The transactional relationship between you and an employer should be a simple exchange: Your employer needs to compensate you each time you perform work for it. But what happens when your work obligations incur costs or require you to spend money on behalf of your employer? In many cases, you are entitled to reimbursement for your work costs. And if your employer won’t reimburse your expenses, you have a right to seek relief through a legal complaint or lawsuit.
At Smithey Law Group LLC, our attorneys are frontrunners in the employment law community and have represented employees in thousands of disputes. We have the experience and knowledge to help you recoup your business expenses and damages from your employer.
Is a Business Expense Reimbursement Part of My Wages?
Plain and simple, your employer must pay you wages for your work. And how does the law define wages? Under Maryland law, wages include the following:
- Your standard rate of pay (which must comply with the minimum wage laws),
- Fringe benefits,
- Overtime pay, and
- Any other promised compensation.
While business expenses are not listed above, federal law states that your employer must remit payment to you “free and clear” or unconditionally. Your employer’s payment to you is not free and clear if your work requires you to purchase materials or pay other costs for the benefit of your employer, and those costs bring your pay below minimum wage or infringe on your overtime entitlements. Those costs must be reimbursed.
Expenses that are for the benefit of an employer and subject to reimbursement can include the costs of:
- Purchasing materials requested explicitly by an employer;
- Depreciation in value of a personal vehicle that an employee is obligated to use during working hours;
- Mileage for trips an employer requires an employee to make during working hours;
- Purchasing tools requested explicitly by an employer;
- Buying gas used for trips an employer requires an employee to make during working hours; and
- Other travel expenses.
Please keep in mind that an employer’s obligation to compensate an employee for travel expenses does not include an employee’s travels to work before a shift starts or travels back home after a shift ends. Also, an employer doesn’t necessarily have to reimburse an employee for the exact amount of costs they incur. An employer has to pay for only a “reasonable approximation of expenses” its employee collects on its behalf.
In addition to its obligations under federal and state wage laws, your employer also has obligations to you under any employment agreement you have. If a business, agency, or organization promises to pay you a certain wage for your work and also requires you to make purchases that reduce your wages, a failure to reimburse you might be a breach of contract. Your employer’s refusal to cover your business expenses could subject it to a breach of contract lawsuit, regardless of whether the expenses reduce your pay to less than minimum wage or overtime entitlements.
Taking Legal Action Against an Employer that Won’t Reimburse Business Expenses
Unfortunately, some employers put their employees in a position where they have to fight for the compensation they earned. If an employer requires you to use your money or personal belongings to benefit the employer’s business without recompense, you are not receiving your full wages. Employees who do not receive their full wages can file wage complaints with the government or lawsuits in court.
The Employment Standards Service (ESS) of the Maryland Department of Labor and the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor handle wage complaints against employers that fail to reimburse their employees. The ESS and WHD investigate complaints, review evidence, and conduct interviews and conferences in an effort to resolve complaints. And if the WHD or ESS is unable to adjudicate a wage complaint, an employee still has the option of suing their employer in court.
If their complaint or lawsuit is successful, an employee can win remedies such as:
- Back pay,
- Liquidated damages,
- Treble damages, and
- Attorney fees.
An employer that willfully fails to reimburse an employee could also be subject to civil and criminal penalties.
There are many steps to initiating and maintaining a legal complaint against your employer for improper payment of wages. As soon as a wage issue arises at your workplace, you should speak to an experienced wage and hour attorney to help ensure that you take the right course of action to get the compensation your employer owes you.
Deadline for Filing a Complaint or Lawsuit
Not only do you need to file your wage complaint or lawsuit in the right place, but you also need to file your legal action on time. You must file your complaint with the WHD within two years if your employer’s failure to reimburse you is not willful. And you must file with the WHD within three years if your employer’s actions are willful. Under Maryland law, you have two years to file a complaint with the ESS and three years to file a lawsuit in court.
Let Smithey Law Group Help You
You worked hard on your own to earn money at work; why should you have to fight alone to recover that money from your employer? The answer is simple: You don’t have to fight alone to recover your wages, nor should you. At Smithey Law Group, we focus exclusively on representing individuals in employment disputes. We are experienced and knowledgeable regarding how to resolve the employment law challenges Maryland residents face. We are also award-winning leaders in the employment law community.
If you are searching for an advocate who gets results and can successfully litigate, negotiate, and educate on matters regarding employment, speak to us. We are sought-after professionals who can maximize your recovery and protect your rights. You can call us at 410-881-8190 or contact us online whenever you need help.