Should Energy Bills Be Reimbursed For Remote Workers?

Working from home has become highly favored by many working Americans, even as America gradually returns to normal and some employers are discussing "return to work" plans. One of the factors that may influence decisions, for both the employer and employee, is the additional usage of personal resources on behalf of the company. I.E. using personal cell phones, computers, internet, energy, air conditioning, etc. during the 9-5 work day.

Steve Cicala, a professor of economics at Tufts University, explains:

"When people are at home you're opening the fridge, making coffee, cooking meals you would otherwise have had at the cafeteria or out. So, in general, being home entails using a lot more residential electricity. Heating and cooling and weather is a part of it, too. As it gets hotter, you are cooling entire houses instead of a business — and that means using more power."

This has lead to a substantial rise in electricity usage. Americans saw an 8% increase in electricity usage, as reported by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Additionally, Americans spent an additional $12 billion on residential electricity (compared to pre-COVID usage). And with the rise on the residential side of things, there has also been a decrease commercially; businesses saved roughly $9 billion on energy costs during the same time frame. The average residential utility bill in California increased by $240 during this time as well.

Vijay Modi, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, has done the math:

  • Remote workers, working a typical 8 hour work day from home, use an additional kilowatt of energy per day.
  • This is +20 cents per day, $4 per month (on average).

This has lead some people to question:

Should your employer reimburse you?

Some employers already reimburse for internet and phone bills. Could reimbursing for energy usage be the next step? There is a lot of grey area where energy is concerned, as it is hard to determine how much usage is specifically for work purposes versus other purposes within the home. Additionally, many consider things like internet and phones essential to perform the job, where-as air conditioning and energy usage are not.

In many states, like California and Washington, D.C., employers require employees to justify the necessity of these items as reimbursement is not required by law. It is, however, often presented as a job perk instead.

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