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I recently had a business trip and used the train to travel. On the way back, there was a significant delay leading to missing a connecting train and as a result, I arrived more than one hour late. When being more than 60 minutes late, the train company will return you 25% of the train fare.

Due to this being a business trip, I will get reimbursed for the train ticket (which I had to buy myself). If I don't tell my company, they will never know that I got 25% of the return ticket back.

My question: Is it unethical not to tell them that there was a delay and I actually paid less than the original price? On the one hand, I would save them money. On the other hand, the trip was approved beforehand (with the original train price) and I was personally inconvenienced by the delay, not the company (as I was traveling back on a Saturday, a day on which I normally don't work).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 28 at 12:53

14 Answers 14

102

Tricky question. I'd say the 25% gets paid for the inconvenience of you sitting in an empty train station for an hour. If you paid the 25% to the company, that hour would be you working for the company (if the ticket was £150, and you get refunded £37.50, you made the company £37.50 with an hour of your work by sitting around), so you should then be paid overtime.

So it's ethical. But this being "workplace", "ethical" isn't the question. The question is: Can you get into trouble for it? Can someone claim you stole from the company? If you fall out with your manager and they're looking for a reason to get rid of you, can they claim you stole from the company?

Call HR. Tell them "My train was delayed. I spent one extra hour of my own time in the train station. It's quite possible that I will get a refund. How should that be handled?". And if they say "You need to hand the money to the company" you can say "I strongly disagree with that, unless you pay me an hour overtime" and see what happens. Either way, you are safe.

nvoigts comment might indicate a better way to ask:

I would not pose the question in a way that lets them put you in a position where you have to "strongly disagree". "I spent an hour at the station due to delays and will probably get a refund. Was that hour billed as company time so I have to pay it back, or was it my personal time and I get to keep the refund?". Let them be in the position to explain themselves if they want something else.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 3 at 7:17
62

It is completely ethical for you to have the money. Indeed, the company often has no right to partial refunds, which are compensation for the traveller's disruption. As the company has suffered no loss, no refund for their money is due. This is certainly true in your case as the disruption was to the return leg.

This is backed up with legal texts, albeit for flights, and in the EU (although this directive was transposed into UK law). This link to Claim Compass describes the situation for delayed flights. According to it, EU regulations specifically state that it is the passenger who gets the compensation, not the person who paid for the ticket. The situation for rail tickets appears unclear, and your company might have a policy that the compensation is theirs. (My workplace has no mention of this in their expenses policy.)

Suppose you were injured on this rail journey, and were awarded compensation. Would your employer get that? Clearly not. So why if it is your time that was taken rather than your health does the answer change? This is compensation for the delay, not a refund for services not delivered. If your train were cancelled and you never made the trip, of course the company would get the money back.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    May 3 at 7:18
31

Step 1: Check the company policy handbook for travel policies and reimbursment clauses.

Step 2: Talk to the travel desk or HR, in case you do not see a clear answer in the handbook.

Frankly speaking, unless that 25% of train fair is a significant amount, you should not be losing your good night's sleep over that thought whether this would be considered stealing or not. Ask someone who knows the process, and follow the guidelines.

I am not a lawyer, and I cannot speak on behalf of your company (or any company for that matter), but per my experience, company will reimburse whatever invoice you've got for the expenses. Whatever perks you get on top of that (like credit card points, airline miles, or some refunds/cashbacks) are for you to keep - company will neither take responsibility nor claim adjustment for those perks. YMMV.

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    Whatever perks you get on top of that (like credit card points, airline miles, or some refunds) are for you to keep - Indeed. There is a whole industry built on that called "airlines", based on the taxation loophole on those points you mentioned. That's why airlines are banks, says Youtube: youtube.com/watch?v=ggUduBmvQ_4
    – Kheldar
    Apr 26 at 8:19
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    @Kheldar AFAIK that's not universally true. From other questions across SE I remember that in Germany standard business practices (laws?) don't permit claiming frequent flier malls, store reward points, etc for business expenses where you're reimbursed by your employer. Apr 27 at 15:24
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    @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight I work in the UK for a German-headquartered company and can confirm that if I earn any frequent flyer points from business trips I am only allowed to use them for business purposes.
    – nekomatic
    Apr 28 at 7:58
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    @nekomatic: yes, that's the legal situation in Germany: bonus miles are like corporate client discounts (e.g. by DB) discounts that your employer gets as part of their contract with the airline or railway company. AFAIK, this is completely unrelated to the question here, though, since we're not talking about a contractual discount but rather about a compensation for damages - and the question is who is damaged, OP or their employer. Apr 28 at 12:31
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You say this money is a refund, but it looks more like compensation for the time you were delayed.

  • If the train had an accident where you got injured and the train company (TC) paid you 2000$ because of that, would you hand that money over to your company?

