Illinois recently joined a growing number of states with expense indemnification labor codes. If your organization pays a car allowance or vehicle reimbursement, here’s how to ensure your compliance.
State labor codes and employee reimbursements
Car allowances and mileage reimbursements are straightforward. Your company provides employees with either a preset amount or mileage rate to offset the use of their personal vehicle costs. But that allowance or reimbursement can get pretty complicated if any of your employees operate in states with expense indemnification clauses in their labor code.
These states dictate how, when, and how much employees are reimbursed for the business use of personal equipment such as vehicles. These labor codes cover more than just vehicle reimbursements, including cell phones, internet, data plans, and more. We are going to focus primarily on vehicle reimbursements.
Expense indemnification defined
Expense indemnification codes are wage and payment laws designed to prevent companies from passing on business expenses to employees. To indemnify an employee from business expenses means to protect that employee from having to personally subsidize any company expenses.
California Labor Code 2802(a) best exemplifies expense indemnification. This labor law was established to protect pizza delivery drivers. These employees were being paid low wages and had to operate their personal vehicles. When their costs to operate their vehicles impacted their income, there was a potential lawsuit. Since then, several large organizations in California beyond pizza chains have faced lawsuits and hefty fines for failing to protect their employees’ income from expenses.
States with expense indemnification laws
Nine U.S. jurisdictions currently indemnify employees from company expenses: California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota. While variations exist between specific state labor codes, all nine jurisdictions require the following:
- Employers cannot pass on their costs to employees.
- Employers must maintain a written policy to describe the reimbursement.
If you currently have employees working in one of those nine jurisdictions, you need to ensure that your vehicle reimbursements fully cover all employees’ expenses and that you have a written policy governing these reimbursements. You should also be aware of additional employee-friendly states, such as Michigan and New York, where lawsuits have occurred as a result of under-reimbursing employees.
How indemnification labor codes impact your business
No one wants to pay penalties or fines as a result of labor code violations. No one wants to face a class-action lawsuit, either. These worst-case scenarios should impact your choices today regarding your employees who use a vehicle to carry out their job.
The larger the organization, the more expensive labor code violations can get. On average, the penalties can amount to $4000 per employee per year. The employer can also expect to pay for the employee’s legal fees going back up to four years.
While it may prove costly in the short run to ensure full reimbursement of all employee drivers, the long-term cost of penalties, fines, and lawsuits will have a bigger impact if your organization fails to comply with labor laws in the states where your employees work.
Ensuring labor code compliance
Given the expenses that come with labor code violations, it’s important to take steps now to avoid future complications. For an immediate fix, follow these two quick and easy steps:
- Update your vehicle reimbursement policy as soon as possible.
- Change your mileage rate to the IRS mileage rate.
However, these quick fixes are not long-term solutions or best practices and will lead to other problems later. We only recommend these as short-term solutions to “buy you time” to implement a more permanent fix.
The IRS mileage rate has typically been recognized as the standard for compliance with labor codes. However, some recent challenges have brought the rate into question for California drivers. Because the rate cannot be substantiated and because of the large variance in costs and territory sizes within the state of California, it can be challenged easily. The cost per mile of a low-mileage driver can easily eclipse the IRS mileage rate. This is because fixed car costs, such as depreciation and insurance, are spread over fewer miles.
There are better options for a long-term solution. To adhere to vehicle reimbursement best practices, we recommend the Fixed and Variable Rate Reimbursement (FAVR), which is more accurate and substantiable than the IRS mileage rate. FAVR is an IRS accountable plan and the best way to remain compliant with ALL expense indemnification labor codes. All employees receive a fair rate that takes both fixed costs and geographic cost differentials into consideration. The best thing is the rates are driven by data and transparent to employees.
How the tax reform impacts labor codes
The new amendment to the labor code of Illinois (The Wage Payment and Collection Act), is the latest expense indemnification law—but it won’t be the last. Under pressure from the tax reform, more states may institute similar employee protections. This is because tax reform has eliminated a popular deduction for unreimbursed business expenses.
In the past, many employers and mobile employees relied on this deduction to “make them whole” at the end of the year. But now that won’t be possible for tax years 2018-2025. Because taxpayers may no longer deduct business mileage, employees will increasingly seek full reimbursement of expenses. It is the opinion of mBurse that more states will indemnify employees from company expenses in response.
Given the new tax landscape, it is now more important than ever to properly reimburse employees for the business use of their personal vehicles. In the event that employees in employee friendly states are not reimbursed properly, your organization could face an increase in expense indemnification violations.
Contact mBurse to learn more about how switching to a FAVR reimbursement plan could help your organization comply with labor codes—and save money in the process.