Who blinks first
December 23, 2008 7:44 AM   Subscribe

My employer, a publicly traded company incorporated in Delaware, is dragging its feet reimbursing me for about 5k in expense reports. I live and work in Calif. The reason for this is a genral company-wide liquidity problem. I don't expect my employment to last much more than a few mos more. What recourse do i have to get reimbursed?
posted by Fupped Duck to Work & Money (9 answers total)
Response by poster: All expenses were pre-approved so expense validity is not at issue here.
posted by Fupped Duck at 8:11 AM on December 23, 2008

Do you mean what options do you have besides hiring a competent labor and employment attorney who is licensed to practice in your jurisdiction?

When you're talking about an amount like $5,000, this is probably your best bet. I don't necessarily mean suing them, either. The attorney should be able to advise if there are better routes than suing that might be better for your particular situation.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:36 AM on December 23, 2008

Get some information together first.

1) Look at the company's policy guide for information regarding reimbursements. Make sure you touched all the bases in filing for them; validity's can sometimes be an issue even when it isn't. Also look for any information about deadlines for them to issue reimbursement.

2) Check the policy guide for any information on formal complaint procedures that are not for sexual harassment or the like. If there aren't any general ones, pay attention to any procedures you think would be helpful to follow should you need to start making noise in a formal way.

3) Go back and read any agreements you may have signed, paying particular attention to anything dealing with your rights to bring claims against them - does it specify venue? Did you agree to mediate first?

4) If there's a particular venue you've agreed to mediate or file suit in, what's the limit on small court claims? If there's no agreement, what's the limit in your town?

With that information in mind, write polite emails to the people that deal with this. If you get the run around, write another polite email to the same person or their superior. Xyz isn't an acceptable answer - you incurred these job-related costs; they need to pay you in a timely fashion. Keep copies of the emails and take scrupulous notes, particularly about any oral conversations. Don't be a dick, and don't go waving any of your note-taking/email saving/email printing in anybody's face. Just quietly keep track of things. Only mention the information you got in step 1; the other stuff is for your edification, and is probably counterproductive as you poke them.

If they give you a date they'll pay you by, confirm that it's a firm promise, and then lay off until you get paid or the date passes.

I find that saying something along the lines of "$5000 is nothing to this company - we make $xx million a year [with a figure from their annual report]. It would cost them so little to do the right thing here," does a lot of good in these sorts of situations.

If it gets to the point where you need to start lodging formal complaints or contemplate legal action, look into getting a lawyer and into your small claims options, if the amount in question isn't more than small claims allows.

And don't threaten legal action. The way I see it, the only reason to make the threat is if you're willing to follow through on it, and if you are, then just file the suit. The threat sounds empty, I think it makes people feel powerless when it's ignored, and I just don't see the point. It's kind of like shouting, "You can't do this to me, I'm an american citizen!" in another country as the police drag you off; it doesn't help and you look like an ass.
posted by averyoldworld at 8:50 AM on December 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

With $5k on the line I think talking to a lawyer would be worthwhile. They can tell you whether there's anything you should do now in order to ensure that the company can't deny responsibility for the expenses later on. (It might be advantageous to get them to affirm in writing, explicitly, that they owe you the money; I don't think it would be unreasonable to ask pretty pointedly for this before your employment ends, and there is no reason for them to refuse unless they are planning on stiffing you.)

Just speaking in general, you may want to wait until your employment ends before you start anything too adversarial (like suing them, or threatening to). If you have a final deliverable that you've been working on, and your contract does not prohibit you from delaying delivery for slow payments (I have seen some that do, strangely enough), that might be some additional leverage. But obviously you don't want to open yourself up to accusations of non-performance or breach of contract, so you're deep in lawyer territory with that route.

There would seem to be a fairly important question of what jurisdiction any actions would occur in (California or Delaware). I would imagine California would be the friendlier one for you, but that would be the first point to get nailed down. So when you do go to a lawyer, be sure to gather up your employment contract and any other HR documents that define your relationship with your company, in addition to documents pertaining to the dispute at hand.

And of course, be very cautious about signing or agreeing to anything. I have heard anecdotally about companies who have tried to shove things under outgoing employees' noses that state that the company doesn't owe them anything and that everyone is walking away free and clear. So be very wary of any "termination agreements" or "separation agreements" -- don't go near one without running it past someone whose time you're paying for first, IMO.

If the issue is honestly just a liquidity problem, you may not need to get particularly adversarial, but you may just have to wait (especially if they are in so much trouble that they're delaying payments to all their vendors). If the money really is not there, it seems like it might be a waste to spend a lot of time in court or filing paperwork just to try and squeeze blood from a stone. But there's probably merit in getting exactly what you're owed down in writing so that the second they have the money, you can get it. (Of course, if you know or suspect that they can afford to pay you now, this is all moot.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:56 AM on December 23, 2008

I am so not a lawyer but many years ago my first consulting client screwed me over royally. They waited until the end of the (non-fiscal) year and went into bankruptcy. Before going into bankruptcy they delayed paying any outstanding bills, including my consulting bills, and they bought a bunch of equipment. Talk to a lawyer and don't let clients run up bills to amounts that are more than you comfortably lose.
posted by rdr at 12:12 PM on December 23, 2008

See about taking home a laptop or some other equipment for a couple of months. If the reimbursement is still outstanding at time of parting with the company let them know that you would like to be paid so that you may return the equipment.
posted by ezekieldas at 12:15 PM on December 23, 2008

I'm sorry. I missed the fact that you're an employee. That means you're better protected than a consultant.
posted by rdr at 12:29 PM on December 23, 2008

If you are feeling generous ... suggest to them a payment scheme? $1000 asap and another $1000 each pay-cycle.
posted by Xhris at 2:29 PM on December 23, 2008

Talk to your manager. Explain that you can't lend money to the company. You paid, probably w/ a credit card, and now you are being charged interest. Even if you paid off your card, you are losing interest on the money. Your manager should call payroll and insist that they cut a check right this minute. If not, go find a lawyer, as detailed above. Consider declining to accrue more expenses on the company's behalf.
posted by theora55 at 7:36 AM on December 24, 2008

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