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Caroline Burnett is a Knowledge Lawyer in Baker McKenzie’s North America Employment & Compensation Group. Caroline is passionate about analyzing trends in US and global employment law and developing innovative solutions to help multinationals stay ahead of the curve. Prior to joining Baker McKenzie in 2016, she had a broad employment law practice at a full-service, national firm. Caroline holds a J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law (2008) and a B.A. from Brown University (2002).

Due to the pandemic, employees in the US are working from home in unprecedented numbers. Some, particularly in tech, may be working from home through the end of the year, or even permanently! While working from home raises a myriad of issues (e.g., data privacy and security, health and safety, employee engagement, and more), this post focuses on expense reimbursements related to telecommuting. The trickiest areas are cell phones and internet given that employees are now working from home because they cannot go into the office, as opposed to perhaps at their convenience.

Reimbursement Obligations

There is no federal requirement to reimburse employees for business-related expenses. However, several states (including California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana and New York) have legislation requiring reimbursement for necessary businesses expenses. For example, California Labor Code Section 2802(a) requires an employer to “indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer….” Failing to reimburse employees can lead to class or collective actions and quickly become incredibly burdensome for employers. Under California law, an employer that does not reimburse employees risks a lawsuit where the damages will include not just the unreimbursed expenses but the attorney’s fees incurred by the employee seeking reimbursement. The employee can also ask the Labor Commissioner to cite the employer or anyone acting on the employer’s behalf under Labor Code Section 2802(d). Where the practice is widespread (or just alleged to be) the claims can be brought on a class-wide basis.


Continue Reading Reimbursement Refresher: Cell Phone and Internet Expenses Related to Telecommuting in the US

As companies develop their reopening playbook, health & safety is of course the top line concern. Face coverings have emerged as one of the most popular preventative measures for mitigating the spread of the virus. For employers, questions abound about obligations related to face coverings.

We’ve been helping multinational companies navigate the use of face coverings in the workplace. Here are answers to some of the most common questions in the US:

  • Does the CDC require the use of face coverings in the workplace?

No. At this point, there is no federal requirement that employees wear face coverings in the workplace. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. See here.

The CDC also recommends using cloth face coverings, and not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

  • Does OSHA require the use of face coverings in the workplace?

No, except in specific workplaces where there is a higher risk of airborne exposures. OSHA has not required employees to wear masks at work as a result of COVID-19, except in certain settings such as hospitals and other workplaces where Personal Protective Equipment was required before the pandemic.


Continue Reading Face Coverings: Q&A for US Employers

As Companies develop their reopening playbook, we know that many are considering instituting temperature screening procedures either as a precaution or because local Orders may require it. Here’s the *tl;dr* on temp checks (it’s okay if you need to look that up . . . some of us did too):

Temperature checks

On April 29, public health officials in six Bay Area counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, Santa Clara) and the city of Berkeley released new health orders extending mandates to shelter in place through May 31, while relaxing restrictions around some outdoor businesses and recreation activities. The new Orders will take effect May 4, the day existing shelter-in-place mandates would have expired. (We previously discussed the local Orders here and here.)

Continue Reading Bay Area’s Shelter-In-Place Orders Modified and Extended to May 31

The COVID-19 pandemic raises challenging issues for employers, particularly those that have multiple locations, provide a variety of services, and employ a global workforce that may travel routinely for business.

With increasing quarantine and other lock-down requirements appearing across the globe, what should employers be doing now to support the health and safety of their workforces?

An employer’s first priority is to protect the health and safety of its workforce. Recognize that this is unlikely to be a one-time occurrence. Being prepared now will allow employers to iterate in the future.

(1) Understand employer obligations in each affected jurisdiction (which will change).

  • Review applicable government health alerts and requirements for reporting.
  • Review local laws on employee privacy, association, potential for discrimination and leave/benefit/wage & hour entitlements. Remember that the balance between privacy and public health is achieved differently in different countries, but as viruses spread, those restrictions are often relaxed. For instance, primarily due to data privacy laws, employers in most of the EU generally may not notify health authorities that an employee has been infected.
  • Coordinate internally to develop employee communications and plans. Frequent communications with employees and their families is critical. Keeping in contact with official or governmental bodies such as the US State Department or the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is essential to ensure the latest updates are available and to ensure employees are aware of any national contingency plans.


Continue Reading Pandemic Pause — Are you taking the right actions to protect your workplace?

To navigate the most-pressing issues facing multinational employers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the COVID-19 Global Employer Guide offers jurisdiction-specific guidance across 41 countries.

Download the Guide now to read the latest employment law guidance on issues including: legal requirements, practical and operational considerations, and emerging government regulation related to the outbreak.

For more information

To review the new and expanded version of the Coronavirus Quick Guide for Employers click here.

This guide covers 19 jurisdictions across Europe, Middle East and Africa and covers the latest country updates from the last couple of days, including employer obligations following school closures around the region.

The Ninth Circuit just reiterated one of the late U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt’s last opinions after the U.S. Supreme Court wiped it out last February. (Decision here.) In February 2019, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded Rizo v. Yovino, which held that employers cannot justify a wage differential between men and women

The rapid spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting business (and life) everywhere. As new clusters are identified across Europe and the Middle East, fears of the virus are impacting the US stock market and there are concerns of a global pandemic.

With no end in sight, many US companies are questioning what policies and practices they need to put in place, and revisiting those that they may already have in place to deal with this rapidly evolving situation. We recommend that companies take the following steps now.

Next Steps for Employers

  • Emergency Preparation Team. Assemble a cross-functional emergency management team to handle issues such as employee health and safety, internal and external communications, medical leaves, personal leaves and disability accommodations, technology support, and legal compliance. As the situation continues to develop, it will become increasingly important to have a single team that is aware of all potential virus related issues for consistency and precedent-setting purposes.


Continue Reading COVID-19: Essential Action Items For US Employers To Take Now

In 2020, trade tensions, uncertainties over Brexit, significant changes in the political landscape and unexpected global events, such as the Coronavirus outbreak, continue to present challenges for the global employer. Meanwhile, the relentless advance of technology is accelerating workplace transformation, creating an opportunity for employee growth and diversification across industries.

To help navigate the global