Employee Cell Phone Usage May be Reimbursable - Cochran v. Schwan
It promises to be another long, hot summer for employers as the California State Legislature and the courts continue to expand employer responsibilities and duties to employees. A relatively recent case that hasn’t garnered too much attention (Cochran v. Schwan (2014) 228 Cal.App. 4th 1137) involves the requirement for employers to reimburse employees in many circumstances for cell phone expenses.
In ruling that cell phone expenses were reimbursable, Cochran held that the only issue was whether an employee was required to make work-related calls on a personal cell phone, and that it was irrelevant whether the employee changed plans to accommodate work-related cell phone usage or even whether the employee actually paid for his cell phone (as opposed to a parent or spouse). Thus, if the nature of your employee’s work requires them to regularly use a cell phone (e.g delivery driver, etc.), you may want to consider providing a company cell phone or having the employee provide his/her cell phone bill to you for payment on a monthly basis to avoid the administrative nightmare of having to determine the “reasonable percentage” of the employee’s monthly bill youare obligated to pay.
Also, keep in mind that you may still be responsible for reimbursement of cell phone expenses even if you do not specifically require the employee to use a cell phone for work purposes if the employee can demonstrate that you knew or should have known that a cell phone was reasonably required to carry out the employee’s duties. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea to review the job descriptions of all of your employees and attempt to figure out whether you should be implementing a cell phone reimbursement protocol.
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