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I just got a new phone in my office since my cell phone no longer works in my new office.

This month, I called home seven times, at $0.07 per call (<1 minute each, long distance because my wife has a cell phone). I was asked to identify and reimburse for any personal calls - a total of $0.49. It would be less expensive for the employer to let this amount slide than for me to spend the 1-2 minutes (or more) that it would take to deal with reimbursing the company. For that reason alone, I feel silly even acknowledging the bill, but I don't even know who to ask for clarification, or if I should report this inefficiency to someone who makes the rules (and if so, to whom?). I would rather just pay $20/year and never think about it again.

In addition, many calls to my wife are business related - the fact that the calls were so short mean that they were all logistical - to arrange to stay late, to arrange to have my lunch delivered so that I can work through lunch, and etc. So perhaps I could justifiably owe 25 cents.

Furthermore, I previously used my cell phone to make both personal and work-related calls, and have never asked for reimbursement since the request would have been so trivial.

I have two questions:

  1. Do I have any alternatives to spending a few minutes each month to identify and add up the cost of a few personal calls and then walk the cash payment upstairs to the billing office?

  2. What is the definition of a personal call, e.g. one that I should reimburse my employer for? For example, is calling home to ask if I can stay late a personal or work related call?


update: to clarify - it seems that this is a systemic inefficiency. The phone bill was sent with a standard request for reimbursement; but my group's accountant responded "No need to do anything with it unless you incur exorbitant charges for personal calls"

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Tell your employer that they need to stop nickel-and-diming their employees. Seriously, that policy is ridiculous. Especially if $20 covers unlimited calls for one employee for an entire year. They should just put up the extra $20/employee themselves rather than waste everyone's time with extra bookkeeping. –  aroth Sep 4 '12 at 23:26
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It is clearly ridiculous, however, it might have been put in place as a barrier to keep people from making personal calls on the company dime (probably a history of abuse that the company reacted to in a draconian way). If one has to fill out an itemized form for personal calls, one is far less likely to make personal phone calls. Skype or email-to-sms might be a good alternative. –  Angelo Sep 5 '12 at 10:45
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+1 to @Angelo 's suggestion of email-to-sms. Gmail allows you to text straight from your web client chat window ^_^ –  acolyte Sep 5 '12 at 13:09
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Google voice should let you call her phone from gmail as well (assuming it's also a USA number) –  enderland Sep 6 '12 at 4:49
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I think I would quit if an employer billed me for calling my wife to tell her I was working late. I mean really that is just not showing any respect to your team –  Zachary K Sep 11 '12 at 6:37

5 Answers 5

up vote 22 down vote accepted

This is a company policy which you are aware of, you need to either follow it or get permission to disregard it from someone -- first person to ask is your supervisor.

Just because the policy isn't directly cost effective, does not mean that (a) it does not result in a savings to the company or (b) that it is within your purview to change or ignore.

If your supervisor doesn't waive doing so, then do it, and do it right. As to whether or not calls to your spouse are business calls or not. I would say that you can certainly make a good argument that some of them are (working lunch, overtime). I would recommend creating a spreadsheet with the numbers, the time and amount, and whether it was a personal call or not (only for those numbers which were sometimes personal). No need to go into detail about why it's work related unless someone quizes you, but listing them will make it clear that you were aware of the calls and did not just miss them when creating your reimbursement documentaion. Print it out and submit it (with cash if possible, no reason to give Murphy a chance to turn your .25 into 25), getting a receipt.

It's a bad idea to treat any work related task as frivilous and unnecessary -- you may think it is, you may argue against it, but if it's a requirement, it should be treated as seriously as everthing else.

