Court shifts BYOD responsibility: What it means for you

A California court has made a controversial ruling on BYOD programs that could leave companies struggling to cover a new, unforeseen cost. 

The ruling in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc., was made after a class action lawsuit by customer service managers against their employer.

The lawsuit claimed:

  • employees were required to use their phones to do work, but
  • the employer failed to compensate them for part of their phone bills.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The court ruled that all the employees who were affected were entitled to be reimbursed for a portion of their phone bill – even those who don’t pay by the minute.

As the court put it:

We hold that when employees must use their personal cell phones for work-related calls, Labor Code section 2802 requires the employer to reimburse them. Whether the employees have cell phone plans with unlimited minutes or limited minutes, the reimbursement owed is a reasonable percentage of their cell phone bills.

Game-changer for BYOD

First, it’s important to note that this could be challenged and overturned by another California court. Laws that revolve around technology lag several years behind the technology itself, and different courts will often issue different rulings based on the same information. There’s no consensus on this, or most mobile issues, yet.

And this case is specifically for California. It deals with California, not federal, law.

But no matter the state you’re in, it’s crucial that your BYOD program leaves nothing up in the air.

You’ll want to cover at least these bases in your BYOD policy:

  • Right or privilege? Is your BYOD program something you’re offering to employees who don’t want (or need) a company device? Or is it a requirement that they have their own phone for business purposes? In this case, users argued they had to use their own phones – and that was a financial burden.
  • Don’t forget data. Cell phone minutes seem almost antiquated to some users. Their real concern now is data. It can be difficult to tell how much data is used for work vs. personal use on a device, so make sure your policy says if that data can be reimbursed. If not, they’ll want to stick with WiFi when possible.
  • Incidental costs. Users might think they’re entitled to reimbursement for apps they use for business, phone repairs, etc. And they may be. But it’s important they know who takes on that financial responsibility from your policies.
  • Contact information. Make sure there’s a section in your policies that explains who to contact if they have questions about BYOD. If they get a different answer from a manager or supervisor than from IT or Finance, you could be facing complaints (or even legal action) later.

Check out our sample BYOD policy here.