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An incoming employee had signed his offer with my company. However, even before starting work, he has already exhibited a few signs of unhappiness with company policies and had an argument with some of our staff.

For example, we learned that he was upset because "if he had known that we weren't reimbursing his transportation to the airport, he would have taken a cheaper mode of transport." After an explanation over the phone, he said that he has gotten over the issue, but started to (professionally) make a long case that we should consider being more generous with our reimbursement policies to attract talent. He also reiterated earlier suggestions that we should change several other work policies.

Considering that this employee is well-off, our management team feels that this employee was making too much of a fuss over a $20 reimbursement and that this is a sign that he could be very problematic in the future. Moreover, his overzealousness in questioning company policies so early on suggests that he could be hard to work with. This type of problem has been the cause of substantial loss in productivity before in the past, and we've terminated employees with much weaker (but more long-term) signs of disagreement.

Aside from legal complications, should we be withdrawing our offer to this employee? Or is this a healthy amount of disagreement that we should still accept?

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Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Comments posted after this comment that weren't about improving this question have been purged (you should have taken the discussion to chat). – Monica Cellio Feb 21 at 19:42
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Was the policy made clear to them from the start? If he was just told that he would be reimbursed, but not what amount or transport modes were acceptable, then the fault is yours, he should be reimbursed, the policy should be made clear for the future and you should review how you communicate with candidates. – DLS3141 Feb 22 at 13:32
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@JonH That does not mean they shouldn't be moved. Comments are moved to chat when the comment thread gets long or turns into a discussion; they can be as on-topic as you like, but they're still better off in a chat room. That's SE policy. If you don't like it, there's Meta for that. – ArtOfCode Feb 24 at 20:20
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I once had an employee who memorized the employee handbook and gamed the employee review process. He was a pain in the ass. I was glad when he quit. – Tony Ennis Feb 27 at 13:38
up vote 244 down vote accepted

What should you do when an employee questions your corporate policies? You listen!

If the employee was disrespectful, then fix the disrespect. If the employee is respectfully questioning your policies, then listen. Even if you dismiss the concerns, you treat your highly paid and highly valued employee with respect. And if you can't justify your policies against some questioning, then I would have to ask why do you have those policies?

Because in the end, money only motivates employees so much. If you don't listen, or give them the run around over $20, or take the stance that management is not to be questioned, they will go elsewhere. Great salary or not.

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I agree with your answer except for the "you treat your highly paid and highly valued employee with respect." - You treat every employee with respect if you want to have a successful business. Your employees are your business. A janitor commands the same respect as the CEO. – B1313 Feb 21 at 19:04
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If the employee is related to accounting, or finances, then they would expext that all financial dealings must be one hundred percent correct. And if they had a hotel bill for $160.05 and you reimbursed $160.00 then an accountant would be very, very unhappy with that. – gnasher729 Feb 21 at 21:48
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@B1313 But not Bill in accounting, he doesnt deserve our respect. Not after what he did... – Keltari Feb 22 at 1:34
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@B1313 (first comment) of course that's true, but I read "highly paid and highly valued" here as a descriptor used only for emphasis - that is, it's implicitly saying "you treat your employees with respect because you clearly believe they deserve it, given that they are highly paid and highly valued". I didn't think it was trying to distinguish between this employee and others who are not highly paid and/or not highly valued. – David Z Feb 22 at 9:27
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From an employees perspective here is what he may be thinking: is this company short of money and close to going broke? Is this company so bureaucratic that I can't even get $20 reimbursed - what happens when I have to do some real work? – teambob Feb 23 at 2:22

Did you actually send him a copy of your travel expenses policy before he traveled to the interview?

If not, then I'm not surprised that he made a fuss about it. If I were asked to attend an interview and told I would be reimbursed my travel expenses, then I wouldn't be happy if I was told afterwards that only some of my expenses would be reimbursed.

If you keep losing staff over this sort of thing, perhaps you should ask yourself whether it's actually your policies that are the problem, rather than the staff.

