Why your $500 car allowance is violating CA Labor Code 2802(a)

Written by mBurse Team Member Mar 19, 2018 7:36:55 AM

If you have employees that travel for business in their personal vehicles, and you pay them a flat car allowance, you are probably violating California’s labor code. With America’s workforce increasingly going mobile, it is more important than ever that employers find ways to fully cover employees’ vehicle expenses. CA Labor Code 2802(a) requires this, as do some other state labor codes. But a closer look reveals that traditional car allowances are not equipped to handle current labor code demands.

Most organizations pay mobile employees a flat car allowance because it’s easy, and because they’ve “always done it this way.” Car allowance programs originated as disguised compensation before the evolution of mobile employees. The car allowance was often negotiated to avoid negotiating salary to keep the salary standardized. But times have changed, and as employees increasingly drive personal vehicles for work, employees increasingly require robust reimbursement of expenses. 

Car allowance and labor code violations

No federal law requires employers to reimburse or pay employees’ expenses for driving their personal vehicles for business—as long as these expenses do not drop their pay below minimum wage. But state laws are a different matter. With the increase in mobile employees, some states have proactively amended their labor codes to protect these employees’ incomes. States like Massachusetts and California have developed reimbursement codes designed to protect employees’ income. With the passage of Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, more states will likely adopt formal codes. Employers that do not carefully abide by labor codes can end up paying dearly in fines or even class action lawsuits.

Why $500/month runs afoul of California Labor Code 2802(a)

If you have employees in California, precede with extreme caution, especially if paying a flat, taxable car allowance. The cost of operating a vehicle in California is among the highest in the country. If you are paying a $500 monthly car allowance to employees that reside in California, it could pose serious problems. 

Let’s realistically compare a mobile employee’s take-home pay with work expenses:

Employee A:
Nets $306.75 after taxes.

Drives 75 business miles a day or 1,500 business miles per month
Personal vehicle gets 20 mpg

Gas prices are $3.15/gallon

Are you sure their costs are covered?

The employee used in this example will incur $236.25 in fuel costs alone! Can the remaining $70.50 cover the employee’s other vehicle-related expenses?

  • Maintenance
  • Tires
  • Insurance
  • Depreciation
  • License fees
  • Vehicle taxes

If you think it will, you are probably wrong and exposed. 

Two alternatives that will…probably blow the budget

You can potentially solve the problem by paying out more money each month, but each of the following approaches carries its own costly problems.

  1. Add additional compensation for each employee to ensure you are covering his or her costs. The challenge is making sure you are covering each employee’s costs without overspending. If you can measure how much compensation it will take to match the costs, you have solved the problem. However, different employees experience different levels of expense, which means you may overpay some and underpay others.

  2. Reimburse mileage using the IRS mileage rate (a tax tool for calculating tax deductions for individuals). The problem is, the IRS mileage rate will always over-reimburse high mileage drivers and under-reimburse low mileage business travelers, which will again leave you exposed. For example, the IRS mileage rate would reimburse Employee A’s 1,500-miles with a staggering $817.50! Additionally, if you are going to pay the IRS mileage rate, you must use an accountable mileage log. Self-reported or overstated mileage can break budgets.

A third, and better, option: FAVR

A third option solves the labor code problem while controlling costs: Reimburse employees based on up-to-date accurate expense data.

  1. Adopt the Fixed and Variable Rate reimbursement (FAVR). A FAVR reimbursement is tailored to solve the labor code quandary and prevent class action suits without overspending. Each employee will receive their own comprehensive reimbursement based on the costs of owning and operating a standard vehicle the company selects as being the right tool for the task to get their job done. These costs are determined by the employee’s zip code. Combined with an accountable mileage log, this approach offers long term cost control while fully reimbursing each and every employee.

In the end you have options, and the price for inaction could be expensive. It is best to take a proactive approach to reimbursing your mobile employees to mitigate the risk of labor code violations. Of course, overpaying is also an option, but not a particularly attractive one.

It’s time to make your mileage reimbursement and car allowance policy a priority. For more information about how FAVR works, download our FAVR data sheet.

The ultimate guide to paying a car allowance or mileage reimbursement

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