I have $10,000 in unsubmitted business expenses, salad dressing conundrum, and more

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

1. I have $10,000 in unsubmitted business expenses from my old job

At my previous employer (employed September 2022 – April 2023), I incurred expenses on my personal credit card and did not submit them for reimbursement. I was battling a handful of personal and mental and legal challenges at that time. My irresponsibility in hindsight is just baffling to me now but … I was in a really dark place. Fast forward to today, I still have these receipts and have not submitted any of them. They go as far back as October 2022 and total roughly $10,000.

Do have the option to submit these because they were on a personal card vs. a company business card? I’m trying work on paying down some debt, but I’m assuming my window of opportunity has long since closed. Is reimbursement on a company card vs. a personal handled differently or does everything need to be submitted in a timely manner (30-60 days) regardless?

Oh my goodness, $10,000! Ethically, they absolutely should reimburse you — those are their business expenses and you shouldn’t have to pay for them, regardless of how much time has gone by. And shouldn’t matter that they’re on your personal card as long as you have receipts and can prove they were approved work expenses.

That said, I don’t know if they will. They might balk because it’s so long after the fact, particularly with the ones from last year. You’d have a better shot if you were still working there, but with so much money at stake, you should try regardless. If they say no, you’re no worse off than you are now. Approach your old manager there first, since that’s someone who knows you and might be invested in trying to get this fixed. Don’t wait another day!

2. What do I do about ear-splittingly loud conferences?

I have some physical issues that require me to be very careful of my hearing. I deliberately took a position where noise is minimal, and according to my manager I’m doing well in it.

Recently, my team went to an industry conference. The industry is not especially loud-sound-related — it’s not in entertainment or munitions or anything like that. So I did not expect to run into any problems. However, at the first keynote, there was bass music so loud that the floor shook, with people shouting into mics to be heard over that. Several other people and I had to leave. That night there was a networking mixer with a DJ that was so loud I couldn’t stay for more than a few minutes, and I couldn’t have heard anyone I might have wanted to network with if I’d stayed. The following night there was another networking event with the same DJ, and, even with the earplugs that I’d brought, I couldn’t manage more than five minutes. When I got back to my hotel room after the last event, I saw that the sound stress had burst a blood vessel in my eye.

A big part of going to conferences is networking, so I feel I didn’t get my department’s money’s worth out of the event. I’ve been to other conferences in this industry that didn’t include aural assault, so it’s not like it’s standard. But my department spent thousands of dollars on my participation (what with conference registration, flights, and the hotel) and that seems like an expensive way to learn that a conference is not for me. Is there a way to determine in advance if conferences will be rock conference wanna-bes? If not, how should I handle any future events if they prove to be similarly untenable? I’m resigned to being Susie No-Fun, but I don’t think my department should be out of pocket for that.

I went 16 years with no letters on this topic and in the last two months have had two. Conference organizers, get your sound levels under control!

I can only think of two ways to suss this out ahead of time. One is to contact the organizers beforehand and ask. The other is to ask people in your field who have attended in previous years. Neither of these is foolproof since one person’s “blood-vessel-popping loud” is another person’s “not too bad” … and even if someone attests that it was safe in past years, it could change the next year.

But you should definitely give feedback to the organizers of this conference, and do the same thing if it happens at another event in the future. You might also talk to your manager about the problem and ask if there’s another way she wants you to handle it — but it’s pretty likely she’s going to tell you to do exactly what you did (leave if you can’t comfortably stay). The chances of running into this wouldn’t warrant never attending a conference again as a precautionary measure, but it’s smart to give her a heads-up about the issue so it’s on her radar too.

3. How can I turn down endless gifts of salad dressing?

I live in a country where food gifts are a common way to express appreciation to coworkers (think, a little treat from a bakery, etc). I have a colleague who I regularly help with a task outside of my usual job duties but within my unique skill set. This task happens twice a year, and every time, she gives me a bottle of a certain type of salad dressing as a thank you. It’s a delicious dressing, but honestly, salad isn’t part of my regular home cooking rotation. The unopened bottles of dressing are building up in my cabinet. I have a friendly relationship with this colleague, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. Do I have any way to escape the endless dressing?

“This is so nice of you! I haven’t been eating much salad lately so I shouldn’t take any more, but it’s so kind of you to think of me.”

4. Company doesn’t use titles externally

I am a young professional in my last year of school. I recently started work at a new industrial company. One of the women I eat lunch with says that the company does not use any titles externally — our titles are only internal. For example, our titles do not appear in our email signatures (which we are not allowed to set ourselves — this is governed by IT) and to my knowledge they do not refer to anyone as “project manager” or “engineer” outside of internal communication, even with vendors and clients. Is this normal? Is there a good reason for this?

It’s not the norm, and it seems like something that’s going to breed confusion in situations where you want clarity. In many external communications, a title quickly communicates what your role is and a general idea of what authority and expertise you might have. Those are usually useful concepts to be able to convey to clients in particular.

{ 361 comments… read them below }

  1. Natalie*

    For LW3, I hope Alison’s script will help you avoid additional bottles of dressing coming into your life!
    There are lots of recipes that use salad dressing, if you’re looking for ways to work through your current suply. I like to use some kinds to marinate chicken, or mixed with hummus to make a yummy dip.

    1. H3llifiknow*

      I was coming to say something similar! I use salad dressings as marinades, if they’re oil/vinegar/lemon based. If they’re creamier, they make great dips mixed with some sour cream or may and some fresh herbs, and are also good for dipping chicken nuggets/strips/wings in. Get creative! Also, if it’s a homemade dressing, what a lovely thing to have on hand to regift to someone else who you’d think might enjoy it! Honestly, this sounds like a pretty cool problem to have to me :)

      1. KateM*

        I’m not sure that I’d appreciate being given a salad dressing homemade by a third person that has been standing for years in a cupboard. Would go straight to trash probably.

        1. clearlier*

          If it’s homemade I agree but I don’t see any reference to it being homemade in which case I would advise politely accepting and passing it on. To refuse, no matter how politely, risks bringing a sour note into a relationship and it’s just not necessary.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Because she’s not saying, “What do I do with all these bottles of salad dressing?” She’s saying, “Is there a reasonably polite way to stop getting them in the first place?” Which is legitimate.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                Only if nowhere near the expiry. Food banks get way too much food on the brink of expiry by people “Cleaning out their cupboards”.

                1. Risky Biscuits*

                  Actually, this is not universal; check with your local food bank.

                  My hometown’s regional food bank encourages donations of non-perishables that have reached their best-by/expiration date as long as they are not opened and the packaging is not damaged. Such food is typically still very edible, at least with the way expiration dates work in the US. They call it the “donate date” and even do social media challenges where people find food past its “donate date,” take a photo, and donate it.

                2. Princess Sparklepony*

                  Or cans of food that one wants or needs. Food banks need money – they buy in bulk the things they need. So 15 bottles of near expired salad dressing aren’t going to help if salad isn’t a thing that recipients can plan on. Some people going to food banks don’t have fully functional kitchens.

          1. KateM*

            I was replying to that part of the comment that mentioned particularly homemade dressings as “a lovely thing to have on hand to regift to someone else”.

          2. Jane Bingley*

            Is it homemade? I don’t see that in the question, but maybe I’m misreading…

            If it’s not, and it’s not expired, I would definitely make salad and a bottle of this dressing my go-to contribution to every potluck, family meal, and friendly gathering.

            1. Hlao-roo*

              “homemade” is not in the question. It’s in this part of H3llifiknow’s comment:

              Also, if it’s a homemade dressing, what a lovely thing to have on hand to regift to someone else who you’d think might enjoy it!

              (emphasis mine) That comment is what KateM is referring to.

          3. Jack Straw from Wichita*

            Ditto. Just accept it and pitch it or give it to someone else in your office/family. I do this all kinds of things. It’s not worth damaging the relationship for two bottles of salad dressing a year!

          4. topcat*

            I’m very surprised the letter writer hasn’t been regifting.

            A friend of mine knows many keen jam and marmalade makers and gets deluged. She often passes a jar on to me, and I use it when we have scones or to make cakes, which we eat at another group we’re both in.

            Spread the love/spread!

        2. Earlk*

          The old ones can’t be regifted really but any future gifts she could just pass on to a friend saying “My coworker gave me this, it’s delicious but I already have loads, do you want it?” regifting doesn’t mean they have to be given as a birthday gift or something.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            Tales of Woe – The Year I Got Salad Dressing in My Christmas Stocking and Other Horrible Tragedies.

      2. Dressing for Success*

        You may still want to head off future salad dressing gifts, but by all means experiment with some of your backlog. It could be great in any soup, casserole, hot or cold starch or vegetable side dishes, in addition to marinating meat or fish. Almost any type of salad dressing is my favorite lazy chef go-to for jazzing up a recipe. Good luck!

        1. HG*

          What ever happened just saying thank you for gifts and then doing as you wish after with said product? It is truly the thought that counts.

          1. third sarah*

            My definition of polite is that I appreciate knowing if I am adding to someone’s house clutter by repeatedly giving them something they don’t want and would be disappointed to find out they never felt like they could tell me.

            1. yvve*

              truly– especially if its something so simple like “I like this but I don’t use it as much as you’re giving me!” Its not even rejecting the gift its just helpful to know

              1. Nope, Not Me*

                A polite gift-giver in a culture of food gifts as thank-yous now has the increased obligation of remembering this specific person is the salad dressing opt-out, and – assuming no massive insult is taken and the gift-giver wishes to maintain the relationship – potentially the additional burden of feeling like a different food option needs to be selected.

                Alison’s suggestion was indeed polite, but in food-gift cultures (at least the one I’m from), a rejection would not considered to be polite behavior.

                I’m on team accept the salad dressing for the sake of the relationship.

                1. Goldenrod*

                  “I’m on team accept the salad dressing for the sake of the relationship.”

                  I agree with this. One thing I learned from Marie Kondo is that accepting a gift does not mean you are now committed to owning the thing forever.

                  The gift has already served its purpose – she gave it, you accepted it. That transaction is done, and you can now throw it away, donate it, whatever, with a clear conscious.

                  The bottle of salad dressing has fulfilled its purpose and can now move on to that great salad bowl in the sky. ;p

            2. Office Lobster DJ*

              I’d consider either tactic polite, but it comes down to the gifter and the relationship. On the one side, a gifter somehow acquires pallets of salad dressing and is just trying to fulfill a small obligation without fussing, and turning down the dressing means they now feel they must go out of their way. On the other side, the gifter is super invested in being the Dressing Person and will take any demurring as a personal affront.

              In both of those situations, just smile and accept. It’s the folks in the middle, who have a reasonable level of investment in the gesture, who would want to know. (Calculations for mandatory dressing only. Things change for more elaborate gifts or if you think you can get the obligation to stop entirely with no heard feelings)

            3. AnneC*

              Same. I *never* want someone to have to feel like they can’t give useful feedback on a gift! The last thing I want is to clutter anyone’s home with something they can’t or don’t expect to ever use, or that they dislike. If they feel like they have to lie to me (or withhold feedback), it makes me feel like I must be doing something wrong in the relationship.

          2. amoeba*

            If you can re-gift, sure, that’s what I’d do, probably. But if you end up having to throw food out regularly, I’d say it’s a good thing to speak up! (And also, as the person doing the gifting, I’d want to know so I can give something else next time! The idea of somebody just silently suffering through my presents is horrifying to me…)

            1. desdemona*

              Eh, if the gift-giver eats lots of salad, they probably think it’s a good consistent gift. Especially if the LW has indicated they really like it.
              My dad loves hot sauce but never buys it for himself, so he always gets some new hot sauces from me for Christmas. One of them is always the same because it’s his favorite.

          3. PoePuck*

            Yes this!! I saw once on the internet someone said *paraphrased* “I don’t get to control how others in my life show their love to me through gifts, AND they don’t get to control what I keep in my life to store and maintain”. Just a great reminder to let it go on both sides. In this situation I would thank the person for the gift of salad dressing, remembering the caring message they intend, and then either regift or donate to a food pantry. (and probably toss the old ones if expired!)

    2. Office Lobster DJ*

      If LW does want to bring this up, I wonder if they might feel more comfortable bringing it up when there’s not a bottle of dressing being pressed into their hands: “Jane, it’s so funny, I was cleaning my cabinets the other day and I had at least four bottles of that delicious dressing you introduced me to. Yes….at least four! I think I’m all set for a few years on dressing, haha.”

    3. borealis*

      LW3 doesn’t mention which country they are in, and I’m not going to speculate, but it’s worth pointing out that whether a particular script will work well or not can depend on what’s considered polite in the country and/or language in question. (I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to propose a script, just that it’s so easy to assume that politeness is universal! All languages and cultures use politeness, but sometimes it is manifested in very different ways.)

      The same thing applies to donating to food banks / food pantries – they may or may not exist in the country LW3 is in.

      1. Lana Kane*

        Came here to say this – I think this is a situation where cultural context has to be taken into account.

    4. Lucia Pacciola*

      I feel like the obvious answer is to eat more salad. Adding more greens to your diet is almost always a good thing, and it’s hard to ask for a better incentive than “unlimited delicious salad dressing”.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “I feel like the obvious answer is to eat more salad.”

        Eat more salad – I love that! :D I think you win for today’s most creative advice.

        And it’s true, we should all be eating more salad. ;)

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I had a health issue for a while that made it uncomfortable to eat high-fiber foods. I never realized how amazing vegetables were. As soon as the health issue was resolved, I indulged in so many giant fancy salads!

        1. FFSstahp*

          That’s some diet culture nonsense, and also no one asked you to comment on anyone’s food choices or expound on whether you think said choices are “healthy.” (You are also not correct.)

          1. Anonymous for This*

            As far as I am aware, they are correct. Many people who are trying to eat healthy find that they aren’t eating in as healthy a manner as they thought because they put a lot of Thousand Island or similar type dressing with a high fat content on their salad.

            While everyone needs fat in their diet, they don’t need that kind of fat (as opposed to olive oil, avocado, nuts, etc.)

    5. WillowSunstar*

      Perhaps consider donating them to a food bank if they’re not yet expired? If expired and months out of date, definitely toss, it’s not worth it getting food poisoning.

  2. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

    #1 – if you can, don’t delay. They will probably be more willing to work with you if it is still within the same fiscal year. If their fiscal year is July-June, it might be too late already. An October-September fiscal year would be your best bet, and a January-December year could get you partial reimbursement for this year’s expenditures. At least where I’ve worked (academia and aerospace), reimbursement after fiscal year close was extremely difficult if not impossible.

    1. Bruce*

      Yes, a lot of companies have a strict policy on late reimbursements, I think your timelines are pretty representative. So act now! If LW1 gets refused, they should look into claiming it on their taxes, I don’t know for sure but they may be able to deduct the expenses if they file an amended return… IF that is applicable it would be better than nothing.

