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Business Meals and Travel Expenses

BROWN UNIVERSITY MEMORANDUM

To:         All Faculty and Staff 
From:     Mark Schlissel, Provost and
              Beppie Huidekoper, Executive Vice President for Finance & Administration
Date:      October 14, 2011
Subject:  University Travel & Business Meals Expenses

As we begin the new academic year, we are reminding you of existing and updated University travel and business meals expense policies, and their web sites for your reference.  The purpose of this memo is to highlight a number of key policies and procedures, and remind faculty and staff of the importance of compliance.  Also, the IRS requires us to report on a number of these practices annually. 

The University has several expense policy documents which faculty and staff are expected to follow.  These documents cite specific allowable and unallowable costs, and offer general guidelines for individuals to use when in the conduct of University business.  It is important to note that “University business” also includes activity conducted under sponsored funding.  In addition, for those using sponsored funds, there may be specific additional restrictions and limitations which must be adhered to.  Information regarding those restrictions is available from the Office of Sponsored Projects. 

There are two primary policy documents relating to travel and business meals expenses in effect and published on the Controller’s Office website.  They are: (1)  the University Travel Policy;  and (2)  the Business Meals and Hospitality Policy.  Employees seeking reimbursement, or requesting payment to other internal and external parties (e.g., Faculty Club, Hope Club), should become familiar with the provisions in these documents.  University travel and business meals expenses will be paid by the University if they are reasonable, appropriately documented, properly allocated and authorized, and within the guidelines of these policies, and must be accommodated by the relevant operating budget or sponsored project funding.  The following is a brief summary of some of the more common policy issues from these documents that we wish to highlight.  Please refer to the documents for a complete listing of the policies and procedures.

Air Travel

Air travel has become increasingly expensive and burdensome.  As much as possible, faculty and staff should consider other alternatives such as conference calls, train travel, etc. 

  • Brown’s policy is that travelers fly coach class within the U.S. and seek the best prices available given time and route constraints.  Business class is permissible only when (1) the destination is four or more time zones away, or more than eight hours direct flight time; (2) the funding department has adequate budget resources; and (3) it is clear that this form of travel is for a valid University purpose and would be the best use of the funds available.  First class travel is not permitted unless an exception is approved in advance by the President, Provost, or Executive Vice President for Finance & Administration. 
  • The cost of an upgrade in class is not reimbursable by the University.
  • Airport or airline club membership fees are not reimbursable by the University.
  • Sponsored travelers should abide by any stricter provisions set forth by the sponsoring agency.  For example, the Fly America Act restricts international travel paid with federal funds to only U.S. carriers, except under limited and documented situations.

Trains

Brown’s policy is for travelers to use the lowest cost fare which provides for reserved seating. As such, Acela business class is acceptable. First-class train travel is not reimbursable. 

Automobiles

Brown travelers and guests have a number of options available under the current policy, which includes reimbursement for use of personal auto mileage, automobile rental, zip car, public transportation, and taxi and private auto services.  Employees should use the option which balances lowest cost to the University with convenience and scheduling.

Please note that limousine services are not reimbursable.

Hotel Accommodations

Travelers requiring overnight accommodations should seek non-luxury/moderately priced hotels.  Specific guidelines are provided on the Controller’s Office web site at:  http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Controllers_Office/payable/travel/spending.html

Travel Meals and Business Meals

Travel meals are those taken by one or more faculty or staff while away on University business.  They do not include meal expenses paid by the University for external individuals (see business meals section below).

  • The following per person amounts apply to travel meals and include taxes and gratuities.  The amounts are:
    • Breakfast       $ 20.00
    • Lunch            $ 25.00
    • Dinner           $ 50.00

                  Meals paid for by the University should fall within these amounts.  Alcoholic beverages are not reimbursable when part of a travel meal expense. 

  • Faculty and staff traveling on University business also have the option of being reimbursed at the daily federal per diem amount for the relevant city.  If the traveler cannot obtain the required receipts, the per diem method may be used, with prior supervisory approval.  The per diem rates can be found on the government site:  http://www.gsa.gov/portal/category/21287

Business meals are meals (local or away) taken with visitors, non-Brown colleagues, donors, etc., during which specific business discussions take place.  Such meals may take place locally or while traveling on University business.  A Business Meal and Hospitality Form must be completed for this type of expense.  Employees will be reimbursed based upon reasonable actual costs not to exceed the limits in the Annual Spending Guidelines.

