Tool Time

“I’ve always provided the tools my field employees need. Then an employee told me a previous employer made employees use their own tools. How can I implement that?”

Your HR Survival Tip

As you may have noticed, there seem to be laws or lawsuits for nearly everything employment-related in California. There are three things to consider when you have employees who use or need tools in the field:

  1. Employer-provided tools — You provide all the tools, including maintaining and replacing them. You are not able to charge employees for the replacement of lost tools so consider a check-out/check-in system to track your tools.
  2. Employee’s tools — In California, you are only able to require employees to use their own tools on the job if you are paying those employees at least twice the state minimum wage (currently $24 or $26 per hour, depending on company size). If you have employees earning less than that, you are responsible for the tools.
  3. Paid commute — If you have employees carrying your company tools in their personal vehicle every day, there is the possibility you may be responsible for their commute time and costs. Current lawsuits haven’t yet been settled but it appears a paid commute may depend on the amount of space the tools take up in the employee’s vehicle, whether you require the employee to keep the tools in their vehicle at all times, and whether carrying those tools impinges upon the employee’s ability to use that commute time as they wish.

Our wage and hour laws have long dictated the rule about paying the employee sufficiently if they are expected to buy and maintain their own tools. The new question about how the unpaid commute might be changed when hauling around the company’s tools is still unanswered. However, the fact is there are now lawsuits about this topic so it would be wise to explore your policies and practices to ensure you don’t end up on the wrong side of that decision.

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