      And wow, this tops my worst procrastination on expense reports!

      1. dogmom*

        My mom used to save up all her receipts and turn them in around Dec. 1 — she wanted all that reimbursement in time for the holidays. It really pissed the accounting department off and they repeatedly told her not to do it, but she had a habit of ignoring stuff she didn’t want to hear so she kept doing it. Finally after a few years the president of the organization had to intervene and she finally started submitting things in a more timely manner.

        1. Chauncy Gardener*

          At a company long ago and far away, I was the controller. The sales folks traveled all the time and therefore incurred lots of expenses. One of the sales managers REFUSED to submit his expenses. We asked that they submit each month so our financial statements would be accurate and so that the sales people didn’t build up too much expense on their cards.
          Well, the company went out of business, basically overnight, and this sales manager had a $25k balance on his card. MONTHS of expenses. Guess who was liable for it. Not the company.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          This does make me wonder about whoever is managing the budgets in that department. Like you know you budgeted for xyz expenses (for a purchase or a conference or whatever) and then those expenses just don’t happen and nobody notices?

          Not that a manager should be parenting their employees about submitting reports, but just from a financial management standpoint it feels like something is missing there.

          But yes, employees, submit your expenses as soon as you can. It’s your money, don’t loan it for free to your employer.

          1. Tsalmoth*

            Within academia, it’s not unusual to have a combined professional development budget that covers a lot of folks, but which isn’t specifically budgeted to Teacup Expo ’23. I could totally see them hitting April, looking at their development/conference/training budget, seeing $10K more than they expected, and going all-in on purchasing some training packages they’d expected to not get until the next year.

            1. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

              This happened at my work! Our Llama Support Services team, which comprises half our organization, had a budget of $XXX,XXX for professional development and training for ~300 employees.

              Several employees went to a conference last October and didn’t submit their expenses right away.

              (The conference registration was pre-paid through us; employees had a choice whether to book travel on our purchasing cards or use their own and get reimbursed; the people in question chose the latter to get points on their credit cards.)

              In April, the accounting department sent out a notice to all department heads that said, ‘You budgeted $X, you have $Y left, please let us know if you have unsubmitted receipts, if we’re rolling this over (the year runs 1 June-31 May), etc.’

              Department heads reminded all employees MULTIPLE TIMES to submit any expenses. No one did. Department heads said, ‘Great, let’s buy that new training package we’ve been looking at for ages!’

              30 May, the conference attendees submitted thousands of dollars for reimbursement and there was no money left in the budget. Also it was the day after the Memorial Day holiday and most people had extended their PTO so we didn’t even have decision-makers available to deal with it.

              The fallout was immediate and furious and I think several of the conference attendees were told, ‘You will be reimbursed, but it will be out of this year’s money, so no conferences for you this year, and going forward, you are not permitted to ask for reimbursement. Everything will be paid and approved up-front on a purchasing card.’

              1. WheresMyPen*

                That’s so annoying, and strange that they didn’t want to get reimbursed sooner. I recently went on a work trip and had around £250 of expenses and I couldn’t wait to get my claim form in to accounts :D

                1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

                  Speaking as someone who is financially avoidant and has issues with executive function, it’s not so much not wanting to be paid as having it fall out of my brain day after day. Prior to inventions like auto-pay and digital reminders, I used to pay so much in late fees because in my mind that bill “just came in” so it can wait, and weeks or months would get by me. The ADHD tax is real.

              2. College Career Counselor*

                “Everything will be paid and approved up-front on a purchasing card.”

                Which is honestly how it should be in the first place. That’s much simpler (even with the convoluted process here at my employer) than submitting your personal receipts and floating your employer a loan (with interest they won’t pay if you or they are late getting the reimbursement to you).

                1. Cmdrshprd*

                  “Which is honestly how it should be in the first place. That’s much simpler (even with the convoluted process here at my employer) than submitting your personal receipts and floating your employer a loan”

                  I think it depends on peoples financial situation, if people can afford the expenses, and pay off their CC in full, it can be a benefit to them. I know several people who love/look forward to putting their company expenses on their personal card because they can rack up the points/cash back of 2-5%. On a trip $2k trip at 5% that is $100.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  I have many people who are (repeatedly) offered the option of using a corporate card for their expenses and prefer to take the miles/points/whatever on their own cards. As long as they submit their expenses timely, it makes no difference to me.

                  And, even if we use a company card, we still require receipt submission to validate the card expenses, so you’re not fronting the money, but the documentation requirements are the same whether purchased on our dime or theirs. I can pre-pay travel, conferences, etc., but I can’t follow grown adults around for receipts on incidentals and project-related purchases.

                3. Pet Jack*

                  My company reimburses immediately, like within a week. I would much rather have flexibility to spend while traveling and rack up cc points.

                4. Laura*

                  Which is honestly how it should be in the first place.

                  Yes. Once upon a time I had 13K Euros of outsanding expenses, because I needed to hand in the expense report in person and I was overseas for months.

                  I could have requested emergency money from the company and I knew that (I told several co-workers in the same situation that they could handle it that way), but I was new and scared, and instead asked my mother for a loan.

                  First workday home I handed in my expsenses, and got them paid within 10 days. And then the trouble with the tax office began — those guys thought the 13K were income and taxed it at about 42%.

                  It got sorted out in the end.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            All of this, and, if you work for an organizations where your expenses are passed on to a client or project, holding them that long will likely violate customer guidelines on reimbursement. When I worked at a law firm, if I paid a court filing fee, that filing feed had to go onto a client bill within 30-60 days per our engagement agreement. If I held it for months, the firm had to eat it to pay me back and could not charge the client.

            What would happen at my current organization is that, once this happened, I would get a call from a very pissed off CFO and be told to ensure that my employee never did that again. It would be noted on their performance review and I would be checking in with them regularly about complying with the expense policy. If it kept happening, there’d be a review category with an unacceptable mark and it would start impacting raise/bonus. It creates so many problems to hold expenses for that long (including effing up my department budget), and there’s no reason for it.

        3. Person from the Resume*

          My organization basically gives you a month from the end of the trip. If the trip is longer than week or two, you need to file interim vouchers while you are away

          They won’t not pay you if you are late, but they have rules and an employee with overdue expense vouchers will be treated like any employee who is late doing a required task for their job – talking to, warning, PIP, firing.

      2. Left Turn at Albuquerque*

        My former employer (government) had procedures in place for dealing with expense obligations that came in after the fiscal year ended, but they also had clear reimbursement instructions in our personnel policy manual that gave a deadline for when requests had to be submitted. If LW’s employer had a manual and LW can access it, they might look there to see if there were similar instructions.

      3. L.H. Puttgrass*

        “I don’t know for sure but they may be able to deduct the expenses if they file an amended return…”

        Probably not. In 2019, the miscellaneous itemized deduction for unreimbursed employee expenses was eliminated for all but a very few specific types of employees.

      4. mbs001*

        My firm gives everyone through the first business day of the following month to submit expense reports. Otherwise, you don’t get reimbursed — unless there is a very unusual situation that caused the delay. People fell into line really quickly once they realized they would be out of pocket.

      5. Happy Lawyer*

        You want her to commit tax fraud? You can only deduct business expenses if they are required by your employer to do your job. Not bothering to seek reimbursement is not a requirement of OP’s former employer.

        1. Bruce*

          Thanks for correcting me, I should probably stick to commenting on topics that I have more professional knowledge about

    2. It Might Be Me*

      I hope it’s October-September and the books aren’t closed yet. At my employer there is no money spent in September that wasn’t obligated by August 20th (payroll, utilities, etc., aside).

      At a previous employer the handbook stated all receipts had to be submitted within 6 months and the same fiscal year. Probably for instances such as this.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        In my last job, my least favourite colleague would always dump 6-9 months of badly organised expense reports on my desk on the afternoon of the last day of the fiscal year. (This was after multiple reminders in the preceding weeks, and she’d always assure our boss that she hardly had any unsubmitted expenses.) I couldn’t leave until they were done because that organisation was super strict about never processing anything after the deadline.

        To be fair, the colleague was very badly organised and could never do anything without a deadline, but she did it every year, never apologised and that plus the lying to our boss meant that eventually it was just another way that she bullied me. After she bullied me off the team, they no longer had an admin, so the team members had to submit their own expenses for processing. I bet she wound up with thousands in unclaimed expenses.

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          I work in Academia now and it’s a whole other world as Alison has noted. We have a 3 day window every month to submit expenses and it’s impossible to go back and change our reports. I’ve learned to copy and organize my receipts as I get them. I hope your ex-colleague worked well into the night organizing all those little pieces of paper.

        2. Moodbling*

          We have a Jul – Jun fiscal year, and this year someone I was newly supporting submitted the entire year’s expenses to me at 10:58 pm on the last day they could be submitted.

          They made an exception for him and I’m honestly still mad about it.

      2. JSPA*

        If you know you’ve gone over from one fiscal year to the next between October and April–here’s how I’d handle it (example given as if you’re on a calendar year system).

        I’d say something about having had issues getting to the receipts. (Let them read into that what they will; anything from a bad divorce to a bad depressive episode are “issues,” and can block you from access.)

        With that, give them the 2023 (current year) receipts in one pile–as in, “naturally these should be reimbursable”– and then humbly mention that you also have some from late 2022, and it would make a big difference in your life if they could get those reimbursed as well, and hand those over.

        Mention it’s been tough, and that you’re very sorry about the hassle, and very grateful for whatever they can do.

        Let them be on your side, and many people will try to help, even if that means someone somewhere has to file an amended report.

    3. Petty_Boop*

      I think you missed that he is no longer an employee. I’m not sure they’re going to be as willing to work with an “ex” employee as they would if he were still currently employed.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I wondered about that too, but also OP has avenues open to them now that they might not if they were still working there, such as maybe small claims. (Of course small claims is open to current employees as well, but many people would stop short of that for obvious reasons…)

        With my manager/business hat on I am now wondering why they didn’t notice that they were $10,000 under budget on whatever the expenses were for.

        1. Green great dragon*

          If one team member can rack up $10,000, then for the whole accounting unit it could easily be $100,000s. It’s not that surprising to me they didn’t notice, especially if it’s something like plane tickets where there’s no physical object.

        2. MK*

          The problem with the legal course is that, as a plaintiff, you need to prove everything. E.g. if the expenses were for a conference or a course, they would need to prove the employer agreed to cover these expenses.

          1. Olive*

            I’m wondering how they’re going to prove that to the employer now. My suspicion is that if they weren’t in a good place to submit receipts, they might not have been in a good place to keep a travel record. It’s still going to be their responsibility to verify that they were on work trips and spending for work purposes.

        3. Phryne*

          “With my manager/business hat on I am now wondering why they didn’t notice that they were $10,000 under budget on whatever the expenses were for.”

          Depends on the size of the business. If their yearly balance is in the tens or hundreds of millions, 10 grant is peanuts. Also, there might be a bucket reservation for eg attending conferences and it will pay out until empty, and if it does not run out this year they’ll just assume fewer people applied for it and roll it over to next year.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            That’s true, I suppose I had assumed that there are smaller budgets tracked at lower level, as well as the company’s overall budget which as you say, could be huge. Although really that depends what the costs were for e.g. things that come out of a central pot.

            1. Cmdrshprd*

              It can also be that the $10k came out of several different budgets. While it might have all been travel expenses, conference/training travel is bucket 1, client travel is broken up by client, etc… so it could be coming out of 3-5 different budgets.

        4. NotAnotherManager!*

          It may depend if they are budgeted or project expenses. In my line of work, we have all sorts of expenses that are not part of our corporate budget but are purchased on an as-needed basis for customer projects. I spent about $15K a few months ago on an unforeseeable customer need that had to handled immediately. It went on my company credit card, which requires expense documentation the same way an out-of-pocket expense would, and the were passed through to the customer’s quarterly bill. If I don’t turn in receipts, they can’t bill it, per the project contract, which means we eat the costs, which are not budgeted at all. (Now, the client approved the costs as we made the arrangements, but I’m not sure a lot of them are going to point out to you that you didn’t charge them for the expensive custom llama pen they urgently needed on their bill.)

          If one of my folks goes to a conference, and I don’t see an expense report for that, then I know to follow up. If I don’t know that someone paid a pass-through, ad hoc project cost, that’s more difficult to track.

    4. Sue*

      This is not my area of expertise at all but I would be pretty surprised if there is not a legal avenue to reimbursement here. The statute of limitations for the debt is very likely not up and your employer enjoyed the benefit of your expenses and you presumably had their ok to incur the costs. Thus you should be reimbursed regardless of their internal policy on submitting receipts. Ask first and then chat with a lawyer. The amount may be small claims territory but it’s worth some pursuing and good luck.

      1. Not Australian*

        Just what I was thinking. The organisation owes OP that money: they received the goods and services it bought, and there was also a perfectly valid reason for not claiming it in time. Whether or not the financial/accounting year is still open is irrelevant: it’s a debt that must be paid.

        1. Malarkey01*

          And some of that comes down to what pre-authorization exists or is required. I can go out and purchase a $1k hotel room for a trip I’m taking which is a business trip but it’s outside what I am authorized to spend and that is not a debt my company owes.

          Everywhere I’ve ever worked with expense reports has had disclaimers on what required additional review and that repayment was at the discretion of the company without pre authorization. The states I have worked on also have clear rules on reimbursement timing and your responsibility to get repaid. It’s going to vary a lot by location and company policy.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Does the ‘debt’ exist as a debt before the reimbursement stuff is submitted? that’s an interesting accounting question. I think the reimbursement form is more like an invoice to the company and that’s when the debt arises.

      3. münchner kindl*

        Is it considered a debt, though? IANAL, but I thought of this as LW pre-paying business expenses – and the business can only properly account for expenses in the same fiscal year, so all of 2022 would not be possible, because that year is closed, and the sums totalled up.

        If company had known in 2022, but not enough details, they could have put a “forward debt” placeholder in the account, and then put the correct amount now (2023).
        Maybe company knew that LW had spent a certain amount on business for them, and did have the foresight to budget it in (while reminding LW to turn in the bills for proper accounting).
        Or maybe company forgot that there was outstanding expenses because LW didn’t bring the bills up to them – which is not good organization, but can happen. In that case, 2022 expenses might be difficult.

        This all is assuming that the company is (of course) decent and wants to do the right thing, regardless of LW current employee status, just how it would look like from the accounting side.
        Because accounting leads towards yearly income (whether short form or official finanical statement) which is important to calculate taxes.
        So retroactivly accounting for expenses from 2022 may be possible, or not, or possible but complicated (booking in 2023 without a placeholder: depends on the specific laws).

