If you’ve ever had to deal with expense reporting, you probably don’t think of them as being much more than an annoying but necessary aspect of business travel. Your employer will compensate you for the plane ticket or the fuel you need, which is simple enough, but things get complicated quickly when you start factoring in food, business supplies, the time you spend on yourself while you’re abroad, and heaven forbid that you try to mix business with pleasure.
However, while you may consider expense reporting to be a somewhat dangerous chore (since you’ll either lose money or get accused of fraud if you get it wrong), there is another way in which bad reporting affects you: when the one doing the reporting is a government official.
Back in February of 2014, several Canadian senators got in hot water with the RCMP for claiming secondary residence and travel expenses for their Ottawan homes despite the fact that they lived there full-time. It might have been an honest misunderstanding or it might have been an attempt to quietly get some money through an apparent loophole, but whether they meant to or not senators like Mac Harb and Patrick Brazeau defrauded the Canadian government (and therefore the Canadian taxpayers) to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s because of this sort of thing that expense reporting isn’t just important to you while you’re on the business trip and while you’re waiting for your employer to compensate you, it’s important to everyone who’s affected by your employer’s budget and it’s important to you when it comes time to file your taxes. An improperly expensed meal here or a compensated rental payment there may not seem like much in the moment, but as the years go by and as the number of employees fudging the math add up, what starts out as a few hundred dollars will eventually turn into a considerable sum.
Thus, just like your tax reporting, your expense reporting needs to be precise, accurate, and as accurate to the rules as you can get. You can afford to play with the numbers when it comes to your own budget and deciding just how you’ll spend and save your own money, but when you play with money that isn’t technically yours, even if it’s just a small amount, you play with fire.