Plaintiff Succeeds in Claiming Unpaid Reimbursements for More Than 20,000 Miles
After a one-day bench trial, a sales representative for a security company successfully established that his employer had failed to reimburse him for mileage expenses, using only his odometer reading as the basis to calculate the owed mileage. Plaintiff was a “High Volume Sales Representative,” meaning that he worked almost exclusively in the field making sales to new customers, canvassing neighborhoods, meeting with residential developers, and hosting promotion events.
The employer had a mileage reimbursement program that reimbursed employees for miles driven. Employees could receive either fixed monthly allowance or a per-mile reimbursement. Employees who wanted to be reimbursed on a per-mile basis had to enter every trip into an online system. Plaintiff testified the system would reject the entry if it did not recognize the address entered and that it would take him more than 20 hours to enter a month’s worth of trips.
At the beginning of his employment, Plaintiff’s manager told him his vehicle was too old to qualify for the employer’s mileage reimbursement program, so Plaintiff bought a new vehicle. During the bench trial, Plaintiff testified that he used the vehicle exclusively for work and used his wife’s vehicle for personal trips and errands. He testified that he noticed the mileage recorded on the program was inaccurate and that the process of entering every single trip was so laborious that he eventually opted to forgo the mile-based reimbursement and instead receive the fixed monthly allowance.
After ending his employment, Plaintiff sued for unpaid reimbursements under California Labor Code section 2802. The only records he had showing his alleged mileage was the reading on his odometer. The employer argued that Plaintiff could not meet his burden of proof with only an odometer reading, but the court disagreed. The employer had not required Plaintiff to maintain physical documentation of his mileage and Plaintiff had testified that he used the vehicle exclusively for work. The court did acknowledge that there was some discrepancy between the mileage Plaintiff had entered during the time period before he switched to taking the flat amounts, doubting that the more than 30,000 miles on his odometer was purely for work purposes. The court therefore applied a 20% reduction.
This case serves as a reminder that employers should evaluate their mileage reimbursement policies to not only ensure they are requiring employees to keep records of their mileage but also that they are providing employees with an effective, easy-to-use way to report those miles. Otherwise, employers may find themselves in a similar situation where it is difficult to refute the number of miles employees are claiming they have driven.