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And it's not the amount, it's the perception that they've been dealt with unfairly, which is one of the most powerful human motivators. I'm sure that was worth $20. I'm not surprised productivity problems are not unknown to the OP. – Nathan Cooper Feb 21 at 1:00
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@ Nathan Cooper: Yes. If someone will screw me over a mere $20, I'm darn sure that they'd screw me over $20K if they got the chance. – jamesqf Feb 21 at 5:43
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If this was me, and I was told the expenses would be covered, I'd probably quit the job on the spot. I don't work for companys without a trusted relationship. Period. If I have the feeling the company is not honest to its employees and tries to screw them over or take advantage of them, they can try it, but I won't be an employee there. The amount doesn't matter. I did actually quit because of a 20€ bus ticket. When I quit, they offered me ~200€ more monthly salary. I declined. It's not about the money, it's about respect and keeping contracts, even verbal ones. – Josef Feb 22 at 9:57
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Also I have seen older employees cheating the company on expenses to get even for a perceived shortfall on claimed expenses. I was very shocked the first time I saw this; to the taxi driver "I give you €10 more than you need, you give me a receipt for €5 more than I paid". Then smile to the rest of us; "the company cheated me last time". (I reckon if a guy does this once he does it every time.) – RedSonja Feb 23 at 12:54

I don't understand the premise of your question. You wouldn't reimburse him for his transportation to the airport for business travel? I can certainly see refusing to pay for stretch limos and helicopters, but since the cost was $20, I'm going to assume he used a reasonable means of transportation. No wonder he's questioning your policy. Reimbursement for business travel expenses is the norm and sometimes the law (e.g. in California). The fact that you believe he can afford it because he's "well-off" is even more troubling; I'm sure he could manage to get by if a paycheck was never issued, but that wouldn't make it right to deny him his pay. No matter what the amount, he should be entitled to reimbursement for reasonable expenses he incures on behalf of your business.

Remote work policies are a more complex area, and the right answer there will depend on the needs of the job and your workplace culture, but what kind of $450K/year employee doesn't get a company laptop? Heck, in most startups, everybody gets a laptop. Outside of situations where every bit of the work absolutely must stay inside the office (e.g. classified government projects), surely you want an executive employee to have the tools he needs (at the cost of a small fraction of one year's salary) to get his work done?

Based on your post, your company seems to be lacking what is generally seen as one of the major advantages of working for a startup, which is more flexibility and less adherence to rigid policy mandates. Potential employees are attracted to work at startups because they don't want jobs where they go 20 rounds with accounting over a trivial expense report or have to justify why they worked from home one day. Put policies in place to solve actual problems people are having rather than address every possible circumstance that may come up and stifle all the flexibility that comes with a startup job.

If this type of thing seems to be happening a lot, I'd encourage you to question the value of the "substantial loss in productivity" and compare it to the cost savings to the company of your thrift and inflexibility. The cost of a few rides to the airport will be utterly trivial compared to the cost of recruiting a single new employee. And the cost of having your entire office working under seething resentment for your policies is incalculable.

Namfuak is right, in that none of us were there and so none of us can say whether he'll be a good employee for you. But it sounds like your policies are absolutely in need of questioning, and so I certainly wouldn't favor withdrawing your offer because someone is professionally and respectfully raising these concerns.

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To be clear, the last three paragraphs of my answer were not specifically about your remote work policy, but were about your attitude toward policies and employee insubordination in general. If a specific policy is truly needed to protect your business, that's one thing, but if you view reasonable and professional feedback about what workplace policies aren't working as "insubordination," you have a much bigger problem. – Zach Lipton Feb 21 at 3:50
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@elleciel - employees should be challenging management - that's part of their job. – Telastyn Feb 21 at 3:55
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$450K employees should BE management. And management should be questioning policies. – WGroleau Feb 21 at 16:10
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Note that the question has been changed since my answer. I think the question has been changed in a way that indicates the OP has gotten the message, but the changes do alter the context of this answer. – Zach Lipton Feb 21 at 22:59
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Good answer and I'd also like to echo Telastun's sentiment: you hire expensive experienced employees because they have abilities beyond simply "shutting up and doing the work". You hire them because they can think about improvements to your processes. If you don't want thinking people, you needn't hire these expensive experienced people and can simply hire only junior staff. If any and all challenge to 'established procedure' is seen as being 'difficult to work with' you're going to have a bad time... – Cronax Feb 22 at 9:03

First, I would hardly say questioning one policy is befitting of the phrase "too much". Second, it seems that you are a manager of some sort from the phrases "my admin staff" and "my company" and "management team", so you already should have made a decision, the problem is your decision needs to be accepted by high level executives and if they agree then you have egg on your face and if they don't then you look like you wasted their time questioning your own choices. Third, it sounds like your company is a terrible place to work if a person who is not even getting paid yet has to complain about $20 and get an argument (you stated he was recently hired, but did not give specific time frames). Fourth, indoctrination of high level executives is not wise considering they should be free thinking and open minded to improve things (which should be why you hired him).

Nonetheless, your company seems unable to handle any criticism about anything. If multiple people complain about the same thing then odds are there is a problem with that thing. The majority is usually right. Perhaps listening to this individual might be a good idea?

