California employment law requires your employer to reimburse you for all “necessary” expenses you incur because of your job. In fact, California is on the cutting-edge of advancing employees’ rights when it comes to reimbursable expenses.
One of the most common job-related costs employees have is the cost of a personal cellular telephone or “smart phone.” Unfortunately, employers often require their employees to have a smart phone so that managers can communicate with employees and even track their whereabouts, but do not reimburse employees for the costs of purchasing monthly voice and data service.
It’s The Law: If Your Employer Requires You To Use A Personal Cell Phone Or “Smartphone” For Work, You Must Be Reimbursed For The Cost
Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are increasingly relying on employees working from home. Although there is now a vaccine available, many believe that a significant number of employers will use this as an opportunity to reduce office-related expenses by allowing (or requiring) employees to work from home. However, in doing so, many employers may take for granted that employees have access to a cell phone. However, even if an employee has their own phone, if an employer requires they use the phone for work purposes, California cell phone reimbursement law requires the employer to pay an employee’s cell phone bill.
Reimbursement of employee cell phone expenses is governed by California Labor Code Section 2802, which provides:
An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer . . .
In simple English, Section 2802 mandates that employers reimburse their employees for costs they incur in the performance of their jobs or because of the employer’s instructions.
This means that if your employer requires you to have a cell phone or smartphone for work purposes, your employer MUST reimburse you for the costs of providing the phone. This is true regardless of whether the employer has a stated policy that employees have a phone, or simply uses your phone to regularly communicate with you, either by voice or text.
In most situations where an employer requires an employee to have a cell phone but does not provide them with a dedicated work phone, the employee will use their cell phone for both personal and work reasons. Even in this situation, cell phone reimbursement laws in California require an employer to pay for the phone.
You are also entitled to reimbursement of cell phone expenses if your employer requires you to use a particular “app” or function on the phone.
What the Courts Say About Reimbursement of Cell Phone Expenses
The leading case on cell phone expense reimbursement in California is Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 1137. There the court answered the question “Does an employer always have to reimburse an employee for the reasonable expense of the mandatory use of a personal cell phone?” with a resounding YES: “The answer is that reimbursement is always required.”
Not only that, but employers must reimburse employees for a host of other job-related expenses. Other common employee expenses include vehicle mileage expense and travel expenses. If your employer requires you to foot the bill for work expenses, reach out to an attorney to discuss what you can do to hold them accountable.
How Does Section 2802 Help Me?
If you are like most employees who pay for their phone out of their own pocket but also use it for work purposes, you may think it isn’t worth bringing a claim. You are already paying for the phone, so what’s the harm in using it occasionally for work? However, under Section 2802, you are not only entitled to reimbursement of all “necessary” expenses you have incurred in performing your job, you are also entitled to recover the fees an attorney may charge to recover those expenses from your employer in a lawsuit.
Thus, if your case is successful, you will not need to pay legal fees and can keep more of the recovered amount. This makes bringing a claim under Labor Code 2802 for cell phone reimbursement financially viable.
Can Your Employer Fire You for Asking for Cell Phone Reimbursement?
Absolutely not! California Labor Law prohibits employers from taking any adverse action against an employee for exercising their legal rights. If they do, your employer will then be subjecting themselves to additional liability through a California retaliation claim. If your employer is not reimbursing you for a job-related expense, you do not need to fear that you will lose your job if you ask them to pay for your bill or file a claim against them.
Does Your Employer Require You to Use Your Personal Cell Phone for Work Purposes?
If your employer requires you to have a cell phone, they should be the ones paying the bill, even if you also use it for personal reasons. If they don’t offer to pay your cell phone bill, you should ask them to. If they refuse, you can bring a California cell phone reimbursement lawsuit under Section 2802. At the Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams, we represent individual employees, as well as groups of employees in all types of California employment lawsuits, including those based on an employer’s failure to pay for employees’ cell phone expenses.
The Orange County based Law Offices of Corbett H. Williams is an elite law firm that represents employees in discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, wage & hour, and other employment matters. Strict time limits may apply to your claim, so you shouldn’t wait. Contact us today at 949-679-9909 or use the contact form at the bottom of this page, and we will respond promptly.