Does your latest expense report include a llama rental? No? That's probably a good thing.
Travel and expense management firm Certify polled 430 business travelers for some of the oddest expenses they or a colleague had tried to push through this year — including not just the llama, but a $28,000 bottle-service tab, a blow-up doll and personalized bobblehead figurines.
It's no laughing matter. Experts say there are real risks to workers trying to expense something offbeat or expensive, or pass off personal expenses as something related to work.
"You might think of it as a joke, but it could come back to haunt you in the office," said Dan Schawbel, author of "Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success."
First, don't think you're pulling off a fast one. Companies often have expense guidelines setting out what's a reasonable expense and how much employees can spend — and they pay attention to patterns that might indicate abuse or excessive spending, said John Challenger, chief executive officer of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
"If you're overspending, the company is probably aware," he said.
It's worth noting that depending on your industry, company and position, "reasonable" doesn't always mean "cheap." A big bill to entertain clients, for example, may be green-lighted as something that will bring in more business, Schawbel said.
"You have to justify why you're spending it," he said.
Bad expensing behaviors carry a tangible risk to your wallet. You could be on the hook for covering the cost if your bosses deny it, Challenger said.
Expenses are even more damaging for your career, Schawbel said. Bosses may be reluctant to let you handle money on projects, or give you fewer business travel opportunities. Costing the company money can make you seem less valuable as an employee.
"If the company is spending more on the employee than the employee is giving back to the company, that employee is at risk [of being let go]," he said.
Flouting company policies on expenses could even be considered grounds for firing.
"Certainly if the company thinks that you're cheating, they can let you go," Challenger said.
When in doubt, get a manager's approval before you make a questionable purchase.
"If you've decided that you need to have a llama at the party you invited all your customers to … you probably ought to clear that first," he said.