        Because the company re-imbursing costs that they can account for is normal business; company knowing that they can no longer deduct the expenses as costs turns it into extra costs without benefits, which is a much larger ask, especially since it’s mostly on LW that they didn’t turn the bills in on time.
        A well-organized business should have realized at end of fiscal year 2022 that there were costs missing, and, if they did repeatedly remind LW, but LW was not able because of their problems, tried other steps, like estimating and putting a place-holder. But a less-well-organized business can still work good without doing that extra step.

        Expenses from 2023 should be possible without problems.

        1. Green great dragon*

          If LW was making the decisions about spending, then I don’t think it’s surprising the business didn’t notice. The spending’s on their personal card, so there’s no invoices to the company. The boss may be approving dozens of expense claims across the team, so is unlikely to notice LWs are missing.

          If I decide I need to make a client visit, I’ll mention it to boss, but nothing goes in the system until the expenses themselves hit it. Even in my very bureaucratic company, no-ones tracking my movements against my expense claims like that.

      4. Bagpuss*

        I’m not sure that that is correct., and definitely think OP should speak to a lawyer if they don’t get a favorable response from their former employer.

        If there is a formal policy then I suspect it could be argued that there is a contract and that by failing to comply with her part of it it (submitting the claim in a timely way) LW has in effect forgiven the debt. The contract may be ‘we will pay back x type of costs subject to each claim being submitted within x months / in a timely way.

        If there is no formal policy her position may be stronger but equally, she may have accepted that there is nothing further owed to her as part of the leaving process.

    5. Allonge*

      I agree not to delay. Just to give a counter-example, we have a Jan-Dec financial year and we likely would be able to reimburse still for expenses of last year (even to someone not working here any more) as long as there is some paperwork in place.

      End results is the same: OP, do it now – if nothing else, you will know what is possible.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        Also, OP, make it as easy for them as possible. If you have a spreadsheet or something similar, give it to them along with the receipts.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          But if you don’t, don’t take more than a day or so to make one. Getting it in timely is more important.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          Yeah, this is as “help them help you” situation. The more you minimize their need to have to fuss with it or go back and forth with you on it, they greater chance of someone approving it and closing it out.

          But to DJ Abbott’s point, if you’re one of those people who would spend a week making a spreadsheet perfect, or procrastinating about it (possible, given the circumstances), don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

          Getting in their hands quickly is more important than making it pretty.

    6. kiki*

      Yes! Definitely do not delay because even if they are not able/willing to reimburse expenses from 2022, some more recent expenses may still be reimbursable even though you don’t work there. The longer you wait, though, the amount of money you may expect to recoup diminishes.

    7. former academic*

      OP, you may also want to talk to your accountant. At my former university, they were pretty strict about the fact that IRS policy is that repayments for travel (and maybe other things?) after 90 days are considered taxable wages. This policy makes no sense, but i wouldn’t want you to get hit by an unexpected tax bill on top of everything else you’re dealing with.

      I hope things are going better for you. Good luck!

    8. Ssssssssssssssssss*

      Depending on the field they were working in (like when I worked with engineering firms), it’s not just the fiscal year. If any of those expenses could have been billed back to the customer, but the window to bill back may be closed, the 10K comes out of general budgets instead of being part of the profit. That may be something the ex-employer may not want to deal with.

      At my workplace, they realized that despite it being due monthly, (too) many staffers had expenses a year or more unclaimed. COVID hit our coffers hard (if you’re laid off and unionized, you’re not paying union dues) and the possibility of a huge amount of unclaimed expenses loomed large and it was too hard to accrue. They were all given an unequivocal deadline to catch up and now if you’ve not claimed it in six months, you won’t be able to claim it at all. (We don’t bill back to clients.) There are workarounds for this if you missed a receipt but our system won’t allow you to back in time to correct things so it’s a pain to claim a forgotten July receipt in December.

      They did a similar exercise for unused accumulated vacation. Some ppl had six months to a year of vacation days unused, which were being accrued year after year. Staff were told to use it up or pay it out (anyone who had accrued that much was actually contravening the collective agreement).

    9. tamarack etc.*

      Yes, indeed. A long time ago I also was much delayed with my reimbursements, and from that perspective, at least the OP is within 12 months. But fiscal years will be key, though in my experience private industry is a lot more flexible with funds than universities are (have to be, because of accountability to the tax payer).

      I would be reasonably assertive with the manager, give them a heads up, but then submit all the expense reports in good order (if that’s a problem, get help from the travel people if available!) NOW. If the manager is dubious, still submit them.

  3. LinZella*

    OP # 2: I understand what you’re going through and why you had to leave.
    I was diagnosed with Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss about two years ago in my left ear.
    In many places and circumstances there aren’t any problems.
    Where the problem really lies is in places where there is too much/too loud background talking/noise. It’s incredibly frustrating, annoying, and after a certain amount (not very much) of time in such an environment, I tend to become a bit grouchy and very very exhausted, emotional, and anxious. (And, no, hearing aids would not help. They’d only amplify muffled sounds, not make anything more clear.)
    I say all that to encourage you (and anyone else reading this) to consider an hearing test.
    I’ve learned a lot about hearing problems and loss and it’s worth being cautious and being checked.
    Good luck!

    1. Formerly known as Aghast of Derby*

      Whoohoo, another left ear deafy! Similar issue and am also sick of people going on about hearing aids. My recourse in such an environment is for people I want to talk to, I ask to go to a quieter place AND also deliberately go to conference organisers and anyone else “in authority” and ask questions with my hand cupped behind my left ear and ask them to repeat themselves a couple of times just to get the point across.
      There’s no point asking them to turn it down, they just answer with generic “but it’s there for people to enjoy”.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I knew someone who started doing actual decibel checks at a certain event that seemed to be getting louder every year so he could present them with “3 years ago, the sound was X decibels at this (very populated location near the speakers) and Y decibels at this (less populated location but still within the range they want to be audible). There were no complaints in either location about people not being able to hear. This year, it’s been Z decibels at location 1 for the last two nights, which is above health and safety standards A, B and C, and was above X decibels even at location 2. Please fix this.”

        This may not help people with auditory processing issues or specific sensitivities, but it does give concrete information to push back against the people who seem to think a DJ MUST be painful to be enjoyable.

    2. Susie No-Fun*

      Thank you. My hearing issues go back to childhood, so they’ve been pretty well covered by my doctors. But any new issues would definitely warrant a doctor visit. Background noise can definitely be a thing, and it seems like conference organizers would want to minimize that for networking events, not amplify it. The ways of conference organizers are mysterious.

      I hope the new diagnosis proves manageable and that it doesn’t affect your day to day life too much.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        In the mid-2000s I was living in a neighborhood with trendy restaurants, and for some reason they decided it was the thing play music so loud I couldn’t talk to the person next to me. (I don’t have any hearing problems.) this was extremely annoying, and my friends and I avoided those places.
        It sounds like your conference was run by people who think this is a good idea. It’s not, and any competent organizer would know that. What’s the point of a networking event where you can’t hear to talk to people?
        I would have left in five minutes too, because being there wasn’t productive and was extremely annoying.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          My particular work conferences never had anything like that, but I would have noped right out of there, too! And the Washington Post restaurant critic, Tom Sietsema, gives noise levels with every review, and it’s been very popular. For both settings, I want to be able to comfortably talk to people and hear them! I have moderate hearing loss in one ear, so I have trouble hearing speech in noisy environments, plus it makes me very sensitive about loud sounds in my good ear.

        2. former academic*

          I was the chair of a major academic conference, so I think it can be helpful to realize that there are so many layers of conference organization and staffing. There were members of the academic society that were on the “conference committee” and made broad decisions of policy or oversaw the peer-review process to select speakers; there were professional staff who handled the logistics of contracting with the hotels/convention centers; and then the venue had staff who actually ran the event. So the convention committee would decide “Dr. Pat Jones will give the keynote”, the society staff would schedule that for Friday at 4 in the Century Ballroom, and the venue staff would set up the room and run the AV for the event– so the guy making the decision to blast heavy bass at that event is several layers away from the people nominally “running” the conference. But we’d absolutely want to know this so that we could talk to the professional staff about how to avoid the problem in future years/ask them to actively monitor noise levels and intervene with the venue if it was a problem.

        3. Person from the Resume*

          I complain every so often about the industrial design trend (open ceiling, visible pipes and ducts) that make for terrible acoustics in restaurants. There’s one place that I order take out from that I would never eat at because just walking in I’m hit with a blast of crowd noise. You go to restaurants to dine, but also to socialize and if you can’t even communicate with the people you’re eating with the socialization part fails.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Not only is that design ugly (at least to me) and gets filthy with dust almost immediately, it’s basically the definition of an echo chamber–loud, chaotic and set to drive people out the doors.

    3. NothingIsLittle*

      I’m not sure if they’ll help with hearing safety, but there are several types of decibel reducing earbuds that could be an option? I’ve seen small studies that suggest they can help with things like temporary hearing loss or tinnitus after concerts. I’d talk to an audiologist to confirm, since I’m sure they wouldn’t work for every condition.

      I use Loop for problems with sensory overload and have found them useful.

      1. Contracts Killer*

        I was about to say the same thing. Flair Audio has been a life saver for me. They have certain ones that help to reduce noise but they also have some that (while slightly reducing noise) make the background noise less unpleasant and distracting. They explain the science on their website (I prefer to think it’s pure magic). I find myself getting anxious in loud/busy noise places (super sensitive hearing and a bit of social anxiety) and they are life changing. I keep them in my purse all the time.

      2. Aerin*

        I’ve also started using Loops as I’ve been trying to navigate the sensory issues that have kept me from being in the office. I still hatehatehate having something in my ears, but the XS tips work well and even if I can only wear them for a little while before needing a break it’s still a net benefit. Just having them also goes a long way to reduce the anxiety/hypervigilance about worrying that it might get uncomfortably loud.

        The Experience model is specifically for things like concerts and reducing bass. If you can’t do in-ear, there are on-ear headphones out there that have noise filtering and passthrough modes.

      3. It's TOO loud!*

        Coming to say the same thing. I use Loop earplugs for loud environments and they really help. They cut down on background noise but I can still hear people speaking. They have three different versions, plus inserts that reduce noise further.

      4. Laura*

        I came here to second Loop (I didn’t know if I was allowed to mention specific brands), which my therapist recommended after a particularly loud wedding I attended. What’s nice about them is they have options that don’t muffle sound but decrease the decibels.

        I don’t have physical hearing issues but I am extremely sensitive to sound and get easily over-stimulated and shut down.

        I got the ones where you can carry on conversations (sometimes I’ll still take one out if it’s something I really need to hear). They’ve been great for the subsequent weddings I’ve been to once the dance floor opens!

      5. Sad Desk Salad*

        LW (and anyone else who has to go to these things) should absolutely talk to an audiologist. I’m a vocalist and very protective of my hearing (I also have terrible vision, so I can’t lose TWO of my senses!), but need to hear somewhat so I can perform. I also have teeny-tiny ear canals so traditional plugs, even small ones, do nothing. Enter custom earplugs. They’re so comfortable compared to standard plugs, and I can swap out filters for vocals, airplane noise, loud concerts, or anything else. With full blocks in I can barely hear a loud, small airplane approaching, and with the vocal filters in, the guitars and drums are muted but I can hear myself or any other voice clear as day. They should definitely still approach the organizers about the noise levels, but in the meantime, it sounds like this person is a perfect candidate for custom plugs.

    4. Erin*

      I hate the super loud spaces! I’ve left 2 restaurants just in the past week because it was too hard & annoying to try and carry on a conversation with all of the racket. The thumping bass makes me very grouchy, and constantly saying “what?” Is just plain annoying. Idk why everything has to be so incredibly loud now, but it’s awful.

      1. Student*

        Some of it in restaurants is the shift toward open layouts, away from well-defined rows of booths and dividers between the kitchen and restaurant.

        Such layouts take away all the possible sound damping surfaces. Unfortunately, these layouts seem very trendy in my area right now. I suspect they cut costs and make it easier for servers to scan customers quickly to see what’s hoing on.

        You dampen sound by breaking up and-or absorbing sound waves. You want stuff with large surface area and irregular surfaces. You want materials that are good sound absorbers.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I’ve seen a few places hang what looks like panels of thick felt vertically from the ceiling. They look cool, don’t make the ceiling “feel” lower, and seem to work a treat for dampening sound.

          I think the problem is places just don’t really think about what rooms are going to SOUND like. If you’ve got almost all hard surfaces and an open plan, you need to do something or it’s going to sound horrible.

        2. Orv*

          I have heard that this is intentional branding. Apparently when people walk into a restaurant and it’s loud, they subconsciously interpret that as meaning that it’s a hip, bustling place.

      2. Gumby*

        Agreed! I follow a sport that doesn’t need to be ear-piercingly loud but for some reason at competitions the background music is turned up to 11. I find myself shouting to be heard by the person sitting right next to me. I could do earplugs if I wanted to muffle everything but I actually want to be able to talk to people nearby. And hear floor music (which is also occasionally too loud but I’m usually not trying to talk to anyone during that time). I was just at the US Championships and the background music was not as loud during the men’s meets as it was during the women’s meets. And it seemed louder for seniors than for juniors. I think it’s loud to hype up the audience maybe? But, frankly, the audience was hyped enough w/o it.

    5. Jen*

      My coworker has trouble with background noise now as a result of long haul COVID and the resulting brain fog. I hope that more conferences and gatherings realize this is an issue for a LOT of people for a LOT of reasons.

    6. ZugTheMegasaurus*

      Just a note on the hearing aid thing, that always happened to my grandmother too; we’d be at a busy restaurant or something and her hearing aid just made EVERYTHING painfully loud and she still couldn’t hear the people at the table with her. But my dad just got hearing aids a few months ago that are like multi-directional (I don’t know if there’s a specific term for that) — they have this really cool feature where he can instantly turn off all the mics/speakers except for the ones facing directly forward, so it’s much more effective at picking up the voice of the person you’re talking to while tamping down the background noise. That might not help with your problem of course (and you’d know better than me!) but just wanted to share since I thought it was really cool!

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I know the technical term for what the microphones are doing is beamforming, but I’m not sure if that’s what they call it in marketing materials.

    7. Deschain*

      Agreed! I have hearing loss in my right ear and balance/visual orientation issues due to vestibular migraines. I rarely venture out into the world because the sounds are just crazy loud, which distorts what I can and cannot hear. I gave up on conferences (and shopping, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.) years ago.

      1. Martin Blackwood*

        It doesn’t sound homemade to me, honestly, more like niche small business, not mass produced Kraft. I dont think you can store homemade salad dressing outside a refrigerator.

        1. Cmdrshprd*

          Depending on the type the smaller niche craft dressings have a shorter shelf life because they don’t put in the preservatives to make them self stable. The local ALDI has “fancy” dressing that requires refrigeration even while unopened and it has an expiration date of 30/45 days usually unopened, and something like 7-10 days opened.

