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Review Expense Reimbursement Policies for Relevance to Remote Work

The unexpected and rapid growth of remote workers since 2020 has changed the workplace permanently. Amid the chaos, employers needed to think about increased use of home internet, more personal cell phone usage, home office enhancements and other expenditures necessary to work from home successfully. Remote work is not going away.
Under California Labor Code Section 2802, employees are entitled to be reimbursed by their employers “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.” Section 2802 is interpreted and applied broadly to prevent employers from passing on business costs to employees.
Employees working from home may see their utilities bills rise because they are using more electricity and need to adjust their climate control systems to be comfortable. A remote employee might have their own print/scan/copy machine that is being used significantly more because of the remote work.
California courts have interpreted “necessary expenses” to include a reasonable percentage of an employee’s monthly internet bill for work-related uses, even when the cost of the employee’s internet plan is fixed.
The court in Stuart v. RadioShack Corporation (641 F.Supp.2d 901 (N.D. Cal. 2009)) ruled that employers cannot wait for an employee to submit a formal reimbursement request. “Once an employer knows or has reason to know that the employee has incurred an expense, then it has the duty to exercise due diligence and take any and all reasonable steps to ensure that the employee is reimbursed for the expense.”
Failure of companies to recognize that remote employees are paying out of their own pockets while working remotely already has led to serious consequences for employers.
The lawsuits include usual claims such as a failure to reimburse telephone and internet expenses and the cost of other office supplies. Some lawsuits, however, also include more novel claims for expenses such as utilities costs to heat or cool a house and even lost revenue for employees who say they could have rented out the space in their home instead of using it as a home office.
Employers need to determine what expenses are being shouldered by remote workers and whether they are being reimbursed. Creating and implementing a reimbursement policy for remote work expenses also may be appropriate.
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Sharon Novak, HR Adviser, HR California

For more information, CalChamber Preferred and Executive members can submit a question to CalChamber’s Labor Law Helpline. CalChamber members can read more about Remote Workers/Telecommuters in the HR Library. Not a member? See what CalChamber can do for you.

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