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COVID-19 and Employer Reimbursements for Employees Working from Home

March 2, 2021 | Employment Law

Since March of 2020, a massive number of Americans have been working remotely due to COVID-19.  Among the many challenges faced by employees is the question surrounding work-related expenses while working from home.

In many ways, both employees and employers stand at a crossroads, with employers facing the need to modify human resource policies, and employees adapting to a new ways of working remotely.   Questions often asked by employees include:

  • Do I have adequate equipment to work from home?
  • Am I entitled to receive reimbursement for home office expenses?
  • How do I categorize home office expenses?
  • If I only work from home part of the time, am I still eligible for home office expense reimbursements?

If your employer instructed you to work from home and has not reimbursed you for job-related expenses, you may be entitled to expense reimbursements and monetary compensation.

The abrupt closure of many offices has forced many companies to require that their employees work from home.  In many cases, employees are working remotely in a full-time capacity. While employees can be very productive working from home, most employees rarely or never teleworked prior to COVID and were not prepared by their employers to understand the full impact of home office expenses.

If an employer expects employees to maintain high performance while working remotely, the employer may be obligated to provide reimbursement for job-related expenses.  Workers required to work from home could expect reimbursement of expenses including a portion of:

  • Personal phone service and data
  • Home internet plan, cable, satellite, electrical and other utility costs
  • Personal computer or tablet (used for work) and printers, or other electronics
  • Teleconferencing software or hardware
  • Work-related travel
  • Office furniture, including desks, chairs and filing cabinets

What Laws Apply?

When it comes to an employer’s obligations for wage and work hours, there are two primary legal sources —the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the state laws where employees work.  Our law firm is experienced at helping employees review applicable laws and guide them on what expenses should be reimbursed by their employer.

Federal Law – FLSA

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees cannot be required to directly pay or reimburse their employer for business-related expenses if doing so would cause the employee’s wage rate to fall below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation thresholds. If you are working from home and your expenses cause you to be paid less than the minimum wage (and/or overtime compensation) for all work hours, you should speak with a legal counsel right away.

State Laws

Compensation laws can vary from state to state.  For example, California employers must comply with Labor Code section 2802.  Under this law, employers are required to reimburse employees for necessary business expenses that they incur in direct discharge of their duties. Minnesota follows a minimum wage protection approach similar to FLSA, but also requires that employees be reimbursed for certain expenses, such as “equipment” and “consumable supplies” used during the course of employment.  Pennsylvania, Montana, Iowa and a host of other states also have laws specific to reimbursement compensation.

Contact our Law Firm

If you are a remote worker and are interested in learning more about this issue and your potential options, please contact our law firm.