Note: This question came from the “Ask a Coach” feature on this blog.
When we were told not to come into the office during the pandemic, our department’s manager told us that the company would reimburse expenses we incurred if they were necessary to do our jobs.
In May of 2020, I purchased a small desk and an ergonomic chair and submitted receipts for both. I expected reimbursement, given my expenses were minor and clearly necessary. When I didn’t get reimbursed right away, I voiced my concern to my supervisor who said, “I’ll take care of it, but it might be a while. Things are pretty crazy around here.” I forgot about it until nine months later, when I came across the receipts.
By that time (January 2021), the supervisor had left. I submitted the receipts again, this time to the manager above my former supervisor. She was new with our company, and said, “I’m not sure what to do with these, they were from before my time. Maybe you should turn these in to accounting.”
Frustrated, I turned them into the accounting manager who was also new to our company. She said, “We don’t have a policy for this kind of reimbursement. Most employees used what they had at home.” I explained I didn’t have anything suitable and wouldn’t have purchased the desk or chair except for the manager’s statement. She then sent me a curt email stating that that manager was no longer with the company.
Isn’t there some pandemic-related requirement that employers reimburse employees for business expenses? I don’t have money for an attorney. At this point, though, I’m mad and willing to do just about anything you suggest.
You may be out of luck, unless the manager above those to whom you’ve appealed realizes your company has an ethical obligation to honor what their manager told you and other employees.
No federal requirements exist requiring employers to reimburse remote workers for expenses. Some states have stricter employee expense reimbursement laws, among them Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia.
If you’re a relatively low wage earner, you may have a claim. Employers may not require employees to pay for work-related expenses if paying those expenses would reduce the employee’s earnings below the federal minimum age, https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic#14.
Also, there’s a July 2023 case, Thai v. International Business Machines Corp., Calif. Ct. App., No. A165390, in which an employee won reimbursement for business-related home expenses. This case, however, was based on California law.
The only avenues I can think of is to check with your tax preparer to find out if you can deduct these expenses on your personal tax return or find a pro-bono attorney who might argue that your employer violated a verbal contract.
Blog readers, does anyone have an idea that might help this employee?
(c) 2023 Lynne Curry
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