality if not doing so will benefit management at an employee’s expense and rights.

                4. The Rat-Catcher*

                  Agree with all those above. I’m in a job role where I’m asked questions out of the blue like that. You can say things like, “I’m not familiar with your specific situation, but generally, XYZ.” You can even include another disclaimer at the end, such as “Again, I’d need to gather more information to be sure in your case” if you’re really paranoid.

              3. mf*

                “Well, I’ll need to speak with your supervisor first.”–>Frankly, this is a dumb and terrible answer. Either the policy exists or not. Its existence does not depend on what your supervisor says. Good for you for telling him that it’s not great to imply he doesn’t believe an employee.

            2. animaniactoo*

              Then new HR person can say “Let me check with somebody else here who may know more about these policies and I’ll get back to you.”

              And *give* the info “If the money for the trip came from a grant, you would need to pay it back. But other than that situation, there is no policy that states that you should have to pay back for a trip you aren’t taking under these circumstances.”

      3. Important Moi*

        It comes across as your (former) agency skirts the rules with no push back and possibly no mechanism for those who feel wronged – hence HR wanting to speak your boss.

        I’m not sure you’ll get your money back, but good luck.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          The OP hasn’t actually given them any money. They’ve asked, but she hasn’t done it yet, at least not if I’m reading this correctly.

            1. yourleague*

              and that’s it – you haven’t paid them, and you won’t. It’s almost not worth following up any further with HR or your manager. You’re on your way out, you don’t care about the relationship, and you know good and well you’re not paying – so you won’t pay. It’s kind of refreshing that you have this power!

              1. Naruto*

                I think this is right. You did your part — you even asked HR! They haven’t shown you a policy or contract requiring you to pay it back. The ball is in their court. And that’s being *more* than fair to them, because frankly, you just simply don’t and shouldn’t have to reimburse them for this.

  8. Bea*

    I’m getting this feeling that says “wow, no wonder you were looking for work elsewhere.” What a pain to deal with, tell them to send out a bill if it’s really a thing. You can’t just shake down an employee. Finance needs to be looped in.

    If there’s a policy, they should be able to deduct from your salary, since they can’t, it screams out that this is an attempt to salvage a budget issue like above, not an actual policy in place.

    They’re betting on you just tossing them the money.

    1. OP*

      Yepppppp. I’ve been trying to get out for about a year. This situation is just the cherry on top of the “what the hell” of my time in this department.

      1. Manders*

        My husband was going to grad school and working at a state university in Washington state, and he ended up having to drop his degree program when he was ABD because the dysfunction got so bad. Congrats on getting out! I don’t think you’re going to regret leaving for a minute.

      2. A Plain-Dealing Villain*

        “Have Finance invoice me along with a copy of the policy.” You could add a “I’ll need that documentation for my tax records” if you want, but odds are, you’ll never hear about this again.

        1. AMG*

          I like that approach! It requires that they explain the situation to who-knows-how-many people, all of which will know that there is no such policy. Even if they do manage to get an invoice, don’t pay it. Post it on social media and have a good laugh. (Just kidding about that last part. Sort of.)

        2. Alex "Barney" Barnaby*

          That’s brilliant.

          No need to add anything about tax records; just ask for the appropriate department to send an invoice and a copy of the policy “for my records.”

      3. mf*

        Definitely this. If I were you, I’d drop it and pretend the issue is resolved. When/if your supervisor mentions it again, I’d say, “Well, no one could show me a written policy stating that I am required to pay back the money, so no, I won’t be doing that.”

  9. animaniactoo*

    This is the price they pay for having employees buy the cheaper non-refundable fare prices.

    The cost of your ticket is likely to be absorbed and then some by the savings in the difference for all the other employee flights throughout the year still being bought as non-refundable. Unless there truly aren’t many employees flying for university business, in which case they should absolutely be looking for refundable tickets.

    But otherwise… this is their risk and they took it.

  10. Alana*

    I’ve worked for two non-profits that did not have company cards. For travel, you had to book your own expenses and get reimbursed. If you had to back out of a work-related event for any reason, it was the policy of both organizations that you would not be reimbursed for those tickets/hotel/etc. – even if it was due to an illness, or family emergency. I imagine it would also be true if you quit (probably not if you were fired, though).