      2. Myrin*

        OP doesn’t say either way but I’d assume the dressing is bought, not homemade (something about “a certain type of salad dressing” and “unopened bottles” reads as “bought” to me although I’m realising that’s not necessarily the case).

        1. Annony*

          I agree. Homemade salad dressing generally does not keep long so if they get this twice a year and have a collection now, they would have a cupboard full of rancid dressing if it were homemade.

    1. Kiki Is The Most*

      I’d check the expiration date. Even unopened, it might have gone bad. Also, why not say “Your thanks is enough, and I am happy to help you” to ward off future gifts?

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Or, assuming a commercial product, it probably hasn’t gone bad, but you still couldn’t donate it.

        In my area there are lots of “little free pantries” where an unexpired bottle of salad dressing would be taken quickly.

    2. kiki*

      Yeah, in LW’s shoes, if this is something that can be given to a food bank (not homemade, unopened, long shelf life, etc.) I would probably not say anything to the gifter and start giving my bottles away. Not that I’d judge anyone for saying something, just that I’m very anxious about that sort of thing

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Am I alone in thinking that it’s a rather weird thing to give as a present? Like, it’s not really a treat, it’s a pretty ordinary thing to have in your cupboard.
      Definitely a thing I’d leave in the “donations box” across the street from my house, where people leave stuff they don’t want, and others just help themselves to whatever takes their fancy. If you don’t have one in your neighbourhood, why not set one up? They’re just brilliant!

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Yeah, it’s a very weird gift. But, when some people really like something, they assume everyone else will like that thing to the same degree. They’ll also explain to you why it’s a great gift and if you would just try the excellent specially ground coffee that they bought you then you’d stop drinking tea and understand that you really like coffee now that they’ve explained to you why coffee is good.

        (Every time I got that coffee, I would donate it to a food pantry. They were happy to have it. It ended up being a nice way to remind me to buy stuff for the food bank…and I still don’t like coffee.)

      2. Cmdrshprd*

        ” really a treat, it’s a pretty ordinary thing to have in your cupboard.”

        I think it depends on how much you like dressing and what kind of dressing you buy.

        In my house we have the basic dry stored dressing that we usually get, and we have “fancy” dressing that gets bought on occasion. The “fancy” dressing does not have as many preservatives, and does not last that long, so when we buy/open we need to consume it quickly as opposed to the regular dressing.

        I think it is a similar situation that OP is getting a “fancy” dressing.

        1. Annie*

          Yes, there’s a specific ‘fancy’ / locally made dressing in my area that wouldn’t be out of place in this context. It’s more akin to a bottle of fancy olive oil than a bottle of Newman’s Own.

      3. WestsideStory*

        It may not be weird to the giver. For some years I had German colleagues, and when ever they came to U.S. they would take back bottles of salad dressing- Ranch in particular – they said they could not get locally.
        Mr Westside has a colleague in Alabama that gifts him bottles of White Barbecue Sauce, a local specialty where the colleague lives.

  4. Prefer my pets*

    I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. I had a paid relocation over the 2019/2020 holidays that I was supposed to submit claims for as they came in including everything from movers to realtor closing costs and I just … didn’t. Couldn’t. Early in the pandemic I ended up in such a dark place that literally my only goal was that at the end of each day my pets & I were still alive. Therapy, medication, an ADHD diagnosis & medication in my late 40s that explained so much, and a couple years on… well, my animals & I are all still alive and if the nearly $20k in claims I lost is one of the costs of that, it was worth it.
    I really really hope that your old firm is horrified no one noticed you weren’t repaid & reimburses you without any hassle. But if they don’t, …well we did the best we could & we made it out the other side. Sometimes we take that as the win.

    1. Bambue*

      To add in on my own story, I was due some short term disability that would have been about $15k, but with my mental health at the time I just couldn’t handle the paperwork and am now past the expiration. I’m fortunate that I have enough of a cushion, but you are definitely not alone in this.

    2. LJ*

      I hope they reimburse, but who’s going to actively go around noticing someone _not_ submitting expense reports?

      1. misspiggy*

        My boss used to, and was very tolerant about my delays doing it. Thank goodness. Now realising ADHD is the likely cause.

        It takes such energy to keep concentration going enough to follow all the steps you need to take to produce an expenses claim. You’re trying to do arithmetic and history and get every detail right.

        Only doable for me if I’m in a really good place. The last few years have not had many of those moments.

        1. Right There With You*

          Totally feel you on this. I suffered ADHD paralysis & survival stress with filing my taxes in 2020. I was already late to start with. This continued through 2023 for 4 years of income (2019, 2020, 2021 + 2022). I am also in a group that is eligible to receive THOUSANDS in refund money for each year, which includes the extra pandemic money. It is so dumb and frustrating, but that’s my life. I was diagnosed at 42. I did manage to get the tax filings all submitted over this summer due to a job change taking place and not being sure if I’d be able to make that job work (arriving on time). So having the refund money was the push and difference to not living under a bridge. Turns out the new gig worked out well. Came to realize I should not be working a 1st shift job at all. 2nd or 3rd works best for my condition and life.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Prefer my pets, I would really encourage you to go back to your company and find out whether your can still be reimbursed too! “I was going to do it but then 2020” is honestly a completely reasonable explanation for SO MANY things that aren’t, like, trying to overthrow an election, and it really is ok to at least ask. If it was $100, sure, let it go, but $20k of money you spent in good faith and ARE OWED is worth your finance department doing a little extra work.

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        Every good boss does this. They have a general idea of who is owed reimbursement and they make sure their people get reimbursed.

        1. Rachel*

          I’m going to disagree on this.

          I think somebody can be a good boss and expect their employees to file their own reimbursement in a timely manner.

          In fact, I think it’s micromanaging to monitor and remind on this

        2. doreen*

          I think that depends a lot on what the expenses are for – and how the reimbursement system works. At both the jobs where I had expenses reimbursed, most of my expenses were for visiting clients at home although some was for attending trainings and meetings. I might have driven my own car, used public transportation, used one of my employer’s vehicles , walked between clients if they were close enough , traveled with a coworker or not been eligible for reimbursement ( if the office was 10 miles from home and the training location was 5 miles from home, no reimbursement) and my supervisor wouldn’t necessarily know how I traveled on a particular day until I submitted my report. My supervisor approved the expense reports but didn’t keep a copy so the only way they would know I hadn’t filed reports was if they made it a point to keep track of my expense reports and made it a point to ask me ( and all my coworkers) how we traveled on any day were out out of the office.

      4. kiki*

        It depends on what the expenses were for, but I’ve had managers notice and remind me if I took more than a couple days to submit a travel expense for reimbursement.

      5. Sparkles McFadden*

        That’s actually part of the manager’s job. A good manager keeps on top of everyone’s expenses and should realize if nothing has been submitted.

        1. goducks*

          It really depends on the level of staff the manager is managing. I agree that a manager managing early career or lower-level staff should be keeping their eye on this.
          But a manager of senior level staff, or a manager of managers… not nearly so much. There’s a level of staff whose managers are routinely fairly hands off with these types of details.

    3. Aerin*

      I’ve often given up on submitting for reimbursement (not for work, but for things like trip insurance) because the thought of going through all the paperwork is just so overwhelming. Even when other symptoms are relatively well-managed, my executive dysfunction remains a doozy.

      Maybe I’ll have to start hiring someone off Fiverr to handle it for me…

      1. misspiggy*

        That is a fine idea. It’s definitely worse when you have to combine a task like an expense report with asking for money for yourself.

  5. Petty_Boop*

    LW1: Ughhh if you were STILL an employee, it might be easier, but as a fomer employee, they can pretty easily blow you off as in, “you signed away anything we owed you during your outprocessing,” etc… I know my employer (fed gov) gives us 60 days. After 6 months, it takes SENIOR leadership intervention to get reimbursed. I realize you were going through some stuff, but … wow. I hope you get the money back, but realize when you ask, that they’ve likely closed at least some of those fiscal year books and they may just say, “we can’t go back that far, sorry; it was your responsibility to file your vouchers in a timely manner.” Good Luck.

  6. SB*

    LW2 – See if your employer will purchase you some noise reducing earplugs. I can absolutely recommend LOOP (I am a genuine customer, I am not getting a kick back or sponsorship from Loop, I just love them).

    They don’t block out conversation but help reduce other noises. I have no idea HOW they work, they just do!! Plus, they look really cute. I do not know how I managed in my noisy office (which shares a wall with the industrial workshop) before I got them.

    1. Daria grace*

      Second the recommendation for Loop earplugs. They are expensive but work so much better than the cheap ones. Just make sure you you buy the right model. Some are designed to muffle sound, others to dramatically lower volume while preserving sound quality

    2. Sparrow*

      I have misophonia and Loop earplugs have been a lifesaver! LW2 mentions earplugs though so I don’t know if Loop would have helped in this particular case; it sounds like the volume was pretty extreme.

    3. Astor*

      I know that there are a lot of people who love the Loop earplugs, but I’m not one of them and so want to provide some extra information for people. They do work for a wide variety of people in terms of reducing noise and being comfortable, so they’re a good recommendation, but they don’t quite the mark strong enough for me. I think they’re really best for chatty offices or regular public spaces.

      Oh, but I do want to stress that they’re not a good choice for actual hearing protection (unless the alternative is even worse).

      In case any one else is in the same situation as I am, I’m currently searching for better options and have found the (one-man) reviews and articles on noisyworld.org to be very helpful for narrowing down which earplugs to try and which ones to skip based on what fits, is comfortable, and serves my own preferences. They seem to, in general, aim their articles more at reducing and covering up outside noises than purely hearing protection, but I’ve found it really helpful anyway. These two articles might be helpful for anyone who is thinking about getting Loops or who hasn’t found that they work for them: https://noisyworld.org/loop-quiet-vs-loop-experience/ and https://noisyworld.org/earplugs-for-noise-sensitivity-sensory-overload/.

      I also recommend reading other articles to get a sense of what works for you and also how to properly insert earplugs! I’d already been following instructions about rolling the plug and opening the ear canal, but his additional detail (in this article and others linked from it) helped me really figure out what I could do to make them fit even better. I’m still waiting for some others to test, but my attitude has changed from “earplugs are so uncomfortable, they’re never worth wearing unless I’m damaging my hearing” to “adjusting these a few times is definitely a reasonable trade-off.

      But, people who just want a reusable pair to make the office or similar public spaces a little quieter, the Loops are a really great option and a sensible place to start.

      1. Contracts Killer*

        I posted above but I want to post here too in case it’s lost in all the subcomments. Flair Audio has worked really well for me. I didn’t find Loop to be comfortable. I can’t remember if it comes in different sizes, but Flair does and I have to use the smaller size.

    4. GermanCoffeeGirl*

      An alternative to Loop (in case they don’t work for you) might be going to a hearing aid specialist (or store specializing in hearing aids) and inquiring about special ear plugs for musicians that filter out the bass and also offer hearing protection. There are very expensive tailored options, but if you go for the non-tailored version, they’re pretty affordable (around EUR 20 here in Germany) and have been a godsend as somebody who is very sensitive, but loves going out dancing in very loud clubs.

      1. kalli*

        I use Flare bone-conduction ear plugs and they cut out the extremes while keping everything in the middle, and Flare Calmer for high-tinnitus days (they don’t do anything about sound but they’re very comforting, take just enough out of the tinnitus that I’m not bawling in the foetal position, and are visible enough to signal to people that today’s a bad day please make sure I can see your face when you’re talking). They use the same tech as the in-ear monitor range, but don’t have the headphone part; they also have just regular use headphones.

        Most musicians in my circle have custom solutions they either rigged themselves, have in-ears but only use one so they can hear the mix and their mix, or use $2 foam earplugs in alternate with their monitors.

      2. amoeba*

        Ah, building on that, I’ve also heard from quite some people that the tailored ones work really well for them and are not *that* expensive (a quick google search told me 30 € per ear). Anyway, inquiring at a specialist shop could be a great way to go for more information!

      3. Astor*

        Oh, yes, this! I’m currently personally focused on the most noise reduction (where pure foam is king, especially when paired with earmuffs-style blockers on top), but the best option for reducing noise while being able to hear are the ones musician/flat filters! There isn’t a standard in labeling other than NNR/SNR (average noise reduction), so it’s really worth doing research before buying anything labelled for musicians or around music, because otherwise they might just be regular filters and also not reduce loud sounds enough. But there are also so many more accessible options than there used to be!

        The custom ones are so nice and I highly recommend that anyone who struggles to wear earplugs comfortably price them out. They’re expensive, but for me they turned a painful situation into something easy. Plus, you can get interchangeable filters so that you can increase or decrease the protection based on the environment. I haven’t done that myself, but it is something that I look into every once in a while.

      4. Harper the Other One*

        +1 to this recommendation. I had a pair made when I was performing (sitting in front of trumpets is bad without hearing protection!) but they’ve proven very useful in other situations too.

      5. Susie No-Fun*

        Ok, this is new to me, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense that musicians would need this sort of thing. Thanks for the recommendation!

        1. Lilo*

          I’m a former sound engineer and I’d wear hearing protection too (although not enough, I still damages my ears).

          My experience was jazz musicians have the most hearing damage. The conductors would always have me crank the speakers to crazy levels.

        2. Lily Rowan*

          I am in a loud band, and Etymotics are what was recommended to me, and I like them, just for another brand to check out.

      6. WS*

        If affordable, the tailored ones are very good, and they can start at reasonable prices, around $AU150. My partner has hyperacusis (loud and/or sudden noises physically hurt) but still needs to hear conversations at work, so these have been great for her.

      1. NYWeasel*

        Eargasm are another brand that all my concert-going pals swear by. I’ve started using them and what I like is that they seem to cut off the outer extremes, but don’t muddle the music like regular ear plugs do. I was worried the first time that I didn’t have them inserted correctly bc I was able to have conversations without taking them out but they were great when the music got loud.

    5. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

      I really like mine as well! I used to always have a pair of the cheap drugstore foam ones in my bag, because any event with a sound system means the sound system is too load for me. Post-plague especially I find the hustle and bustle of the world makes me anxious, since I was home in relative quiet for so long, and if I’m in a situation where I can’t put on headphones, the earplugs make it much more tolerable.

      The foam ones worked and had the benefit of being easy and cheap to replace, but the loop ones seem a little more selective- I could have a conversation through the foam ones but it’s easier with these, and I still cut down a lot of the excessive volume. (Plus they look less conspicuous than the chonky foam ones. At a glance you could mistake it for a weird earring.)

    6. Ex-Teacher*

      Hearos and Etymotic Research also have good quality hearing protection (also not a sponsored plug). As a musician I have Hearos in my instrument case for any amplified gigs as a just-in-case, but they would likely work pretty well in the situation LW2 described and are inexpensive.

