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I recently had to go down to a local shop (Homebase) to buy a large amount of goods for the company that they needed same day. Homebase uses the Nectar points reward system which I use regularly.

The company does not have a Nectar card but I do, and since the points would be wasted otherwise, I considered using my Nectar card to earn points from a company purchase.

How can I determine if I can do so? I would not have been taking money from the company, although I would be benefiting from their purchase, and the points would have gone to waste if I didn’t use them. How can I discover the general industry position on benefiting in this way?

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This is relatively commonplace, actually. Particularly in the context of travel expenses. When I was working with a company that expected employees to make their own travel arrangements and then provided reimbursement, pretty much everyone used rewards cards to book their travel and racked up tons of points. It's essentially the same use-case as what you describe. –  aroth Aug 7 at 9:43
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Depending on the country you might need to pay income tax for these. –  CodesInChaos Aug 7 at 13:36
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I think its totally reasonable considering you're temporarily extending credit to your employer by making company purchases with personal funds –  Doug T. Aug 7 at 14:40

5 Answers 5

up vote 39 down vote accepted

This is perfectly normal - and totally acceptable in every company I've worked in. From tiny start-ups to huge multi-nationals. Getting personal reward points for company purchases is fine.

HMRC (the UK Tax Man) have a section on their website dedicated to it.

In general, air miles, petrol tokens, credit card points etc. acquired by an employee are not taxable if they were acquired in the same way as applies to any other member of the general public, for instance by buying goods or services on which such benefits are given,

I've been lucky enough that I've accrued enough airmiles from company travel to part-fund my personal travel. I've also bought ~£300 worth of catering from Sainsbury's and pocketed the Nectar points. Nearly enough to buy my lunch the next day :-)

Now, there is an ethical dimension to this. You probably have a duty to your employer to buy the best value goods possible.

If the good your bought from Homebase were twice as expensive as B&Q - or the flight was more expensive on BA than Virgin - you're not behaving ethically. If the only reason you bought the more expensive version was so that you could personally profit - that is unethical behaviour.

Will you get disciplined for it? Probably not, but that depends on your company. Keep the receipt, show that you bought the best value goods and you should be fine.

Enjoy your Nectar points :-)

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I am piggybacking on the accepted answer to share a VERY important remark that was overlooked: before you do this with your company purchases, you NEED to consult a lawyer and preferably also your boss. As @dirkk correctly points out in another answer, this can be seen as theft in some countries, which can be grounds for immediate termination, or at least a severe warning. –  Nate Kerkhofs Aug 7 at 13:27
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This is probably true if you work for a private company. But if you work for the government there may be specific prohibitions to this type of behavior. I know when I was in the military I had to turn in any Frequent flyer miles that were paid for or reimbursed by the government. The same was true for any reward points on credit cards used for purchases that were reimbursed. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Aug 7 at 15:42
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This question is part of this week's Broken Windows For Review on meta. –  jmort253 Oct 20 at 1:58

I think the ethical perspective, which is what you are asking, is pretty much covered by others answers; I agree that it is not much of a problem.

However, your question also implies a legal consequence. And here things get more complex, as this differs from country to country.

I have noticed in other answer on Workplace.SE before that many other countries seem to be pretty relaxed by doing something like that. But as also other people are looking for advice here, I would strongly suggest not to use bonus programs for your own personal use if you are based in Germany. I can't speak for other countries, but it might also apply to other countries.

German employment law is very strict about theft, even for little sums. In Germany, using a bonus program for company expenses on your personal card can at least get you a written warning (after 3 written warnings you are fired). You can also immediately get fired, but this depends on the circumstances. To back this up, here is a case where such an incident occurred As was pointed out in the comments, the following case is a bit different as the employee was employed at the gas station, so he used customer bonus points for his own usage (see last paragraph for another example). Here us the article (in German): http://www.ra-herren.de/?p=1338

The employee used the payback card (basically a reward card, you collect points and get small gifts and such) when filling up the gas tank. So basically the value of the bonus points for a full tank of gas is certainly well below one euro. Even then, the employer fired him immediately. However, the court ruling in this case decided that there was no case to fire the employee, instead a written warning (which is also quite serious, as said before) should have been issued. The reason in this case that he wasn't immediately fired is that the employer did not specifically told him the handling of such bonus cards - However, the court ruling says that this was a "severe incident".

Of course, 99% of the employers will not care about that - But if your employer wants to get rid of you, he could always use this against you (even if it occurred well in the past, so even if you are on good terms with your employer now, this is not guaranteed) to last forever.

