back to article Vodafone won't pay employee expenses for cups of coffee

Tight-fisted Vodafone rejects expenses claims for food and snacks for hard-worked people pulling 12-hour days, hacked-off sources have told The Register. We have seen copies of Voda's expenses policy, which states that lunches are virtually never expensable, breakfasts can only be claimed on an overnight stay and dinners can …

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  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. djstardust Silver badge

    Profits Profits Profits

    Reminds me of a company I used to work for in Aberdeen.

    Pretty similar if you dug in to the policy. They did ask me to travel but I refused as it would have cost me a fair bit of my own money to bring in work for them.

    Seems some companies have lost the human touch.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Profits Profits Profits

      Now I did work for a firm where they were very good at looking after the employees. Your manager, his manager (or anyone higher up on the same branch of the organogram) could sign off expenses against budget and could decide within reason what was a valid claim. However then we merged with another firm who essentially took over everything. The new policy was that we used a computerised system that few people liked. There were tight limits on what was acceptable and some things previously okay weren't now. Also your manager was the only person who could sign off expenses no one else - Computer says No!

      At a meeting with the new CEO and a bunch of staff the question of expenses comes up. No one seemed to mind that some of the previous allowable expenses have been killed off. They were quite generous after all but that wasn't what really got to people. The the fact that if your manager was sick or away for a holiday you could miss the cut off for that month. This was the frankly rather early date of the 12th of each month. That meant potentially waiting a month and a half for reimbursement in the next paycheck. It was then queried whether the policy was universal or whether there were exemptions for some staff - Directors for example. The reply was that everyone used the same system which didn't answer the question. Then it was mentioned by someone in the know that Directors only needed to have another director sign off their expenses. Why wasn't this be a situation where it was abused i.e. you do me I'll do..... you scratch my back I'll scratch yours. They promised that this was going to go under review and it would end up as two directors. Not sure it ever did but I left before it did.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Profits Profits Profits

        "That meant potentially waiting a month and a half for reimbursement in the next paycheck. "

        Which in some cases can mean an account going into overdraft and attracting bank fees.

        Something which the company refused to cover - until a court told them they had to.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Profits Profits Profits

      "They did ask me to travel but I refused as it would have cost me a fair bit of my own money to bring in work for them."

      We (techs) had a similar problem with one employer. Everyone refused to work away due to the net income being negative and those stupid enough to volunteer realised it pretty quickly that we weren't doing it to be assholes.

      It's amazing how quickly a desperate corporation can change its payment policies when the engineering staff dig their toes in. On the other hand salesdroids are a dime a dozen.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Profits Profits Profits

        "If it was a company of few people you'd expect this"

        Well, you shouldn't. At my company all reasonable expenses are reimbursed bar alcohol (thanks to someone taking the piss at one point), with the exception that directors cannot claim food expenses due to some obscure tax reason the accountant has come up with.

        It is not because of the indubitable goodness of our hearts but because we've seen this before.

        1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: Profits Profits Profits

          Classic. Will forward it to... certain people.

      2. Alternatevoice

        Re: Profits Profits Profits

        And with that last line, you lost all credibility ... What is it with engineers that they always must spit on sales? Don't think it is a valid job? Don't think we go to hell each month trying to make quotas? I agree that rotten apples exist, but they exist in ANY profession. A bit easy, quite frankly to piss on those who make sure your products go to market, all the while having only the reassurance of a base salary every month and being judged every month on last month's numbers. Want to live like that?

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

          Re: Profits Profits Profits

          I upvoted you, but there's a bit of an asumption there yourself that your comment applies to all engineers.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, HP...

      ...stopped paying for anything other than your hotel bill and a (cheap) dinner, when you were on the road on company business, years ago. Anything else was not claimable - the tight bastards.

  3. Martijn Otto
    Joke

    Proud to be Vodafone

    where we not only screw the customer, but ourselves as well.

    Would you like some lube for your shafting? You'll have to buy it yourselves.

  4. LewisRage

    I've always found this a bit funny.

    When I'm in the office I'll pop out at lunch time and buy myself a sandwich. When I'm on site at a clients for a few hours I pop out at lunch and buy a sandwich, but this now becomes the companies responsibility?

    Of course if I'm gone for an extended period and/or I'm forced by circumstance to eat expensively whilst away from my usual facilities that makes perfect sense, but coming back from a 4 hour client visit with a burger king and a receipt just doesn't quite add up to me.