    This is a bit different from what the OP is saying here – that you’d have to pay them back *after* being reimbursed – but IMO it’s a pretty crappy policy all around.

    1. nhbillups*

      This is a crazy, awful policy. Why would anyone be willing to travel for these companies then? Good grief, what if you got the flu? They’d rather you go and infect everyone else than eat the business expense of having to cancel your trip? How terrible.

    2. EleanoraUK*

      This reminds me of my otherwise awesome company’s ridiculous policy on damage to work phones, laptops and company cars.

      Which is why I use my own phone and get reimbursed every month, my own laptop when I do work from home (more practical anyway), and only take public transport for work purposes.

      I’m not making myself liable for the excess when my job requires me to park on industrial estates with giant trucks. One of them cuts a corner and I’m liable for the excess on a new bumper? No thank you. Here’s my expense for a train ticket and an expensive taxi receipt instead.

  11. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    You need to check with your union/unit rep and HR. Alison is correct; they cannot charge you for this. My university specifically requires all tickets to be refundable for this purpose. If you purchase a non-refundable ticket, they make you sign an additional form stating you know the risks and will take on any additional expenses relating to it.

    Your boss is being rude because she wants to salvage her budget. Understandable, but not a good way to handle business. Definitely follow up with HR or your unit rep to find out the actual policy and request a copy of your receipt of this policy.

  12. Treecat*

    I also work for a state university in WA and I have never heard of something like this. The only situation I know where you’d be required to repay an expense is if it were an unallowable cost under the law/regulations, or if it was purchased as part of a grant fund and an auditor either deemed the cost unallowable, or demanded receipts that the department then couldn’t produce.

    I think you’re totally in the clear here. And, for what it’s worth, I’m in a similar situation–I’ve booked registration fees for a conference (it’s local so no plane ticket, fortunately, but it’s an expensive registration fee) and my supervisor knows I’m actively interviewing for a different position within the university. Sounds like your supervisor is a jerk. =\

  13. Natalie*

    OP, I suppose there’s a good chance you’re at a level where you’re not represented by the union, but if you are this is a perfect thing to take to them. And if your friendly with any one that’s been involved in the union for a long time you might just ask them if they’ve ever heard of this policy. Cuz it sounds 100% made up to me.

  14. Lia*

    You might also contact the university system office. I work for a state university (in a different state than yours) and all reimbursement ultimately goes through that office. That said, nope, this is a cost of doing business, and they should not be charging you. My own boss had to cancel attending a conference due to a family emergency, and the department just ate the cost of his registration, since it was non-transferable.

  15. Lily in NYC*

    It bugs me to think that there are probably lots of people who have paid in similar situations because they didn’t realize they didn’t have to or because they needed the reference.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      I feel this way every time I argue with my medical insurance and win. How many people have blindly paid bills (I’m thinking of the elderly here, mainly, but really anyone) because they didn’t know that the insurance company messed up, or better yet, just let the charges through to see if they get paid? It makes me ill.

  16. LadyCop*

    People like this boss scare me. This is someone who has absolutely no understanding of how businesses operate. The fact this happens to be at a state subsidized university changes nothing.

    I’m horrified how little people know about economics and finance.

  17. Internal Compliance Manager*

    I guess I may be the only one who is seeing this in a slightly different way. As I understand it:
    a. You bought the ticket
    b. You have already been reimbursed for that cost
    c. The ticket has not yet been used, and you have it in your possession. That is an asset that belongs to the organization.
    In my opinion, you should not have to repay the cost, but you should find a way to turn over that asset (ticket or ticket credit). Your manager is not doing their job by not finding a way to make that happen.

    1. OP*

      Yes, this is the situation. The ticket has been cancelled, but since it is non-transferable, I cannot turn the asset over. Hence asking for a check.

      1. Czhorat*


        Then they lose It’s a pity, but they should have insisted on transferrable or refundable tickets if this was such a concern.

