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A few months ago, I visited a university for a tenure-track interview in computer science. Before my visit, I received an interview policy sheet from HR stating all the usual things (economy flight fare, etc). After the interview, I was told by HR that I need to mail them my original receipts, which I did instantly upon my return home.

After a few weeks, I inquired regarding the reimbursement and was told that my receipts hadn't been received yet. However, the tracking service (I had used registered mail) did indicate that they had been delivered and, after a second inquiry, HR confirmed that they should have been received at their university but aren't to be found anywhere and reiterated that they need the original receipts to reimburse me.

This was 3 weeks ago and my subsequent enquiries have been met with silence. I did receive a job offer but, also having received another offer, accepted a position elsewhere and informed the university about my decision.

Is there anything I can/should do about this?

To be frank, the university is overseas and taking the probably very expensive legal route is not an option for me. That said, the interview expenses are in the range of 1.2k USD and thus non-negligible for me.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about an issue specific to academia but about a legal issue. – Dirk Mar 26 '15 at 7:51
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    Do HR actually need your boarding pass for the flight? Is there another way to prove you actually took the flight (perhaps the airline or airports can attest that you passed through, or you might have stamps in your passport)?. I would try phoning the HR department. It's a lot easier to ignore an email than it is to hang up the phone during a conversation... – Moriarty Mar 26 '15 at 8:45
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    What is an "original receipt" for an electronically booked flight? Just print another copy. – JeffE Mar 26 '15 at 11:58
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    @Davidmh Indeed, but it seems that HR are saying "if you cannot prove that you took this flight, we won't reimburse you". An airport-printed boarding pass, baggage claim tag, or passport stamp would provide hard evidence. The fact that the OP actually made it to the interview in another country, along with either a copy of an electronic boarding pass or the booking confirmation, would of course be sufficient proof for any reasonable person. But this is the HR department, they often don't do logic. – Moriarty Mar 26 '15 at 13:05
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    I strongly disagree with Dirk's comment. Not getting reimbursed and what to do about it is an academia-specific issue. It is almost certainly a bad idea to view it as a legal issue in all but the most extreme cases. – Pete L. Clark Mar 26 '15 at 16:49
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In general, don't attribute inaction to malice or fraud when it almost certainly is just due to laziness, disorganization, or incompetence. University bureaucracies, especially in some countries, can be unbelievably slow. Sadly, three weeks is often not a particularly long period to go unreimbursed. Be patient and persistent and this will almost certainly work out eventually.

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    Yes, reimbursement times in Germany typically measure in the range of 3-6 months. – Wolfgang Bangerth Mar 26 '15 at 11:23
  • @Sumyda: I did not know it had a name! Thanks for the link! – Benjamin Mako Hill Mar 27 '15 at 0:05
  • @WolfgangBangerth The worst is when the state has to reimburse something (e.g. taxes). In Italy this takes on the order of years, and even tens of years aren't unheard of. – Bakuriu Mar 27 '15 at 8:46
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    "Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice." (Grey's law) – Bob Brown Mar 27 '15 at 12:36
  • @Bakuriu: that's not the case everywhere. In Canada, where I live, both the government and the university where I work reimburse in about 10 days, and often less than that. – Martin Argerami Mar 28 '15 at 5:15
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University HR offices, probably like many HR offices, can de difficult to deal with. I would email the HR person you have been in contact with, along with the department admin/search chair electronic copies of the receipts explaining what happened. I tend to scan the originals, prior to mailing them. If you have copies that is even better. There is no reason to try the legal route yet.

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    I would ALSO email the CS department chair or the chair of the faculty search committee. – JeffE Mar 26 '15 at 11:57
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This was 3 weeks ago and my subsequent enquiries have been met with silence.

This is unacceptable. Aren't you glad you won't be working there?

At this point, if it were me, I would no longer bother wasting my time with HR. To echo JeffE's comment, I would forward your complaints to the CS department's chair, say that you are very disappointed with the way this has been handled by HR, and politely but firmly request of the chair that the CS department handle these matters on your behalf.

4

University HR and reimbursement departments are often very slow, particularly at public universities. I attribute that to the fact that their primary purpose is to avoid reimbursing people for invalid expenses. In my experience, 3 weeks would be fast.

That said, it would not be rational to expect them to move faster (or, indeed, at all) without prodding on your part. It would also not be rational to express disappointment or anger with people higher up the food chain - as they will, in practice, probably be stuck with those employees and the framework of rules and incentives leading to extreme tardiness. Complaints will only make them less willing to help. Requests for help will provide an opportunity to feel good about helping someone with a frustrating problem.

It would be best to call the search chair and ask for help. After the call, I'd send a well-organized email outlining that: (a) You sent the originals by registered mail. (b) HR received them and presumably lost them. (c) HR is now requesting the originals, which you already sent.

Ideally, that email should have the electronic copies attached.

Hopefully, that'll solve the issue. If you don't get movement within 2 weeks, I'd escalate to: (a) head of HR (b) departmental admin (c) department chair

2

HR offices at universities are often a total wreck with papers all over the place. One time I sent something to them and they insisted I never did. So I sent it again. Again they said they didn't have it. So I got mad at them and told them to look around for it. While I was still on the phone with them, they located it. I'm guessing it was under a pile of papers. My advice would be to tell them you already mailed the originals and show them the mail confirmation status. Then send them copies of the originals. If they are fair at all, they should honor that since they clearly lost the originals. If not, perhaps contact the president of the university and explain the situation. When things don't work out, go over the head of whoever is not cooperating.

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    You are by and large right, except that it rarely pays off to get angry because this is incompetence, not bad will. And for sure do not contact the university president over travel expense reimbursement. Faculty you spoke to, good idea, maybe department chair, but sending it up the latter to someone in charge of a tens of millions to a billions endowment would not be helpful, instead rather comical. – gnometorule Mar 26 '15 at 16:42
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If they promised it to you, then the university certainly has a moral obligation to reimburse you. They may also have a legal obligation.

On the other hand, the way I thought about it when I was in a similar position before was that it was an opportunity cost (think: pay to play). Sure, I paid for it out of my own pocket, but I did it because if it worked out it would have landed me a nice job. Sometimes you have to invest a little money for the potential to make a whole lot more. That didn't make it less awkward that I didn't get reimbursed, but at least I could justify to myself that it wasn't a waste of money.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question, especially the second paragraph. – dirkk Mar 26 '15 at 12:48
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    That's not what an opportunity cost is. – jwg Mar 26 '15 at 17:36

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