    Clearly there are times when the company absolutely should be paying and I don't completely agree with the point I'm making above but I've never quite managed to get my head round it.

    1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

      When you're at the office/wfh you can make your own. Buying lunch is your own choice. In a lot of the circumstances described in the article, buying lunch is the only option.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Make your own lunch?

        Oh come on. Hardly anyone does this - those that do make a packed lunch and that can be done when you go offsite too.

        Travel/expense policies like this are not to deny the hard working employee a cup of coffee but to stop people taking the piss with restaurant meals when it's not necessary.

        The end result unfortunately is to deny people that coffee but better that than to burden the company with a huge expenses bill

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: taking the piss with restaurant meals when it's not necessary.

          "stop people taking the piss with restaurant meals when it's not necessary."

          Based on nearly three decades as a UK techy working closely with sales folks and customers, and having eaten breakfast and lunch in many a Morrisons cafe with the better salesfolk, you're the one taking the piss.

          If a company has an issue with a small minority of individual employees taking the mickey with expense claims, it's something for those people's management chain to sort out at the time the expenses are approved (or rejected).

          There's no excuse whatsoever to use the mickeytakers as a 'reason' to introduce a counter-productive expenses policy for the rest of the workforce.

          Next.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: taking the piss with restaurant meals when it's not necessary.

            Bean counter logic. FFS!!!

        2. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Make your own lunch?

          If I was to fly abroad then I'd have to demand being reimbursed for the kitchen to make my lunch in - they dont let you take sharp things on planes. I frequently make my own lunches when working in the office - if they have a little space and eqpt to do so but to make something while away at someone else's office is going to cost the company more for me to make than for them to pay for a decent meal in a restaurant.

          This is just typical wanker accounting that costs £10 for every £1 saved.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The argument goes thus,

      Depending on where the client is you may have been travelling for hours in grid locked roads or rubbish public transport so it's right that your company covers your lunch because not only that but you have to get back as well.

      It's also not your normal working day and you are putting yourself out for the company so in return they should at the very least cover your lunch.

      Again this is all dependent on circumstances but it's good practise not to piss off your employee's by being tighter than a fishes arse.

      1. Gavin Park Weir

        I agree with some of it but the point about "company should re-reimburse lunch because you are travelling" is dangerous. If your job requires travel and you sign up to it knowing you will be inconvenienced then why should your company pay for lunch?

        You can pack a sandwich in tupper wear and take it with you?

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          "If your job requires travel and you sign up to it knowing you will be inconvenienced then why should your company pay for lunch?"

          Well, in my case it would be because I made sure that was in the contract.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I agree with the original poster. Nothing short of penny-pinching. When claims were due, my colleagues would be busy furrowing for receipts for packets of crisps, the odd sandwich etc. wasting far more company time in the process.

        If you really feel the need to go through the hassle of claiming silly things back, maybe you should concentrate instead on getting a better job.

        As for free vending machines, you do realise you need to declare that to the tax people? Seeing as you lot are so good at filling in claim forms, I'm sure you'll sail through the task!

    3. Steve K Silver badge

      Quid pro quo

      I think the issue here is that if you are being flexible by travelling long distances on your own time (or avoiding a hotel stay expense for doing so) then a coffee or sandwich etc. is a fair quid pro quo for the inconvenience.

      The result of this is likely to be people heading home early, or not being able to make those 08:00 meetings any more since - people will not feel the urge to be flexible.

      It seems a short-sighted approach, which cannot add up to that much over a year even for an operation Vodafone.

      1. SVV Silver badge

        Re: Quid pro quo

        I hardly consider a coffee and sandwich a fair quid pro quo for giving up hours of my free time in order for my employer to make a lot of money. As a consultant who used to travel a lot, localish travel used to occur during work hours, and where things overran a bit, that was balanced out by the times I finished a bit early, and I wouldn't have made it back to the office before finishing time so I went straight home.

        For longer distance travel (generally international), every damn second of travel time and time in the office was claimed as work time, and every meal was also expensed. Because frankly I'm not paying a penny of my own money to enable me to do my work, and hanging around airports and sitting on planes and in taxis and trains is not how I'd choose to spend my free time on a workday.

