Home Office Expenses in the Age of Covid-19

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many employers in California have instructed their employees to work from home. But did you know that, under California law, an employer must reimburse its employees in full for all work-related expenses they incur while working from home?


Let's take an easy example. Suppose your employer tells you to buy a computer so you can log on to the company's system from home. Most people understand the employer is responsible for the cost of the computer.


But there are other related expenses employers don't realize they are required to pay. For example, your employer must reimburse you a reasonable amount for the use of your home internet and cellphone service. This is true even if you would have paid for those services anyway. Your employer must also pay for home office supplies like printer paper, printer cartridges, and postage.


And, most critically, the employer probably owes you for the reasonable rental value of the space in your home occupied by your home office. So, for example, if you pay $3,000 a month in rent or a mortgage and your office occupies 1/6 of your home, your employer should arguably reimburse you $500 per month. This makes perfect sense since your employer is saving (or could be saving) rent on its own office space since its employees aren't working there.


Finally, many employers try to meet their reimbursement obligations by paying their employees a monthly stipend. There are two problems with this practice. First, the stipend usually isn't enough to cover all of the employee's expenses. Second, employers believe if a surplus is paid in one month, it "carries over" into later months. That isn't the law.

 

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