When we went to lunch a second time, she paid with the company card. I guess in her mind she thinks it’s a fair trade, but I can’t help but think 1) she should still give me my money back and 2) it seems unethical that she paid with company funds intended to be spent on customers outside the organization.
I like her, but something about it is wrong and it affects my opinion of her to the point that I’m not sure I want to be friends after all. Am I talking about it? If so, how?
Karla: Regarding point 1, you paid for a meal you didn’t eat, then you ate a meal you didn’t have to pay for – so things between you and your co-worker are currently square, so uncomfortable.
Regarding point 2, responsible adults fulfill their personal obligations with their own money; when they do this with funds that their employer has appropriated for other purposes, it is called embezzlement. And even if she’s the one holding the card, you could also be on the hook as a conscious beneficiary of her actions.
Admittedly, she may not be fully aware of what she has done, especially if she is new to her career or has not been properly counseled on the proper use of her card. You can give him a chance to clear things up by asking, “Hey, about our lunch the other day, are you sure it was okay to put it on the company card?” I thought these funds were just to entertain outside customers. They can be strict on spending here, so I want to make sure you don’t get in trouble.
If she has more flexibility in using the card than you might think, or if your lunch was pre-approved in some way, she can explain it. If she didn’t realize what she did was wrong, she can explain to your employer that she mistakenly charged a personal expense (it happens), and reimburse it. In any case, she must understand and appreciate that you take care of her.
Charging Business Expenses to Personal Credit Cards: Advantages and Disadvantages
If she dismisses your concern, gets defensive, or gives an excuse you don’t believe is accurate, you may want to research how to protect yourself from potential repercussions, starting with the employee handbook. Some larger companies have hotlines where you can report ethics concerns anonymously and receive advice on how to proceed.
Or you can’t do anything, and pray that nothing comes to light. But whatever action you do or don’t do, you should listen for that alarm bell in your head until you have a better idea of his character and whether you can trust him.
If you enjoy his company enough to continue socializing, arrange payment details in advance: “Lunch? Sounds good, but do you mind if we get separate checks this time around to keep things simple? (Hope you don’t even have to think about it, but separate checks are also easier to account for later if you need receipts.)
A final thought: It’s possible that the shame of a lack of money and the desire to cover it was the root of his unethical behavior – not an excuse, but an understandable impulse. If you think so, you can nurture a friendship as easily at a local park as at a trendy, expensive salad assembly line.