As was pointed out in the comment, my example above is not that much comparable. Another example in Germany would be the Bonusmeilenaffäre, where politicians used bonus miles (collected through their official business trips) for private flights. This was frowned upon and quite a few high-profile politicians had to resign. Note, that this is a bit different, because politicians do not have an employer. Another example would be case, where a nurse was fired for "stealing" 6 Maultaschen (a regional dish, pasta with a filling, 6 pieces is roughly one meal), which would have been thrown away otherwise.

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@NateKerkhofs Well, that is actually my point. I am actually afraid that people are researching this topic, find this post via Google and just read the most upvoted and accepted answers, which all pretty much disregard any problem whatsoever. However, at least for Germany (no matter where, no matter which position you are in), the situation the OP talks about will always be big trouble. Don't do it in Germany. –  dirkk Aug 7 at 13:12
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Even if the company is fine with it, I'd expect it to be taxable income (one it exceeds a certain amount per month) since Germany taxes most kinds of employee benefits. –  CodesInChaos Aug 7 at 13:41
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@gnasher729 Yeah, I was told the same before. However, I think this is a misguided view from a very US-centric point of view (sorry to all my dear American friends!). It might be possible in some countries to "make something up", but at least in Germany (and many parts in Europe, e.g. France) this is not so simple. You can not simply get fired if you do your job properly. –  dirkk Aug 7 at 14:42
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Erm, the linked article is about a gas station employee that, if the costumer did not have a benefit card, used the benefit card of a friend. That is not the same as a customer using his personal reward card when purchasing things for his company. In particular, the former causes financial harm to one's employer, the latter does not. –  meriton Aug 7 at 17:23
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Dirkk, can you please amend your answer to address @meriton's correction? It's very misleading as it stands. –  jpatokal Aug 8 at 1:31

If you get to choose what store you go to, and you'd go to one that may be more expensive because you'd get personal rewards points from it, that would certainly be unethical. But if you are ordered to go to one particular store, or that one is the cheapest or otherwise more suitable from the company's point of view, it's not clearly unethical though your company may frown on it anyway.

There are two different aspects to it:

  1. First, bribes. All rewards points systems are in effect bribes - they are an offering of reward when you purchase more things from the seller. Of course, usually they are quite small bribes.

    Most larger companies will have some rules about how to choose a vendor, and rules about what kind/size of gifts are considered bribes. (As a consultant, I know some companies that don't even accept a gift of candy around Christmas or Halloween... and others that accept quite a bit more!) The bigger the decision you can make is, and the bigger the gift, the more careful you need to be.

  2. Compensation and fairness thereof. If you are always the one who gets sent to the store, and you get a number of rewards points every time you go there, then you are effectively being given an opportunity to get monetary compensation that your coworkers don't get. They may or may not consider this unfair. If it's a huge amount of money (unlikely!) it may even be taxable.

As long as it's a small amount and not a regular issue, I don't think any company will reasonably object. Still, I'd recommend that you check with your boss. If they think it's OK for you to use your rewards card, you're in the clear. If not, not.

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The company does not have a Nectar card but I do, and since the points would be wasted otherwise, I considered using my Nectar card to earn points from a company purchase.

Would this be considered ethical?

In my part of the world, this is very typical and completely ethical.

If you are using a company card, then the company gets the rewards (if any). But if you are obligated to (or encouraged to) use your own card, then you are entitled to any subsequent rewards.

Some folks (often Sales people) end up with significant rewards points as a result of using their personal cards for travel, accommodations, and expenses. To me this seems quite fair as the company is getting the benefit of not having to administer company cards.

Most companies have written guidelines for these situations. See if your company does as well. If not, ask HR or Accounting about their reimbursement policies.

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The place I work has company rewards cards at Staples (office supplies) and Sams Club (general merchandise). We signed up for those cards because we realized we were spending lots of money at those places, and our policy is to use them when we say to somebody, "hey we we ran out of tp (bog roll), go get some!"

But for casual one time purchases, these loyalty points are no big deal. I bet you the price of 100ml of gasoline (petrol) they didn't pay you for the expense of driving your car to the shop. So, keep the points. If you find yourself accumulating lots of them for business purchases, suggest they get a business rewards card.

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Your own view of whether your employer pays you enough doesn't affect the question of whether it is ethical to accept personal bribes for choosing a particular provider for your employer does it? –  Lembik Aug 7 at 14:51

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