    7. KittyGhost*

      Thirding Loop earplugs. I’ve been carrying them on my keychain and they’ve been such a lifesaver. I bought them originally for a convention but I’ve been using them everywhere.

    8. Anemones*

      Just a note that Loop earplugs are a cheap rubber ear-bud cushion attached to a cheap plastic loop. If you actually need hearing protection I would not recommend them. There are many cheaper options that are more functional. (From: professional musician)

    9. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

      This is all good advice about hearing protection but it seems beside the point.

      This is a networking event at a professional conference. Conversation among attendees is the point of the event. If the ambient sound level is loud enough that anyone is considering hearing protection, that’s way too loud.

  7. DiplomaJill*

    LW4 – I too worked at an organization that didn’t use titles. I didn’t really think about it going in, but learned over time:
    – He avoided giving titles so I had less standing to decline tasks. “sure, you were hired to perform graphic design, but today we need a project manager. It’s not like your title is graphic designer.”
    – it was indicative of a setting where everyone wrote way too many hats
    – it was a flat organization with no hierarchy, built that way purposefully so that the owner could maintain as little or as much control as he wanted on any particular day. Team members were constantly jostling for some kind of seniority but none was ever codified.

    not surprisingly, aside from the owner and his long time cronies, everyone was under 30 and inexperienced so he could manipulate them more easily with false promises and their unfamiliarity with typical workplace norms.

    If any of this hits a mark, run.

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        Personally, I would think that titles externally, but not internally makes more sense to me. Because inside a small company, you know who does what (and how well) but externally vendors, etc. really need to know. Like which woman is head of purchasing and which one is the shipping coordinator and who is chemist.

        1. Slovenly Braid Cultist*

          I try to avoid using my title externally because it’s not that informative and sometimes makes people think I do something else.

          I suspect they’d let me change it if I had a better idea that sounded professional enough, but the truth is my role is weird and I don’t interact with that many external people anyway.

          1. NotRealAnonForThis*

            At an OldJob, titles were fairly meaningless and we did use them externally, which probably led to more confusion.

            Example? Four of us had the same job title. We’ll go with Teapot Coordinator.
            TC 1 – coordinated all of the teapot proposal information
            TC 2 – QC on manufacturing site, nothing to do with proposals.
            TC 3 – basically an executive admin assistant to the owner
            TC4 – technical information on teapots, more of a tech writer position

            Outside vendors pretty well needed to know who they needed to talk to by name.

      2. RaginMiner*

        OP #4 here!
        That’s the confusing part! Within the org, they have very common titles such as project engineer, senior project engineer, etc. etc.
        they just…. don’t use them externally??? Nobody could really give me a straight answer regarding that.

        1. Generic Name*

          So weird! Are people expected to interact with anyone externally? The paranoid side of me wonders if it’s about control and a bizarre attempt to keep people from finding other jobs.

        2. Annalee*

          It may be worth pointing out that this is likely to create Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion problems, especially in an organization with engineers. If external clients/partners/etc don’t have a clear idea of who does what, unconscious bias is likely to color their assumptions.

          Marginalized people often need to rely on the explicit authority granted to them by a title like “tech lead” (or even “engineer”) in order to get clients and partners to respect their expertise so they can collaborate effectively.

          People like to think that not using titles is egalitarian, but obfuscating power structures doesn’t eliminate them, and many of us don’t have the luxury of just pretending they’re not there.

        3. Beth*

          I’m betting nobody could give you a straight answer because there is no straight answer to give. This sounds like the whim of a CEO, management consultant, or other influential person–like, “we’re an egalitarian company, we want all of our workers to feel confident stepping up to the plate and contributing to whatever’s going on with a client!” turned into the ‘bright’ idea that not sharing titles would empower everyone to act on everything, and everyone below them knows it’s unjustifiable and dumb, but it’s not worth fighting the decision maker on.

          1. RaginMiner*

            Beth, I think this is probably exactly it. They do seem to adopt a lot of new, “forward” thinking type concepts. They do have issues sometimes where employees will act out of scope.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > He avoided giving titles so I had less standing to decline tasks. “sure, you were hired to perform graphic design, but today we need a project manager. It’s not like your title is graphic designer.”

      “Ah, sorry, my title isn’t project manager”

    2. münchner kindl*

      Ding! Good summary.

      I think flat hierarchy is another buzzword that mostly gets used wrong. In specific circumstances, it might make sense, but in most cases, it means “we have no middle management, so boss controls all” which is … very bad.

      The older I get = the more examples I read and hear about, the more it turns out that “bureaucracy is bad, lets get rid of it!” is wrong, because having procedures for standard cases, and clear job descriptions (with titles) protects everybody and prevents problematic invidivuals taking over. At work as well as in private groups, or churches: structure removes ego and charisma, which allows abuse of personal power.

      Also, as customer of a company: I want either a title of project manager, or a name, eg Wakeen is assigned accounts billable, so I talk to him about my bill, Anne is leading the project, so I talk to her about the teapot design.

      Having neither because people switch roles is not only annoying on the personal level, it makes for low-quality work. A customer wants to talk to one person who then leads the whole project, instead of trying to explain to several different people how the teapot should look, and how big it should be. And I don’t want to talk to a designer for how it looks, and an engineer how big – that’s what the project manager does. It can be a meeting of manager and engineer and designer and customer together, of course – but not explaining at length to Alice how big, only for Alice to say “Oh, I can’t do that, I’m doing design”.
      And Alice should not switch between design and engineer – those are different areas of expertise!

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        That it was a mistake to get rid of middle management is one of my soapboxes! We decided they didn’t do anything, they just sat around and went to meetings all day, so we flattened out. In the beginning, I loved this idea!

        But decades later I see that good middle managers kept the trains running: They DID go to lots of meetings, so we didn’t have to! They had time for coaching and onboarding. They trained up junior folks. They improved processes and maintained standards. They connected dots and did the bulk of the communicating between levels / groups.

        My company is so lean and flat that we are all expected to be self-sufficient and self-directed all the time, we are always missing information, and no one has the time or the job to help us come together. Yay.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I came to comment that it is some woo woo nonsense meant to “empower the employee” but will have the opposite result. If everybody is in charge, nobody is in charge. If everyone is responsible for everything, nobody is responsible for anything.

      Or like on the show, The Middle when Axl Heck and his friends started “Boss Co” with his three friends. They just argued over who had to do the work because the were all the boss.

    4. Generic Name*

      I commented below, but a lot of this reminds me of my last job. Flat organization. Common to wear multiple hats. It was a great place to learn a lot of different things, but I don’t miss the chaos.

  8. Wintermute*

    #2– This is not a full solution and I don’t know what kind of ear plugs you brought but the typical kind used for sleeping or disposable (or even silicone) ones used for things like factory floors or driving heavy equipment are rather poor.

    They make models for people that need audio fidelity, people like audio engineers who need to be able to attend a 110+ decibel concert three days a week and not be deaf by age 30 but also need to be able to accurately hear the full range of frequencies, converse with others and do their job. Those might be more fruitful for you and honestly they might be great for other areas of your life as well. They aren’t all that cheap but they’re also not exorbitant and you wouldn’t be remiss asking if your business is willing to pay all or some of the expense if they want you to attend conferences that are dangerously loud.

    1. Susie No-Fun*

      Well, this conference was anomalous, so I don’t know that I’d ask my organization to fund them. But it might be nice to have them in my back pocket for future unexpected situations. Or even to see a live music show some day. Thanks for the recommendation.

      1. Former audiophile*

        Unfortunately, as someone who has done event planning, it’s definitely something that has gotten worse over the last decade. I would not assume this conference is an anomaly. I would love to see event planners address this and save people’s hearing.

  9. Berlina*

    LW2’s issue

    I attended a job market conference last year where they’d blast techno music all day long in a big hall with hundreds of people trying to talk over that noise. It was hell, and I ended up talking to only one company representative before I had to leave. I gave feedback accordingly, not really thinking to gain much by that though.

    This year, the same conference started with 2 “silent hours” without any music (I guess other people had given similar feedback) and it was sooooo much better. I talked to at least ten companies, and many of their representatives also liked the “silence” (there were still hundreds of people talking, so the noise level was still cantine-like). Half an hour after they turned the music on I had to flee again.

    I really don’t know what they hope to gain from this much noise in an area where people are supposed to network and not yell at each other… I’ll ask them to prolong the silent hours for next year, even though I probably won’t attend the conference. Hope many more people will give the same feedback.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I think people get really seduced by the pop psychology which commonly gets touted as integral in overseeing a space. I’m thinking of the retail principles which put certain things up front, say that most people turn to the left (which I think has been debunked), at the entrance and that music can set the rhythm, pace and turnover of the crowd. I actually know quite a few sound/sensory sensitive people who loathe retail spaces for this very reason and when they need to shop, set a stopwatch for getting in and out. Don’t even get me started on the artificial scents! Meanwhile to those of us who aren’t that much affected, it’s barely adding anything of value.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Sometimes loud noises are used to attract people to a space. (“What’s going on over there? Sounds like a party! Let’s check it out!”) But if people are already at a conference, you don’t need to lure them in.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        They introduced quiet hours at my local supermarket, usually a fairly quiet time in the day, and now the place is packet during that hour. I hope they realise that the longer the quiet time, the more custom they’ll get!

    2. Allonge*

      I find it terrifying that they think of blasting music as the default and “allow” quiet hours on request. Is this our alien overlords already?

      I don’t mind some background music, but as you say, these events with a few hundred people are not exactly quiet in the first place…

    3. mreasy*

      I work in the actual music industry and this doesn’t happen at our conferences! How incredibly obnoxious, I hope for everyone’s sake this is a short-lived trend.

      1. Susie No-Fun*

        That is hilarious, in context. Because I’m pretty sure the conference organizers were trying to be “cool” and “rockin’”, so the fact that actual music industry people don’t blast their conference attendees is something I hope they read and internalize.

        1. Wintermute*

          I think it’s a bit of that, as well as the fact that people in the music industry, especially in the live performance side, realize that their ears are their livlihood and tend to be very aware of repetitive exposure damage and develop a culture around it, at least the ones I know.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The craziest part is they could have music without interfering with the conference function if they just kept the volume down.

      I’ve had tinnitus since childhood– I’ve never understood the appeal of music so loud you can’t hear yourself yell.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        I don’t have any hearing issues and I don’t like having to yell to be heard over the music.

        Just ridiculous that the whole purpose of the conference is to hear from people — and you can’t because of the music.

  10. The Prettiest Curse*

    #2 – We do not have loud music at the conference I organise because our networking session is very popular and we want people to be able to hear each other. I think a lot of conference organisers are turning everything up to 11 at the moment because the return to in-person events means that there’s extra pressure to make everything memorable.

    Definitely mention it to the conference organisers and frame it as “unfortunately, I couldn’t get the most out of attending because…” However, sometimes DJs and hotel AV folk will refuse to turn down the volume even if you beg them, so it’s totally possible there was a harried event coordinator fighting for control of the volume button!

    I’m sorry for your experience, and I hope that future events you attend have music at a reasonable volume.

    1. Susie No-Fun*

      Thank you. Yes, there was a feedback request that went out after the conference, and I definitely provided my perspective.

    2. MK*

      ‘”sometimes DJs and hotel AV folk will refuse to turn down the volume even if you beg them”

      Seriously? Ok, I can believe the hotel staff might be following the hotel’s guidelines and not be allowed to interfere with the sound system, but a DJ that the conference hired refusing to turn down the volume is crazy. Also, why is there even music during these events? And if there is, why isn’t it the most bland lounge music? Isn’t elevator music a genre created for these events?

      1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        I have run in to this. There are a certain breed of DJ/ audio engineers / sound designers who are adamant that they have the expertise to properly set the sound levels and everyone else is just wrong.

        One of the biggest offenders that I work with regularly has terrible hearing because after 30 years in the industry in which he was too macho to wear sound protection, his hearing is shot and he has lost a lot of the upper register which means he always overdrives the treble to the point that it is painful. But we are all wrong, and he is the expert.

        Don’t even get me started on why we continue to work with him. Sigh. Small towns and nepotism.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        They will not turn the volume down because:
        1. They are artists, it’s their art and you are ruining their art by trying to make it quieter.
        2. They know perfectly well that they can do what they want because they have you over a barrel. It’s not like you can, as an event coordinator, single-handedly take the call to relocate a big event elsewhere while it’s still going on! (The event venue, on the other hand, can kick you out if they think you are violating the terms of your contract.)

        I do not allow loud music at my events, but my current event isn’t held at a hotel. If you contract with a hotel, you use their in-house AV services and you are putting yourself at the mercy of their policy on background music too. (And even if they’re not blasting loud music at your event, the conference room next door could have a loud event that your attendees can hear.)

        Most of the time it works out okay and some hotels are cooperative when asked to turn it down. Some, unfortunately, are not.

  11. Caesar*

    LW #3, I’m curious why you feel you have to keep something you don’t use and let it pile up? Can you not regift or donate it? Is it homemade and thus can’t be donated? There’s no one in your neighborhood or family who would want it?

    1. Bagpuss*

      Or even bin it. Which requires no effort.
      Of course the sensible thing to do is to thank the giver but explain you use very little and so have multiple unopened bottles still, but f it is their go-to gift they ma not remember that you personally don’t use it, so if they continue, dispose of it as soon as you get it, whether that’s by binning it, regifting it or donating it.

      1. allathian*

        I hate waste, and I’d definitely prefer people to tell me that they have no use for a gift I gave them rather than taking it and thanking me profusely for it, thus making me believe that they really liked the gift and will use it. Even regifting an unwanted gift requires an effort I’d rather not have to make.

        But then, I’ve mostly opted out of gifting anything other than cold, hard cash or gift cards unless there’s a registry where all options aren’t exorbitantly expensive, simply because gifts are definitely not my love language either giving or receiving. Getting someone a gift involves a lot of effort that in and of itself gives me absolutely no pleasure, and the effort is without exception greater than any pleasure I might get from receiving a gift, no matter how thoughtful. For the vast majority of gifts that I’ve ever received, I don’t even remember who gave each gift to me a few months after the fact. There are a few exceptions, like our wedding presents (parents and siblings only, so a handful of gifts), and some gag gifts I got from my friends for my 18th birthday, but not many.

        In the LW’s shoes, though, I might simply stop doing the coworker any more favors just to ensure I didn’t get any more salad dressing, and blame it on being too busy to help. Obviously that might mean shooting yourself in the foot professionally, so I’m not really suggesting you do this. Although maybe the risk isn’t all that high, if the request is within your skill set and you’re only doing it because you can, not because your employer requires you to.

        That said, the simplest solution might be when you get the next bottle to tell the rest of your team “Sabine very kindly gave me a bottle of salad dressing as a thank you, but I don’t eat a lot of salad at home and I’m afraid this one’s going to waste. If anyone else wants it, please take it.” With a bit of luck, the giver will get the message without you having to refuse to accept the gift outright.