  • If your luggage got lost somehow and TC paid you 500$, would you give it to your employer instead?

  • If your train has been delayed and you've been stranded for an hour and TC has paid you 30$ because of this, would your company be entitled to it?

The answer to all those questions is probably the same ("no", IMHO).

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  • If my employer supplied the luggage and everything contained in the luggage, then, yes, they would be due compensation for lost luggage. If the train had an accident, and your employer or their insurance company had to pay costs for services or medical care for you, then, yes, they would be due at least a portion of the money to compensate them for costs. So, you're right, the answer to all those questions is the same, "yes." Apr 29 at 17:39
  • @PoloHoleSet Exactly. You got my point. It's either "My employer manages the whole trip and will take responsibility (and compensate me) for anything that happens to me or my luggage, so any compensation from TC goes to them, not me"; or "I'm the one managing the whole trip, my employer will not take responsibility nor compensate me for anything that happens to me or my luggage, so compensation from TC goes to me, not them". In OP's case, they said they're the ones managing the trip, not their employer, so the answer would be "No". In your case, your employer takes care of everything, so "Yes"
    – walen
    May 3 at 7:59
  • No, my emphasis was on financial commitment. I'm not talking about whether they pack your luggage for you, I'm talking about whether the luggage and contents were paid for and owned by the company. Let's put it this way - if OP had a family emergency and had to cancel the trip, who gets the refund for the tickets, in the end? If the transportation provider refunded the money to the original form of payment upon cancellation, that was fully reimbursed by employer, would we be arguing that it is ethical for OP to pocket the refund on the canceled trip because they originally paid for it? May 10 at 15:05
  • @PoloHoleSet Couple holes in your argument. 1) "whether the luggage and contents were paid for and owned by the company" → Few companies if any, would own your underwear, toothbrush, deodorant, airpods, etc. You seem to equate "luggage"="company notebook" & ignore the fact it's an actual person doing the trip. 2) "if OP [...] had to cancel the trip" → Then we wouldn't be talking about compensation, would we? Besides, travel expenses are reported and paid after the fact, not before; if OP cancelled, there'd be no expense to report. Now I'm curious: have you ever gone on a business trip?
    – walen
    May 10 at 15:47
  • yes, it's a ludicrous analogy/comparison. I'm not sure why you claim it is MY argument, though. You're the one who raised it in the answer. My response was intended to point out why it was such a bad analogy, because the luggage and contents were probably NOT paid for by the company, unlike the ticket, so the comparison is not apt. May 10 at 18:42
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Let me suggest a pragmatic solution, which has not been mentioned yet.

Don't apply for the refund.

Deutsche Bahn will not just "send you the money" by itself, you have to fill out a form and hand it in to get the refund. Since,

  • it's a lot of hassle,
  • it's unclear who will get the money,
  • it's unclear whether the time required to fill out the form, put a stamp on it and walk to the post office should be "work time" or "personal time",
  • it's probably not a lot of money,
  • answering the questions above might not only waste your own time but maybe also your employer's time (and money, if they have to get their tax consultant involved), and
  • you might get into trouble if anyone above you in the food chain disagrees with the decisions you (or HR) made in this matter (or just gets mad about the "fuss" this all caused),

you might reach the conclusion that it's just not worth it.

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  • And yes, I acknowledge that it feels unfair to let the train company just "get away with it". Still, it's your time and your career that you are risking.
    – Heinzi
    Apr 26 at 6:46
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    To be honest, I used the time the train was delayed to fill out the form and hand it to the train staff. So, the hassle is minimal. I heard they even put the "Fahrgastrechteformular" into the app. If this were an isolated incident I would let it go, but as considerable delays are happening VERY frequently, I started filling out the form every time (which takes like 2 min). Apr 26 at 9:44
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    Also, I most certainly will not risk my career, as I payed for the ticket in advance from my own bank account and the chances of my employer finding out about the refund are zero unless I tell them. Apr 26 at 9:45
  • @Sursula-they-: Fair point. I'll still keep my answer around (unless it gathers more downvotes), since I still think it's valid point to keep in mind for future readers.
    – Heinzi
    Apr 26 at 10:10
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    To me it was a hassle to fill out the forms. The trains on my route were always delayed. I eventually just created a template image with all static information (name etc.) and printed it on the forms, so I could finish them quickly.
    – mafu
    Apr 27 at 9:32
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If you have to ask, it'd be the simplest for your life to just let your company know about the 25% reimbursement. If you're allowed to keep it by policy, great. Either way, you're not losing anything out of your pocket. If you are salaried, just "eat" the hour and move on with your life. If you're hourly, bill the hour in your normal mode of payroll entry.

It's probably not worth the effort to have to guess on the likelihood of being found out over what's likely not much money, and you losing your job over it (or worse!).