      2. AcidMeFlux*

        Short-sighted policy on their part to not buy cancelation coverage. I live on a pretty frugal income but always get a cancel/change option when I buy a ticket; life is unpredictable. And a business has an ever more complicated life. People leave jobs or change positions all the time. Prepare for it.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Right. There’s always a risk that something will happen to mess up travel plans, so you either deal with that risk by paying more for refundable/transferable tickets (if available), or you accept that you are choosing to purchase cheaper-but-riskier tickets and may occasionally have to eat the cost. Both of those can be legitimate decisions (when I travel the company buys nonrefundable, on the principle that one goofed up flight once in a while is offset by the overal cheaper cost of the tickets, and that’s a reasonable decision to make); what’s not reasonable is attempting to offload the risk onto your employees.

          Actually a lot of the terrible-boss-decision letters that end up on AAM kind of boil down to the employer wanting the employee to shoulder the routine risks of doing business, which absolutely is not an employee’s responsibility to do.

      3. yasmara*

        This exact situation happened to my husband when he left his last job. It was written off as a cost of doing business, no hard feelings. He was able to use that credit for another flight since it was non-transferrable.

        1. yasmara*

          And this company was *notorious* for sending him on the WORST flights (no, he does not need to leave Sunday morning for a 1-hour flight from Minneapolis to Chicago for a business trip that starts Monday afternoon) just because they were the absolute cheapest. So it was on them that it was not transferrable.

          1. Whit J.*

            If working on Sunday morning was not written into that job description I’d tell the company that making me miss church for business travel sounds like religious discrimination. And I’d be 100% serious. I will work on Sundays but only if I can attend a Communion service first.

            1. Wow. Self centered much?*

              If working on Sunday morning was not written into that job description I’d tell the company that making me miss church for business travel sounds like religious discrimination. And I’d be 100% serious. I will work on Sundays but only if I can attend a Communion service first.

              Wow. So your colleagues should always have to cover for you if a Sunday project comes up? I’ve been there and that’s brutal. Your time isn’t more precious than anyone else’s Sunday morning.

              1. Chinook*

                “I will work on Sundays but only if I can attend a Communion service first” and “If working on Sunday morning was not written into that job description”

                These two lines are important. Whit J. is not refusing to work Sunday’s, just that her religious commitments must be taken into consideration and respected. My guess is that she would also be willing to cover for someone who had a similar commitment at a different time that is also not part of the regular job commitment.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not all tickets are transferable. For example, if I buy a non-refundable airline ticket and then cancel the flight, I’ll get a credit that I can only use for another ticket in my own name.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        In fact, some of the new discount fares don’t even provide a credit if you cancel your travel.

      2. Mabel*

        And usually the credit has to be used for travel within one year from the date of BOOKING, not the date of travel on the ticket. So it’s fairly restricted, and chances are the OP probably won’t be able to use it. Plus, the OP didn’t buy the ticket for personal travel. They bought it as instructed by their employer. As many people have said, it’s a cost of doing business.

    3. Czhorat*

      Fine. Then hand them the ticket and let them have someone else use it. I don’t htink OP – or anyone – would take issue with that.

      It’s not the departing employee’s responsibility to make the employer whole for this. “cut us a check” is a completely unreasonable request.

        1. Jessica*

          It’s still the business’s responsibility to have a travel policy that hits the sweet spot between flexibility and expense. If it’s a policy to buy non-transferrable tickets, then they’re rolling the dice that the amount spent on unused nonrefundable tickets will be less than the cost of buying the refundable option. They rolled and came up snake eyes this time.

        2. EleanoraUK*

          It would still be the employer’s problem to fix. They can’t expect the employee to perform magic and make the ticket available to someone else (assuming the employer hasn’t issued instructions around only buying refundable/transferable tickets).

