Should Employers Reimburse Office Expenses for Remote Employees?

March 13, 2018

How to strike the right balance with mobile workers

The number of employees working at least part of the time from home offices continues to expand. With benefits for both remote workers (work/life balance and job satisfaction) and employers (higher productivity and engagement), this trend is unlikely to reverse.

Traditionally, employees have been left on their own to cover the cost of their home office spaces, including furniture, utilities, and often technology equipment. Today, more employers are reviewing this policy to see if it is appropriate and/or cost-effective to reimburse remote employees for some home office expenses.

 

What does the law state about home office expenses?

Most existing law has viewed the ability to work remotely as a benefit for the employee, rather than the employer. Because any remote employee could choose to come to the corporate office if he or she wanted, employers were not financially responsible for providing them with home office space, equipment, utilities, or furniture.

Keep an eye on changing legal precedent. Some companies now operate entirely online with a distributed workforce. Clearly remote work is not an optional benefit in organizations that lack a physical office. Some state courts have begun to question whether remote work is only beneficial to employees, citing access to a larger talent pool and reduced real estate costs as employer benefits.

Employers should review several areas of law when determining whether it is appropriate to reimburse for employee home office expenses:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Rules: OSHA’s Directive on Home-Based Worksites, stated that “OSHA will not conduct inspections of employees’ home offices. OSHA will not hold employers liable for employees’ home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect home offices of their employees. If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, the complainant will be advised of OSHA’s policy. If an employee makes a specific request, OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions, but will not follow-up with the employer or employee.”
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Is telework offered to an employee as an accommodation? If yes, the employer may need to provide necessary equipment that would not cause undue financial hardship to the organization.
  • State Law: Employers should pay heed to state or local laws that may impact reimbursement for home office workers. For example, in California, employers must either provide remote employees with tools necessary to perform their work, or reimburse them for these tools.

Four tips for considering remote employee expense reimbursement

  1. Consider the costs of not

    It is easy to see how purchasing furniture or technology for remote employees will incur costs, but it can be less obvious how not doing so could impact the organization:

  • Do you receive more workers’ compensation because employees lack good ergonomics in their home office setups?
  • Will the expense of maintaining home offices cause extra employees to work in corporate offices? Consider real estate and operating expenses.
  • In a tight labor market, is your reimbursement policy competitive?
  1. Pay for technology only.

    Some employers provide technology (most often a laptop and office phone) to remote workers. This offers advantages to employers:

  • IT chooses the best equipment for the help desk to support.
  • IT can install security and monitoring software to protect the company’s network and intellectual property.
  • The company will receive the equipment back if an employee quits.
  1. Create a flexible allowance.

    Rather than mandating that every employee purchase the same chair, desk, or laptop, employers can create a remote work allowance. Choose an amount that covers a percentage of reasonable and appropriate expenses an average employee will incur. Let employees make decisions about how to use the allowance. An employee with back problems may spend more on a standing desk or premium chair, for example.

  2. Write a policy.

    Whatever your organization decides about reimbursement, document it in a written policy and apply it to all remote workers even-handedly.

Office hoteling creates smooth visits for remote workers

Nearly all remote workers visit corporate offices from time to time, either for occasional meetings, or as part of their regular, routine schedule. Organizations should not incur the cost of a permanent office or workstation for employees who don’t work in the office often. Asure Software Hoteling and Mobile Workforce Management solutions can help remote employees reserve a place to work when they visit the office.