How COVID-19 is revealing expenses reporting disparities

The pandemic has made expense reporting part of daily life for many remote workers, but whether they think reimbursements are fair depends on role and gender, AppZen found.

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AppZen has released data from a survey of remote workers that found more are submitting expense reports for costs incurred during lockdowns, but gender and role-based disparities are common complaints. With eight months of COVID-19-related lockdowns behind us, one thing most can agree on is that remote work has become part of the new normal. AppZen's research supports that assumption, with a spike from 17% of respondents working remotely before COVID-19, and 83% being remote in its wake. 

A work-from-home spike of that size is sure to trigger a lot of expense reporting for costs incurred while at home: Claims for internet usage rose 6% during the pandemic, and 46% of companies said they're reimbursing for employee internet service during COVID-19. 

In general, 75% of respondents said they're submitting work-from-home-related expense reports during the pandemic, while only 69% said they had submitted expenses before the coronavirus. 

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Whether or not employees are happy with how their expense reports are being reimbursed varies, though. Only 29% of employees feel they've been fairly compensated for new remote-work expenses, and women are far less likely than men (59% to 80%) to feel fairly reimbursed. 

AppZen also pointed out that higher-ups in a company are more likely to have their expenses approved because many already have access to a company credit card, meaning the items they need never have to come-out-of-pocket first. 

Changes from in-office to remote also had much less of an impact on business owners, C-suite, and management employees because many already worked remotely on occasion. Forty-two percent of business owners and partners, and 37% of sales managers, were already working from home prior to the pandemic; for them there may not be additional expenses to incur in transitioning to remote work, and if so the company card can keep many of those expenses from being personal ones prior to reimbursement. 

"It's in the best interest for companies to have clear policies and communicate them effectively to their employees so there are no inconsistencies or perceived disparities in how companies are handling employee expenses," said AppZen CEO Anant Kale. 

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Kale is pointing to data from AppZen's survey that found a much higher rate of satisfaction in expense reimbursement among businesses that updated their policies due to COVID-19. Eighty-three percent of those whose organizations had updated policies reported fair compensation, while only 29% said the same for organizations without a COVID-related policy update. 

Remote work is likely here to stay, and with it will likely come a shift in expectations. Workers will be much more likely to seek out businesses with robust, clear work-from-home policies, and expense reimbursement will be one of their concerns. Research firm Forrester found that some US states are already moving toward making mandatory expense reimbursement a legal requirement.

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