  • The following are the per person amounts that apply to business meals and include taxes and gratuities.  Department heads or Chairs may choose to enforce more restrictive standards.
    • Breakfast       $ 20.00
    • Lunch            $ 40.00
    • Dinner           $ 75.00
  • It is recognized that there may be circumstances, especially involving entertainment of a distinguished visitor to the University or at a dinner meeting during travel, when the cost of dinner may exceed these limits.  Good judgment and clear explanation should be used in these cases, and a senior officer approval should be obtained.  A senior officer is the member of the President’s Cabinet in your reporting hierarchy.
  • Alcoholic beverages may be allowable as part of a business meal except when charged to federally sponsored funds.  Alcoholic beverages must not be charged to any federal grant.

Meals taken between two or more University employees during which routine business issues are discussed are generally not reimbursable from any University funding source.  We encourage all employees to use their judgment as to when such meals are non routine and therefore could be reimbursable by the University.  Recruiting meals for faculty or staff positions may be reimbursable.  These non routine reimbursable meals should be held at the Faculty Club with no more than four Brown employees in attendance.  Senior officer prior approval is required for more than four Brown attendees.

Documentation

   Business Purpose

  • All requests for employee reimbursements and payments to external parties (e.g., Hope Club) must include, in a sentence or two, an explanation as to the University business purpose in a Business Meals and Hospitality form.  This is a critical part of the payment process, as the IRS uses this information to determine if the reimbursement is taxable to the individual.  Lack of a clear business purpose will result in the request being returned and/or denied. 
  • An explanation as to the University business purpose is required for events catered through Brown Catering Services or events held at the Faculty Club.  Departments must maintain a Business Meals and Hospitality form for electronically processed entries.

   Receipts

  • It is the responsibility of the individual seeking reimbursement, to obtain and submit all required supporting documentation, including receipts. 
  • Receipts are required for all hotel, air travel, or business meals expenses; and for all other individual expenses greater than $75.  Additional and more restrictive receipt requirements exist for reimbursements requested through the Cashier’s Office.  See below:   

Cashier’s Office Travel Expense Reimbursement Form:  http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Controllers_Office/documents/FormCashiersOfficeTravelReimbursement2011.pdf

Cashier’s Office Business Expense Reimbursement Form:  http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Controllers_Office/documents/CashiersOfficeImmediateReimbursementForm300.pdf

  • Receipts are not required for expenses paid on a per diem basis.
  • For air travel the original passenger receipts or e-ticket receipts that clearly indicate the cost and proof of payment is required.  A detailed hotel bill is required for reimbursement of lodging expenses.
  • In those situations where receipts have been lost or misplaced, a Missing Receipt Affidavit Form is required and should be attached to the report.  This form should be used on an exception basis only.

   Signature Responsibility

  • It is the responsibility of the individual being reimbursed to provide an accurate and truthful representation of allowable expenses to be paid by the University.  Proper receipts and documentation, including allocations between personal and business activities (if applicable) must be clearly identified on the request.  Personal expenses are not reimbursable.
  • It is the responsibility of the signatory/approver to review the expenses, ensure that the information contained on the report is properly documented and supported by attached receipts, and to ensure that the expenses are for University business purposes, in compliance with University policies.  An employee cannot approve their own expenses.  The approver is typically in the position of department head, director, or higher in the organization.  A department head may designate staff in managerial positions within their unit as approvers.  The Form for delegating this responsibility, along with submission instructions are available through the Controller's Office web site.  Representatives from the administrative or academic service centers may also serve as approvers.
  • In the case of expenses paid from sponsored projects, it is the responsibility of the approver to ensure that the expenses follow University and sponsor policies, and are reasonable, allowable, properly allocated, authorized, and reviewed by the Office of Sponsored Projects. 
  • The Controller’s Office has the responsibility for ensuring that the expense report complies with the IRS regulations.  OSP is responsible for ensuring that the expenditures are in compliance with external sponsor policies.  These offices may, in their judgment, request additional information or clarification of any expense item.

As mentioned above, it is crucial that all Brown employees understand the importance of conducting business operations in a responsible and prudent manner.  We do understand and appreciate the efforts of those who travel or conduct business on behalf of the University.  We want faculty and staff to be comfortable, have a clear understanding of related policies, and obtain reimbursement quickly.  We will continuously review and refine our policies and procedures and would appreciate your thoughts on where improvements and or clarifications can be made.  We thank you for your cooperation in these efforts.