Who pays the costs of employer-required COVID testing or vaccination?

According to the California Labor Commissioner, if an employer requires an employee to obtain a COVID test or a vaccination, then the employer must pay for any costs incurred by the employee for the test or vaccination. This is because California law requires employers to reimburse employees for all necessary business expenses (Labor Code Section 2802).

If the employer has not designated a specific testing or vaccination site, the Labor Commissioner advises that “workers should ask which location(s) or vendor(s) are acceptable to the employer to avoid disputes over cost.”

If the employer requires an employee to obtain a COVID test or vaccination, then the Labor Commissioner requires the employer to pay for the time it takes for the testing or vaccination, including travel time and time spent waiting for the test or vaccination to be performed.

Wages are due because the time spent, including traveling and waiting, is time during which the worker is subject to the control of the employer and is thus considered “hours worked.” Keep in mind that an employee who goes for a test or vaccination outside of their regular working hours could also be entitled to overtime pay if the time spent puts the worker over eight hours in a day or 40 in a week.

An employer may not require an employee to use paid leave time (such as California Paid Sick Leave) for an employer-mandated COVID test or vaccination.

The Labor Commissioner notes that time spent after COVID testing while waiting for test results does not need to be paid as hours worked. However, the worker may be able to utilize paid leave while waiting for the results.

If the testing or vaccination is performed at a location other than the employee’s ordinary worksite, the employee also may be entitled to reimbursement for necessary expenses incurred to travel to and from the testing or vaccination location. This could include mileage reimbursement or the cost of public transportation.

For more information, visit the Labor Commissioner’s COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine FAQs.