Are Your Employees Using Cell Phones for Business?

Cell Phone Reimbursement

Personal Cell Phone Use is a Reimbursable Business Expense in California?


Even if an employee has a unlimited plan?


A California appellate court held in Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc. that employers must always reimburse employees when they are using cell phones for business when that use is mandatory. This is true even if the employee has an unlimited cell phone plan and does not incur any additional expenses because of the business usage.

Colin Cochran worked as a customer service manager for a food delivery provider. As part of his job, he used his personal cell phone to make business calls but the company did not reimburse him for the use of his phone. Cochran filed a putative class action lawsuit against his employer on behalf of 1,500 customer service managers.   The court of appeal agreed that failure to reimburse the cell phone use, even if the employee did not incur additional expenses, violated Labor Code Section 2802(a).

The court did not specify how much an employer must pay an employee for his or her cell phone use but that “the employer must pay some reasonable percentage of the employee’s cell phone bill.”

Let’s think about the defendant’s liability here for a minute. Let’s say the employer owes each of the 1,500 employees in the class $20/month, for 3 years (the statute of limitations), that’s a total hit of $1,080,000. Ouch.

PRACTICAL TIP: Employers should identify and provide company cell phones to employees who are required to conduct company business off premises and are most likely to use their personal cell phones heavily (for calls and e-mails). Percentage of cell phone usage should be added as a category on expense reimbursement forms.

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In: Employment Law

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