On whose dime? Court rules California employers must pay employee cell phone expenses

By Margaret A Keane

In a world where mobile devices outnumber both personal computers and humans, it’s not surprising that we use our mobile devices for both business and pleasure. In a published opinion sure to wreak havoc with workplace bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programmes, the California Court of Appeal has now told employers that if California employees must use their mobile phones for work-related calls, they must be reimbursed a reasonable portion of their mobile phone bills for that use. Colin Cochran v Schwan’s Home Service Inc, Court of Appeal (12 August 2014) (‘an employee need only show that he or she was required to use a personal cell phone to make work-related calls, and he or she was not reimbursed’).

This ruling applied to a class action by service managers seeking reimbursement of work-related mobile phone expenses, but will also apply to smart phones used to access business data in the cloud and on network servers.

To date, the biggest challenges with BYOD policies have related to device security and protection of confidential information, with many employers putting constraints on the use of a device as a trade-off for remote access. The question of who pays now moves to centre stage. Under Cochran, California employers that require employees to use their personal devices to conduct business as a condition of employment will need reimbursement plans or face litigation risk…

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