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August 25, 2014
By Vanessa Ulrich


A California court ruling last month put a stumbling block in front of corporate bring your own device (BYOD) policies, leaving CIOs to re-examine how, if at all, employees’ personal devices fit into their business strategy.

The ruling stated that when a company requires its employees to use their personal cellphones for work-related calls, the employer has to reimburse “a reasonable percentage” of their cellphone bill.

However, “the ruling is so broad that…lawsuits will likely be filed to seek clarification of ambiguous elements, such as ‘reasonable percentage,’” wrote Antone Gonsalves for Cruxial CIO.

Though vague on the amount to be reimbursed, the court ruled that reimbursement is always required, regardless of whether or not the business calls increase the employee’s phone bill (e.g., in the case of an unlimited calling plan). This is because, "Otherwise, the employer would receive a windfall because it would be passing its operating expenses on to the employee," the opinion stated.

A major business trend for the past few years, BYOD has been hyped up as a way for employees to have more flexibility and control over their work, even while not at work—while the upside for employers has been a reduced overhead expense for those who would before have purchased devices for their employees. The ruling would put some of that cost burden back on the employer, if it isn’t already providing reimbursement. As noted in Gonsalves’ article, this could end the practice of some companies requiring employee use of personal mobile devices as a contingency of employment.

Though the class action lawsuit was based on retail workers, it is likely that the ruling will have implications across industries and potentially opens doors to other reimbursements, such as work-related apps and data plans used to check work email. This is a far cry from the disappearing BYOD stipends that executives may be hoping for, as bringing personal devices to work becomes increasingly the norm. Tom Kaneshige, writing for CIO online, made the point that, “In one of the great BYOD ironies, CIOs cite the demise of home WiFi reimbursements as evidence that BYOD reimbursements will eventually come to an end, but now home WiFi reimbursements might get a second life in light of this ruling.”

If the ruling spreads beyond California, the impact on BYOD will likely be significant. Though some argue that BYOD is not living up to the hype of the past few years, Gartner analysts predict that 50 percent of U.S. employers will have implemented BYOD by 2017.

A survey of IT professionals conducted by TEKsystems last month found that 35 percent reported nothing had been communicated about their company’s BYOD policy, while 29 percent said that BYOD is accepted, but there are no official policy guidelines.

Any company with a presence in the state of California will feel the effects and will need to re-examine companywide BYOD policies, while all companies with a BYOD policy—whether or not they have a California presence—should do the same.

Galen Gruman writing for InfoWorld put it this way: “As they say, as goes California so too goes the nation—you can expect more states to follow this ruling.”

As part of TEKsystems’ public relations team, Vanessa Ulrich reads everything she can about the technology industry and emerging trends. Vanessa blogs about where technology and society collide, giving context and commentary to top news stories.

Like what you read? Check out last month’s IT Roundup, learn how to Become a boomerang employee, or dig into How the ride-share fight isn’t just about taxis.

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