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When you charge personal expenses on your employer’s card by mistake

Regardless of your company's rules about personal charges on corporate cards, make sure to mend the error and repay the charges as soon as possible

Summary

If you charged personal expenses on your employer’s corporate business credit card by mistake, make sure to mend the error and repay those charges as soon as possible. If your employer has rules in place about personal charges on the company’s card, those might also apply.

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Dear Your Business Credit,
Recently I made a serious mistake. While intoxicated with several friends, I placed a large purchase on my business card at a club. I did not recall the event until my friend informed me of my decision the following morning.

I’m going to tell my supervisor first thing at work, but I’m very worried about the consequences. My concern stems from the size of the charge: roughly $2,200.

While I have no problem immediately paying off the charge with personal funds, I fear that the egregious size of the sum could lead to the end of my employment. Please let me know your thoughts. – Donald

Dear Donald,

This is an unpredictable situation. There might also be some company rules regarding credit card usage that come into play.

If so, whether the company enforces them or not probably will depend somewhat on how much of a stickler your supervisor is and whether you’ve built strong reserves of goodwill with your manager and others who may hold sway over your future with the firm.

See related: 5 business expense card options for employers

When companies let employees use corporate cards

Some companies ask employees to sign written agreements regarding their policies on credit card usage when they offer an employee a company credit card card.

They do that to make it clear to team members what they can and can’t use the card for. Some of these policies say misuse of the card is grounds for dismissal.

If you work for a larger company, it’s pretty likely you did sign something along those lines. Smaller companies don’t always put policies like these in writing until something goes wrong, so in that case you may not have.

If you saved your “new hire” packet from HR, see if you have a document like this in the packet. That’ll give you some information on the potential consequences.

Charging personal expenses on a business card: Context matters

Of course, the circumstances matter here. If the company has not explicitly told you that spending money at a club is not allowed, and you were, for instance, using the card for a business purpose – such as entertaining clients who were visiting from out of town – it’s possible that you did not break the company’s rules.

If you were simply entertaining friends and used the card to pay for some type of adult entertainment, the company will no doubt interpret that differently.

I would recommend investing a few hundred dollars in a quick consultation with an employment lawyer familiar with the laws of your state, in case there are any legal nuances of local employment law that also come into play.

How to handle repayment of personal charges on corporate card

In your situation, it seems like you do have to be honest about what happened, offer to (and make) restitution and hope that the company gives you another chance.

You will have to proceed very carefully here, though. One way to broach this might be to tell your bosses that you accidentally used the card while out with friends, realized what happened this morning and need to find out how to repay the company immediately. Then pay it. Your reputation will be at stake if you don’t resolve this quickly.

I don’t recommend giving supervisors a blow-by-blow of what happened with the hope you’ll be excused for using the credit card because you were drunk.

No supervisor is going to be glad to hear that an employee got so drunk that he ran up a $2,200 charge he doesn’t remember. That means you were in a blackout.

Although it might have been a once-in-a-lifetime event for you, your bosses have no way of knowing and may worry in the future that you have an addiction that requires treatment. Being aware of the situation may cause them to feel they have to intervene in some way or get you help.

(If it was not an isolated occurrence and you are concerned you may be addicted, I would recommend that seek help, starting with your doctor. There is no shame for anyone in getting needed help with addiction.)

It sounds like this was a youthful mistake that you’ve learned a lot from already. Next time you go out with friends, I’d recommend taking the company credit card out of your wallet and leaving it home, so there’s no chance of a mix-up.

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Published: March 8, 2019

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