Rabbi Meir Orlean
Mr. Lazer began working as an independent consultant and would travel nationwide to clients from his home in New York. In addition to his regular fee, Mr. Lazer would charge the clients for his travel expenses.
“We would like to book a meeting next Wednesday morning,” said one client in California.
“I can do that,” replied Mr. Lazer. “I’ll put it in my schedule.”
Shortly afterward, Mr. Lazer received a call from another client in California. “We would like to arrange a meeting with you sometime next week,” they said.
“I can be there on Tuesday or Thursday,” replied Mr. Lazer.
“Thursday works fine for us,” said the client.
The phone rang yet a third time, from a client in Chicago. “When can we schedule a meeting?” they asked.
“Next Tuesday would be good for me,” said Mr. Lazer.
“That works for us, as well,” said the client.
“That’s a pretty efficient week,” Mr. Lazer said to his wife. “Tuesday in Chicago, Wednesday and Thursday in California, and back home for Shabbos.” He booked a flight to California with a stop-over in Chicago.
“Who are you going to charge for the flight?” asked Mrs. Lazer.
“My contract with each client stipulates that they pay travel expenses,” replied Mr. Lazer. “I guess I can charge them all. What difference does it make to them whether I have one appointment or three?”
“But how can you ask for reimbursement of an expense that was already covered?” asked Mrs. Lazer.
“I hear your point,” acknowledged Mr. Lazer. He decided to consult with Rabbi Dayan, and asked:
“Can I charge the travel expenses to multiple clients? If not, how do I bill the cost?”
“Usually you cannot double-bill, but this depends on the contractual arrangement or local common practice of travel expenses,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In some places, travel expenses are figured on a standard basis, with no expectation of presenting a receipt. This is common in Israel, where the monthly salary contains a daily travel component based on the cost of public transportation or kilometer distance from home (C.M. 331:2).
“Many authorities allow the daily travel reimbursement there even if the person walked or received a ride to work. Moreover, if a person had two jobs in the same location, some allow receiving the travel reimbursement from each, since both employers committed independently to provide the travel expenses as a standard salary component (see Kesubos 101b; E.H. 114:8; Techumin 19, p. 271).
“However, if the employee has to provide a receipt or a precise reckoning of his travel expenses and the reimbursement is in accordance, as in the case of consultants, the nature of this reimbursement is usually for actual expenses. Therefore, if the expense was already covered by another party, it is not permissible to submit a copy to another client and ask for double reimbursement.”
“How should the expense be divided among the clients?” asked Mr. Lazer.
“Ideally, the cost of each leg of the journey should be split between all relevant clients,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, the trip to Chicago should be divided in thirds, and the additional cost to California divided in half. This is similar to people who have a joint need to fix a blocked river or sewage line. Each person must share in the cost of repairing the stretch of river or sewage line relevant to him, but he does not have to share in areas that are not relevant to him (B.M. 108a; C.M. 161:6, 170:1).
“However, this is not realistic in many cases. Therefore, you could submit the travel cost to either company, since all were willing to cover the travel expense. Fairness would dictate to charge the first company who scheduled, alternate the billing between the companies over time, or submit it to the company that primarily gained from that leg of the journey” (see E.H. 114:9).
Verdict: If the travel reimbursement requires submitting receipts or precise reckoning, presumably it is only for actual expenses, and you may not double-bill multiple clients.