Amazon was sued by a California software engineer for refusing to pay his internet and heat bills while he worked from home.
Employers were left wondering who was responsible for paying the extra costs that workers pay when they split their work time between home and office after the judge dismissed the lawsuit.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 70% of U.S. office workers now prefer a hybrid work schedule or work completely from home.
For clarity, we asked several employment experts for their opinion on who should pay for home office equipment.
In a survey of 316,000 human resource managers by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than half of them reported that their companies paid for work-related equipment used in workers’ homes.
The laptops, monitors, chairs and keyboards were paid for by employers.
Questions remain over the bills for items like cellphones, home heating and cooling, internet use, and printers, which may straddle work and personal life. What is reimbursable is dependent on the employee’s job and state.
Jim Link, the chief human resources officer of the Society for Human Resource Management, said it’s a bit of a slippery slope because each state is different.
Randi Winter is a partner at the Spencer Fane law firm.
One statute requires employers to reimburse departing workers in a timely fashion, but only for work related equipment that is never used for personal use.
Employers can’t force staff to pay for work equipment if they will push their pay below the minimum wage, according to a statute.
Companies have to figure out their own best practices beyond that.
Winter recommends the development of equipment and expense policies. He fields calls from employers. He told them to put everything in writing.
Some employers give workers stipends for home office expenses.
Workers at the law firm Spencer Fane are helped with their cellphone bills.
Maud Borup gives its employees a $100 monthly stipend for cellphones. Karen said the positive reaction exceeded their expectations.
In Minneapolis, Carmichael Lynch gives new hires a $200 stipend and provides remote workers with computers, video conferencing packages and IT support.
Home and work life have become blurred over the past two years. “Our responsibility is to show up for our people and extend some balance into their world,” said Marcus Fischer, who splits his time between the Minneapolis office and home. We have to figure this out. One of our clients said, “This is the first Pandemic for all of us”
Some companies will not pay for home office internet, cellphones or furniture since they don’t require staff to work from home.
Winter said some employers feel remote workers save on gas and other commute costs by not coming into the office, so shouldn’t complain about having some expenses that straddle the line between home and office.
Winter suggests looking at the state’s own remote-work policy. It is clear that the state will only reimburse expenses if approved. It won’t cover operating costs for remote work locations if you don’t provide a computer.
Jay Zweig said that many nongovernment employers take a practical approach to the whole hybrid home office question and can easily reimburse workers for a portion of home internet.
Policies that are consistent across all locations, states and staffs is what he warned against.
Zweig said that an employer should make sure to treat employees consistently in work-from- home expense reimbursements. A written policy will save an employer a lot of time and money.
Ensure compliance with state laws with new policies reviewed by legal experts.
Some states have employee-friendly laws, according to Yvette Lee. Employers in Iowa, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Montana, New York and Washington, D.C. are required to provide or reimburse workers for all necessary business-related equipment to do their jobs.
The devil is in all the details. Some states only require companies to partially reimburse workers for the portion of time equipment is deployed for work.
It can be complicated depending on the state. Employers need to make sure that their policies are developed so that individuals don’t just start buying stuff without company approval. Employers can say, “That is not an expense that you would have normally incurred in the office so that is not something you need to work from home.”
Lee said that no matter how thorough your policy is, you should expect something.
She said that employees with disabilities have the right to ask their workplace to make reasonable accommodations for them.
There will be exceptions to the rule if an employee goes to their employer and says that they need a standing desk because of back pain. It is more likely that the employer will pay for that equipment.
A writer contributed to the article.
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