We have two updates for you today. First, is the topic of working from home with regard to reimbursement for reasonable business expenses. Next, is the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding the new standard for addressing Religious Accommodation requests in the workplace.
Work from Home Expenses Reimbursement
In a recent California ruling, Thai v. International Business Machines Corp, the court held that employers must reimburse employees for all necessary business expenses that an employee incurred related to the performance of their role; regardless of the reason for the requirement to work from home. Here, IBM required their employees to work from home due to Governor Gavin Newson’s stay-at-home order during the COVID pandemic. IBM argued that they were then not liable because it was not their decision to order employees to work from home. However, the court held that argument irrelevant. The decision states, “...the work-from-home expenses were inherent to IBM’s business...”, Justice Mark Simons wrote, that state law “allocates the risk of unexpected expenses to the employer.” Specifically, the court noted that “...the obligation does not turn on whether the employer’s order was the proximate cause of the expenses; it turns on whether the expenses were actually due to performance of the employee’s duties.” Such expenses include a share of internet use, cell phones or other telephone lines, as well as the use of personal laptops, computers, printers, and other reasonable business expenses. However, this decision does not mean that employers are required to pay all home office expenses where they are either not business-related or are unreasonable in amount or in nature (e.g., if I had to have a diamond encrusted pen with which to sign things). The takeaway here is make sure to reimburse employees for necessary business expenses while they are performing their duties, whether they work from the office or work from home.
Religious Accommodations Request Standard
Last month, the Supreme Court issued a new decision in the case of Groff v. Dejoy that expands an employer's obligation to provide religious accommodations for employees. As a reminder, under the previous legal standard, in order to lawfully reject an employee’s request for a religious accommodation, an employer only had to show that the religious accommodation imposed a minimal burden on the business and other employees (a “de minimus” burden). Now, in order to lawfully reject a valid request for a religious accommodation, the employer must show the "...accommodation would result in substantial increased costs...” in relation to its particular business. Now, when Employers are deciding whether or not to deny a religious accommodation request, they must account for all relevant factors, “...including the particular accommodations, and their practical impact in light of the nature, size, and operating cost of an employer.” Going forward, make sure to always consider these requests with the utmost caution before proceeding with a final decision and consider consulting your attorney or one of our legal experts to make sure that you get the decision right and properly step through the accommodation process.