        You are constrained for food options when travelling - even buying a ready made sandwich is more expensive than making your own.-People who work uncompensated overtime (getting neither money nor time in lieu) are stupid in my opinion. People who are actually prepared to spend their own money in order to do their work are even more idiotic.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

          Re: Quid pro quo

          "if you are being flexible by travelling long distances on your own time"

          This is why I charge for the travel time as well (assuming it's not a usual location I'm going to). Once a client queried it (as in - why are you doing this?) and I simply said they were paying for my time. If they wanted me to drive for 6-8 hours for a 1/2 hour meeting that was their choice, but they were paying for it.

          Amazing how requests for on-site meetings dropped after that :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quid pro quo

        > It seems a short-sighted approach, which cannot add up to that much over a year even for an operation Vodafone.

        Not knowing Vodafone other than as an ex-customer, but my guess is that it is filled to the brim with mid-level management type busybodies with very narrow responsibilities and an equally narrow view of the situation.

        If they stop paying for lunches, they can say "I saved X many tens of thousands of Pounds last year", possibly oblivious to the fact that a) it does not amount to much in the big scale of things, as you point out and b) it just causes the brilliant people to leave, thus leaving other substandard people like the hypothetical said manager and causing a positive feedback loop which increases the corporate level of mediocrity.

        At their customer's expense, of course.

    4. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      It's generally accounting rules that decide what's offered and what isn't. Paying employees meals on premises is considered to be a taxable benefit (like pay), whereas expenses incurred during travel are just that: expenses and can be offset against tax.

      There are good arguments for scrapping a lot of deductibles including meals, though I'd start with company cars, but there would a huge outcry from the industry if anyone really tried this.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Company Cars are a financial millstone

        and cost companies a fortune due to tax implications and management implications, and also cost the employee a fortune if they choose a stupidly expensive car with lots of emissions and a high BIK. So your top brass wafting around in a Range Rover Sport will more than likely have a chunky tax bill for the privilege.

        Most corporates now are making their company car policies so restrictive or silly (like 1 car per band - no other choice), people opt for the cash alternative which is much cheaper, and obviously is just a salary uplift which is subject to normal Tax/NI rules. But that 'car allowance' means that they can still either set rules around car age etc and also argue that you should be using your car to travel where possible instead of using a train.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Company Cars are a financial millstone

          Company Cars are a financial millstone

          Not if the accounting is done correctly: make sure the car belongs to the company and not the employee. The employee feels like they're getting a nice perk and the company gets to pay a smaller salary and can offset the most of the costs against tax. And that's before there are the special deals from the manufacturers like lease and buy back. Government's like this because the making and maintaining of cars is one of the best job guarantees out there.

          1. Nifty

            Re: Company Cars are a financial millstone

            I thought company owned cars can't be used for your normal commute/leisure purposes?

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: Company Cars are a financial millstone

              Depends on your stance on taxation...

              You can use a company owned car for 'personal usage', just that this has to be declared as a 'benefit'.

              It is (or was) common for vans etc. to be kept in a pool and thus have their usage restricted to company business only and have a no personal usage restriction simply to keep accounting and tax reporting simple(r).

              Cars on the other hand tend to be allocated to individuals as a benefit (and thus a cost to the company) and with company usage (reported via expenses) simply being treated as an expense.

      2. hplasm Silver badge
        Holmes

        "...expenses and can be offset against tax."

        Aha! Voda don't need to offset tax- the Govt would end up paying them!

    5. Dan 55 Silver badge

      You might buy a sandwich if you're not travelling, other people might ordinarily bring their own lunch.

      If Vodafone employees brought their own Tupperware to client meetings, that wouldn't reflect well on the employee. If they all did it and and explained their company policy, that might reflect well on Vodafone.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        By which I mean that might not reflect well...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If Vodafone employees brought their own Tupperware to client meetings, that wouldn't reflect well on the employee. If they all did it and and explained their company policy, that might reflect well on Vodafone.

        Well, at our offices, we have a fridge and microwave, do you get fridges and microwaves in trains in the UK, thought not ? Should you invest in a refrigerated cool box-thingy for your car ? Ok, maybe, but a microwave in a car ? Come on ... a sandwich is Ok, every now and then, but when you are often away, that starts sucking ... besides, you travel, often OUTSIDE OF WORK HOURS, THE LEAST the company could do to compensate IS A MEAL ...

