COVID-19 Drives Up Employee Reimbursement Requests, Report Suggests

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL ( – Cancelled business trips and cleaning supplies are among the main items pushing up business expenses during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new report. AppZen, which provides automated expense report audits has found “an extreme increase in coronavirus related business expenses, as well as an extreme increase in dollar value” over the past seven weeks.

Employees throughout the world are seeking reimbursement for a variety of products related to COVID-19. The company says the spike began at the end of January.

“In the last week of January, we saw only one related expense, for an office buying a package of masks,” the report said. “In the following weeks, the number continued to increase almost 100% week over week. The dollar value of those expenses has increased even faster — well over 100% per week.”

The company, which says it processes millions of finance transactions per month, says the expenses submitted vary widely by industry as well as nation.

“Looking across industries, we found that one-third of our customers in the hotels, entertainment and life sciences industries had crisis-related employee expense claims. Government and telecom companies followed,” the company wrote. “In logistics, manufacturing, software, and finance, about 20-25% of companies had virus-related employee expense claims.”

However, pharmaceuticals and healthcare “were both below 10 percent,” the report said, as well as professional services.

Expense claims in China did not spike initially, “possibly because the lunar New Year delayed people’s return to work,” the report noted. “In Europe, Spain had a major spike in mid-February, but has recently increased again. Italy, which has been the worst hit country in Europe, declined from its high in the last week. Perhaps a hopeful sign, or a reflection of the effects of the lockdown on the north of the country (and more recently, the entire country).”

Expense claims in the U.S. “were roughly flat during most of February before a rapid rise over the last two weeks.” The company predicts U.S. reimbursement claims have “yet to peak …”

The biggest expense employees are claiming relate to changes in off-site events. “This makes sense, as over the past week or two, many conferences have been canceled and corporate travel bans put in place,” according to the report. “In fact, we dug into ‘no show’ charges — expenses like a hotel cancellation fee or airline refunds and saw that after an initial spike in mid-January, they have been relatively flat before spiking on February 23.”

Traveling employees who were stuck away from home have also submitted reimbursement requests. Following travel-related cancellations, the biggest expense requests have been for masks, items related to working from home and cleaning supplies.

“We expect that after a surge of trip cancelations, those expenses will wane and more remote working-related expenses will come in,” the report said.

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