The California BYOD Ruling: What was it, and what does it mean to you?

The line between "personal" and "corporate" phone use is getting increasingly blurred. Should a company cover its employees' phone plans if they're using their own phones for work? What about when international travel is required, or when employees work from home through their wifi networks? In August, California's Court of Appeal ruled that employers must reimburse employees when they use personal devices for work-related activity:

"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."

At face value, the scope of this decision is unclear. It requires companies to cover only minutes, not data usage, and it calls for a vague "reasonable percentage." Additionally, employees who were already part of a BYOD agreement with their employers probably waived their right to challenge their existing agreements.

However, this decision is very important for past and future employees. Particularly relevant to past employees, the Court states that "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." For future employees, they now have more legal protection and bargaining power. It's also important as a precedent - what will other states, or even the federal government, do?

As a CIO or company manager, you should be preparing for the eventuality that this decision may affect you. You could outlaw BYOD to side step the issue - see our article on BYOD, CYOD, and COPE for thinking about other models. Or, stick with BYOD and work proactively with your employees. First, go through your BYOD policy (current or proposed) and survey your employees to find out what the scope of BYOD actually is in your company. A big change that may need to occur is making sure all employees keep detailed logs of work-related usage of personal devices.

You can get a sense of the magnitude of what reimbursement might look like from Cisco IBSG's 2013 report "The Financial Impact of BYOD," which found that global BYOD users spend an average of US$734 per year on mobile voice and data plans for their BYOD devices. While the US BYOD user initially paid less for their BYOD device than others, their data plan spend - relevant to the ruling - is much higher:

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Interestingly, Cisco also found that only 20 percent of those surveyed across countries thought that subsidizing the cost of their device or mobile plan would increase their productivity. Cisco concludes from this that "BYOD users are willing to pay for the devices and plans they need to be effective at work."

The bottom line? Talk to your employees about what they're doing and what they want you to do about business productivity and equitability to understand how to update your mobile device management.

Any other insights into this ruling? Comment below or email us at to tell us about it!