Business Travel Issues

Jan 18, 1999

I would say that most readers of The Zweig Letter work in firms that export themselves beyond their immediate local area. Although not everyone gets on a plane every week, some travel is required to serve clients, pursue new work, manage the firm, or undertake professional development. Because travel is such a common occurrence for architects, engineers, planners, and environmental scientists— and because I do so much of it myself— it seems appropriate to offer some advice on some recurring questions: Should travel time be charged to the job? Absolutely. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be unless you are using people from non-local offices for reasons that don’t benefit the client. If, on the other hand, the travel is necessary to get the best person for the job, and that’s what the client wants, then by all means it should be charged to the job. The travel time is time that would not be spent traveling were it not for the job. It’s pretty hard for anyone to dispute that fact. Now on the other hand, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the employee use the travel time (in particular, the airtime) to do some reading or writing related to the project. That way, the client gets some (if not full) value from the employee. Should we reimburse employees for in-room movies? I would say yes, as long as the charges aren’t getting out of hand. What I mean by that is occasionally it’s OK, but three flicks a night might be a tad excessive! The reason I would reimburse this is that if the employees were at home, they could watch anything they wanted on cable. But since they are on the road, they’re doomed to whatever the hotel cablevision offers up. The traveler gives up a lot in terms of free time and family time. The reimbursement for a movie is a small price for the firm to pay. Limo/car service to and from the home airport— a good idea or not? My answer here is “it depends.” It depends on the cost to drive their own car or their company car to the airport and pay for parking versus the service. I would do which ever is cheaper, plain and simple. How long should someone have to wait to get their expense report paid? The typical A/E/P or environmental consulting firm reimburses their employees for company-related expenses nine days after they submit their expense reports. It probably ought to happen faster than that. The company has to be sensitive to the fact that employees are not in position to finance the firm’s cash flow needs. One woman, a consultant I spoke with on a plane the other day, told me that her boss regularly borrows cash from her for lunches that they bring in to an out-of-town client’s office. And then she has to bug, cajole, and even beg to get paid back from him! It was a big peeve, believe me. Should we give employees cash advances? If they have company credit cards and are anywhere on the totem pole, they ought to be able to use their own cash (very little is needed) when necessary and the company should pay them back quickly. I do not like getting into cash advances— too much trouble!!! Should we give our people paid time off if their travel schedule requires them to work more than 40 hours a week? Non-exempt staff must be paid time-and-one-half for all overtime worked over 40 hours in a given week. Exempt staff do not have to be paid overtime. Paid time off is not acceptable as a substitute for paid overtime for non-exempt staff, although no one can stop you from giving it to your exempt staff. But the problem is, paid time off is the most expensive time of all for an A/E/P or environmental firm. And I don’t see highly profitable firms with professional staffs who only work 40 hours a week. Your exempt people have to work 48 or more hours a week in most firms to make a decent profit. Don’t give them paid time off if they have to travel. Do, however, be understanding if they need to take off to get a driver’s license renewed or get a haircut!! There are more questions and more answers, but I’m off to catch a plane! Originally published 1/18/1999

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