[COLUMN] Employer must reimburse employees for necessary work-from-home expenses  

Recent decisions from California courts remind us that California’s employee  protections apply in this work-from-home era we’ve found ourselves in since Covid.

When California issued its March 19, 2020 stay-at-home order due to the Covid-19  pandemic, IBM Corporation instructed its employees, including Paul Thai, to work from  home. In order to accomplish their work duties, Mr. Thai and his co-workers needed  internet access, telephone service, a telephone headset, and a computer and accessories, all  of which they personally paid for themselves.

Under California Labor Code Section 2802, employers are required to reimburse  employees for all necessary expenditures…incurred by the employee in direct  consequence “of the discharge of his or her duties.” But IBM refused to pay employees  for their work-from-home expenses, arguing that these were the result of the California government’s stay-at-home order rather than anything done or decided directly by IBM.

In Thai v. IBM Corp., the Court of Appeal flatly rejected IBM’s argument, explaining  that there is no requirement in the statutory language to prove that an employer had  “directly caused” the job expenses at issue. “Instead, the plain language of section 2802(a)  flatly requires the employer to reimburse an employee for all expenses that are a ‘direct  consequence of the discharge of [the employee’s] duties.’” The Court emphasized that  the law requires reimbursement for “expenses that are the ‘direct consequence of the  discharge of [an employee’s] duties,’ not to expenses that are ‘directly caused by the  employer.’”

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California similarly ruled in the  case of Williams v. Amazon.com Services, LLC, where Amazon had likewise argued that  work-from-home expenses incurred during the Covid pandemic “were the result of  government stay-at-home orders, not any action by Amazon.” The federal court  explained that “even if true, that does not absolve Amazon of liability. What matters is  whether [the plaintiff] incurred those expenses ‘in direct consequence of the discharge of  his or her duties…’”

The Court noted that the fact that “Amazon expected [the plaintiff] to continue to  work from home after the stay-at-home orders were imposed” was enough to trigger the  requirement that employees be reimbursed for their work-from-home expenses.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential  and at no cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than  25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and  consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, selected  as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine for 12 years, and is a past Presidential Awardee for  Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]

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