Commentary: Conference no-show

Scenario: Conference no-show

Is it permissible to use business travel to enjoy subsidized personal travel? Yes, if it’s done right; and definitely not, if it isn’t. All the readers who wrote about this scenario agreed that the colleague’s disappearance (let’s call him Ross) during the conference, presumably to go skiing, was wrong. It was a fraudulent use of government travel-related funds. The difficulty is that the faithful conference attendee (let’s call him Shaun) is being put in the position either to denounce his colleague, to mislead the authorities by silence or to lie to the authorities for Ross.

Most readers felt the best way to try to proceed was for Shaun to first confront Ross directly, insisting that he admit to the manager what he did within a prescribed timeframe, after which Shaun would approach the manager himself. Readers wanted Shaun to do this as soon as they arrived back at the office; however, the way the scenario was written, this opportunity was missed. (In the scenario, Shaun did not confront Ross at any time prior to the three-way meeting with the manager; and even then, Shaun seemed to remain silent about Ross’ absence. The clock is ticking!) Confronting Ross at the earliest opportunity has the advantage that it would allow Ross to understand that he still has a choice about how he tries to make amends for his mistake, but that he cannot get off the hook. It seeks to respect his dignity as a person. Postponing the confrontation is not a good idea since it makes Shaun look like an accessory to the crime.

Interestingly, one reader went even further to state that Shaun should urgently search for Ross the moment he noticed Ross was missing since it is always possible he was having a health crisis or some other emergency. Although such an attempt would have presumably failed to reach Ross – unless he had brought his mobile phone to the slopes and was taking calls – at least Shaun would have made the point to himself (and anyone else with an interest in the issue) that the absence of a colleague was neither expected nor insignificant.

One lesson learned from this scenario is that joking is not always as harmless as we might assume. Regardless who started this line of humour on the flight to the event, it’s obvious that Ross took it a little too much to heart. Imagine a situation where Ross decides to defend himself to the manager, once all is revealed, by claiming that Shaun implied it was okay for one of the pair to do some sightseeing. This would not be an effective defence for Ross, but it might just succeed in getting Shaun into some trouble since there is a grain of truth to this malicious claim that both of them made light out of the issue.

Finally, as another reader pointed out, Ross could have done some non-illicit skiing while also attending the event by extending his stay past the conference (if he had covered the extra expenses, the airfare would still have been paid). Ultimately, provided it has all been properly planned and authorized ahead of time, the organization is willing to assist its personnel in personally benefiting from work travel; just not in Ross’ underhanded and contemptuous way.

Thank you to everyone who shared their ideas and contributed to the commentary for this scenario. As always, both your suggestions for scenarios and your feedback on scenarios are appreciated.


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