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    For that matter if you're salaried and regularly travelling on company business on Saturdays then you might like to look into flexi-time, or other means to discipline your employer as to how much "free" time they take off you at the weekends. For your next job even if this one is now non-negotiable. Apr 25 at 23:16
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When you file an expense report, you're making a claim about how much you spent. Claiming to have spent, for example, $40 on a train ticket when you actually only spent $30 on it would be lying, regardless of why it cost that much.

Think about it this way: if you claimed to have spent $50 on the train ticket when it only cost $40, would it be unethical? If so, how is this different than claiming $40 when it was actually $30?

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  • Expense reports are exactly how the companies I've worked for handled it. I had to submit the expense + recipe and any difference was handled by the company. Apr 26 at 0:03
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    In this case the refund/compensation isn't going to be on the receipt, because the receipt was issued and locked down before the delay even occurred. Of course, claiming an expense receipt that doesn't reflect the actual price of the ticket is shady/illegal, regardless of whether the receipt was correct at the time it was issued. So the correctness of the original receipt again comes down to whether this payment was a reduction in the sale price of the ticket, or some different kind of compensation paid to the passenger. I wonder if the rail co. issued a new receipt at the reduced price. Apr 26 at 0:40
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These matters are highly dependent on legislation. I answer for .

I put this exact question some years ago to my employer, a German federal research institute and was told officially to keep the refund since it is basically damages for the additional inconvenience I had.

(I may say that although edge cases can be constructed where the compensation is substantial, in many cases the amount we're talking about is less than what an employer pays (gross) for an hour at minimum wage.)

This is also important in the sense that it gave me the free choice whether to put in the time and hassle for refund burocracy or not.

If the refund were the employer's, it would be up to them to decide whether to claim the refund or not. Just like you have to follow their policy as to whether you go for a cheaper fixed-connection ticket or a flexible one.

Turns out,

  • this is based on EU legislation wrt. passenger rights (https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM:l24003), and

  • here's a German language document by the German Federal administration explaining the reasoning in more detail

    To sum this up, the boundary is: compensation for personal inconvenience, e.g. the inconvenience that the total travel time was much longer than planned, goes to the passenger. The same applies for cold water when the train's air condition doesn't work in summer or hot coffee if the heating is off in winter.
    However, if the ticket or part of it is canceled (which cannot be done unilaterally by the railway), then this is a reimbursement on the ticket price which goes to the employer.
    (And, as always, no double reimbursement. E.g., if OP had to stay over night in some town on their way, the railway has to pay for the hotel, and OP cannot ask their employer for that money.)

  • This post indicates that to some extent, a policy can be agreed upon in the working contract. However, that is limited only to "ordinary" inconvenience, compensation for "extraordinary" inconvenience always goes to the employee (who was subjected to that inconvenience). If there is no such agreement, it is a compensation for OP's additional inconvenience and thus goes to OP.


Ethically speaking, there is no obligation to disclose facts to one's employer that are not their business. In this case, that would be whether OP applied for compensation or not, and what follows from the application.

OP anyways (always) needs to disclose the actual travel times and anything that is relevant for correct treatment of the travel reimbursement when filing travel reimbursement with their employer, since the additional meal allowance part due to OP depends on total travel time. This is also no decision of the employer, but a consequence of tax law (employer may decide to not or not fully reimburse, but they have to issue at least a statement that allows OP to deduct these travel expenses correctly in their income tax declaration).


Oh, and btw: if you work on the train, that's of course working time. (For readers from other parts of the world: the rules what counts as working time and what doesn't are somewhat complicated, but quite fixed in Germany)
The train being late often means that you could actually put in more time working. So IMHO the question of whether you get paid for the time is not necessarily a very good surrogate for deciding whether the damages for being late would be owed to your employer or not.

The obligation to your employer - if on working time - is to use the delay and work as well as possible under the circumstances. Just as it is if the train is on schedule.

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    @JoeStrazzere: Of course, and I'd recommend this in practice to everyone who is not sure. OTOH, this is something that is legally fixed over here rather than up to the employer's discretion (they can of course be more generous than required) - so asking the employer is IMHO not an ethical requirement. What is (legally and ethically) required is to find out what the legal situation is. Whether OP does that with the help of their employer or with the help of the internet or in any other way is their decision. Apr 28 at 12:18
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To pocket the refund, without discussing it with your employer, I would argue is unethical.

Setting aside all other contexts, and taking an extreme viewpoint, it sounds like you intend to lie to get money, e.g. fraud. Fraud is probably unethical in all circumstances. (Not a lawyer).

Assuming you are traveling in the UK, what you describe sounds a lot like Delay Repay. That draws a distinction between a refund (on an unused ticket) and compensation (for a used ticket on a delayed service). What isn't clear is who the compensation is for, e.g. you as the traveler, or your employer who ultimately purchased the ticket. I would guess the employer as the purchaser, if it was a refund it would be normal to expect the purchaser to get their money back.

