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Expenses – Who Pays?

Q. I work for an agency that provides in-home care for people with traumatic brain injuries. I travel between 2 or 3 homes in a day. Should I be reimbursed for the miles between sites?

A. Many people travel between locations for their jobs, and wonder about the cost of this travel, particularly as gas and toll prices creep up to the highest levels we have seen. Whether you must be reimbursed for travel between job sites depends upon where you work. In many states, there is no requirement that employers reimburse employees for business expenses nor is there any federal law or regulation requiring reimbursement.

For example, the Internal Revenue Service regulations do not require reimbursement for travel expenses such as gasoline, tolls and vehicle wear and tear. Many employers voluntarily reimburse employees at the standard IRS rate for work-related travel, but others consider it a condition of employment, such as having to purchase a uniform, own certain tools or equipment, or attend continuing education classes.

Valerie Samuels, a partner and co-chair of the employment law group at Posternak, Blankstein & Lund, LLP tells us that Massachusetts employees are in luck. A provision of the state minimum wage regulations requires employers to reimburse employees for all transportation expenses incurred while working. This does not include ordinary travel between home and work. Failure to comply with the Massachusetts minimum wage law exposes an employer to mandatory treble damages plus attorneys’ fees and costs.

If your employer does not reimburse you for travel, you may deduct ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling from one workplace to another from your taxes. Speak to your accountant about keeping the level of detail needed to prove your expenses.

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Before you accept a job, or a new role, discuss the treatment of travel and other business expenses so there are no surprises. Most companies have policies and expectations about what is a reasonable business expense, and what is over the top. Attorney Samuels notes that, “Some employers may not be aware of their legal obligation to reimburse travel expenses for Massachusetts employees.” Feel free to provide this information to them, or as a last resort, consider filing a complaint with the Fair Labor Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

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