Columbia University faculty, staff, and students routinely incur business and/or travel expenses on behalf of the University or in support of sponsored research activities. The University reimburses legitimate expenses that conform to federal and state law and the restrictions placed upon sponsored projects. In order to provide this reimbursement, the University requires University employees to complete and submit an approved Travel and Business Expense report that documents the business purpose of the expenses incurred.
Any individual incurring the travel expense must be familiar with Departmental policies and this University policy in order to ensure compliance and prudent spending of University funds.
Responsibilities of Traveler
- Obtaining all proper documentation for each expense. (Typically, this documentation will be a receipt that identifies the expense and reflects proof of payment of the expense).
- Documenting the business purpose or justification for each expense. This helps to document why the expense is eligible for reimbursement and should not be considered as taxable income.
- Should request reimbursement within 10 business days of the trip and must request reimbursement no later than 120 days after date of the expenditure.
- Completing the Travel and Business Expense report in accordance with University policy and procedure.
- Sign the Travel and Business Expense form and retain a copy for their records.
In some departments, an individual may prepare expense reports on behalf of other employees in their area and/or enter these into ARC, the system used to process Accounts Payable transactions.
TBER processor is responsible for:
- Understanding of the nature of each expenditure and the business purpose for University reimbursements
- Completeness of documentation and accuracy of accounting
- Completeness and accuracy of the required information on the expense report form
- Allocation and segregation of expenses to the appropriate University account(s) and/or project.
The Travel Approve hould be an Officer who is sufficiently senior within the organization to have the authority to approve travel advances and expense reimbursements for faculty and staff in the School/Admin Unit and is responsible and accountable for the Travel Business and Expense Report (TBER) and Travel Advance vouchers’ that he/she approves, certifying through approval that the travel is:
- Policy compliant
- Within budget
A Travel Approver must, under his/her own authority, be able to independently determine policy compliance; however, a Travel Approver may, as part of his/her own approval process, require the signature of a traveler’s supervisor or other officer on the TBER or Advance Request form to certify the appropriateness, validity and funding of the travel. All requests for reimbursement must be approved by an individual with “Travel Approver Authority” for his or her department(s). The approver's electronic signature in ARC certifies that the expenditures are approved expenses that comply with University policy and that they represent appropriate use of departmental or grant funds. Regardless of the travel approver’s authority, under no circumstances may an individual approve his or her own report or that of a person to whom he or she reports.
Expense Report Validator
The Expense Report Validator (the traveler’s supervisor, or other appropriately senior person in the department) must also sign the Travel and Business Expense Report to certify that the travel is valid, appropriate, and policy compliant.
Note: The Expense Report Validator can also be the ARC Travel Approver and in these cases, it is not necessary for the TBER form to be signed by the Expense Report Validator; only the approval in ARC by the Travel Approver is required. In cases where the Expense Report Validator is not the Travel Approver, the Expense Report Validator should be familiar enough with the expense activity to validate it, as the ARC Travel Approver will be relying on the validation of the Expense Report Validator as part of the voucher approval process in ARC.
In situations where more than one employee is participating in a shared business activity- common examples include dinners or taxi travel- the most senior employee is urged to pay for the expense and seek reimbursement, to avoid a situation where a subordinate is requesting reimbursement for a direct or indirect supervisor's expenses.
If it is not feasible or practicle for the most senior employee to pay for the shared expenses, then two steps must be taken to ensure compliance with University policy:
1. Shared expenses should be submitted on a separate Travel & Business Expense Report.
2. Manual expense validation is required. The most senior employee who attended the event is required to view the expenses to ensure they are valid and sign the TBER in the space provided for the Expense Report Validator.
As long as manual expense validation has been acquired, the employee may have their direct supervisor approve the TBER in ARC.
Supplemental Approver (Dean, VP, Associate Dean, Senior Financial Officer)
Certain circumstances require the approval of a Dean, VP, Associate Dean or Senior Financial Officer. The Supplemental Approval process provides these senior officers (within a school or department) with the ability to approve specific common policy exceptions.
Examples of exceptions that are eligible for approval by a Supplemental Approver (with an appropriate business purpose) include business/first class flights for travel in excess of 5 hours or with medical need and hotel expenses no more than 50% over the established thresholds (see below for further exception types).
For a specified list of common circumstances and processing procedures, see the Supplemental Approval info page.
Link to Supplemental Approval Form
Note: If there is a policy exception that is not eligible for Supplemental Approval, the Policy Exception or Adjustment Request form must be fully completed, documented and approved by a the appropriate Senior Business Officer and submitted to Accounts Payable for review.
Accounts Payable will process all approved expense reports and prepare and issue the payment to the employee. Accounts Payable also images, files and archives all original documentation related to the reimbursement request. Accounts Payable will perform audits of these expense reports.
- Accounts Payable will assist employees, processors, and approvers with policy and procedure questions.
- Requests for exception or adjustment to policy will be reviewed by Accounts Payable and approval or denial will be communicated to the department.