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I recently was on a work trip that was planned to span 12 days. The location is about 3.5 hours from home and multiple members of the team would be driving up across different days. We had an Airbnb rented for everyone.

One team member was given a grocery per diem to stock the house with food for everyone, and I was given a $125 personal meal budget (that is, $125 total for the whole trip, not per day).

I had planned with my employer to stay over the weekend to save the mileage and time instead of driving home late Friday night and driving back Sunday to begin work on Monday. I agreed I could be "on call as needed" over the weekend since I would be in town.

So, the weekend comes and I get sick, so I stayed in the Airbnb and did not work. The rest of the team went home or were doing personal things while in the area over the weekend.

The groceries in the house were minimal by this point, so on that Saturday I went to the grocery store and spent $52 to cook a meal for myself and left all leftover food at the house for the rest of the team to use.

I got sent home on the following Monday because I was still sick, so my trip was cut short.

I expensed the $52 because I left all the food at the Airbnb for the team and the $125 budget I was previously given had been exhausted in the 7 days prior.

The $52 expense was denied by my employer because it was "personal time over the weekend".

Should I argue I am owed this money?

Also I would have taken the food home if I had known I wasn't going to be reimbursed for it, but that was never disclosed to me. I also could argue I saved my employer money by not driving back home for the weekend (about $280 worth of mileage expenses).

Yes, it's only $52, but I'm a salaried employee and I don't gain anything extra from these work trips.

For added context my employer has a history of exploiting people and being very stingy.

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    $125 for a 12 day trip? Does your employer expect you to live off of $2 pot noodles and roadkill?!? Nov 3, 2023 at 20:24
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    While you are perfectly within your right to complain about this, you also need to ask yourself: how much energy, time and goodwill am I willing to waste for $52 ? I would take a note as "I work for a really stingy employer" make this part of your future career planning but otherwise move on.
    – Hilmar
    Nov 4, 2023 at 1:54
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    I agree with withs who said your per diem is absurdly low. I'd like to point out 2 U.S. government web pages for comparison. One is the U.S. General Services Administration gsa.gov/travel/plan-book/per-diem-rates - widely used for domestric travel. The other is the U.S. State Department for foreign travel. aoprals.state.gov/web920/per_diem.asp Private industry usually uses these as a baseline, but pays more, and still the only way to fit into this budger to is buy the cheapest fast food and/or to cook in your hotel room. Nov 5, 2023 at 13:20
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    Just asking the obvious jurisdiction question. Which country are you in? As described in the other comments and answers, your dollar amounts are insanely low for the US or other industrialized countries.
    – quarague
    Nov 6, 2023 at 8:53
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    "and i was given a $125 personal meal per diem. (Edit: $125 TOTAL for the whole trip, not per day)" You need to understand what PER DIEM means.
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 6, 2023 at 15:54

3 Answers 3

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Major edit to this answer as the information in the question changed drastically.

You were supposed to spend 12 days at a remote location as part of a group of 10 co-workers. You yourself were paid per diem amounting to $125 total to cover your expenses for 12 days, including food. Your group received similar amounts. One of your group received $500 to buy groceries for the entire period. You also tried to claim $52 for groceries on the weekend.

In terms of process, a per diem payment is supposed to cover all expenses. You should not, normally, be making additional claims for food over and above your per diem.

However the amount you were paid, $125 for 12 days, is absolutely not sufficient to provide food for 12 days. Even adding the $500 (between 5 people over 12 days amounting to slightly less than $10 per day). This amount is insanely low by any rational standard. Nobody can expect to feed themselves on a business trip in a remote city on $20 per day. The amount will not come close to reimbursing your group for the expenses they will have necessarily incurred.

For reference the "normal" per diem rate within the US is $60-$70 for food alone, depending on location. The IRS standard rate is $63 per day for food alone. (Per diem means "per day" so per diem rates are always quoted as a daily rate.)

The only reasonable solution to this is for the entire group of you to a) complain in the strongest terms to the company until you get a reasonable repayment of expenses. The standard rates quoted above would be good amounts to ask for. b) Your entire team should absolutely refuse to go on any further trips without guarantees of reasonable repayment of expenses at the above rates.

Your $52 is irrelevant. Each person on your team is owed around $600.

