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University Did Not Need to Reimburse Professor for Expenses Related to Pandemic | Joanne Deschenaux, J.D.

Takeaway: A state university was not required to reimburse a professor who incurred expenses for a computer and other equipment when he was forced to work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic because the state statute requiring reimbursement of employee expenditures did not apply to his situation. 

​After a state university in California directed its faculty to provide instruction remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a professor incurred expenses for a computer and other equipment and sought reimbursement from the university. The university was not required to reimburse the professor, a California appeals court recently ruled.

In March 2020, the California State University (CSU) ordered its faculty to begin teaching classes remotely. The professor did so but was denied access to his workplace office at CSU-Los Angeles to retrieve his university-provided computer and printer. He absorbed the cost for replacing these items himself, then asked for reimbursement, which CSU denied.

CSU took the position that the state’s Labor Code Section 2802, subdivision (a), which addresses business-related expenses, did not apply to the university because such an application would infringe on its sovereign powers as a department of the state. The law obligates employers to indemnify employees for all necessary expenditures incurred in direct consequence of the discharge of work duties.

The professor filed a class-action complaint, seeking reimbursement of home-office expenses for…

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