COVID-19 Pandemic: California Employers May Be Required to Reimburse Employees for Remote Work Expenses Incurred During ‘Safer at Home’ Orders  

| Apr 2, 2020 | Business Formation & Planning |

On March 20, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsome issued a statewide shelter-in-place order requiring residents to stay indoors except for certain essential activities, which include buying food and seeking medical treatment.  Residents are not supposed to leave home for work unless they work for an “essential” business, which includes health care.  In compliance with the order and to reduce the spread of COVID-19, many employers are requiring their employees to work remotely.

The new work-from-home reality has implications for California employers.

Section 2802 of the California Labor Code requires employers to reimburse their employees for the reasonable and “necessary” expenses they incur in direct consequence of discharging their job duties. The purpose of this statute is to prevent employers from passing their operating expenses on to their employees.

Section 2802 liberally applies to many expenses that employees may be required to incur to perform their jobs, including vehicle expenses, travel expenses, and cell phone and internet plans. For instance, when employers require employees to use their personal cell phones for work, generally the employees must be compensated for a reasonable percentage of their phone plans.

Traditionally, remote work expenses have not been generally reimbursable under California law because telecommuting and remote work positions are not mandated by the employer.  Many companies have optional work-from-home programs that are at the employees’ convenience, but such employees continue to have the option to work in their employer’s office and use company equipment.

However, for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers may require their employees to work from home. Employers, therefore, could be required to reimburse employees who are forced to work from home during the COVID-19 epidemic for their reasonable and necessary home office expenses, which may include a portion of the expenses associated with:

  • Cell phone or landline plan.
  • Home internet plan.
  • Personal computer or tablet.
  • Fax machines.
  • Teleconferencing software or hardware.

However, this may not include other home office expenses which are merely at the convenience of the employee, such as higher-speed internet, larger computer monitors, ergonomic chairs, or optional printers.

California employers should determine which of their employees are required to work remotely, what expenses employees may incur as a result of working from home, and determine if and how much of their remote work expenses must be reimbursed.  In doing so, the employers may seek the guidance of experienced employment law attorneys.