        Makes me think of the laws in Germany ... less than 30 euro/day for THREE meals ...

        I am lucky, I work for the dream company ... I get food and all the beer I want (well, I can drink) refunded, provided I drink it in the presence of a colleague/client and NOT AT LUNCH. I get breakfast and lunch refunded as well, though ... They ALWAYS book breakfast at the various hotels, some nutritionist told them a good breakfast is important for productivity and guess what ? It is ...

    6. Jason 24

      "When I'm in the office I'll pop out at lunch time and buy myself a sandwich. When I'm on site at a clients for a few hours I pop out at lunch and buy a sandwich, but this now becomes the companies responsibility?"

      I kind of feel the same way to a degree, I always bring a sandwich to work, so why should me going onsite for an install be any different?

      1) If we're doing an install with an onsite IT team then going out together and eating together can improve the team/become friendlier and usually we end up stopping at a point things needs discussing, helps if we're all eating together. Better than slinking off to sit in the car by myself.

      2) If I'm getting back home after 7pm then I don't see an issue stopping for something on the motorway home, you're already eating into my evening family time for the companies benefit, let me have a quick bite without half an hour of cooking.

      As for breakfast, my place will cover it if you set off before 6am from home which I think is pretty reasonable. If it's a hotel stop over then we generally get the premier inn breakfast included as part of the booking.

      1. silks

        I do sympathise with this view, but often a client visit means travelling/working/travelling unsociable hours for no additional pay. Maybe that's part of the job description but a coffee and a bun at a motorway service area isn't a big price for a corporate to pay.

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        "If it's a hotel stop over then we generally get the premier inn breakfast included as part of the booking."

        Lucky bugger. I get the Travelodge breakfast, which is a bottle of juice and an inedible muffin.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We've never been able to claim lunch for site visits.

      We can claim breakfast if having to leave before 7am and evening meals after 7pm. Then they started to get funny about it insisting on later and earlier times.

      So all people did was leave a bit earlier and spend an hour having breakfast and reading the news papers. Then pick up a load of food (think take away meal, then snacks, drinks cakes etc) for pretty much the correct amount on the way home and do it that way. And of course claim that as overtimes.

      I found our local Chinese very helpful in making receipts in Hanzi and a many will have the same rule "Soft drinks only". It's amazing how many hotels have the generic "beverages" as a till option.

      In short, whatever you save one way, you will lose more in another.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Per Diem

      "Of course if I'm gone for an extended period and/or I'm forced by circumstance to eat expensively whilst away from my usual facilities that makes perfect sense, but coming back from a 4 hour client visit with a burger king and a receipt just doesn't quite add up to me."

      Where I come from (Finland) the taxman has set per diem rates. This year, >6 hours of work >15km away gets you a halved per diem, 19 euros. >10 hours nets you the full per diem allowance, 41 euros. The rates are usually higher when abroad. (the amounts change annually a bit). If the employee is granted a free meal the per diem is halved.

      Per diem isn't taxable income. The employer does not have to grant per diems and do the tax deducts, then the employee can deduct them in the taxes.

      Whether the Finnish amounts are exorbitant I cannot say. If your only choice to lunch or dine is at airports or hotel then the per diem may still not be enough. Stopping at a roadside cafe for coffee and sandwich - then you'll pocket some extra.

      1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: Per Diem

        "Where I come from (Finland) the taxman has set per diem rates."

        Yes, Finnish system is quite reasonable. Per diem allowances are designed to cover meals and other small expenses without a requirement to document them. Larger expenses like hotels and transport are separate matters.

        Tax code specifies maximum per diem rates that'll be tax free. Companies can pay more, but this will obviously incur an extra tax. Paying less is discouraged by employment laws. That's why most companies are using per diem rates from the tax code without trying to be clever about it.

        For example, a full day in London has a per diem of 69 EUR. If the hotel accommodation includes two or more meals per day, then per diem has to be cut in half.

        Official page in English

        https://www.vero.fi/en/detailed-guidance/decisions/47405/taxexempt_allowances_in_2017_for_busine/

        1. Kernel

          Re: Per Diem

          "That's why most companies are using per diem rates from the tax code without trying to be clever about it."

          Ah, this will explain why my Finnish employer has specified our per diem rates here in NZ in Euros rather than $NZ.

