Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been a hot topic in tech media and IT discussions since the introduction of the original iPhone. A recent court ruling in California poses a serious limitation to BYOD’s future success. The California Court of Appeal ruled the following in Cochran v. Schwan's Home Service:

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

If the ruling is upheld, it could mean that employers must reimburse employees for minutes (and as a logical extension devices and data) for business done on work devices. So what does this mean for BYOD?

I’m not a lawyer, but I expect that while this ruling is exclusive to California, its result will spread to the broader United States, as either businesses or individuals will use this as a precedent to minimize expenses. California is a country unto itself, containing the headquarters of many companies (especially tech) within its boarders. Such a ruling is much more significant because of that.

More interesting, should the ruling stand, is that businesses will have a few options on how to proceed:

  • Provide users a corporate owned mobile device
  • Reimburse users for mobile minutes (and expect device and data)
  • No mobility

Let’s discuss each point as there are interesting implications for each.

Provide Users a Corporate Owned Mobile Device

Businesses providing corporate owned mobile devices isn’t a new concept (BlackBerry anyone?), but BYOD took away that cost (and control) when users began showing up with their shiny new phones and tablets. The biggest challenge for any business is cost. In the past, only executives, sales, and key managers had corporate owned devices. With open BYOD, or no BYOD policies, the masses have tasted the productive power of enterprise mobility. Businesses may limit cost and liability by reverting to this approach, but there may be hidden productivity that they may lose as well.

Reimburse Users for Mobility

One has to assume that a reimbursement ruling would extend to devices and data, in addition to minutes. This gets really tricky because how do you classify work versus personal calls? Corporate email and apps versus Gmail and YouTube? Most tricky is the device value? This is a tricky problem, especially with phone calls, but not insurmountable.

I would expect a rise of mobile telecom expense management (TEM) products to help provide insights on these usages, as reimbursing could be cheaper than providing a device and mobile plan for all users.

No Mobility

Businesses could simply revert to hard line phones and laptops (or desktops) for their users (goodbye 2014, hello 1994). I see this as the least likely option as mobility transforms people's ability to do work, and businesses will realize this. With the advent of the mobile device, users often check and answer email around the clock.

Likely Outcome

The ruling’s status is difficult to predict. Should it be upheld, I would expect a mix of corporate and reimbursed devices. There are probably many corporate devices in businesses today and the simplest answer would be the easiest path for many employees. For moderate mobile enabled employees, reimbursement driven by lawyers, accountants, and TEM solutions could be the answer.

Global Perspective

Europe already looks oddly on BYOD. You still see the dual device situations where employees have a business phone and a personal phone. BYOD has been popular because users can have the devices that make life easier and increase productivity while only utilizing one device. As an alternative, COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) devices could accomplish the same thing. What’s COPE? Let’s discuss that in a future article.