Google tells employees they can't expense food or other perks when working from home

Key Points
  • Google told employees they cannot expense free food or repurpose unused budgets from things such as cancelled events on perks such as fitness.
  • The company added that workers can't use extra funds to donate to charities or fundraisers of their choice.
  • Employees discuss missing the perks culture to which they've grown accustomed.
Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat
Adam Galica | CNBC

Google employees won't be able to expense food or gym costs while working from home — even if they have extra money from unused event or travel budgets.

The company issued an updated policy in the last week that states employees cannot expense perks while working from home, including food, fitness, home office furniture, decoration or gifts, according to materials viewed by CNBC.

The policy also states that employees cannot use unused budgets to do things like purchase meals for themselves or their teams during virtual meetings or donate to charities of their choice.

The clarification comes as some employees, who enjoyed a plethora of perks as one of their draws to the company, hoped they would be able to maintain some of these perks after they were ordered to work from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It also comes as executives tighten budgets ahead of what they characterized as a "difficult" Q2. CNBC previously reported that Google is cutting marketing budgets by as much as half, enacting hiring freezes on various parts across the company and pulling back on skills training resources for many of its workers.

A company spokesperson declined to comment on the latest policies, only stating that the company has multiple "company-wide efforts" including a COVID-19 small business fund and a San Francisco Bay Area COVID-19 Fund.

Many teams have budgets that were designated for internal events and travel that have gone unused as events have been canceled, according to an internal Q&A post. But those cannot be used for anything outside their original purposes.

"This includes sending snack boxes/gifts to Googlers or allowing teams to expense breakfast/lunch/dinner as part of virtual gatherings," the company stated in the forum. "These policies help ensure reporting and tax compliance, as well as consistency and fairness for Googlers across teams."

These unused budgets also cannot be used for workers' choice of charity, the policy states. "We know that Googlers are eager to give back to their communities and support COVID-19 relief efforts, but the Internal Events budget should not be donated to local charities/organizations," it said. It added that if workers want to take action, they can look at an internal web site that details how they can contribute.

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Missing free food

Free food has been a hot topic among employees working from home, who once enjoyed vast options of free cafeterias and drinks at the company's corporate offices. Workers often discuss the topic internally through email chains and within its meme generator website Memegen, according to screens shared with CNBC.

One worker recently posted a GIF showing a scene of Hogwarts Academy students feasting from a Harry Potter movie, along with the phrase, "How I imagine the first day back at the office," which got more than 730 "likes." Several employees discussed the likelihood of cafeterias reopening after employees are allowed back in offices. "Would you open the office without food?" pondered one person. "Should I cook and bring my own lunch? *Cries in entitlement tears*."

Those still required to work from offices are receiving bagged lunches, two employees noted in discussion forums. An unspecified number of employees have continued to work onsite at offices and data centers to make sure products run smoothly. Google did not respond to requests for comment on this or whether it had plans to enact the same style of lunches once offices reopen.

Another meme displayed an image of Joe Exotic, from the hit Netflix series "Tiger King," with the phrase "I'm never gonna financially recover from this," referring to employees now having to pay for some items themselves.

Popular online forum Hacker News is filled with discussions from apparent Google workers lamenting the loss of free food and drinks.

"My productivity has gone down as well Because (a) I didn't have a coffee machine at home, and ended up either having to take a mile-long walk to Starbucks or fight against my morning drowsiness; (b) I now need to cook, do the dishes, etc, which are previously handled by the office cafeteria," one person posted on the site.

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