    9. OohAahVicar

      The difference is that when you're in the office, you can bring your own lunch from home; on site meeting customers that's not an option. I wouldn't pay out a claim when someones on a short visit though.

    10. ThaumaTechnician

      Just make an egg-salad sandwich and leave it in your glove compartment or in the car's trunk on a hot July day. Then drive to the office and offer to trade that sandwich the cube-farm drone's home-made sandwich that has been in a company-supplied refrigerator all morning.

    11. JimC Silver badge

      A bit funny

      There are some funny anomalies about this stuff. I wonder how much dates back to the days when there was a formal 1 hour break for lunch, and most people lived within walking/bicycle distance and could return home for lunch.

      I guess if you join a company and are told "This company pays no allowances for meals to anyone - we consider that the salary is adequate to include this" that would be fair enough. If, on the other hand, something like that is imposed, without an increase in salary to match the loss of allowance and, as is so often the case, with directors and senior executives being exceptions, that's quite another matter.

    12. macjules Silver badge

      Thanks to Gordon Brown and his bribery laws, those who work in the banking/financial IT know how exacting and far-reaching the bribery act goes. As an example, if you are visiting a client for IT purposes from the bank, insurance company etc., let's say you are setting up a portal for their corporate governance department, you may not park in their car park as that can be seen as an inducement by them, You may accept a tea or coffee but not more than a pre agreed number. Lunches, drinks and of course the brown paper envelope with £10k in readies (kidding) all have to be declared.

  5. Chris Hills

    Just because you get free coffee in the office, it doesn't mean you should be able to reclaim £3 for a coffee at a shop for what would probably cost your company 10p to provide. They don't even have to provide it at all. If they are not careful, the company could turn around and scrap these perks altogether.

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      True, but if the employer require you to not be in the office for a period (site visit, leaving home at 5 etc) when you would normally eat, drink etc then they should normally pay for your additional expenses, even if it's just a flat £10 a day or whatever.

      Oh yes, and I believe you may be able to claim against tax anyway (or maybe that's just for travel expenses - basically it's for expenses you personally incur solely due to doing your job, or words to that effect. Remember barrister who claim for black clothes that should would only ever wear in court))

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "If they are not careful, the company could turn around and scrap these perks altogether."

      And in return, the employees will carefully read the terms & conditions in their contract and "work" accordingly. So, for example, no more getting up at 4am for a 6.30 flight to be in a client's office at 10am.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Just because you get free coffee

      Here is some news for you - you do. The HMRC accounting rules say so. You are entitled to be reimbursed for all reasonable expenses essential when traveling on business including food and lodging. Especially food and lodging.

      The solution for Voda employees is very simple - keep all receipts, register for self-assessment and put all receipts towards the "legally entitled to, but not reimbursed by the company travel expenses" allowance. You can and SHOULD do this with ALL receipts where the company has been idiotic, unreasonable and has invented policies which violate both accounting rules and basic sanity.

      In theory, this goes towards one of your allowances which is specific for this. In practice, HMRC gets very unhappy when it notices that everyone in a company ends up claiming it which usually results with the geniuses who formulate the policy having to back off on it in the next financial year.

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        @VRH, re: receipts.

        I got into the habit of keeping a small pocket log book of the miles I traveled for work, keeping the receipts for everything (and I mean *Everything*) work related, & making sure to claim such expenses on my taxes.

        It didn't matter if the business refunded me for such expenses, the Tax Man rarely did *not*.

        Tax Man: "This is a log of what? The mileage incurred for work? Ok, thank you... hummmm... Approved. And these are the receipts for food, lodging, business clothes, and all the expenses incurred in working? Hmmmm... Ok, this one- oh wait, that's acceptable... Ok, Allowed. Thank you, let me just add up your refund..."

        I'd get a nice fat cheque at the end of the year to make up for all the bullshit I'd gone through for my employer, & the revenue service would then stick it to my employer for "all these expenses you're costing your employees".

        I'll second your suggestion to keep receipts, but I'll expand it to include a mileage & fuel log for the car, keep the receipts for business clothes (especially safety shoes/gloves/goggles), & any/all plane/train trips you have to take. Unless the employer pays for it up front (buys the plane/train tickets) then *all* of it can come off your taxes, and *THAT* will make you quite a happy camper when the refund cheque gets deposited into your bank.

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