  18. Brett*

    So, the state of Washington _does_ have a policy and law allowing the state to place a lien against a state employee for repayment of unused travel expenses. See http://www.ofm.wa.gov/policy/10.80.htm and http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=43.03.190

    And at least looking at one state university’s polices (WSU), travelers are required to repay unused tickets they were reimbursed for: http://public.wsu.edu/~forms/HTML/BPPM/95_Travel/95.07_Transportation.htm
    (See the “Refunds” section)

    This is one big reason to avoid ever paying out of pocket and always use a state credit card whenever possible when working for a public agency.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In fact, the only part I see here that looks like it would apply to the OP is this: “If the traveler does not use all or part of a ticket purchased with a CTA the traveler reports the fact to his or her department and provides documentation (e.g., tickets). The department works with the issuing bank (CTA or travel card), the airline, or travel agency to obtain refunds for CTA ticket purchases.”

        … which seems to back up that there’s nothing requiring her to pay it back.

        1. Czhorat*

          Yes, the way I read it is that if you don’t use your ticket then the department will work to get a refund. If the traveller receives a refund directly, they have to pay it back to the department [I assume if they hadn’t paid it out of pocket].

          1. The Bimmer Guy*

            I read it that way, too. And that’s reasonable. She shouldn’t unfairly profit from something that her employer paid for. However, bearing all else in mind, the letter writer booked the trip in good faith, and it isn’t her fault that the timing is so lousy.

        2. Fiennes*

          I agree, though I think this policy’s existence may mean that OP’s boss genuinely believes she’s following the rules. If this hasn’t come up much or at all before now, it would be very possible for boss to have incorrectly understood this. Another point in the “talk about this with HR/the controller/etc.” column.

      2. Brett*

        Yes, that’s the really hazy part of this, because the OP was reimbursed before travel was taken. Washington state policy bars using advances for commercial air travel (10.80.60.b), so I think the reimbursement could not be considered an advance.
        But the refund part of the WSU policy appears to apply to their situation #3 “Purchase common carrier tickets using personal resources,” since the refund policy is for reimbursements, not advances.

        Or maybe the supervisor _thinks_ it counts as an advance and expects repayment, but advances do not apply to commercial travel, so it can’t be an advance.

        1. Chris W*

          But the refund policy only applies to refunds. If OP had bought a refundable ticket, they would be obligated to get a refund and pay the money back to their employer. But they didn’t get a refund. At best, they got some non-transferable credit, which by definition they cannot transfer back to their employer.

          The refund policy can’t apply if OP can’t get a refund.

          1. Newby*

            If the employer wants to try to get their money back, they need to talk to the airline. It should not be the OPs problem.

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            Yes. The OP was reimbursed by the school. She did not get a refund from the airline. If the airline refunded her ticket price, she’d have to turn that over. And that’s fair.

            1. Zombii*

              The OP got a flight credit from the airline. OP’s manager wants OP to pay the school back because the flight credit from the airline can’t be transferred to the school. Your logic says the OP owes the school money, equivalent to the value of the flight credit.

              1. Engineer Woman*

                But flight credit may not get used. Is there an expiration for flight credits? Is it only applicable to certain types of plane tickets that the OP can’t use? Flight credit isn’t money. I agree if OP had gotten a refund, then he/she should repay the University.

                Someone else also mentioned their policy to ask for monies back should the person actually use the credit. They stated there was no real way to prove it was used, but asked. It would be fair for boss to ask for this.

        2. Em too*

          But not reimbursed until after the ticket was bought I think? So not an advance; flight date’s irrelevant here. And there’s no refund been given so I don’t see anything suggesting OP should pay anything.

        3. Cassie*

          The OP should contact the university’s travel accounting office – they should be able to tell her what the policy is about whether reimbursing the university is necessary or not. I don’t think HR would necessarily be familiar with this. Unless the OP happens to work in the travel accounting office, I have doubts about whether a supervisor would be intimately familiar with university/state policies – at the very least, the supervisor should be able to point out the specific policy that states the repayment requirement. (Maybe there is some stipulation that could be read one way, but actually means something different).

          It’s interesting that WSU allows reimbursement of airplane tickets prior to the trip. Our state university specifically prohibits any reimbursement before the trip.

          1. Mabel*

            That’s terrible. It means that employees are giving their employer an interest free loan until the travel occurs and they can get reimbursed. I wouldn’t be able to travel for work under those conditions.

