Question:

My office manager regularly organizes social events during work hours. They are enjoyable and probably go a long way towards creating pleasant working relationships in the department. Because these events are during work hours, we are paid for our time. The problem is that we are asked to pay our own way. For example, last week I was asked to attend a luncheon that cost $30 per person. I do not make a lot of money and the cost of these events is putting a strain on my budget. Because the events take place during work hours, I do not feel I can decline without risking my position. Is it legal for my employer to require that we cover the cost of attending these events?

Answer:

California Labor Code Section 2802 provides that: “An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for 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. . . .”

Section 2802 has been interpreted to require reimbursement or “indemnification” of all expenses incurred in the scope of employment. Devereaux v. Latham & Watkins (1995) 32 Cal.App.4 th 1571. The purpose of the statute is to protect employees from suffering any expense as a direct consequence of the performance of the employee’s duties. Grissom v. Von’s Companies, Inc., (1991) 1 Cal.App.4 th 52.

In an opinion letter dated March 19, 2001, the staff attorney for the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) addressed a similar situation. The primary issue addressed in the opinion letter was whether employers are required to reimburse employees for meal costs incurred while traveling on company related business. In response to this question, the staff counsel opined that because employees have to eat meals whether on a business trip or not, employers do not necessarily have to reimburse employees for meal costs incurred while on a business trip. However, the staff counsel went on to state that, if an employee was required to entertain an employer’s customers by going to restaurants with them, the cost of the meals would be reimbursable pursuant to Labor Code Section 2802. In addition and relevant to your question, the staff counsel indicated that if an employee was required to attend a work related meeting in a restaurant during which time a meal or drinks were served, the amount paid by the employee for food and drink would be reimbursable under Labor Code Section 2802.

Pursuant to Labor Code Section 2802 and the DLSE opinion letter, if attendance at these social events are part of your job duties or if you attend these events at the direction of your employer, your employer is responsible for indemnifying or reimbursing you for the cost of these events.
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