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+1 - while everyone can certainly propose changes to company policies, it's not our place to disregard them. They want you to spend time breaking down 49 cents worth of phone-calls, you do it. If your boss or anyone complains that you're wasting time, you say that you're just following policy. That's how policy usually gets changed, when enough people realize it's a waste of time. –  pap Sep 12 '12 at 11:11
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Make sure you make this spreadsheet on THEIR time, not yours. –  Kik 2 days ago

Since you did this before making a request to let it slide, I would suggest that the best alternative is to fill out the forms and pay up for every personal call. Then take that paperwork to your boss, tell him how long it took and ask if you can be given a waiver for doing this under a set amount agreed to by you and the boss. Then you will know if you must do this every month or not. If they want you to do it no matter how small the amount, failure to do so is generally a firing offense. I've worked places where any long distance personal call at all was cause for firing (of course long distance was more expensive way back when). And having spent my time analyzing phone bills for a large organization (yes that was a horribly boring job even if the data was ina datbase!), I can tell you that those personal little calls can add up over several thousand employees to a nice little cost savings so they may not be willing to let it slide. So pay up this month and then try to negotiate a better deal.

As far as whether calling home to talk to the spouse about staying late, that is most definitely a personal call. It isn't necessary to do your work, it is only necessary to keep your home life happy. (note I'm not saying I wouldn't make this call if my spouse was still alive, but only that it doesn't matter from a work perspective if you do.)

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I would suggest that if the two options are not call, go home on time and not get some work done or make the call, stay late and finish some work then making the call most definitely is a justifiable business necessity. *8') But then I've never worked anywhere where personal phone calls were charged back to me, and have many times claimed personal phone calls on my mobile as expenses as I would never have needed to make those calls had I not been away on business in the first place. –  Mark Booth Sep 4 '12 at 22:35
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It's irrelevant how much it amounts to multiplied by several thousands of employees. If you have 5,000 employees and everyone owes 50 cent of personal calls a month, you can save $30,000 a year which may appear a lot but it's not, because the employees alone cost $250 million in salary, and so on. Making the "with many people over many years" argument is just an illusion, because all the other numbers get bigger too, and your "target number" gets bigger but remains just as insignificant. –  Andreas Bonini Sep 5 '12 at 15:45
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@HLGEM, if you make employee spend $10 worth of time to fill papers so you can reclaim $0.50, then only things that "adds up" and "multiplied" is expenses. –  Oleg V. Volkov Sep 11 '12 at 11:22

You are very conscientious but you are over thinking it.

Fill out the forms, give them to your employer and let them make the call (sorry, pin intended).

If they find the procedure painful they will change it.
If they don't and they don't mind paying you for the time to fill out the forms, i.e. the paperwork is probably something you'll do at work and most employers wouldn't even think of the time it takes - assuming you can reasonably get your work done anyway.

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Be careful with this though -- he already admitted to working late and through lunch. If this policy is consuming time and they are going to continue to force you to spend time filling out forms so that you can pay them money (or worse, spreadsheets to justify which pennies were business related and which weren't), make sure that is company time, not personal time. Don't spend five minutes on their paperwork and then spend five extra minutes at the office. –  PeterL Sep 7 '12 at 18:51

I realise this is an old question, but I do have something to add.

Your employer needs to have a written policy that all personal calls are reimbursed; this is for tax reasons. If they did not have this policy the phone would be a taxable benefit (this is certainly true in the UK, but I expect also in most countries).

In practice they don't greatly care if you're reasonable. And that is why you've got exactly the instructions you have - a formal instruction to reimburse, and an informal instruction that they don't mind reasonable use.

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If you have to work late, you need to decide if the compansation/promotion for over-time is worth it. You don't have to call your wife on her cell phone or have her bring you lunch. These are your choices for your convenience. Next you'll want them to pay for your caffiene.

They let you fill out a form on company time to pay them back for using their phone during working hours. If you want to save the company money that bad, do it on your own time.

Obvously, they'd save money if they had a less than $5/month don't bother policy. The decrease in check and forms processing, human hours and increase in good will would make up for it. It's either this or they really don't want people to use the phone for personal calls.

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