Decide for yourself: Did these companies step out of bounds when their employees stepped out of compliance with T&E policies?
Check out the following four real-life scenarios, then decide whether each company was justified in its actions. We’ll tell you how a court ruled.
An employee abused T&E policies for years: padding expense reports, moving decimal points on totals, etc. The company fired him for it, then sent an e-mail to the entire company reminding it how seriously T&E compliance is taken and mentioning that the employee, by name, was fired for noncompliance.
The employee sued for libel. Was the company at fault?
Answer: No. A court ruled the company had not stated anything untrue, therefore it could not be considered libel. True, the company might have exercised more respect for the terminated individual’s privacy, but it had not done anything wrong. The company was trying to show other employees that there was no tolerance for breaking T&E policies. [Cite: Alan Noonan v. Staples, Inc., CA1, No. 07-2159, 8/21/08]
An employee who’d submitted some questionable expense reports in the past started working for a new supervisor. The supervisor asked A/P to give her future reports careful scrutiny. New discrepancies were found, and the employee was given 24 hours to resolve them. She couldn’t do it and was fired. The employee was Latina and claimed no one else had been asked to justify discrepancies.
The employee sued, claiming ethnic discrimination. Was the company at fault?
Answer: No. The way the company audited this employee’s expense report didn’t constitute ethnic discrimination. The employee was unable to prove her ethnicity had anything to do with the extra attention her expense reports received. The company was able to show that this employee had a pattern of submitting questionable expenses. When that pattern continued, it was within its rights to terminate her. [Cite: Jennifer Nelson v. Sprint/United Management Civil Action No. 05-2350-KHV, 9/25/06]
An employee submits the same receipt twice for two different expenditures at two different times — with two different justifications. He was fired for falsifying expenses. But the employee cried foul, saying other employees were allowed to correct mistakes on expense reports without any action taken against them.
The employee sued for wrongful termination. Was the company at fault?
Answer: No. The company was in the right here. It was true that finance staffers allowed other employees to correct “minor” errors on expense reports that they had found themselves after submitting them. But the former employee never spoke up about any “mistakes” — until after Finance caught them. The employee’s errors were more elaborate than a math mistake or simple oversight, so the company was justified in believing he was trying to defraud them. [Cite: Francis v. GlaxoSmithCline, E.D. La. No. CIV.A. 02-1592, 1/5/04]
An employee had expensed several outrageous things. When the company looked into the situation further, it found several e-mails referencing gifts the employee had received from vendors. The employee, who was a woman, claimed her male colleague did the same thing. But the female employee was the only one fired for violating the corporate ethics policy.
The employee sued, claiming gender discrimination. Was the company at fault?
Answer: No. The company always maintained that the employee was fired for one reason alone: violating the ethics policy. And while different employees may have received different attention for similar situations, it does not change the fact that this particular employee failed to follow the policy, which was a firable offense. [Cite: Dena Swackhammer v. Sprint/United Management Co., CA10, No. 05-3222, 7/9/07]
The takeaway: As long as your company has clearly defined policies — and enforces them uniformly — you should be well within your bounds to enforce them.