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WFH Expense Reimbursement: Should Companies Pay for Remote Work Supplies?

California Labor Code Section 2802 mandates employers to cover the expenses made by employees as a direct consequence of the discharge of their duties. To be qualified for expense reimbursement in California, these expenses should be necessary, reasonable, and within the scope of the individual’s employment.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, added a layer of ambiguity to these regulations. If an employee works from home, should the company indemnify them for the expenditures related to remote work?

Currently, the California Labor Commissioner’s office has not issued COVID-specific expense reimbursement regulations. But our class action lawyers explore a few court decisions to help you understand the responsibilities of an employer.

Work Expense Reimbursement Prior to COVID-19

Before quarantine protocols were enforced, a vast majority of employees performed their duties within offices or work sites. Those who incurred expenses to perform their job duties were reimbursed accordingly. Employee business expenses that were commonly reimbursed include office supplies, mileage, and travel expenses.

Necessary and Reasonable

Take note that these expenses must be necessary. As such, if a specific expense was deemed not needed by the worker to perform their job, the company is not obligated to cover it.

Furthermore, the amount is expected to be reasonable, so employers may not be obligated to indemnify a worker who chooses exorbitant items when affordable options could have sufficed.

Work-from-Home

Before the pandemic, employees saw work-from-home as a privilege. It was usually voluntary, not required, and therefore didn’t obligate companies to cover expenses. However, that sentiment may have changed as quarantine protocols forced workers to stay home for long stretches of time.

COVID-19 Work-from-Home Expenses

Over 350 COVID-19-related employment lawsuits have been filed across California, and there’s a strong trend of employees filing cases related to unreimbursed work expenses. The resolutions often follow California reimbursement laws — the work-from-home expenses should be deemed necessary and reasonable.

  • Mandatory Work from Home. Various court decisions show that if an employee is required to work remotely, then they must be reimbursed for necessary and reasonable expenses. Whether an expense is “necessary” and “reasonable” depends on various factors.
    In contrast, if remote work is not mandatory (i.e., the employee has the option to work at the office), then the company, by and large, is not obligated to cover expenses related to remote work.
  • Personal Cellphones. A California court of appeal ruled that an employer should reimburse someone in their employ if they are required to use a personal cell phone for work-related calls. This applies even if the employee has an unlimited data plan and does not incur extra charges for work communications.

The appellate court believes reimbursement is required because employers may receive an undue windfall if employees allowed them to use their personal devices. Companies, then, must pay a reasonable percentage of the employee’s cell phone bill.

  • Internet Expenses. Internet expenses, to be qualified for reimbursement, must be necessary and reasonable, as well. In one court decision, the court dismissed a worker’s claim for home internet reimbursement. This was because the employer provided them with a mobile hot spot.

Although the employee reasoned that their home internet was far more reliable, the court believed that it was not necessary because they were not required to use it.

  • This depends on the supplies in question. Companies are typically required to reimburse necessary items, such as paper supplies, pens, printers, and computers, needed for mandatory work from home. However, coffee and snacks, even if they were provided by pre-pandemic offices, would not be deemed necessary for mandatory remote work.

An employee who understands their privileges is empowered to claim what is due to them.

If you are involved in a case related to COVID-19 remote work expense reimbursement, schedule a free consultation with Haffner Law. Our legal team will review your case and give you astute guidance.

Book a free consultation today.

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