BYOD: California Court Decides Who’s Wearing the Pants

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The workplace trend of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is nothing new. What remains unclear, however, is the burden of ownership, cost and security. When employees bring their own cell phones, laptops or tablets to work, there’s a fair chance they’ve personally purchased those devices—data plans and all. In fact, some employers today require a BYOD policy, with no intention of paying for any of it. As one CIO bluntly put it, “Well, we don’t buy their pants either, but they’re required for the office.”

Fortunately, not all employers take such a cynical approach to workplace reimbursement, nor do they subscribe to a one-size-fits-all BYOD policy. While many view the trend as a potential win-win for everyone, the need for clarity is apparent. At least that’s what the California Court of Appeals decided when it handed down a ruling in August 2014 regarding the workplace trend. In Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, the court stated:

“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.” 

This ruling solidified the responsibility of employers throughout the state of California to now provide reasonable reimbursement to all employees using their personal cell phones for work-related calls.

Indirectly, the ruling opened up a Pandora’s Box, unleashing ambiguous questions and concerns regarding data security, liability and actual reimbursement percentage figures—for all devices.

Just the thought of required reimbursement has left many business owners and CIOs feeling uncertain about the reality of BYOD’s future. While the practice isn’t exactly new, the trend is contemporary enough for a few larger companies to consider the recent court decision a death knell.

Establishing Order

Before we throw the BYOD baby out with the bathwater, let’s examine the facts of this widely misunderstood case. First, the ruling pertains exclusively to employee cell phones. Second, the now-required reimbursement is based on a “reasonable” percentage—partial, not complete; and finally, California is the only U.S. state affected by this decision so far.

While the court decision will undoubtedly have an impact on BYOD practices throughout the U.S., the benefits of the trend unarguably outweigh the deficits. BYOD was established to accomplish objectives for both the employer and employee. In theory and in practice, BYOD gives employees freedom to utilize cutting-edge technology, which has the capacity to not only enhance their own job performance but also benefit the corporate entity or employer, who also garners the additional benefits of lowering overhead costs and alleviating liability for devices connecting to the corporate network.

The trend, when properly implemented and regulated, has the ability to grant employees access to enterprise data from a single device. It also potentially benefits the IT department by eliminating the need to manage these personal devices. For example, if an employee downloads a pirated movie onto a work device their employer (the owner of the device) could be held legally liable; however, with BYOD, the device is owned by the employee so the liability lies with them personally.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Perhaps the real debate lies with provisions and compliance. In response to the California court ruling, the National Law Review recently advised employers to revisit their company cell phone policies. This call for review is a good start and should prompt employers to instate more comprehensive BYOD policies designed to protect the privacy of both the employee and the corporation. Companies and employees would also greatly benefit from clearly defining their “percentage of reimbursement,” shifting the liability to the center, and firmly differentiating business and personal use. On the other hand, this could lead to more concerns regarding ownership and responsibility of home Internet connections and cable bills. Drawing a line in the sand will be an on-going challenge—at least for now.

In the meantime, enterprise solutions currently deployed by California companies need not be affected by the recent ruling, as some of the more comprehensive options—made with enterprise-grade security features in mind—have the ability to proactively monitor and manage their environment from any web browser, meaning the type of device used should have no effect on employee productivity and corporate security.

Reconfiguring the System

If BYOD vanishes from our corporate landscape, the only viable alternative will be to take a step backward. By chaining employees to outdated or unsuitable corporate-owned devices and software that require maintenance and careful monitoring, companies risk the real possibility of not only impeding an employee’s performance but also discouraging an already skittish workforce—a high price to pay.

If nothing else, the ruling will push us in another direction; one where new enterprise solutions are required in order to navigate uncharted waters. BYOD isn’t dying; it’s evolving.

Ashley 199x300 BYOD: California Court Decides Who’s Wearing the Pants

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Leonard is the president and CEO of Verismic Software—a global industry leader providing cloud-based IT management technology and green solutions—and a technology entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in enterprise software, sales, operational leadership and marketing, including nearly two decades as a successful senior corporate executive and providing critical leadership during high-growth stages of well-known technology industry pioneers. He founded Verismic in 2012, after successfully selling his former company, NetworkD—an infrastructure management software organization. In his present role, Leonard manages U.S., Australian and European operations, defines corporate strategies, oversees sales and marketing, and guides product development. Leonard works tirelessly to establish Verismic as the leading provider of IT endpoint management solutions delivered from the cloud by building beneficial industry partnerships and creating a strong, innovation-driven culture within the Verismic workforce, all while delivering returns to Verismic’s investors. Verismic’s latest offering, Syxsense , is an agentless, cloud-based IT management software solution that is revolutionizing the way IT professionals engage in endpoint management.

ABOUT VERISMIC: Verismic Software, Inc. is a global industry leader providing cloud-based IT management technology and green solutions focused on enabling greater efficiency, cost-savings and security control for users, all while engaging in endpoint management. Headquartered in Aliso Viejo, Calif., Verismic is a growing and dynamic organization with offices in four countries and 12 partners in nine countries. Over the past two years, Verismic has worked with more than 150 companies ranging from 30 to 35,000 endpoints delivering a variety of solutions for organizations of all sizes as well as managed service providers (MSPs). Verismic’s software portfolio includes the first-of-its-kind agentless, Syxsense ; Power Manager; Software Packaging and Password Reset.