Is it legal for a state employer to order you to work out of town and have you cover all expenses out-of-pocket to include hotel food and travel?

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Is it legal for a state employer to order you to work out of town and have you cover all expenses out-of-pocket to include hotel food and travel?

I am a police officer for the state and work at a state hospital. Recently, we had a patient who

had to stay several weeks at a hospital about 5-6 hours drive. I was ordered to go to the hospital for approximately 5 days. I refused to go because of a couple of reason to include that I would have to pay all expenses out-of-pocket, including a hotel for a minimum of 5 days. I was disciplined for refusing to go. I could not afford to spend thousands of dollars out of my own pocket. The patient had already been there for 2 weeks. The officers who went there before me had to charge $4,000 on their credit card and out-of-pocket to pay for hotel and expenses. Is it legal for my supervisor to to order me to do this?

Asked on June 6, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Yes, it is legal: employers can require employees to initially front or foot expenses, then put in for reimbursement--that is perfectly legal and not at all uncommon, with one exception discussed below. An employer does not need to take into consideration whether doing so would be a hardship for the employee: the employer does not need to pay the expenses upfront for the employee, but can legally require the employee to pay and seek reimbursement. So since you disobeyed a legal instruction from your employer, discipline is proper.
The exception: if you have a contract, including a union or collective bargaining contract, which states that expenses will paid for you or limits what you'd have to pay out of pocket, etc. If you have such a contract, the employer may not act in violation of it, and you could potentially sue to enforce it.


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