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Are employers responsible for work-from-home costs?

By Isabelle Coetzee

If you find yourself in a position where you have to work from home, you may quickly realise you’re spending more on data, coffee, and stationery than you were before.

If your employer covered these costs while you were working from the office, then you may wonder whether they ought to continue covering these costs at your home. We found out more.

Tip: Get home insurance today to make sure your appliances are covered.

Certain costs may be covered – depending on the company

According to Sandra Maritz, legislation business consultant at CRS Technologies, as per the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), an employer is obliged to provide an employee with the tools needed to perform their duties, such as a computer, internet connection or data, and stationery, where applicable.

“An employer may expect an employee to provide proof of the data capacity on their devices, as well as proof of payment for data to qualify for a reimbursement. Where the internet connection or data isn’t solely used for business purposes, the cost should be calculated and shared between the employer and the employee,” says Maritz.

She explains that where the working conditions change and an employee is expected to work from home, the same conditions will apply. However, she says that an employer is not obliged to provide an employee with a subsidy for coffee, tea, cleaning materials, or a telephone subsidy.

Deon Smit, exco member at the South African Reward Association, believes that employers are not legally obliged to cover home expenses. He explains that employees are saving on, for example, fuel and vehicle wear and tear, as well as commuting time.

“Employers can assist in negotiating better data packages for employees as a possible way to assist with any additional financial burden they might be occurring which they didn't previously. However, coffee and electricity are more incidental costs and they’re influenced by too many factors to be considered by an employer for refunding,” says Smit.

“Employees can request assistance from their employers if they feel that their financial situation is negatively impacted due to expenses related directly to work but this will be up to each employer to consider the motivation as well as the viability,” he adds.

READ MORE: Retrenched and freelancing? Set up your home office like this

Where is the line between home and office costs?

Smit points out that every employer is in a different situation, and whether they decide to assist employees with work-from-home expenses will depend on what they can provide for the amount of value they get in return.

“Offices are open again in most cases and employees can access most office resources. Employers have also taken strain during this time and employees are not in a position to make unreasonable demands,” says Smit.

He believes that employers have already been very accommodating in assisting with data, being flexible with work schedules, and providing additional tools to be productive during the lockdown.

Maritz says that what a company is willing to cover will depend on the company itself.

“I think it is safe to say that a company may be willing to pay for the total cost of the data or internet connection cost – assuming this relates to an employee’s job responsibilities. An employer may also be willing to pay an allowance for coffee or tea, or cleaning materials. However, it will be difficult to determine the percentage used for the employee only,” says Maritz.

She believes it’s very unlikely that an employer will be willing to pay a percentage of the rent or house bond or electricity, especially in the current situation where employees are working from home which may or may not be a permanent arrangement.

What can you claim from SARS?

According to Maritz, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) makes provision for home office expenses as a tax deduction under the section “other expenses” of an individual’s annual tax return.

However, she stresses that this deduction is only allowed under certain specific conditions:

  • An employer must allow or expect an employee to work from home. An employee must also spend more than 50% of their working hours working from home. In other words, the employee must have performed their duties for a minimum period of 6 months in a tax year working from home.
  • Most importantly, to qualify for a tax deduction, the employee must have an area of their home exclusively used and set up for this purpose. For example, employees who work in their dining room, lounge, bedroom, or kitchen would not qualify.

“The employee must have a separate office or an area of their home which is used specifically for the employee’s work. The area must also be specifically equipped for the employee’s trade. In other words, it must be specially fitted with the relevant instruments, tools, and equipment required for the employee to perform his or her work,” says Maritz.

READ MORE: Understanding income tax as a freelancer

If these criteria are met, you can claim the following as a tax deduction:

  • Rent
  • Interest on bond
  • Repairs to the premises
  • Rates and taxes
  • Cleaning
  • Internet
  • Wear and tear
  • All other expenses relating to an individual’s house only

“To calculate the home office deduction, one needs to work out the total square meterage of the home office in relation to the total square meterage of the house or apartment, and then convert this to a percentage,” says Maritz.

“You then apply this percentage to the home office expenditure in order to calculate the portion which is deductible,” she explains.

Find out more about your income tax by using our free tax calculator.

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