Bring Your Own Device legal exposure

Businesses have grown dependent on the practice of employees’ using their own mobile devices in the workplace and for work. Yet the legal complications are rising, including a California appellate decision that “reaffirmed employer obligations to reimburse employees for work related mobile usage on personal devices.” In part because there is no standard metric for breaking down an employee’s data usage bill into work-related and non-work-related portions, it is not easy to attempt tailored reimbursement practices to reflect changing usage: by one estimate, “just the processing of [a manually submitted] expense report alone costs a company between $18 and $29.” As a result, many employers simply settle on a ballpark figure, such as $70/month, as the reimbursement. “If those subsidies were even lightly scrutinized, they’d be deemed, at least partially, an employee benefit subject to taxation to subsidize Netflix and other personal habits.” Add-on services, for a cost, may serve to navigate between the demands of labor regulations on the one hand and tax authorities on the other. [vendor Ben Rotholtz, Forbes]


  • Add-ons are a subset of designations. It would be easier to designate particular use for accounting. The smartphone user would have to designate each piece of use themselves, and submit that, which would supply a detailed report to the employer. Each snap, tweet, text, picture, phone call, etc., would be eligible to be categorized other than default.

    Easy tools to do this would heuristic suggestions based on time of day, company name in contacts, etc., and guide the phone user through simple selection methods.

    Computers today are still too stilted; if they had the capabilities of meeting the needs of their users naturally, they would already have this capability. As it is, accounting for this is nontrivial, as you point out. I assume computers will get this natural ability within half a century. It could be here today.

  • While you do get credit for takcing the term “vendor” on at the end, let’s be real here. This article is an ad written by the VP of Marketing for a company that offers a solution to a problem to a problem you never knew you had until you read it. Are there any actual examples where the IRS has had a problem with reasonable standard reimbursements for personal communications expenses when those amounts are paid to employees with some reasonable need to use such devices as part of their jobs?

  • Also – $70 / month likely fits the definition of ‘de minimus’ fringe benefits, which are not subject to tax.