Chris Thierry is the founder and president of ETeleSolv. Based in Montreal, ETeleSolv is a provider of technology expense management software, as well as expertise in telecom management, e-procurement, e-commerce, and supply chain integration.

 

Whatever the size or complexity of a company, most employees would agree their smartphones are a must-have tool. This new reality makes corporate mobile strategy a hot topic – one that has been stirring up discussion in IT, human resources, and now even legal departments around the country.

There’s no doubt that mobile strategy is much more than a decision about which device to use and how; indeed, the strategy development process must include an assessment of financial, technological, legal, and cultural impacts.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is one approach that has been creating significant buzz of late and is experiencing a significant growth. According to a survey of IT decision-makers in North America conducted by InformationWeek, 88 per cent of companies will adopt or have already adopted some variant of BYOD as part of their workflow.

However, the readiness of companies to embrace the BYOD trend is challenged by a recent ruling of the California Court of Appeal, which says companies must reimburse employees for work-related use of personal cellphones. The Court of Appeal in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc., stated in a decision dated Aug.12:

“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.”

While this is a U.S. court, it is prudent for Canadian firms to pay attention to this case and look over their mobile policies and strategies immediately.

Let’s back up for a second. Before we examine the potential implications of this ruling, it’s important to understand what BYOD is all about.

 

BYOD explained

Under BYOD, employees choose to use their personal mobile devices for work and are responsible for the cost. However, employers may have a policy in place to reimburse some or all of the costs. Employees can use their personally-owned devices to access and interact with company data, applications, and other intellectual property.

According to the research firm Gartner, only 39 per cent of organizations are truly prepared to manage the litany of non-company devices that will be flooding the workplace.

Prepared or not, IT managers will have to address the challenges and benefits of this type of mobility strategy in the workplace as many employees embrace the idea of BYOD. According to a Gartner survey, employees believe that BYOD reduces usage costs simply because they’d be more efficient using devices and apps they themselves purchased.

To fully understand the impact of BYOD on a company’s mobility, one has to weigh the superficial benefits of BYOD against its hidden costs. Although it might appear that BYOD allows the company to save on IT investments, this has to be viewed in light of higher per-user cost, more demand on the help desk and higher security costs.

An analysis by Aberdeen found that companies which allow 1,000 BYOD devices into the workplace will spend an extra $170,000 per year in extra device management fees.

 

Goin’ Back to Cali

In this context, what does the recent California Court of Appeal’s ruling mean for the companies that have introduced BYOD?

While I am not a lawyer and this should not in any way be viewed as a legal opinion, the California ruling could be interpreted as follows:

  • Even if an employee incurs no extra cost (because of an unlimited data plan), they are still paying for a portion of your work-related expenses.
  • Even if a third party (not the employer or employee) is paying the employee’s mobile phone bill, the device is still benefiting the business purposes of the employer and the bill must therefore be recognized as an actual operating cost

But this is Canada, not California, you might say. True – however, the best thing to do is to be aware of this newest issue surrounding BYOD, and to have a plan in place immediately. You have to make certain that you have clear BYOD policies and that you actually communicate them to your employees – before the molehill becomes a mountain.

You also have to understand that, if the legal shift in the US becomes a Canadian reality as well, there is nothing that forces employees to adopt reasonable phone plans for their BYOD implements.

To find out more about crafting a comprehensive BYOD policy, check out this resource from ETeleSolv.

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