Also, considering you are paying this guy in the high six figure salary range I am going to assume he's higher than you and will be in an executive position of some sort. If so, I would suggest you reread his resume and watch out for things such as "developed polices", "reviewed practices", "overhauled ...", "spearheaded ...", etc. This shows that he makes changes, so odds are was he was testing the waters to see what happens. Hiring someone for these position levels is not likely to be overturned over a simple policy misunderstanding, so don't think he is leaving anytime soon.

Edit:

Can you clarify his position because you have stated that he will be payed in the high six figure range (more than CFO's, COO's, etc) and yet he should not be questioning management? I make FAR FAR FAR less than 450k and I question management all the time. What exactly is a 450k employee doing at this company? Because something is not adding up in this story. If you can afford 450k then you can afford $20. Something is not right here.

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I read the question that he was payed 450k at his previous job, with no indication how much he's payed at the current job. – CodesInChaos Feb 21 at 9:11
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@B1313 Unlikely, he likely left some big corporate type place to join a startup. He is probably getting compensated mostly in equity, and perhaps conditional bonuses or commissions (e.g. If he is in sales). – AviD Feb 21 at 21:41
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Neither this nor that. He would still be in the same range and TBH, an employee leaving a company of that pay grade is HIGHLY suspicious to wanting less. Might mean he was not achieving results or something similar. This is why CFO's have somewhat of a bad reputation as they float around a lot. Nonetheless, he would be equaling out as you stated. So it's just a semantic issue. – B1313 Feb 21 at 22:01

our management team feels that this employee was making too much of a fuss over a $20 reimbursement and that this is a sign that he would be very problematic in the future.

I agree. This is not a good sign for a highly-compensated employee.

Moreover, his over-zealousness in questioning company policies so early on suggests that he would be hard to work with.

Perhaps. Or perhaps he just wants to test the bounds and understand the flexibility of the rules now, so that he won't have to do it later. Or perhaps it's even a cultural issue (if the new employee is from a different locale).

This type of problem has been the cause of substantial loss in productivity before in the past, and we've terminated employees with much weaker (but more long-term) signs of insubordination.

You've lost substantial productivity after hiring employees who made a fuss over small reimbursements, and who argued about company policies before? And you are wondering if you should do it again?

Sounds like you already have an answer in mind.

Aside from legal complications, should we be withdrawing our offer to this employee? Or is this a healthy amount of disagreement that we should still tolerate?

Only you can decide if this sort of disagreement is healthy and if you should tolerate this sort of behavior or not.

If I were you, I'd sit down with the hiring manager, explain what you are seeing, explain how these issues have happened in the past, make your recommendations, and then ask if she/he wants to pull the offer, or go ahead.

Be prepared to support the hiring manager once the decision has been made - it's really not HR's role to squash hires unilaterally over this sort of thing.

If the decision is made to withdraw the offer, go through the process of writing up the approach you will take and communicate it with the hiring manager, and any other relevant stakeholders. You want to make sure you are on the same page before dropping the bomb on this candidate. Then withdraw the offer formally, and handle the resulting flashback (if any).

And if the decision is made to go ahead anyway, you may want to schedule a discussion with the manager and new employee (once hired) to go over policies, and to hint that long-term whining about them isn't productive.

Longer term, you might want to review your screening and interviewing practices, in order to prevent making offers to problematic employees in the first place. Brainstorm how you could have prevented the prior cases, and in particular this one. You don't want to get in the habit of pulling offers. That can ruin a company's reputation quickly.

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Good practical advice. – keshlam Feb 20 at 21:08
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Working for a blue chip company with cash flow issues I myself was not "well off" but could soak up having expense claims knocked back, and some entitled payments (allowances) shirked. But these were early symptoms of a company that would soon have trouble meeting payroll. These little things can matter to a new employee. – mckenzm Feb 22 at 6:09
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"perhaps he just wants to test the bounds and understand the flexibility of the rules" - so true. Most of the time, intelligent employees just have to be explained the rule and told that their complaining further will cause problems for them, and what complaints they are welcome to bring up and how. They'll improve because they are smart. Not saying anything to the employee and terminating them, is a sign of an extremely unintelligent management. – Nav Feb 22 at 12:56
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My experience is that management which labels employees' (ongoing) concerns about policy (or lack thereof) as "complaining" are the ones causing the negative environment in the first place. If numerous employees are saying the same sorts of things then it's management's job to figure out how to fix what is a real issue, not just paper over the problems by firing "problem people." – dash-tom-bang Feb 22 at 19:50

No one here was on the phone listening to your conversation, so it's difficult to say exactly whether the employee was being unduly disrespectful or not. However, it would seem to me that someone's mood directly after they have been traveling is a bad time to judge character - often other factors are going to increase their stress, like delays, annoying fellow travelers, etc, and something that may have been a small annoyance to them on its own might cause them to snap at someone over it due to the rest of their day not being great.

