Expense report gaffes after an interview can cost you a job offer or damage your reputation in a new job before you even see your first patient. Employers know from history that the way a candidate handles the expense report process correlates closely with the physician’s administrative style. Bad behavior on an interview or relocation expense report is a pretty good clue about what’s to come regarding that physician’s scheduling, contracts and general behavior with other members of the medical staff. Conversely, reasonable, responsible, professional behavior with expenses reinforces the positive impression you have been working so hard to cultivate.
The best defense against committing an expense report gaffe is to ask yourself, “is this reasonable?” before you submit a receipt for reimbursement. The examples below are all real… Names and specialties redacted to protect the guilty!
Interview expense reports
A typical site visit runs approximately $1,000 to $2,000. Although that’s a drop in the bucket of a hospital or group practice operating budget, it’s an opportunity to demonstrate the type of reasonable employee you will be.
- Upgrading to business or premier economy if you are really tall (note this on the expense report) or if you’re recovering from an injury and really need a bit more room.
- Arranging an interview that will dovetail with a conference, incurring slightly higher airfare than roundtrip from your home airport would have cost but saving you travel time and CME expense.
- Baggage fees for checked or carry-on baggage.
Flights: Not OK
- Upgrading to first class because you felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic in the assigned seat.
- Upgrading to business class because you and your spouse weren’t able to sit together in the assigned coach seats.
- Insisting that the only time you can interview is during spring break (so you can bring your family on vacation).
- Building in an extra day to “see the area” when you are actually interviewing with another employer.
- Incurring a heavy bag (more than 50 pounds) fee for a two-day interview trip preceding a vacation.
Ground transportation: OK
- Taking a train, subway, Lyft, Uber or car service from your home to the departure airport.
- Asking to use Lyft, Uber or taxis instead of a rental car (particularly for a short stay).
- Driving your personal vehicle at the IRS business mileage reimbursement rate of 53.5 cents per mile instead of flying so that you can bring your kids.
- Requesting an upgrade on a rental car if you are really tall so the seat can be adjusted for comfortable and normal knee and headroom.
Ground transportation: NOT OK
- Requesting to fly out of a hub airport to avoid changing planes, then submitting a receipt for a $300 town car for the 90-minute trip to the airport.
- Submitting hundreds of dollars worth of Lyft Premier receipts for shopping and dinner out with friends.
- Submitting absurdly high restaurant, valet and baggage handling tips for reimbursement. (Feel free to add some dollars at your expense if you receive over-and-above service you would like to personally recognize.)
- Submitting the mileage for your entire trip, including vacation days and mileage driven on days you were interviewing with another employer.
- Ordering room service in lieu of a meal at a restaurant.
- Submitting receipts for reasonable tips for bag storage, room service and housekeeping.
Hotel: NOT OK
- Submitting receipts for alcohol, candy, ice cream or over-the-counter medications from the hotel gift shop.
- Adding a second hotel room to the bill because your partner snores, and you need your sleep before the interview day.
- Parking with the valet at twice the cost of self-park.
- Leaving your personal belongings in your hotel room until you leave in the afternoon, incurring an unnecessary additional night room expense.
The employer will typically present you with the guidelines of what expenses they reimburse. Alcohol policies vary; ask first, as many employers do not cover alcohol on meal expense reimbursement.
- Purchasing some food at the grocery store instead of at a restaurant.
- Asking your travel coordinator about the guidelines for taking your hosts out for a meal if your host is saving the employer hundreds of dollars in lodging costs.
Meals: NOT OK
- Submitting grocery receipts that include toys, magazines and personal toiletries. Only submit grocery purchases that are in lieu of a restaurant meal.
- Submitting grocery receipts for snacks, ice cream or dessert purchases. Don’t submit Starbucks stops unless it’s in context of a meal, like breakfast.
Other: Not OK
- Submitting ski lift tickets, gambling expenses, movie tickets, zoo and water park admissions or spa services. If an employer has invited your spouse and family and intends to entertain them, the employer will let you know.
- Submitting clothing, makeup or hair appliance purchases due to lost baggage. If the airline doesn’t deliver the luggage to your hotel (which happens in only 2 percent of lost luggage), they have their own process for reimbursement.
- Submitting insurance copays, over-the-counter medication, or charges for a hotel concierge physician, urgent care or emergency room visit.
- Expecting reimbursement for kennel fees or pet-sitting fees in your home. The majority of employers consider this your personal expense.
Relocation expense reports
Your moving van may be set up to directly invoice the hospital or practice, but there are a lot of ancillary expenses that can cause problems. Read the relocation policy and have your significant other read it, too. Many relocation dramas unfold due to assumptions made. When in doubt, get pre-approval on the expense.
- Using a friend or relative in the moving business to move, as long as they are a registered, tax-paying business with a website and appropriate insurances. (Get bids from other movers to document that your cousin’s invoice is in line.)
- Staying in a reasonable, mid-range hotel en route to your destination.
Relocation: NOT OK
- Submitting a $1,500 for movers. (Tips are usually not covered by employers.)
- Submitting a handwritten invoice for a cash payment to a mover with no business license, no tax ID and no searchable identity.
- Instructing movers to disassemble play structures in the old yard and rebuild them in the new yard at the employer’s expense.
- Detouring to a resort where nightly rates are double what hotels on your route would have been.
- Submitting grocery, drug store or clothing purchases because the closing for your new house was delayed.
- Submitting relocation expenses a month after the deadline.
Before you submit that expense report, hit “save” and do something else for a few hours. Ask yourself if your reimbursement requests sound reasonable, sensible and fair. If so, you most likely have done a great job and reinforced your terrific reputation with your new employer!
Therese Karsten is Director of Physician Recruitment for HCA’s Continental Division and a frequent contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.