If you have employees who work from home on a full-time or part-time basis, you might be wondering if you should be reimbursing certain expenses. In particular, if your company reimburses business expenses for employees who do not work from home, or if your business provided such reimbursements prior to the pandemic, employees who work from home may have already made reimbursement requests or you might be anticipating them.
You should know that federal law does not require employers to provide reimbursements for expenses, nor does Texas law. One exception, however, is that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer may not deduct for items that are primarily for the benefit or convenience of the employer if such deduction would take the employee’s wage below minimum wage. The extension of this is that if a remote employee is required to cover expenses (such as network connection) and such expense would take the employee below minimum wage, then the employer should reimburse the employee for that cost.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) explains that Texas law says employers “may choose to deduct as business expenses any reimbursements to employees for business-related expenses.” Indeed, employers in Texas “do not have to reimburse an employee’s out-of-pocket business-related expenses,” but “the employee must be allowed to deduct unreimbursed business expenses as itemized deductions.”
Generally speaking, according to the TWC, most employers that do reimburse business expenses do so according to a written workplace policy. If your company has a written policy, it should clarify all details pertaining to employee reimbursements, including reimbursements for at-home work.
Common Kinds of Work-From-Home Expenses
Employers that do reimburse for at-home work generally will provide reimbursement for services and equipment required for the employee to perform his or her job. Specific reimbursements will depend upon the employee’s job duties. For example, an employee who never needs to print materials to conduct his or her duties will not need to be reimbursed for a printer or printing supplies.
Commonly reimbursed work-from-home expenses, including services and equipment, include but are not limited to the following:
- Home internet service for business purposes;
- Phone to be used at home for business purposes, and accompanying phone service;
- Subscription for online communication service like Zoom;
- Work computer to be used at home;
- Printing supplies such as paper and ink cartridges;
- Desk and desk chair; and
- Postage for mailing work-related items.
It is important to note that any equipment reimbursed for work-from-home use remains the property of your business. Accordingly, if you do reimburse for office supplies like an ergonomic desk chair, that desk chair belongs to your business if the employee leaves the company or stops working from home.
Crafting or Revising Your Written Policy for Reimbursements
You can decide what types of work-from-home expenses you want to reimburse, including necessary services and equipment. However, you should be sure to have a written policy that clarifies what can be reimbursed for at-home work, what kind of working conditions allow for such reimbursements (e.g., part-time versus full-time work-from-home duties), and when employees can seek reimbursement. Your written policy should also clarify what cannot be reimbursed. For example, if you plan to reimburse for Zoom subscriptions and work computers but not for office furniture, you should clarify the distinction in your written policy.
You will also need to make sure to apply the policy equally to all employees. You could face potential discrimination claims if you agree to reimburse a variety of services and expenses for one employee but not for another.