        Another thought, does your office have a fridge for employees to use? Do employees often bring their lunch to work? If so, you could leave the dressing there and tell people that it’s for general use.

  12. The Geek*

    #2, it’s fine to be disappointed or annoyed about not getting what you might out of the event, but you shouldn’t feel bad about non-participation. Wheelchair users should not feel bad about missing inaccessible event and people with hearing loss should not feel bad about missing unnecessarily noisy events. “Angry” is absolutely fine in both cases, natch.

    1. amoeba*

      Yeah, this. Also, this honestly sounds like it would not have been a very productive experience even for the coworkers who stayed (not even talking about the other ones who left!) If networking isn’t possible because of noise, what’s even the point? It was certainly worse for you, but sounds (haha) like something that should be called out because they just… organised it horribly, for all attendants.

    2. iglwif*

      This! None of this is in any way your fault. It isn’t your employer’s fault, either! But you shouldn’t feel like you wasted their money, because neither of you knew or expected that the conference would be so completely inaccessible.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Some Saturday I’ll rant about electric hand driers in public restrooms that are mounted at child-ear height and have painfully high decibel levels.

      1. Lilo*

        Oh man those are the worst. My preschooler actually wears hearing protection (those earmuff things) into restrooms because otherwise he’d be too terrified to go in.

      2. redflagday701*

        Oh God, those driers sent all three of my children into an absolute panic when they were younger (at different times, thank goodness). There was also at least one toilet with an eardrum-bursting flush, which I encountered with my oldest back when he was about 3. He was nervous about every restroom stop for about six months afterward.

      3. Lady_Lessa*

        I hate them as well. I will always go the paper towel route if possible, but it seems that more and more restrooms don’t have any other options.

        Ironically, if they were installed to control the spread of germs, they are actually worse than paper towels.

          1. Cranky-saurus Rex*

            Not if *you* don’t wash your hands properly – if *anyone* doesn’t wash their hands properly. If someone before you just does a 5 second, no soap, run hands under water then uses the dryers, any bacteria on their hands is spread throughout the room, and each subsequent use of the (usually also painfully loud) dryers initiates more spread of the original bacteria.

    1. Buglet*

      sorry, saw this suggestion about the excess salad dressing has already been made. But food banks can really use your help.

    1. londonedit*

      Yes, it’s an odd thing to give people! I can’t think of any salad dressing that would be so famous or renowned, and so regionally specific, that it would be the sort of thing someone would give to people as a thank-you gift. Unless the giver has done that classic thing where the first time, the OP said ‘Oh wow, thank you so much, this is my favourite, how kind of you’ and now they think the OP loves salad dressing. Like how some people end up with vast collections of frog- or cat-themed things, because they happened to mention once to their mum or gran that they liked frogs or cats. Sometimes people just get something stuck in their head and it becomes A Thing forever. Years ago there was someone in my circle of friends who used to buy me a bottle of red wine for my birthday every year, despite the fact that I’d only ever drunk white wine in his presence. For some reason he just went ‘londonedit likes wine’ and that became ‘londonedit likes red wine’ and there we are. Of course I just used to say thank you and take it home and either take it along to the next party I went to or use it for cooking or whatever. But that wasn’t a bottle of salad dressing every six months. Wine is easier to get rid of!

      I think the OP has got to just come clean and use Alison’s script or something similar. ‘Thank you so much for the kind thought, but I still have a few bottles in the cupboard to get through’.

    2. Susan Calvin*

      My mom likes a specific kind of moderately expensive creamy dressing that comes in little glass bottles and projects a very cottage-core kind of vibe, so I can sort of see it.

      And fancy bottles of oil or vinegar (maybe herb infused or something), which are *basically* salad dressing, are really common as food gifts in my experience (nice looking, shelf stable, non alcoholic!), so I’m not sure why *actual* salad dressing feels like so much more of a stretch, but I agree it does!

    3. WS*

      I live in a farming area that has recently got very gourmet and small batch locally made salad dressing is actually very popular! There’s some made with vinegar from local wines, and some made with local products like strawberry or rhubarb or saffron…I guess it’s an easy thing to take home.

    4. Julia*

      Locally produced brands you can’t find other places. A small farm which produces its own salad dressing. A gourmetish brand from the area. When Stonewall Kitchen was still a smallish brand from Maine, they were a popular item for people from Maine to give.

    5. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      We have a local resturant with house dressing that is ding dang delicious (and also known for a level of garlic that comes out of your pores for days–but 100% worth it). They sell it in house and at local groceries, and it’s a popular gift for locals to give visitors from out of town.

  13. birch*

    Oof, loud conferences are such a problem! At academic conferences I’m always baffled that they put the poster sessions in these spaces with awful acoustics and stick everyone right next to each other. We’re already tired, cognitively maxed out, trying to understand each other in another language/accent, poster presenters are mostly students who are stressed and trying to network, and then often they’ll schedule food during the poster session so we have to choose whether to eat or network and everyone is trying to focus through mouthfuls of food if we manage to get any at all. And that’s without adding any intentional sounds on top, like music!

    I agree with Alison that continuously getting feedback about sound levels is probably the only way organizers will change. You might want to poll your colleagues and try to organize a group feedback, and hold your own boundaries. I’m not sure how this works in your field, but I recently heard a story about academics who go to conferences only to network individually–they don’t go to any of the events but set up private meetings ahead of time with the people they want to talk to. If you already know who you want to network with, that might be a possibility, or you could lead a separate informal get-together and frame it as being for people who want to network in a more chill/professional space, or even request such an event from the organizers, or suggest that at least some % of the conference events are sensitive to sensory issues. I’m sure a lot of people would appreciate that since it’s not only the physical noise but also crowded, hot spaces and these vague social situations that can be hard for people for a lot of other reasons too. Because really, no one is actually doing any *professional* networking with a DJ blasting in their ear.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Unfortunately, we do have to put posters in a place in our event venue that can get noisy, because it’s the only place they will actually get foot traffic. There is a smaller and much quieter side room we could use, but the one year we tried doing that, people completely ignored the signs, the posters were hardly seen by anyone and the poster presenters complained.

      Another year, we moved to a different venue where the posters had to be in a separate space to the rest of the event and that didn’t work, either! (Those 2 venues are the only ones in our city big enough to hold our conference.) There’s really no such thing as a perfect event venue, so sometimes you just have to work with the limitations of the space and accept the fact that it’s just not going to be a 100% ideal experience for everyone.

      Definitely agree about one-on-one meetings, though. We facilitate these at our conference if requested.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I should also add: frankly, I don’t really poster sessions anyway! They’re a giant pain to organise and people always flake out of presenting their posters (or demand to submit new ones) at the last minute and mess up the numbering scheme.

  14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #4 – Agree with Alison that this is not normal and can lead to confusion.

    As to why, it’s possible that your company was spearphished in the past, or your IT security person is paranoid about the subject, and thus management overcorrected by making your titles & org chart highly confidential.

  15. Loop de lou*

    LW#2 Loop Ear plugs are amazing and save me from getting overwhelmed with sound. They are not full earplugs they have various options that block some sound to all sound. They block loud noises without blocking people talking. Highly recommend.

    1. Looping in*

      +1 I’m surprised this is the first comment I’ve seen suggesting these (early on the east coast right now).

      LW2, give the feedback to make it quieter for sure, and get yourself some Loop earplugs or something similar! They filter out background noise while making it easier to hear people and they’re under $50!

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I’ve been looking at these for ages for just sitting in my house when everyone is home. This comment may finally get me to make the purchase.

      1. atalanta0jess*

        FWIW, I’ve tried Loop and eargasm and found the eargasm ones to be way better. Loop just markets more, I think.

        1. H.C.*

          Co-sign on eargasms (they are also a bit more discreet-looking), and I actually think I see eargasm ads more often – wonder if Loop & Eargasms have different target demos.

  16. AnonAnon*

    I attended a writer’s conference (without music!) with many talks on stage that took place in a very large ballroom. The acoustics (even with mikes) were so terrible many people couldn’t understand the talks. It was so bad I started reading the projected real-time transcriptions a local support group for the hearing impaired was writing on the fly, working in shifts.
    That helped, but the multiple group sessions and workshops taking place at the same time and located close together in said ballroom (or rather cavern) with people shouting to be heard were even worse.
    I’ll being back to a different conference location.

  17. TooBusyThingsToDo*

    LW1 – absolutely submit the reimbursement requests. Unless the policy states that you need to submit by X date, I think costs you incurred during employment are still their obligation to pay back.

    I left my company over a year ago and finally submitted some requests totaling over 10K and going back to 2019, and they paid it.

  18. matt r*

    LW1, that stinks, and i’m sorry for whatever brought you to that situation.

    you definitely deserve to be reimbursed, but you may be out of luck…even if you were still employed there it would likely be a fight, depending on how they run things.

  19. SimpleAutie*

    LW1 I just want to commend you for getting to a place where tackling your debt and figuring out next steps is a possibility.

    It’s really hard when you’ve been in a place that dark to be able to even look at the mess and start cleaning it up, so kudos. I hope your former employer is reasonable, but regardless I want you to hear that you’re making good forward progress by being able to assess and make a plan in this situation

    1. OxfordBlue*

      I just wanted to say that I think you’re absolutely right and how nice it is to read this comment.

      LW1 I’m cheering you on from this side of the Atlantic and wishing you success with your plan.

  20. LifeBeforeCorona*

    The organizers of the loud fest need to know that their volume is turning people away. I wonder if the organizers were present and knew that people fleeing. Maybe try to find someone in charge of sound and ask that the volume be lowered. I would also mention the noise in any feedback survey. It sounds painful.

    1. Ask A Manatee*

      Sound guy 1: We got some feedback from the attendees.

      Sound guy 2: But they weren’t even mic’d!

        1. Varthema*

          LW2, it sounds like you’ve already given feedback, but perhaps if you ask ahead of time (or have to give the feedback again..) maybe you could frame it as a DEI issue? sometimes that gets people’s attention faster. It’s legit too as it’d be an issue for everyone from those with hearing difficulties to ASD/sensory disorders/neurodivergence.

    2. Susie No-Fun*

      One of the organizers was the DJ. He seemed to be living his dream. Unfortunately, it was also my nightmare. I’m hoping that my feedback will encourage him to explore other venues for his musical stylings.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        One of the organizers was the DJ.

        Oh, that explains a lot. Hopefully he is the only conference organizer/DJ in your industry. If that’s the case, it may be as simple as opting out of all conferences where he is one of the organizers (if he doesn’t take your feedback seriously).

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Ugh, one of my pet event hates is when the organisers use the event to practice their hobbies. (Unless the hobby is part of the event topic.) Organisers are there in service of the event, not the other way around!

      3. Generic Name*

        OMG! That explains a lot. I would skip the event next year, and I wouldn’t go back until you hear they’ve toned things down. I just can’t imagine an industry event like this, and I’m in an industry where people are known to party/drink heavily.

      4. Iris Eyes*

        Maybe its me reading an abundance of historical fiction or whatever but why would you not have a networking event that is the fun party space but also have a quieter chill space? The ballroom and the library, the ballroom and the balcony, the ballroom and the gardens. Have some sort of space where people can retreat that is less stimulating.

        I’m not super outgoing as a rule but my ideal self would see other people fleeing and suggest we find some sort of nearby open space like a lobby or hotel bar or whatever and start our own rebel networking event, you might not meet the people you wanted too but I bet you walk out with a much stronger connection over the shared suffering and problem solving.

      5. Zarniwoop*

        For work I have a pair of those things that look like headphones with no wire like airport workers use. (McMaster- Carr catalog, P/N 9206T2. 30dB noise reduction. $42.)

        I wonder how the DJ would react if you started wearing them to his events. Be prepared for lots of “Where can I get some?!”

      6. iglwif*

        Oh nooooooooooo. I feel like that probably explains a lot of this situation.

        This conference sounds like an accessibility nightmare, and I genuinely commend you for sticking it out as long as you did.

  21. Melissa*

    Lw1- If you can find an employment lawyer in your area who does free consultations, it would be great to ask them your rights. Not because I expect you to take any legal action, but because then your submission could say something like “I am submitting these before Sept 30 so that they will still be within the x-number-of-days window.”

  22. Sometimes an accountant...*

    LW1: I think you may be up a creek without a paddle. While it is very commendable that you are in a place to sort out your debts, you don’t have much leverage:
    –former employee
    –VERY short tenure (8 months)

    Should the company pay it? Absolutely–in theory. Are those business approved expenses? That is something they would argue, and again, given that you are a former employee, it would be hard to prove. It is something that could easily have been taken care of back in the day, but now is far harder. Depending on your exit (fired vs quit) and they may be less likely to try and remediate.

    I do have to REALLY side eye the company, though: are they expecting employees to routinely front THAT much for business expenses? I mean, LW racked up on average $1200/mo… That is not an insignificant amount of $$.

    1. pally*

      I share your side-eye. Given the large amount of expenses, there’s nothing in place to ask for receipts or expense reports for reimbursement at regular intervals?

    2. kiki*

      I was also wondering what sort of position LW was in to incur that many expenses in a relatively short amount of time! I assumed something where they travel a lot? I think if these expenses are mostly from travel and large ticket items (not a bunch of smaller items that have accumulated to a huge amount), it may make the business feel a bit more onus to pay for the items. I do not know exactly how the business is structured and if LW had a direct manager, but not realizing that a traveling employee has never submitted any traveling expenses is a pretty big miss from management.

    3. Lynn*

      If you do a lot of travel, that kind of expense is super easy to rack up. Hotels, per diem, parking and mileage (if you drove your own car) or a rental (if you didn’t). I could easily rack up $1,800 to $2,000 per week even in a less expensive area and not even accounting for airfare.

      1. Lynn*

        Hit enter too soon-to continue: And my company would have noticed, because they expected expense reports every week from folks who traveled. Most of us who did that were on the road, only flying home weekends. Once we went to work from home, it was more sporadic and might not get noted (and certainly not as quickly) as everyone had different travel schedules, based on the field work that might be needed for a specific project.

    4. JP*

      It’s not unusual in a lot of industries. We do offer the option of paying for large items like flights and lodging on corporate cards, but a lot of employees opt to use personal cards to take advantage of rewards points or cash back, and we don’t have a problem with that. Only thing is, you have to be on top of your expense submissions and credit card payments.

  23. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I suppose the real networking takes place outside on the sidewalk where people fleeing the noise can actually hear each other. Maybe that’s the ploy.

  24. Ash*

    Many companies have to complete all accounting for the fiscal year shortly after the end of June. It can be really hard to have to go back and add expenses after the fact. That said, it is worth a shot. If you really want to be aggressive, you could even sue the company in small claims court (although $10k may be over the small claims limit in your jurisdiction).

