BYO? No, no.

According to a California court yesterday, employers may not require employees to use their own cell phones for work. Or at least not without paying them. That paying-them part may prove hard.

The California Labor Code requires an employer to reimburse its employees for any thing that they spend discharging their duties or following the employer’s orders. So for example, California employers cannot require employees to buy a uniform, and a mall retailer that makes its employee dress in the clothes it sells must pay for them. The idea is that being an employer means paying the costs of running the business.

Schwan’s Home Services, like many businesses, makes its employees use their own cell phones while working. It thought that it did not have to pay them for doing so because it was not making them buy the phones. The employees, after all, would have had the phones even if they did not have the job. The court pooh-poohed this argument: “Otherwise, the employer would receive a windfall because it would be passing its operating expenses onto the employee.”

What remains to be seen is how the employers will pay for the employee’s phones. Will they require the employees seeking reimbursement to turn in their cell-phone records every month? Those employers will then pay their employees the proportionate cost of using the phone for work rather than for private matters. They can also see just how much time their employees are making personal calls when they should be working.

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