            1. Cassie*

              Actually, our university would strongly prefer that you (the employee) *do not* use your personal credit card to book plane tickets. They want us to charge the plane tickets directly to the university’s funds, through our university’s travel center or an approved travel agency.
              This (direct charge) is also apparently is WSU’s preferred method too (I think they list it as their first option for airfare. Using your own cc was listed 3rd(?)).

              In reality, my travelers usually book their own tickets (with their cc) because they a) want the cc rewards or b) the tickets are cheaper online. Also, our travel center also has a service fee of $30. I think the no reimbursements prior to the trip serves to purposes – 1) I just saw a policy today that federal contracts and grants prohibit reimbursements before the trip (a lot of our travel funding come from this type of funds) so maybe our university decided to make it a blanket policy and 2) it somewhat deters people from using their own cc if they know they can’t get reimbursed until a couple of months later.

              If you work at a state institution, I don’t think you shouldn’t be covering the expenses up front anyway – most institutions have some way to pay for these things directly. (Hotel reservations are different, since you don’t usually get charged until the first night of stay).

    1. AMG*

      Well…that changes things. I wonder what/if loopholes there are in this. Could you talk to an attorney or someone?

  19. The Bimmer Guy*

    She asked for check. Hmm. People can ask for all sorts of things. I can ask my friend for a new Tesla; it doesn’t mean I’ll get it.

      1. MoinMoin*

        Tesla, man. Like, I know there’s a comment policy about not insulting other commenters, but you’re really pushing me here. :-)

      2. The Bimmer Guy*

        In all honesty, the one BMW I had (a 2011 X5) was really unreliable. I want to buy another, but dread having to drop into the service center every three days, and drive loaners 80% of the time.

        So it’s a bit of a misnomer. Right now, I have a VW Touareg, which is a similar sort of car, but more reliable.

  20. Noah*

    In my view, the only person OP should talk to his her Boss, and she should say, “No, I have no obligation to pay for this flight, and I’m not going to do so.” None of this “able” stuff and no wasting time getting imprimatur on that from HR or finance. If Boss has a valid basis to demand this money, it’s on Boss to establish that to OP.

  21. EmKay*

    I would be tempted to take one of my cheques, cancel it, write “LOL NOPE” on it, and hand it in on my way out. Sorely tempted.

      1. Mookie*

        Publisher’s Clearinghouse-style. Bring balloons and glitter bombs and hum some jaunty Sousa thing.

    1. Czhorat*

      I understand that this is “tempted” and not “would do this”. It IS tempting, but the right thing is to act like an adult even if you aren’t being treated professionally.

      The right thing to do is to respectfully but firmly refuse and walk out.

      1. EmKay*

        Why is the right thing to do never as fun as the thing you’re tempted to do? Rhetorical question.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          Hehe. It’s “what you do when you resign” vs “what you do when you resign because you’ve won Mega Millions.”

          1. the gold digger*

            “what you do when you resign” vs “what you do when you resign because you’ve won Mega Millions and are sure you won’t ever need your old job back.”

  22. louyu*

    I work for a state university, and my impression here is that university accounts need just as much documentation for money coming in as for money going out. If, for example, you put travel expenses on a university card and then a conference reimburses you personally for some of those expenses, it takes a lot of paperwork and approvals before you can hand the money over to the university.
    As far as I know, there aren’t situations where reimbursing the university is optional. In some situations it’s required by policy, and in all others it would be impossible (unless your boss filed false documentation). If the OP’s university operates similarly, that would be another reason not to write a check without seeing documentation of the policy requiring it.

    1. KG, Ph.D.*

      You’ve brought up SUCH a good point! I’ve been a student and a faculty member at state institutions, and I’m not sure anyone would even know how to make out the check for such a thing. The cogs of state institutions are large and unwieldy…I highly doubt they even have a mechanism for this type of repayment.

    2. Blue Anne*

      Yep. I’ve audited state universities, and if we happened to pull this transaction in our sample (which we probably would, because it would be super weird) it would be at the very least a “You MUST change this policy before your next audit” note and more likely a “There is and should be absolutely no financial policy that supports this, rectify immediately or audit fail”.

