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?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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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


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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