Are California Employers Required to Reimburse Employees for Masks During Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic?
In response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemic, California issued a statewide shelter-in-place order that prohibits all workers except essential workers from leaving their homes. Due to the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, employers requiring their employees to work, in public or from home, may be unlawfully passing operation expenses onto their employees by failing to provide masks and other necessary personal protective equipment (“PPE”). Already a common issue, employees’ failure to reimburse employees for mandatory business expenses is rampant during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. This article provides employees with analysis and tips related to expense reimbursement for workers in California during the unprecedented Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.
California Labor Code § 2802: Employers’ Duty to Reimburse
California Labor Code section 2802 requires employers to reimburse employees, “for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee” while completing work duties. California Labor Code § 2802. Necessary expenditures or losses include all reasonable costs. Id.
California Labor Code § 2802 Reimbursement Claim Elements
To prevail on a failure to reimburse claim, California employees must show:
- They incurred necessary expenditures;
- While in the discharge of their job duties;
- The employer knew or had reason to know of the expenditures; and,
- The employer did not exercise due diligence towards reimbursement. Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Services, Inc., 228 Cal. App. 4th 1137 (2014).
Are California Employers Required to Reimburse Employees for Masks?
The Coronavirus/COVID-19 global pandemic is frightening times for California employees. Since the statewide shelter-in-place order issued in March 2020, California’s essential workers risk infection while continuing to work. During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, employers must provide California employees with masks and PPE necessary to complete their job duties.
Where employees are not provided masks and PPE, they may obtain reimbursement under California Labor Code section 2802 for the use of their personal masks and PPE. The employer is only required to reimburse the employee for masks and PPE when necessary to complete job duties. During the statewide shelter-in-place order, every individual must wear a mask when leaving home. Thus, masks are necessary equipment to complete essential work, such as firefighting, food delivery, and medical services.
Common reimbursable PPE includes hand sanitizer, gloves, soap, and face shields. For more information regarding PPE necessary during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the CDC’s website.
Essential employees requiring masks and PPE to complete their job functions should request reimbursement from their employers in writing. If the mask or PPE is necessary to complete non-essential work, the employer must provide the equipment or provide reimbursement.
Are California Employers Required to Reimburse Employees Working From Home for Masks?
Since March 2020, millions of California employees have spent months working from home to prevent the spread of the virus further. As employees continue working from home during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, California Labor Code section 2802operates to ensure employers who fail to provide necessary equipment and resources for completing the job reimburse employees who use their personal property. When necessary, employers must offer non-essential employees masks and PPE to safely complete their job duties. Employees forced into using personal masks and other PPE during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic are entitled to reimbursement.
The employer will only be required to reimburse the employee for masks and PPE when the equipment is necessary to complete job duties. Although a non-essential employee seemingly may not need to wear a mask or utilize other PPE, instances may arise for reimbursement. Non-essential employees may require masks or PPE when handling and sanitizing business mail and packages. Non-essential employees may also require masks or PPE whenever leaving their home for business reason, including going into an office to pick up equipment, partaking in an in-person meeting, and handling previously used equipment for work.
Non-essential employees that require masks and PPE to complete their job functions should request reimbursement from their employers in writing. If the mask or PPE is necessary to complete non-essential work, the employer must provide the equipment or provide reimbursement.
Damages for California Employer’s Failure to Reimburse
An employee forced to use personal masks and PPE for mandatory business-related activities are entitled to reimbursement. Where the employer fails to provide reimbursement, the employee may recover the amount owed, interest, and attorney fees incurred by the employee enforcing their right to reimbursement. California Labor Code § 2802.