    3. Cassie*

      I work for a state university too – depositing reimbursements from conferences are not a problem for us. You just deposit it back to the account that was used and keep the documentation from the conference as backup. I guess if the check is made out to the traveler, and not the university, it would count as a third party check which *might* be a little more complicated.

  23. Taylor Swift*

    If you’re in a union, it could be that there’s a policy about this in the union contract. I can easily see this being the case with the union I’m in.

  24. Jerry Vandesic*

    The only way I could see having to repay a travel expense would be if it were associated with a tuition reimbursement, and the company had a policy about repaying training if you left within a certain number of months. My current employer has a very generous tuition reimbursement program (including travel if the course is remote), but you need to pay back reimbursements if you leave within 12 months. It’s all up front, and employees sign a statement acknowledging the policy when they apply for the program.

    1. Natalie*

      Yes, that’s a key different with tuition programs – you sign a promissory note *before* they give you any money. It’s really no different than any other kind of loan, except it has 0% interest and can be satisfied by working at the company for X years.

      And, for what it’s worth, when I had to pay back a tuition reimbursement when I left my last job, they sent me a letter for documentation.

    2. Professor Marvel*

      Yes. We have a formal policy that pro-rates reimbursements if you leave within 12 months. It’s not a secret. No policy should ever be a surprise. Ours was enacted after a couple of employees went to training in cities they wanted to visit (San Francisco, Chicago) and then quit within a couple of months.

  25. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    Government AP/AR here. Unless your uni has some crazy fiscal policies, or your boss is upper, upper mgmt, any check you write will go into a general fund anyway, not into a budgetary travel account. The school will then be a little richer, but she’ll still be over budget.

  26. nhbillups*

    OP, I found this link regarding Washington state employees, but nothing yet that is specific to university employees. This legislature specifies the following regarding travel advances made to employees who qualify for them: “No such advance shall be considered for any purpose as a loan to such officer or employee, and any unauthorized expenditure of such funds shall be considered a misappropriation of state funds by a custodian of such funds.”


    1. nhbillups*

      Sorry; I meant to include a note that because the law specifies that no advance shall be considered a loan, then as long as the funds were used appropriately and as authorized (which they were), Washington state law indicates that you don’t have to repay it.

    2. CM*

      It’s not clear that the law applies to the OP, and in general it’s better not to engage in law-sleuthing because laws can be interpreted and applied in different and not always obvious ways. I like Alison’s approach of asking for a written policy. (Actually, I would personally skip the “show me the policy” part and go straight to the, “No, I’m not responsible for paying that and I won’t pay” part.)

    3. MommaTRex*

      But it wasn’t an advance. The ticket was purchased. I’ve had some experience with cash travel advances for government employees in WA state. It is a different thing; it’s money you get like 10 days before the travel to pay for your hotel and meals, etc. I have never seen it include airline fares. They really aren’t even allowed in a travel advance.

  27. Abigael*

    I’m curious how the answer would be different if OP did want to maintain a good relationship with this boss/employer.

    1. Czhorat*

      I suspect the same advice; you might be nicer in how you say it, but a relationship you have to buy for the price of a plane ticket isn’t a strong one anyway.

  28. state government jane*

    OP, I’m in Washington too. Something non-Washington State employees may not realize is that the rules for our state employees are different depending on whether you work for an agency or a university. If you’re able to, it might be worth meeting with an attorney to discuss the situation and get their take (attorneys can be great resources even when you’re not planning to take legal action). Talking with HR might be helpful too, since state HR is part of the state OFM (office of financial management).

  29. The OG Anonsie*

    If this is the same university I think it is, I used to work with them, and boyyyy is this kind of thing typical. Place is toxic as a radioactive waste dump and HR is always complicit.

    So congrats on your new job, for one, and second this is almost definitely all hot air on their part.

  30. Manager in CA*

    To the OP, I would double check your travel request form, if your office makes you submit one.

    Alison mentioned: “To make you pay, they would need to have a written agreement with you where you agreed to cover the cost of the flight if you ended up not going on the trip. ”

    I work for the State of California and on our office’s preprinted travel request form, right above where the employee signs, appears a statement that an employee may be charged if there is a last minute cancellation, or if the employee does not complete the training to the satisfaction of the provider. If the cancellation is due to unforeseen circumstances out of the employee’s control (like illness, an accident, or management changes its mind about sending the employee), then a replacement should be found. The OP may have signed such an agreement.