  25. Llama Llama*

    For 1, please submit the request for reimbursement. An ethical organization will reimburse you even if you’re a little late. From an accounting perspective, yes you are late, yes it may have crossed years, and it may be a pain but it’s doable!

    My big recommendation is to have your ducks in a row before you ask. Have every receipt ready and all the reasons for it in an easy to follow fashion. They will probably scrutinized this a lot and it will look good and will be easier if that scrutiny detail is there.

    1. Rachel*

      I don’t think any of us have enough information to say, with authority, that this reimbursement is still doable.

    2. Cmdrshprd*

      “An ethical organization will reimburse you even if you’re a little late.”

      I think expenses over 90 days is more than “a little late.” And expenses from almost a year ago are super late.

      I hope the company does reimburse, and the reasons for the delay are understandable, but I don’t think it would be unethical for the company to deny reimbursement for the prior fiscal year. My company’s fiscal year ends in March/April, and gives employees 30 days to submit expenses before they are out of luck.

  26. Pretty as a Princess*

    LW1 – I hope you are able to get reimbursed. Just know that items reimbursed after that long may be considered taxable income (this has to do with what the IRS considers to be an accountable plan; one of the criteria is that the expenses are submitted and remitted within a “reasonable” timeframe.) It’s not fun to think about, but if they agree to pay the expenses you should ask about this so you don’t get a nasty surprise in the future.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      This is an important point that bears emphasizing. If the company is willing and able to do a reimbursement at all, it may have to treat it as taxable income under IRS rules. Those rules give 60 days as an example of a “reasonable” time—that doesn’t mean that expenses have to be submitted within 60 days, it just means that 60 days is guaranteed to be considered “reasonable.” Five months (let alone a year, for the oldest expenses) isn’t likely to be considered a reasonable timeframe, so any reimbursement will probably be treated as income and subject to tax.

      Getting $10,000 (or part of it) that’s taxable is better than not getting $10,000 at all, of course, but it’s something for LW1 to keep in mind.

    2. NotGoodWithNames*

      Was going to say something similar about the IRS rules for accountable plans. As I understand it expenses submitted after 60 days may be subject to payroll taxes. From the company perspective I would feel obligated to sort this out, but would want to immediately investigate 1) how to handle this correctly from a tax point of view, and 2) whether there was an issue in our process/budget tracking that allowed this to go unnoticed for so long. I definitely encourage the letter writer to reach out as soon as possible so the company is able to come up with a solution before more time passes

  27. Hiring Mgr*

    Agree with the main point on #1 – don’t wait any longer to inquire about this. They may actually decide to cover it, or at least some of it but even if not there’s no harm in trying.

    And don’t do what that one LW did and take Paypal loans to cover it!

  28. Trout 'Waver*

    LW#1, I’d talk to a lawyer if they shoot you down. You incurred the expenses with the reasonable expectation that you’d get repaid for them.

    I mean, if the bank screws up and accidentally puts $10k in your account, they can and will use the courts to get that money bank even if they don’t realize their error for years. I don’t see how this situation is any different.

    1. Rachel*

      I would not do this.

      There is a difference between withholding pay and not reimbursing.

      The company accounts do not read minds. If their fiscal year is closed, it is closed.

      I sympathize for the contributor AND with the company who has an ex-employee asking for over a year of reimbursement.

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        *Talking* to a lawyer is not a problem. The lawyer can then talk to the company. There is nothing wrong with people talking to each other – that’s the opposite of reading minds.

        You keep saying “nobody can know” what it’s like at the company, and yet you’re sure the LW should just give up. The LW should reach out to the company. Nothing wrong with having a conversation.

        FYI, I’m not aware of any viable businesses for whom $10k would be a significant amount of money incurring sympathy.

    2. Cmdrshprd*

      “You incurred the expenses with the reasonable expectation that you’d get repaid for them.”

      If we are going to start talking about reasonable expectations then it is also a reasonable expectation that OP would submit their receipts/reimbursement requests in a timely fashion. At least within the same fiscal year if not 60-90 days.

      A letter from a lawyer might be enough to scare them into paying, but I see that as a nuclear option that would burn the bridge with the company. “OP failed to follow proper company policies and procedures, we would not hire them back.” would be a fair and accurate reference after the reimbursement fiasco.

  29. Hawk*

    LW1… I haven’t had exactly this large of back expenses, but yeah, I definitely didn’t submit my mileage for a long time, so I understand all the feelings around this. I hope your former workplace can help you.

    LW2, I used to work events and I have a sensory disorder that makes me incredibly sensitive to noise (Sensory Processing Disorder). I’m a daily user of earplugs in some cases. I agree with folks that the Loop earplugs are excellent, but I also want to mention that Vibes is another brand that worked great for me in my job where I was in noisier events and at concerts. You can find them on Amazon. Also, look at the noise reduction on each type before you purchase. Vibes had the least, then the different types of Loop earplugs. I actually own all three types of Loop earplugs because I use them in different situations.

  30. Rachel*

    1: I do not see any harm in asking.

    I do think there is room in this discussion to sympathize with both the contributor and the former company.

    The contributor sounds like they made a genuine mistake when they were going through it, and that is really unfortunate.

    At the same time, reimbursement is different from compensation in the sense that the company might depend on you to even know it exists. A former employee showing up with substantial reimbursements over a year old is a logistical annoyance.

    I think it’s possible for this to be an understandable mistake AND something that is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile.

    It feels like the comments are coming down pretty hard that the contributor is entitled to the money in full but I can easily see how they are not. And it doesn’t make the former employer a monster.

  31. Ex-prof*

    LW #2, I don’t know if this will help, but I wear earplugs in supermarkets. Can still hear through them but not to an offensive level.

    LW #3, why not regift the salad dressing? It may be what she’s doing to you. It can go the rounds like a fruitcake.

  32. redflagday701*

    I don’t even understand why there’s loud music at bars when there isn’t a music-specific event, like a DJ/dance night or a live performance, but it’s especially egregious for a networking mixer. You’re there to talk! I hate having to shout through a conversation.

  33. Nightengale*

    For the loud music at the conference – yes ask ahead of time and also see if there is an accessibility coordinator and bring this up as an accessibility issue.

    Last year my conference (of medical professionals caring for kids with developmental disabilities) started playing loud music between talks. This limited where I could sit and also made it hard for me to walk around during those times, let alone talk to people due to my own (ironically!) developmental disabilities. There has always been a social dinner with loud music where one could argue music is an essential part of the activity, but music is NOT an essential part of listening to talks, moving around between talks or networking.

    Due to a number of accessibility fails at the meeting that were so bad other people finally noticed, several of us held a meeting to discuss accessibility issues including playing music outside the social dinner. Conference this year is next week, guess I’ll see how that went . . .

      1. Nightengale*

        Yours too! I know some people like the music but that should not trump the need of others to do conferency things at the conference!

  34. Jennifer Strange*

    For #2 I go to one conference regularly and this year they set up separate rooms where folks could watch general sessions via live stream if they had any sensory issues, so I would definitely recommend that to the organizers (not just for you but lots of people I’m sure!). The after party is a little trickier, but it shouldn’t be a huge burden to set up some “quiet rooms” for folks who want to be able to talk with one another.

  35. JP*

    Our company handbook states that employees must submit expenses within 90 days for reimbursement, otherwise the company is not obligated to reimburse the employee. In practice, we aren’t super strict about enforcing that rule. I agree that OP should absolutely reach out.

    In my own company, it would get sticky if the expenses were for client billable projects that have since been completed and fully invoiced. But, even so, it’s worth trying.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      When I worked at a law firm, we had the same policy because, after a certain point, we couldn’t seek reimbursement for expenses from clients. In practice, the head of the accounting department would pay back anyone who wasn’t a partner, and especially if they were not an attorney. You might get a talking-to if it was a repeat event, though. It really did throw off the budget and billing.

      1. JP*

        I’m on the accounting side of things, and, I won’t lie, if I saw expenses coming through from 2022, I’d be annoyed. I’d also be annoyed with the supervisors and billing managers for not noticing that there were substantial expenses missing from their invoicing. But, at the end of the day, we’d probably make an effort for at least a partial reimbursement, if not full.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      See also Pretty as a Princess’s comment above. The handbook sets a 90 day limit for reimbursement because the IRS only allows companies to treat those reimbursements as non-taxable (which I believe also means that the employer doesn’t have to pay their part of the payroll taxes) if they are “accountable.” And one of the requirements for an “accountable” plan is that it requires expenses to be submitted in a “reasonable” time. The IRS gives 60 days as an example of what’s reasonable, but that’s not an absolute limit; 90 days is also probably fine. But the plan has to set some limit on how late expenses can be submitted or all reimbursements would be treated as taxable, even the ones that are submitted quickly.

  36. Olive*

    LW1: while I hope the company can reimburse them and I’m sympathetic to what they’ve been through, I’m not sure I agree that the company has an ethical obligation to spend scores of man-hours fixing reimbursements for a former employee who didn’t submit receipts before the accounting deadline.

    I’m thinking both of the business travel expenses I’ve previously incurred, and the amount of managerial time and effort it would have taken to verify that 8 months of someone else’s year-old receipts lined up with scheduled and approved work visits and expected costs. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the company to put the burden of proof of approvals on the LW instead of having her former manager, IT, and accounting going through year old records. And unfortunately as a former employee, she probably no longer has access to a lot of that information.

    My actionable suggestion is for the LW to filter out any non-major expenses. This will mean she loses some money, maybe a lot of money, but she’s going to have a much stronger case and have more people willing to help her if she can submit only things like airfare, rental car, and hotel costs, for example. It can be easily proven that she needed to fly to see a client. Things like lunch at McDonalds, even though it would have been considered a legit part of travel expenses if she’d turned it in a year ago? Don’t submit it at all. That money is gone.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      As a side note, this may be industry or employer dependent. I thought reimbursements for old receipts were not an option for me. I read the policy, decided I was over the 30 day limit by a LOT, and so I didn’t submit for reimbursement. I had been going through health issues at the time like OP, and this dropped off my radar until it was past the deadline.

      Turns out, our funder very much knew that I went on the trip and was very confused when reconciling their expenses many months later why I had never submitted any receipts. Cue our fiscal department reaching out to my boss and trying to figure out where all my receipts were. I got every last dime that I spent reimbursed and people were actually happy that this long running discrepancy in their records was finally identified and put to rest.

      Submit the receipts. All of them, IMO. Offer things to make it easier, sure, like reimbursing based on federal per diem instead of individual meal receipts or something like that. But there is no reason to not at least try to get all of the money back. Sure, they may not want to do the reconciling. But maybe they do, maybe they don’t mind, maybe they mind and will do it anyway, or worst case scenario they mind and the answer is no. But you don’t know until you ask and cutting yourself short for no real reason when you don’t need to could mean financial hardship for longer than warranted. Just ask.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      This is really bad advice.

      I mean, you have a receipt for an airplane flight, a rental car, and a hotel room, so it seems logical that this receipt for lunch at a McDonald’s in the same city should be easily understood as part of that same trip.

      If I had an employee traveling, I would assume they purchased food while they were on the trip, and didn’t pack a suitcase full of baked beans.

  37. That Girl*

    Yikes about those expenses. Where I work, there’s a 90 day limit, hard stop. And because some of these will be from a different fiscal year, that will be an obstacle. This may be an expensive lesson for the OP.

  38. Senior Principal Bovine Dental Technician*

    LW4: What do people put on their LinkedIn?

    My company has internal titles, but they are really for billing purposes and don’t reflect common titles. Think: Llama Groomer, Bovine Whisperer, and Equine Dental Technician all being called “Livestock Specialist”. Employees are encouraged to use common industry titles externally (business cards, email signatures, LinkedIn, etc.). The specific title is left up the employee’s discretion to pick what they feel best reflects their actual duties (even on business cards) and AFAIK we haven’t had any issues with egregious title inflation. Same for job postings, the hiring manager chooses the industry title that best reflects the scope of the role and what candidates would be searching for. This works out well in my experience, it streamlines internal business processes and reduces friction about the nuances between Equine Dental Technician and Horse Mouth Hygienist; this sounds silly, but I have been in so many discussions where people have strong opinions about the distinction between these jobs even though they are basically the same in both qualifications and practice.

  39. ZSD*

    #2, to be sure you get the networking benefit, in advance of the conference, can you email people you’re hoping to talk to and ask them to grab coffee on a certain afternoon? Or if you find someone’s talk interesting, can you speak with them right after the event and arrange a time to meet that isn’t during the acoustical assault events? (But I’m also sorry that the organizers were so thoughtless about what people want out of their evening relaxation and networking events!)

    1. Susie No-Fun*

      This was my first time at the conference, so I didn’t really know who I’d want to talk to until I got there. I’ll keep the coffee invitation idea in mind for future conferences, though. Thank you.

  40. Former Retail Lifer*

    #2, I got some pretty cheap ear plugs for concerts from Amazon. You can still hear, it just tones it down. Those might be an option for these loud conferences. I know what you’re talking about…it’s 8AM and you’re barely awake and you walk into an auditorium BLARING bass-heavy dance music. It’s always so jarring and has the opposite effect on me than what’s intended.

  41. No Math Involved*

    For LW#1 – I too have had issues with submitting expenses on time. But I don’t know why! I rarely travel for work so when I do, I have about $2,500 in expenses. For some reason, the idea of expense reports fills me with dread and anxiety! I have joked that I was falsely accused of embezzlement in a past life…but I’ve never heard of anyone else with this level of procrastination until now. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to control this for LW1 and myself?

    1. Michelle Smith*

      Make an appointment in your calendar to fill out the expense reports on your first day back in the office. Keep the appointment and do not reschedule it for any reason. Do something to reward yourself during or after (maybe listen to some music you like, buy yourself a cookie you really enjoy, etc.) for getting the task out of the way. Under no circumstances do you allow yourself to wrap up work for the day without finishing and submitting the report.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        This is what I had to do at OldJob as far as travel expense reports. Expense reporting is very difficult for me (matching up scanned receipt pdfs, toggling the correct information, making sure that I have the receipts, etc. etc. etc.) for whatever reason.

        I also started using the notes function in my phone to track everything by date on business trips. Lunch? Jot down date, where I’m at, receipt total. Taxi? Again, repeat, including car number because you needed that to pull up the receipt from the municipality…

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I second these suggestions. Also, think about what is driving the dread and anxiety. If it’s general feelings about money, can you pretend to the best of your ability that an expense report has nothing to do with money? Pretend it’s an accounting of how many widgets your company produced, or something else that will work for you, instead of an accounting of dollars that your spent.

        If it’s feelings about asking for money (or anything in general) for yourself, can you pretend you’re filing an expense report for a friend? You don’t want your friend to be out $2,500 so of course you’ll file the report right away.

