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If Employees Can Expense Their Scotch, But Not Their Babysitter, Is That Sexist?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 16, 2016 2:09 PM

No one likes to work late, but one of the few perks is being reimbursed for what would otherwise be normal expenses. Need to order takeout because you're staying late to finish a file? You might be able to get that reimbursed. The same goes for the cab you take home at 2am.

But if you need to have your babysitter stay late because you're going to be in the office all night, that's another story. Those expenses are almost never covered, since they are incurred at home. And some argue that failing to reimburse such costs is a subtle form of sexism, demonstrating bias against women and, particularly, against mothers.

Scotch? Yes. Daycare? No.

These disparities were recently highlighted by Dawn Bovasso, a creative director in advertising and a single mother, who argues that many company expense policies "are hurting women." Case in point:

You can get $30 for takeout if you work late (because your wife isn't there to cook you dinner) or $30 for scotch if you want to drink your face off, but you can't get $30 for a sitter (because your wife is at home with the kids).

In many industries, legal and otherwise, only expenses incurred in-office or as a direct part of work, such as travel expenses, are reimbursable. But women who must balance household responsibilities can incur significant expenses when balancing work and family responsibilities, whether it's getting a nanny, paying for daycare, or calling a last-minute babysitter when work keeps you late. (Some fathers bear these burdens, too, but women still do most childrearing today.)

"If I incur an expense because I am doing something above and beyond for my company, shouldn't my company pay for that expense?" Bovasso asks. "Does it matter if that expense happens inside my apartment or not?"

It's Not Just Company Policy

To the IRS, it does matter if an expense happens inside your apartment or not, though. And that has a direct relation to most company expense policies, which are tied closely to tax deductions. The IRS generally prohibits deducting business expenses that are for "personal, living, or family expenses." Most companies simply aren't willing to bear the cost of covering childcare if they can't write it off.

But some employers are taking steps to counteract these discrepancies. As Fast Company notes, some companies "take the broader view of how to keep women moving up the ranks" and are moving to address the problems Bovasso faced. They cite research showing that 35 percent of best companies for working mothers offer business travel childcare reimbursement. Another 23 percent offer overtime childcare reimbursement.

That's may be a small number of employers, but it's progress. If your firm is looking for ways to retain and advance employees, you might want to consider similar policies.

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