Attorney Jean-Claude Lapuyade

Even if you work from home, your employer must reimburse business expenses

For many professionals, 2020 has been defined by working from home. According to a poll from Gallup, 62% of working Americans have done their job from home at some point over the past six months. That is twice the percentage reporting the same thing back in March.

For those operating under a work-from-home mandate, know that this does not mean an employer can start shifting certain operational costs on to you. California law is quite clear: Reimbursement for necessary business expenses is still required.

Applicable business expenses

California Labor Code 2802 contains the state’s business expense reimbursement rules. Under the law, an employer must provide a reimbursement for any “necessary expenditures or losses” the employee faced as a “direct consequence” of them doing their job. Essentially, if you needed something for work and had to buy it on your own, then your employer should pay you back.

There is no preset list of allowable business expenses. For those who have to work from home, some common examples may include:

  • Work supplies (such as pens or paper)
  • Computer software
  • The phone bill
  • Internet costs
  • Required hardware

If you must have these things to do your job, then it is very possible your employer should be at least partially responsible for their cost. This might even apply to things you use for both work and personal reasons (though this is not a sure thing).

Keep these exceptions in mind

Employment laws are complex. Just because you are working from home and had to spend some money does not mean your employer is legally responsible for reimbursing you.

First, California Labor Code 2802 likely won’t apply to telecommuting costs if working from home is something you choose to do. If it is an option – not a mandate – and your employer provides all the necessary equipment and software at the office, then expenses you rack up are very likely not eligible for reimbursement.

Second, convenience is not the same as necessity. Would it be nice to upgrade your home laptop? Sure. But if your employer already gave you a laptop to use, you probably can’t buy a brand new one for yourself and then allege you need it for work.

However, if you are facing unreimbursed, necessary work expenses and your employer refuses to budge, you may have a legal case against them. The law is the law, whether you’re working from home or in the office.