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    That does make a difference. However the principles are the same. Your argument should be that $17 per day is not enough of a per diem to cover food (and it isn't anywhere in the world), and you should have made it before you agreed to go on the trip. But there's still no much you can do. Take the loss and refuse to go on any more trips unless you are paid an amount that actually covers your expenses. Nov 3, 2023 at 20:21
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    Thank you. I'm going to take the loss...its not worth fighting for $52. Agree that I will need to seek more clarity beforehand when if I go on another trip..but at this point the whole team is refusing the travel until this is resolved.
    – Peanut
    Nov 3, 2023 at 20:28
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    @DJClayworth it does depend on the country this is happening in. There's plenty of countries where you can feed yourself just fine with 17$ per day (my home country is one example) and eat food of reasonable quality, not the finest restaurants but not 7 days of McDonalds either, if you have access to a kitchen you can even have some of that left over. This is obviously country-specific but I would avoid making absolute claims (i.e. "anywhere in the world")
    – AnnaAG
    Nov 6, 2023 at 11:13
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    I'm going to be a real a-hole of a devil's advocate for the sake of it. Prices are from my local supermarket in the US. Breakfast: Individual instant oats $1.50, Lunch: Individual ramen noodles, $0.80, Dinner: Frozen entrees $5.50. Sales tax: 8.2%. Total price per day: $8.44. So yes, it is theoretically possible to eat for less than $10 per day (and you could do it for cheaper if you bought the oats and noodles in bulk), but this is the menu of an impoverished student. Note: I am not advocating that this is acceptable for an employee sent to a different city.
    – Peter M
    Nov 12, 2023 at 15:25
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    Hi Everybody. I agree that it is theoretically possible to survive on $17 a day by eating cheap crap. It's been said several times. That's not the point. The point is no company should be making their employees do that. Please stop pointing it out Nov 12, 2023 at 18:31
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Per diem means a daily allowance for lodging and meals. The standard for government employees is used in private business, too. Right now, it'd be $183 per day for lodging with $74 for meals in Los Angeles, and a whopping $315 for lodging with $74 for meals in New York City. That's for each day, my friend. I pulled up these two cities because they'd be at the high end of the range, but the meals allowance probably wouldn't change much for the low end of the range.

You've been hoodwinked. And yes, per your statements here, it's probably a waste of time for you to fight over $52.

The other misstep, unfortunately, was volunteering to stay over the weekend. As those were days off for you and you could have gone home, your employer would not be on the hook to feed you, even though you'd be producing a cost savings for the company by not driving home on Friday and driving back to the AirBNB on Monday.

Your employer took advantage of you and the whole team. So the real question becomes how long you're going to stick around until you're called upon to partake in this kind of madness again. Next time, consider documenting your understanding of all agreements about travel in an email or two with your boss before you leave, and if you're still working for this shady character, forward the final email in the thread to a private email address for safekeeping.

It's horrible that you work for such a snake-in-the-grass of a person.

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  • Sounds about right. I got $50-$60 a day for Boston in 2015.
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 17, 2023 at 16:43
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I was/am second-generation Job Shopper. In our neck of the woods, $125 per diem means $125 PER DAY, and is fairly typical of split rates. If your employer is giving you $12.50 per diem expense allowance, you need to update your resume and get the bleep outta Dodge before you learn what other bad habits they have.

The manager who set that rate is delusional.

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  • $125USD is really high in my experience for Boston. That would let you eat out at a real nice place 3x a day back in 2015. Mine was $50-$60 and that was for when they knew we had to eat out (no kitchen facilities because with those it could pushed to be a lot less).
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 17, 2023 at 16:38
  • @DKNguyen First, government per diem rates are higher than civilian. Second, it was a way for the Client to reduce overtime costs: the base rate was paid OT at 1.5x, the PD was paid OT at the straight daily rate.. Nov 17, 2023 at 20:28
  • At one point, I had to travel for General Dynamics Fort Worth Division a couple of times. They put me up in a VERY nice hotel, about a block from Harvard. right in the middle of student ghetto I immediately reverted to student form, ate student food, and was im Hawg Heaven. When I got back home, and turned in my expense report,, it was probably the lowest number they'd ever see seen. They all but tore me a new one, explaining that they expected me to eat well on the road, so that I'd be in prime form and not concerned about small stuff. Nov 26, 2023 at 20:29
  • @DKNguyen, that's the point. A good employer WANTS you to eat well on the road. They DON'T' want you worrying about expenses when you need to be worrying about work. Next time you're in the area, check out Legal Seafood next to MIT, and check their prices. (They were worth the money when I was there in the late 1980s. Nov 26, 2023 at 20:34
  • I'd drop in on Prudential every weekend because I love cheesecake and and raspberry cosmopolitans. Also the hostess and music college students lol
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 26, 2023 at 20:34

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