Friday, 20 February 2015 00:00

Employers Must Reimburse for Cell Phone Expenses

Employers must reimburse employees for all necessary business expenditures or losses incurred in the course of their employment, according to Samson R. Elsbernd, attorney at Wilke Fleury, a firm that consults for CAWA members.

This requirement applies to employee personal cell phone use when employees must use their personal cell phones for business purposes, even when employees have unlimited minutes and do not incur any extra charge by using their personal cell phones.

In Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Serv., Inc. , 228 Cal. App. 4th 1137 (2014), a group of customer service managers brought a putative class action against their employer for failing to reimburse them for work-related use of personal cell phones. The trial court did not certify the class action; in part because it determined that too many questions existed concerning individual cell phone plans (unlimited or limited minutes) and payment of the cell phone bills (by the employee or by someone else). The court of appeal simplified the issue for the trial court by determining that employer-required use of personal cell phones is always required. It makes no difference whether employees incur an additional expense that they would not have incurred if they did not have to use their cell phones for work. Employers must still pay a reasonable percentage of their employees’ personal cell phone bills. Nowadays, employers would be hard pressed to identify one employee who does not have a personal cell phone.

Employers may be liable for constructive discharge based on failing to reimburse employees for necessary work expenditures. Employers therefore, should take their reimbursement obligation seriously and ensure that employees are not required, and are aware that they are not required, to use their personal cell phones for business purposes.

Alternatively, where employees are required to use their personal cell phones for business purposes, employers should ensure that they receive reimbursement for the expense.

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