The fact you were delayed on your weekend, whilst unfortunate, doesn't seem relevant. Presumably, you agreed to make the journey beforehand, knowing that train delays are relatively common. Should the situation be handled differently if you were delayed on a weekday and the company's time is lost?

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    "Should the situation be handled differently if you were delayed on a weekday and the company's time is lost?" - sounds like a pretty reasonable policy, actually: "compensation for delays that occur in unpaid time go to the employee, but if on paid time go to the employer". Of course there are those who believe that if you are salaried then 100% of your time: asleep, awake, on annual leave or public holidays, belongs to your employer who occasionally in their magnanimity permits you to choose what to do with it. But if that's what your contract says you have bigger problems than rail delays. Apr 25 at 23:18
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    Whose time was wasted seems perfectly relevant. Apr 26 at 2:55
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    If I was supposed to visit a customer, travelling Monday from 9 to 12 and returning to work in the office at 12am, and because of the delay I'm back in the office at 1pm, yes, then the company should get the refund. Unless your manager tells you that you need to work an hour longer because you didn't return in time, then you should get the refund.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 26 at 8:28
  • @StevetJessop: OTOH, one may argue that OP's obligation towards their employer is to actually work (as well as possible under the given circumstances) during paid time (e.g., instead of putting in an hour's sleep, or reading a book not related to work on the slow train or in the railway station) - but that that is also all the employer can ask for. (Here in Germany, outside working hours, whether time on the train is working time or not always hinges on whether one actually works or not) Apr 28 at 13:31
  • In many places it's not so much the "working", but the "being able to do what you want to do". Imagine I usually work 9 to 5. My boss expects a very important delivery that should arrive at eight, so I stay in the office. If for some reason I can't do any work in these three hours, they still need to pay me.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 28 at 23:25
2

I'm in the UK and this scenario happened to me a few years ago, both via Trains and Air Travel.

I was unclear on what to do as well, but speaking to a lawyer friend of mine, they cleared it up. What it came down to was what the returned money was for, a ticket refund or compensation.

In both scenarios, it was classed as compensation for my time which then was owed to me. The ticket price determined the value of my time (rail) and the standard EU rules applied for the air travel, I think 350 Euros.

Had it been classed as a refund, then it would have been owed to the company as they had originally paid.

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Is it unethical

In terms of ethics, it's clearly unethical to pocket the money quietly, it's not your money.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Apr 27 at 19:17
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    Considering that OP states in their profile that they are located in Europe and that EU legislation says this money is compensation is for the passenger's inconvenience (i.e. the person who was subjected to the inconvenience, OP), IMHO this question would be much improved by qualifying that it applies if and only if the money acutally isn't OP's. Apr 30 at 10:24
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Tell the company and return the money to them.

But also since you were travelling on Saturday and assuming you normally don't work on Saturdays, take/demand equivalent time off. I.e. if your trip was originally going to take 3 hours but took 4, take a half day off.

This way you are compensated for your personal time, and your company is compensated for loss of your time too.

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Will you be reporting this refund as income and paying taxes on it?

If not, then it's not compensation for your time, it's a reduction in what they charged for services when the services were deemed to be substandard. If the charge for services is reduced, then the one who should see that reduction in charges is the one who ultimately paid for them. That would be your employer.

-5

I'm extremely surprised at the amount of conflicting opinions on a frankly trivial issue about an inessential amount of money. I suppose this is due to the inaccurate phrasing of the original question. A compensation due to delay is not a "reduction in travel costs" at all. For example, I have travel insurance that covers business trips. If the trip is delayed, I get compensated. How's that even related to my employer? It could be if the employer would actually prohibit it, but most don't.

As far as I'm concerned, this is not an ethical issue at all, it's a matter of your contract with your employer (and of course, the applicable laws). There are two possibilities. Either (1) your company has bothered to come up with a clearly stated policy on this or any number of similar issues - in which case you have to follow that policy - or (2) they've had enough sense not to, in which case they probably don't even have a mechanism allowing you to yield that money to them.

"Stealing" would be taking a ticket from your company, returning it for a refund, and pocketing the money (and probably not going on the trip at all). Now that would be unethical. But that's not the issue here.

Finally, starting a discussion with anyone at work about it may turn out be problematic in practice since just as the discussion here, people are going to have conflicting opinions (again, assuming there is no clear policy) and then act accordingly, which might be detrimental to you regardless of what you do.

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    How does the fact that it's a relatively small amount of money change things? Would it be ok to steal small amounts from the company? Apr 28 at 17:46
  • It is a reduction in travel costs. It's not compensation, unless OP is going to declare it as income on their tax reporting. Apr 29 at 17:48

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