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.
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 specific state law requirements applicable to employee expense reimbursements. 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.