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The ‘meaty’ problem of ethics and employee business expenses

Business expenses are no stranger to the breach of ethics; but, many businesses are taking unique initiatives to ensure a sustainable and ethical future.

For most businesses, just trying to ensure that business expenses are legitimate is enough of a headache. But should companies also be looking at the ethical and environmental considerations of out-of-office costs?

It’s an interesting aspect of business expenses management that has been raised by the recent decision of a New York based real estate company, WeWork. They have chosen to stop reimbursing their employees’ for any meals that include poultry, pork or red meat.

It’s part of a company wide policy which is driven by environmental concerns. An email to the 6,000 global staff explained the policy. It stated that avoiding meat was the most effective way to reduce, ‘personal environmental impact’.

Along with the meal expense restriction, the company are removing meat products from any future staff events. They estimate the policy will help to save around 445.1m pounds of CO2 emissions by 2023.

Cutting carbon emissions

While the stance taken by WeWork may be unusually proactive, the environmental impact of business expenses is a commonplace concern for organizations. The prime example of this is with global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

This has caused companies to review and adapt their approach to business travel, minimizing unnecessary journeys and trying to prioritize forms of transport that have the least harmful impact on the environment.

Tools to help track and monitor a company’s carbon footprint are integrated into an expenses management system such as Webexpenses. It automatically calculates the carbon emissions for air, car and rail journeys. However, despite a recent upturn, the carbon tracking feature within Webexpenses is still only used by 5% of clients; indicating that most businesses are less conscious of their environmental impact. Leaving companies like WeWork in the minority of those actively measuring their environmental footprint.

But alongside environmental concerns, there are also areas where the ethical considerations of an expense policy come into play. A typical example of this is the issue of whether employees should be allowed to claim for alcoholic beverages.

Negotiating an ethical business expenses maze

Should beer and wine reimbursements be accepted as legitimate business costs? While some companies set a limit on what can be claimed, many organizations simply remove the option – not allowing any kind of alcohol-related expenses.

For companies who do reimburse, it opens up a series of potentially thorny issues. For instance, if an employee is injured while under influence of alcohol, could the company be held partially liable?

And how does a company’s legal duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of its employees balance against activities that could be viewed as being ‘endorsed’ whenever a business agrees to cover an out-of-office cost?

So, while the policy of WeWork may be unusual, it highlights the kind of ethical issues that many organizations have to face when managing employee expenses. It will be interesting to see whether other companies will follow suit and start to use expense management as a way of moulding a company’s culture.

Webexpenses provides a smarter and safer way to manage employee expenses. Find out how it can help your business by requesting a demo.