That said, it's ultimately up to you and your team to decide whether or not this constitutes enough to retract the offer. Presumably you hired this person because they bring a set of skills that your organization can use, and not because they have the patience of a saint. In small organizations especially, you do run the risk of lowering office morale if one person is complaining about something, but if morale is being lowered then perhaps it is the symptom of a larger issue which you should look into fixing.

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I would assume that after being told that the company wouldn't reimburse a trivial amount of $20, the employee would be pissed off. He then tried to improve the situation at the company by telling them they might rethink this policy (it pissed him off, so it is sure to annoy the hell out of other people as well). This genuine attempt at improving company policies is then interpreted as "disrespectful". If he hears that, then you either lose an employee, or you will get an employee without the slightest loyalty to the company. – gnasher729 Feb 22 at 15:35

Aside from legal complications, should we be withdrawing our offer to this employee? Or is this a healthy amount of disagreement that we should still accept?

Given this person's pay scale I am imagining that they are management. If you are hiring a manager you should be thrilled that they are questioning your questionable policies. This is the major benefit of pulling in an external manager rather than promoting from within. This person will know how things work at other companies, so "We've always done it this way" ends up being a lame duck excuse.

From the original edit it sounds like this person has challenged 3 policies so far in the hiring process. If this person were coming into a position where writing company policy would be far from their duties or the person doing the hiring had zero control over policy (eg cashier at big box store), this would be a bit of a red flag as they are not showing understanding that their complaints are not productive. As this is likely not the case, I think you should appreciate the fact that they have already started pushing for policy improvement.

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This "answer" only partially deals with the question but I think it adds something new.

"if he had known that we weren't reimbursing his transportation to the airport, he would have taken a cheaper mode of transport."

I think this is, by itself, worrying. I would expect my employees (most of the time) to spend the company's money as wisely and frugally as they spend their own.

One caveat though: the company and the employee would rightly make different trade-offs of time versus money. It's reasonable for the company to (e.g.) spend money to save time in a case where the employee might reasonably make the opposite trade-off if it were their own money being balanced with their own time.

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Everybody spends their own money differently and every company has a different culture regarding expenses. Some employers wouldn't blink at a massive bar tab, while others would refuse to pay for a drop of liquor. Companies can have very detailed formal policies that detail exactly what modes of transportation are allowed and how much will be reimbursed. Or, like most startups, they can be more flexible, but deal with specific issues as they come up with individual employees. In any case, it's hard to see how a $20 airport trip would be excessive, even if a cheaper alternative exists. – Zach Lipton Feb 21 at 22:56
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Note that particular ride could be cheapest way that provide documentation - which one would need to get expenses properly reimbursed. There is nowhere mentioned that it was luxury ride. I really don't see how one can reach airport much cheaper (like $50 less) in the US for example. – Alexei Levenkov Feb 21 at 23:14
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Maybe a taxi takes 30 minutes to get to the airport departures, but the metro+bus take 60 minutes + a long walk. What's this employee's hourly rate? Compare the saved time to 20$. Frown. – DonkeyMaster Feb 22 at 14:27
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"Airport" already means "different city" which in turn implies unfamiliarity with the local public transport system. That alone is sufficient to justify a cab. – MSalters Feb 22 at 15:08
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Your expectations are wrong. I expect the company to spend money to make my travel and stay pleasant enough to produce maximum productivity. If they are tight arses that don't do that, then I spend my money to maximise cash in my pocket. – gnasher729 Feb 22 at 15:38

I would like to add an answer from the employee perspective.

Unless it's the sunny California, where it seems it's the law, reimbursing one's expenses connected to their trip for the interview is a token of good will.

When you find out that there are terms and conditions to that good will - some kind of connection breaks. Lack of generosity, especially at the beginning of a relationship puts doubts about how the relationship will look in the future.

While comparisons are always limited I think the following situation should express well enough what the emotional impact of your policy can have.

Imagine a situation where a prospective partner invites you for a coffee. You meet in a café and you order a large flat white with soy milk. It goes very well - by the time the time is up you know you can acheive great things together. When the bill comes the person says they're will obviously pay for the coffee but their policy is not to pay for unusual extras like soy milk. It's only $0.50 anyway.

Can you feel what in that short moment happens to your perception of their good will in doing business with you? Their offer hasn't changed, the possibilities are still great, but I guarantee that you would start having big doubts.

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