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I have an ethical question that's been bugging me recently. I've graduated and been working since last year; so, I'd appreciate some insight on it. I posted this question originally in philosophy SE, but it was suggested I move it here which seems more reasonable.

I'm wondering if it's ethical to ask the company for the flight fare even if I'm not going to travel during the vacation. The ticket fare is provided as part of the employment package and I asked for it before traveling for my first annual leave. However, this year, I don't think I'll travel and as I was planning for that recently, it crossed my mind if I'm ethically allowed to do that.

One problematic aspect of asking for the fare is that the company will be asking me when I will be traveling so they check the ticket costs and issue me the check. At that point, I'll have to lie if I'm not traveling. The other part is whether or not I should ask for it since the company has dedicated that budget to me, but for a special circumstance that I won't be dealing with.

In that sense, am I entitled to ask for the fare or is there something that I'm missing in this equation?

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    Can you clarify? Does your company pay for non-work related travel during time off (vacation)? – Kent A. Nov 17 '16 at 11:49
  • The only way this would make sense to me is if it was about the company paying for an expat's tickets back home as part of a perk package. Is that the case here? Leaving aside the fact that is certainly not ethical, you already know that you can't go through with this since you need a real ticket. I trust that you know that lying to your employer isn't a particularly sound strategy? – Lilienthal Nov 17 '16 at 12:39
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    I would be surprised if the company provided reimbursement based solely on your stated travel date and destination. Typically to get reimbursed you would have to provide some kind of receipt showing what you actually paid at the time of purchase. They're not going to reimburse based on what a fare search at the time you file for reimbursement says you could pay for a roughly similar flight. That just wouldn't fly. – stannius Nov 17 '16 at 17:45
  • Usually boarding passes are required for re-imbursement. This is because people would buy unrestricted tickets for full fare (business travel) and then gamble that things wouldn't change, cash them in and buy restricted tickets (pocketing the difference tax-free). Don't lie. – Spehro Pefhany Nov 17 '16 at 22:14
  • @KentA. The vacation ticket fare is meant to be for a round-trip journey back home according to your passport so you can visit your relatives. However, doesn't matter if you've lived 90% of your life outside your home country; you still get the ticket fare back to your home city. In that sense, it is a non-work related travel that the company is paying for. – pokrface Nov 17 '16 at 22:14
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The ticket fare is provided as part of the employment package and I asked for it before traveling for my first annual leave. However, this year, I don't think I'll travel and as I was planning for that recently, it crossed my mind if I'm ethically allowed to do that.

Most companies have clear policies on benefits and travel reimbursement. In that regard this isn't an ethical issue, but is rather a policy issue.

Some companies provide benefits as an offering that must be used to gain the benefit. For example, some companies offer sick pay for up to 5 days, but don't compensate those who don't get sick. Other companies offer dollar amounts that can be spent on a cafeteria plan of benefits in whatever distribution suits the need of the individual employee.

If you are permitted an airfare allowance then you may get the cash even if you don't travel. But it you are permitted an airfare reimbursement, you probably won't.

In your case, just ask your boss (or HR) if you are permitted to take this benefit as cash, rather than actually travel reimbursement. My guess is that the answer will be "No", but it's not unethical to ask.

One problematic aspect of asking for the fare is that the company will be asking me when I will be traveling so they check the ticket costs and issue me the check. At that point, I'll have to lie if I'm not traveling.

I'm guessing that you already know that it would be unethical to lie about it.

If you decide to ask for the cash, at least be honest.

In that sense, am I entitled to ask for the fare or is there something that I'm missing in this equation?

You are entitled to ask for anything. You may not be entitled to get it.

The part you are missing is that you think you "have to lie". No, you don't.

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    Very well said esp the part on the sick leave and the compensation. Can't agree more on it being more of a policy issue than an ethical issue since I can resolve it by asking the company. Thanks a lot for your insight! – pokrface Nov 17 '16 at 22:02
  • Without a doubt, there's never been a confusion about lying - it defeats the whole purpose of my question since one of the points was to know if I'm misunderstanding anything or these perks can be provided in an alternative way. The allowance part, though, I'll have to sit down with the HR and discuss it directly. – pokrface Nov 19 '16 at 14:57
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In terms of ethics, no. You want something that you won't use for it's intended purpose. You can rationalise all around this as much as you want, but that's what it boils down to.

Whether or not you are entitled to it is another matter that you should take up with the company. Quite possibly there is a floating amount in the budget for fares that you may be able to get some of even though you're not flying.

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    Ask the company straight forward. The air fare is part of the employment package, maybe it can be converted into something else. – Mindwin Nov 17 '16 at 20:21
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What you need to do is talk to HR and find out what they think about the situation.

The positive possibility: When you signed your contract, the company agreed to pay you the price of the cheapest return ticket to your home country once a year. They are not paying more if your flight is more expensive, and they pay if you don't go. In that case its ethical, legal and fine in every way to take the money.

The negative possibility: When you signed your contract, the company agreed to refund the cost of your (actual) return flight to your home country once a year. If you don't fly, they don't pay. If you ask for the money without flying, that would be fraudulent, with possibly very expensive consequences.

That's why you have to talk to HR, to find out which one it is. And they should know that you are not flying, or you put yourself at an extreme risk.

  • I hope it's the former :) I'll sit down with the HR and discuss it. Thanks for providing your insight! – pokrface Nov 19 '16 at 15:00
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I think it is both unethical and certainly illegal. False statement could lead to termination of your job or at best you will lose your trust.

The question is why is your company giving you refund for flights. My company will refund glasses and I have also heard about refunding bicycles. It serves some legitimate purpose. Moreover, employees can propose their own rules. If you think that current policy of refunding flight fare doesn't make sense ask about it but do not cheat.

  • Companies who post employees overseas sometimes include airfare "home" each year. – Resigned Nov 17 '16 at 17:57
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Only if you are above board and get it "in lieu of" the ticket and the company knows about it. Otherwise it's fraud and/or theft by deception. Very illegal and very unethical.

Discuss this with your manager, explain that you are not traveling, and ask if you can receive some other compensation, if you must.

I would advise against trying to get any additional money from the company, however, as they may see it in a very dim light. Be very careful and certainly do not take money for something you will not buy.

  • Asking them directly seems like a more reasonable approach to me as well! Not comfortable with the idea of taking something under false pretenses. I was so far concerned with the ethical aspect, but how is it illegal though? Could you elaborate on that a bit please? – pokrface Nov 17 '16 at 22:05
  • @pokrface It could be pursued as either theft by deception or fraud. Now, whether or not you'd be prosecuted for it is another matter, but it is certainly unethical and illegal. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Nov 18 '16 at 13:09

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