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Policies on travel expenses should be clear

Q. I work for an agency that provides in-home care for people with brain trauma. I travel between two or three homes in a day. Should I be reimbursed for the mileage?

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. Whether you must be reimbursed for travel between sites depends on where you work. In many states, there is no requirement that employers reimburse employees for business expenses, nor is there any federal requirement.

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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 cochair of the employment law group at Posternak, Blankstein & Lund LLP in Boston, 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.

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In other states, 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 what you need to document your expenses.

Before accepting a job or new position, 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.

Samuels notes, “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.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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