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Nine to Five illustration (Cinders McLeod/Cinders McLeod)

Nine To Five

Is it ‘stealing’ if I use a work travel credit for myself? Add to ...

The Question:

I made an error in booking corporate travel and I am now holding a $2,000 non-refundable, non-transferable airline credit, good for one year. I was not planning on travelling with this airline, but I feel I should claim this credit for personal use, so it doesn’t go to waste. Should I be held responsible for this mistake? Should I reimburse the airfare? My company spends millions a year on travel, so a small credit would go unnoticed. What am I to do?

The First Answer:

Heather Faire

HR executive, Atlanta

As an HR partner I spend a lot of time helping people navigate the “grey areas” of the working world. The answer to your situation is clear – crystal clear.

You were using a company tool to book company travel. So the company owns any asset or credit coming out of the transaction, whether in error or otherwise. This is not your ticket to use for anything other than business purposes.

If you use the ticket for personal travel, you are stealing and if you “just don’t say anything,” you are lying, even if lying by omission. Either way, you could very likely get fired. Believe me, if your company is spending millions a year on travel, I would bet they can afford good auditors who will find your transgression sooner or later.

You need to tell your manager and the finance person about this right away. Let them guide you on how to handle the situation. In the corporate world, like in life, the mistake is never treated as harshly as lying about it. The cost to the business as a result of an honest error is never treated as harshly as stealing.

As for this mistake my friend, own it, admit it and learn from it.

The Second Answer:

Sheila Copps

Former deputy prime minister

A small lie is still a lie.

You should definitely not use the travel credit for personal use as that is theft. The explanation that no one would notice is no reason to purloin from your employer. You wisely point out that the credit should not go to waste. To that end, you should approach your boss with the details of your dilemma and offer to cover the benefit which, as you have described, came into company coffers because of your error. You should purchase this travel time from the company and use it to book your next vacation.

In that way, you will have owned up to your mistake and repaired the financial damage, while benefiting from a travel credit for which you have paid. From an employment perspective, this is a win-win situation because you have acted in a forthright, honest and fair manner. If you are lucky, your employer may even reduce the cost to you.

To try and sneak a benefit which doesn’t belong to you is not only wrong. It is foolhardy. Could you defend that theft to your next employer after you lose your job because of a lie? I think not. No travel voucher is worth the risk of jeopardizing your reputation and credibility in the workplace.

Jobs are scarce these days and when you have one, don’t throw it away for a few of somebody else’s air miles. That would be a $2,000 mistake.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns at http://tgam.ca/DjTz

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