    Being a manager myself, we’ve had employees in this situation, and we’ve always been able to change the attendee name with the provider and the hotel at no charge, and with the airlines, it’s either been free to change the name or a nominal fee is charged to change the name. So it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to send someone else.

    It sounds like this boss is being petty.

  31. Helena*

    OP, are you exempt? If so, the Department of Labor ruling on deductions from an exempt employee’s salary is here: https://www.dol.gov/whd/opinion/FLSA/2006/2006_03_10_07_FLSA.htm

    Basically, Federal law prohibits taking money (either payroll deductions or requiring out-of-pocket reimbursements) from exempt employees for “loss, damage, or destruction of the employer’s funds or property.” I’m not sure whether it would apply here, but it’s worth sending the link to HR.

    That said, you should also find out whether you have to report the flight credit as income for tax purposes.

  32. Kix*

    Years ago, I worked in a state agency in Washington State and this sounds exactly like the kind of asshattery I dealt with during my two-year tenure. All they deserve when you leave is a polite “Goodbye.”

  33. K*

    I see your boss’ perspective. If you use the $X flight credit you’d otherwise have to pay for, then that’s a windfall to you that comes out of her budget, so you should reimburse them. If you give the credit to your university, they can’t use it, but then neither can you. It seems petty because then only the airline wins.

  34. Greg*

    Somewhat different circumstances, but a former coworker was once contacted by a vendor who claimed the company owed them money. I think it was one of those situations where the company had changed ownership, or was going out of business, or something.

    Anyway, it was my friend’s response that’s always stuck with me. After numerous calls from the vendor, my friend said, “Look, if I don’t pay this, are you going to come over to my office and break my thumbs?” The vendor said, “No, of course not.” “OK, then you can keep harassing me as much as you want. But if you’re not going to break my thumbs, I’m not going to pay you.”

    I think there’s a natural fear when someone says we owe them money. But what my friend hit on is that, unless they have a way to enforce their demand, there’s really not much those people can do to make us pay up.

  35. Tertia*

    OP, your original post said that your job books flights, etc. “far ahead of time,” but you’ve also said that you waited until the last minute because you were hoping to leave the job. Did the last-minuteness of it change the mechanics of how the ticket was purchased? For example, if the normal practice was to use a university account to buy a transferable ticket, then your good-faith effort to not leave them holding the bag may have backfired. Leading to my next point…

    Like K, I see your boss’s perspective. From your point of view, you’re not out of pocket for a trip you didn’t take and you have flight credits that you may never use. From their point of view, they paid you to not go to a conference and handed you a discount on your next flight to boot. That would rankle even a good boss, although a good boss would realize under further reflection that the actual villain in the story is the airline.

    My university would fight like hell to claw back that money, and when that failed, the president would tout it to the Board of Trustees as evidence of the excessively generous employee benefits that have put us $x million in the hole for the foreseeable future.*

    *His shiny new buildings are actually what put us in the hole, but the Trustees would believe him anyway.

    1. OP*

      For timeline, “last minute” was still a few months out well in time to get the low prices they ask us to get (I waited less than two weeks after being told I was going to this conference to buy them) . The timing did not change the mechanics at all. Policy of the department is to have us pay for flights out of pocket with our own cards and get reimbursed.

      It’s not that I don’t see their point. Theoretically, I stand to gain here purely by the mechanics they choose to use to book flights. There is a travel office they could use, but do not. It’s still an undue financial burden on me, who is junior and honestly can’t really afford to front the money for this sort of thing to begin with, but we get strong-armed into it.

      1. Tertia*

        Thanks. I’m now officially in the camp that thinks that if the university wants to reap the cost savings of the cheapest tickets, it should accept the risks that come with them.

  36. Annoyed*

    AAM is correct that this is illegal as shut in Washington state.

    I know I’m kinda late here but I’d love to know which state school this is. I am an alum and work part-time some years as an adjunct (my choice not theirs) at one of them.

Comments are closed.