Many employees have been forced to adapt to working from home during the pandemic. The learning curve goes both ways; their employers have also had to figure out the minutiae of remote work, confronting issues ranging from timeclock expectations to virtual meetings. One such grey area pertains to reimbursable expenses; with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing, it looks like a lot of people will continue working from home well into the new year. Figuring out how to deal with issues such as expenses now can save you from future headaches.
There are a lot of things employees take for granted when working onsite. Office supplies; software and hardware; internet access; and even items like coffee and toilet paper are often provided free of charge. As an employer, do you have an obligation to cover these and similar expenses for employees working remotely?
To answer this question, you must first take a look at your legal obligations. Federal law requires employers to reimburse for work-related expenses only when they drop the employee’s earnings below minimum wage.
Several states require that employers reimburse staff for all necessary business-related expenses, including California, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New York and the District of Columbia. Common telecommuting expenses that would be covered include:
- Internet service
- Cellphone fees
- Office supplies
- Equipment expenses
- Paid services required to perform a job
Other Factors to Consider
While your state might not require you to reimburse employees for expenses such as these, you should strongly consider doing so anyway. 2020 has been a trying year, and it’s important to remember that many of your employees are experiencing stress. Chances are, they did not ask to work from home, and adjusting to remote work can be difficult—especially when dealing with a spouse or children who may also be home during working hours. They may be reluctant to pay for these items on their own; reimbursing them allows them to be more productive and work more efficiently. That benefits you, too! Besides, with fewer people working in the office, you’re likely saving money on facilities maintenance and electricity anyway.
Here’s another consideration: if you don’t reimburse your employees for these expenses, it’s akin to them taking a salary cut. Their pay might remain the same, but they’ll have more out-of-pocket costs—and that’s a morale-killer.
Regardless of what you decide, put it in writing. Outline all reimbursable expenses in your company manual and make sure all employees receive an updated copy. Doing so is the best way to prevent issues down the line.