The new COVID-19 reality means that more employees around the world are now working from home. Some companies are transitioning to a permanent remote working model; others are looking at adjusting schedules so that a smaller number of employees are in the office at any time. As more employees work remotely, companies must grapple with the various statutes and regulations regarding expense reimbursements for telecommuting.

We previously considered the U.S. employment law considerations employers should keep top of mind when handling remote working expense reimbursements. In this post, we addresses expense reimbursement considerations employers should know when approaching this topic outside of the US.

Expense Reimbursement

The general rule outside of the US is that if an employer directs employees to work remotely, or if the government has mandated remote working, employees cannot be required to pay “out of pocket” expenses for such home working arrangements. Most jurisdictions do not have specific statutory requirements for additional payments or stipends to employees who works from home. Instead, employers are usually required to reimburse employees for “business expenses” incurred while working from home. Such expenses include, for instance, home office equipment, cell phone fees, and internet costs.

Regional Variations

The rules on expense reimbursements for remote employees depend on where they work. Asia-Pacific and Latin American jurisdictions tend to offer employers more flexibility, and there are generally no additional payments or stipends required by law for an employee who agrees to work from home. By contrast, in many European jurisdictions, such as Switzerland, companies are required by law to reimburse employees for all business expenses. A few examples illustrate the “on the ground” approach to expense reimbursements in the various regions:

  • Asia-Pacific (Malaysia): No statutory requirement for reimbursement. However, employers should ensure that employees have the necessary equipment/facilities (e.g., internet, telephone, computer system) and proper working space to perform work. If the employer does not ensure that employees are properly equipped, the employer may face potential constructive dismissal liability.
  • Europe (Netherlands): No statutory requirement for reimbursement. However, to demonstrate that the home working arrangement is reasonable, employers should offer compensation to the employees in light of the specific circumstances.
  • Latin America (Mexico): No statutory requirement for reimbursement. However, employees may ask to be reimbursed for any actual, out-of-pocket costs related to working from home.

Takeaways

As more employees move to temporary or semi-permanent remote working arrangements, employers should consider their expense reimbursement obligations for their global workforce.  As a general rule, employees will usually be entitled to be reimbursed for actual, out-of-pocket expenses that are related to a work from home arrangement. Employers should implement an internal communication plan and set clear guidelines to ensure a compliant and consistent approach across global regions. A coordinated approach will help you adjust to a post-pandemic world and the new normal.

For help addressing any country-specific inquiries, please contact your Baker McKenzie employment lawyer.