        If it’s feelings about the report being denied or incorrect someone, can you remind yourself that your accounting/finance department is staffed with reasonable people (hopefully true!) and/or that you are all on the same team and can work together to solve any problems with the expense report.

        These are just a few examples that I think are fairly common reasons people put off expense reports. There could be something else driving the dread and anxiety, but hopefully it’s something you can create enough of a work-around for to get the expense report submitted.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Carry an envelope and make a photo album on your phone when you travel to put all your receipts in as you incur them. Make a calendar appointment shortly after your return to deal with the envelope/album contents, and don’t snooze or dismiss it. Breathe a sign of relief when your bill arrives that those thousands of dollars are paid by your company, not you.

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      Like Hlao-roo said, I think you need to get to the root cause of why you are filled with dread and anxiety.

      If it is annoying or difficult because you have to go searching everywhere for the information, then being more organized about saving receipts during the trip will help. Is the process/software complicated and frustrating? Having things organized and then set aside time to tackle it.

      If it more about money anxiety, Hlao-roo has suggestions.

  42. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: Just stop filling up your pantry with the dressing bottles if you don’t like them. Donate them. Give them away. Throw them in the trash. Bring one to the next company potluck for people to share. The nice thing about gifting someone a consumable product is that presumably they *don’t* have to struggle to find storage place for it. It’s not a tchotchke that you have to find a place for so that the other person knows you appreciate it. It’s something you’ll either use up or can easily get rid of, no hurt feelings involved.

    By all means, have a conversation with this person if you really think that’s appropriate. I would find it really weird if someone balked at a cultural gift giving expectation in this way, but we’re all different. If you think this person will respond positively, then have the conversation. If you don’t or you think there’s a risk they’ll be offended at what is intended as gesture of good will and not an obligation for you to store all bottles of salad dressing indefinitely, then there are lots of other ways for you to deal with the issue.

  43. LongWeekend'sA'comin*

    LW2, I always carry earplugs, I find movies and most live events too loud for comfort so I never go anywhere without them, but that doesn’t help when the bass is so loud the whole room shakes. I usually politely ask if they can turn things down, and if not, I leave. There’s really not much of a choice and you shouldn’t feel like you need to put your health at risk to put up with a ridiculous situation regardless of how much money was spent.

  44. LongWeekend'sA'comin*

    LW3, Assuming it’s store-bought and not homemade, you can always donate it to a food bank if you want to avoid any awkwardness or hurt feelings by turning it down.

  45. el l*

    This is not the norm. This is one of these practices where it CAN be legitimate, but the why has to be very strongly answered. Namely:

    What exact reason – foundational to how you do business* – mandates not saying your title externally?

    It can’t just be a general statement about egalitarianism (“We should all be treated equally outside the company, low to high”) – every company really needs that. It can’t be a statement about capabilities (“talk to any of us and we can take care of it”) – that’s unrealistic for anyone who’s been out in the world.

    There has to be a well-reasoned and well-articulated justification. If there isn’t, this place is showing cult-like behaviors.

    *Example of a legitimate strange behavior: The massive hedge fund Bridgewater has a strictly-observed policy of extreme transparency, notably “No talking behind others’ backs.” Strictly observed, fireable offense if done repeatedly. Why does this behavior make sense? Because their business model is betting against the market – something that is not-always-but-usually a bad idea. This extreme transparency is designed to make everyone speak up and air their doubts about ideas before they’re executed. The founder has talked in interviews how he made a decision early on that almost bankrupted the company – and when debriefing his team about it he discovered they all had doubts but didn’t feel comfortable disagreeing with the boss. He took the lesson to make a radical decision about eliminating groupthink from his corporate culture.

  46. Hiring Mgr*

    For the salad dressing, if you’re worried it might hurt her feelings and if you can’t use it or donate it for whatever reason, what about just leaving it in the office fridge so everyone can enjoy it.

    You could always just toss it in the trash too

  47. Pet Jack*

    OP 5, interestingly my company treats titles as an OUTSIDE thing, and they don’t necessarily match up across the company (which is weird and can be confusing) but job duties and reporting are very much defined, so it’s mostly for your customers outside of work instead of internal.

  48. Generic Name*

    #4 This reminds me so much of my last company. I realized years ago that the company seems to have no clue how certain things are perceived by people outside the company. For a long time, everyone’s job titles were their college degrees. Which was fine until we hired our first IT person (small company). The owner made a special exception for his job title. No one had job descriptions, by the way. Then we started hiring people to do certain roles, say business analysts. except their majors were in other areas, so more “exceptions” were made. Then the company restructured and we had actual job titles and job descriptions, except I think they overcorrected and now the job titles are very long and specific and make no sense to outsiders. When I left that company, HR asked what my job title was at my new company, and I told her, she sniffed and said, “it’s soo generic”. I just looked at her and said, “Well yeah, everyone in that role at that level has the same title”. In her defense, she has never worked at any other company.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Has she never looked at LinkedIn? Most companies use titles like what it sounds like your new job does. A title isn’t a job description and is generally intended to fit on a business card or email signature without using 6 pt font. :)

  49. Izzy Legal*

    LW2 –

    As a conference organizer, I whole-heartedly agree with AAM’s take here. We take attendee feedback very seriously. I have been pitching my team on creating “quiet zones” throughout our conference, but am getting shut down because we haven’t heard about it from the event participants. (It’s just me trying to keep people in the building rather than retreating back to their hotel rooms to recover). So letting them know – or at least asking the question – can get the ball rolling. Good luck!

    1. Susie No-Fun*

      Thank you. I did fill out the feedback form they sent out, highlighting my issues with the noise levels. It’s nice to know it might be taken into consideration for the next iteration of the conference.

      1. Izzy Legal*

        That’s fantastic! On my team, I’d be the first one to read it, so on behalf of conference organizers everywhere – THANK YOU. I would also suggest sending a note to the organizers via email; see if there is a ‘contact us’ area on their website or a general “info-at” email address. I’m sorry it’s so many hoops, but creating a written record helps; it’s more likely to get forwarded around the team.

      2. Yep*

        I also wanted to share that I’m on a team organizing a virtual conference, and we were just talking yesterday at length about accommodations. Which ones do we need, what’s possible in a digital environment, how do we solicit requests for accommodations, what’s worth it vs what doesn’t make a big enough difference… Your organizers should care just as much.
        But also, it felt from your letter that you felt a bit guilty for not maximizing your company’s investment in your attendance. Don’t worry about that! You went to what should’ve been a good event, and it was organized in a way that would’ve made it hard for anyone. I’d keep that knowledge when thinking about next year, as I’ve definitely been disappointed in how conferences went and chose not to return. But it’s not your fault they were being ridiculous, and it’s a pretty common occurrence that you go to a conference and find you don’t get enough out of it for one reason or another.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      We have a designated quiet room (it’s a lecture theatre well away from anything noisy) at our conference. They are becoming increasingly common at large events now. We also have an outdoor space with a marquee and some comfortable outdoor furniture for anyone who wants a break from being inside all day.

      1. Izzy Legal*

        LOVE THAT! Would love to have one at my event – like you said, a simple lecture hall or classroom, maybe a floor or two up from the busy/loud exhibition hall. With soft seating and water/snacks.

  50. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    This made me laugh out loud, loudly, and made my Friday: “How can I turn down endless gifts of salad dressing?” Thank you. :)

  51. Nelalvai*

    LW2, yowza! I empathize hard. I have auditory processing problems; if I was at that conference there’d be a high risk of me dissociating. Not at all conducive to networking.

    I don’t have any suggestions beyond what other commenters have already said. I hope your next conference is quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

  52. MicroManagered*

    Ethically, they absolutely should reimburse you — those are their business expenses and you shouldn’t have to pay for them, regardless of how much time has gone by.

    I’m sure this will be an unpopular opinion, but… I disagree with this statement and don’t think the example that was linked is comparable. That situation was very different.

    I am in 100% agreement that employers should reimburse business expenses paid out of employees’ pockets, of course they should! But they also have an understandable need to be informed of those expenses within a reasonable timeframe so they can accurately budget for expenses, manage cashflow, etc. Depending on the size and operating budget of the employer, a $10,000 bill they were not expecting could be significant. It’s different if OP worked for a giant corporation, but even then, they may have pre-set policies on the timing to submit expenses and I could see how they might decline to go so far back.

    I definitely think OP1 should try to submit those reimbursements and I really hope they get paid, but it would not surprise me or seem like a massive injustice if the employer declined to reimburse some or all of the expenses — particularly the ones that are now a full year old.

    1. kiki*

      I think the linked example is relevant because in both cases the LW is fronting thousands of dollars for the business over a relatively short period of time. While the LW is responsible for not submitting their expenses in a timely manner, I’d argue that they really shouldn’t have been asked to put this money on a personal card anyway– if you have employees expensing thousands of dollars in a matter of months, they really should have a company card. I also think the company/management bears some responsibility for not following up with LW on at least some of the large items they expensed.

      1. MicroManagered*

        The letter at the link was from someone who was regularly fronting amounts up to $8000 and that was just their employer’s way of doing things. And I agree that’s a crappy way to do business. But I understand how that letter explains why businesses should reimburse expense indefinitely — that was my point.

        For this letter, I think it’s different because the $10,000 was incurred over roughly 8 months… so the expenses must have happened in increments, but they’re now going to avalanche those expenses all at once for the employer. This is WHY employers establish timeframes for submitting expenses, etc. To me, it’s the same as the IRS limiting how far back you can amend your tax return or retail stores having a return policy.

        1. MicroManagered*

          But I understand how that letter explains why businesses should reimburse expense indefinitely — that was my point.

          This should say:

          But I don’t understand how that letter explains why businesses should reimburse expense indefinitely — that was my point.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            If LW1 is in CA, the company has to reimburse them. You can have deadlines and fire someone for missing them, but you can’t refuse to reimburse a business expense.

      2. NotGoodWithNames*

        Sometimes employees have access to a company card and still choose to go the reimbursement route for various reasons – credit card points, convenience, etc. I don’t think we know enough about the policy/type of expenses/letter writer’s level of budget responsibility to gauge what should have happened differently. Regardless it seems like a bit of a headache for all involved, but hopefully a solvable one!

  53. zebra*

    #2 – I am on a team of conference organizers. We would be more than happy to answer questions about sound levels in advance, and continue to talk with you about them throughout the event if things need adjusting — please don’t hesitate to reach out to the organizers of your upcoming events! Decent planners want everyone to be accommodated and happy, and we especially need to know if the instructions we give to the AV vendor and/or the hotel staff are not being carried out faithfully. They should also be able to explain to you what they do and do not have control over (for example, if the hotel lobby/hallway areas pipe in Muzak, your conference organizers might not be able to get that turned off, but they should have the ability to control sound levels in your meeting rooms). Also, honestly, there are some things that we just don’t really think about until an attendee lets us know that we have a problem we need to solve. So please do get in touch.

  54. Cait*

    For LW2–I highly recommend Loop earplugs! They don’t fully block sound, they just filter it. I’m autistic and use them both for loud conferences (the Loop Experience version) and just normal social events (Loop Engage, which do a little less filtering). I’ve found them really comfortable and really helpful.

  55. Minimal Pear*

    If you think LW1 is bad, you should meet my grandboss. $53k in unreimbursed expenses and counting. All from last fiscal year. At least the process is smoother since she still works here.

  56. CommanderBanana*

    I wonder if LW #2 attended the same conference on the West Coast I did last weekend – we all left the closing party because the speakers were SO INCREDIBLY LOUD and also RIGHT next to the bar. I really, really hope the bartenders had hearing protection. We had to write down our orders and it was physically painful to be in the room.

  57. Carlie*

    Some companies specialize in selling earplugs and have sampler packs that you can try out for several kinds too. I have some Etymotic brand ones that I got from an online earplug megastore, and they’re great. There are a lot of brands with a whole range of price points, shapes and sizes, and functions for exactly what noises get filtered and how.

  58. KatieP*

    LW1, if you’re in the US, be prepared to pay income tax on any reimbursement they provide. Even with receipts, the IRS may decide that because the expense was more than 90 days old, it’s subject to income taxes.

    Source: 20+ years processing reimbursements and having to withhold income tax
    Caveat: I’m not a tax accountant

  59. Toodles*

    For #2 have you ever tried the earplugs that let you still hear conversations but block out some of the other noise? I had some by loop that I used for sleeping that blocked out almost all of the noise, and I know they have versions that they advertise as good for concerts that are supposed to help with that kind of situation.

    1. Susie No-Fun*

      I’ve mostly tried the foam earplugs that reduce the noise a bit. Loop earplugs have been recommended highly by the Commentariat today, so I’ll definitely look into them before my next conference/potentially loud event. Thanks!

  60. DMDM*

    LW 2 – Please look into Loop earplugs (or something similar). They are great and so discreet. You can easily carry them in your bag or even your pocket. Different styles still allow you to hear people’s voices while filtering background noise. I’ve used them in loud restaurants, a cruise ship, a concert, etc. Also, check with the conference organizers to see if they offer a “calm” or “sensory-friendly” space. More and more conferences are adding these but they aren’t always advertised well.

  61. Carol*

    For questioner no.1: I too have run up thousands in expenses and really struggled to claim them; I have long-term problems with executive function and especially now that expenses are on an online system I find there are many barriers to submitting a claim.
    What I’ve done that worked really well is to hire a few hours of a freelance personal assistant every so often and one of the things they help me with is submitting claims; they help me keep the receipts filed, go through the online system and keep track of what has been paid. It has been a game-changer. I recently, finally, got reimbursement for some expenses I incurred in 2020 (albeit in the same job).
    I definitely agree with Alison that it can’t hurt to ask!

  62. ConferenceAreLoud*

    I have been going to conferences, conventions, and similar events for 30+ years now and I’ve never, ever been to one that wasn’t loud, loud, loud. Even the small ones. There’s always music, there’s always a zillion conversations going on at once in every public area, there are often frequent ear-splitting announcements, and all sorts of other loud things happening. I certainly don’t want you to suffer, but the idea of expecting a conference to be quiet baffles me.

  63. Pink Geek*

    LW2: if there are quieter parts of the event see if you can connect with people there and then invite them to join you at a quieter place when the loud stuff starts.

    “This has been a great conversation, I need to run to the next talk but I’ll be at the hotel bar tonight at 8 with a few other folks if the evening networking stuff gets to loud and you want to join us and talk some more.”

    And if there’s an event Slack or social media tag you can post a general invite there too.

    I used to go to a tech conference where all the Higher Ed folks would cut out on the day 1 mixer together. We’d show up for the one free drink and then flee to something close and quiet, bringing co-workers and new contacts with us. There were always enough veterans to carry on the tradition but enough new people to ensure future veterans and networking opportunities. Maybe you can start a tradition

    And also, ugh, to the loud music.

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