California Ruling About to Send Us Back to the Future

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over 7 years ago
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At some point in 2000 you thought you were living in the future. You’d moved way beyond having an amazing cellphone in your pocket—now you had a sleek personal phone and a powerful, company-purchased BlackBerry. You were wired warrior.

Well, get ready to return to that future. The California Court of Appeal recently ruled that companies must reimburse employees “a reasonable percentage of their cellphone bills” if employees use personal devices for work.

Bring your own device (BYOD) policies have been becoming more and more common, and Gartner recently predicted that half of companies would require employees to bring their own device by 2017.

But how will those companies reimburse their workers? Though the ruling is only relevant in California now, similar rulings would be unsurprising in other states, and California’s status as a tech hub means the ruling is important to many now.

Many companies will probably decide that it’s just simpler (and perhaps safer) to give every employee a work phone. Here it is, organizations will report, use it for work because we’re not paying for your personal stuff. But is this solution so simple? A decade ago we dealt with all kinds of issues, like what happens when we start using our work phone for personal use? And when the company takes that phone back? Who owns the contacts?

What happens when an employee starts running a side business from a work phone?
The reason organizations may return to this is that other possibilities are messy. Some might attempt to set a flat rate, but what happens when an employee goes over? If an organization doesn’t use a flat rate, is it going to make employees line-item every bill?
Right now, the ruling only applies to phone calls, but because data plans are sometimes the majority of a user’s bill, and because some users use far more data for work than they do phone minutes, organizations should make plans while keeping in mind that data use may soon come under a similar ruling.

But do we really want to go back a decade? Nobody misses those days of trying to answer the wrong phone, or telling people to “call me back on my work number.”
Luckily, we’re unlikely to end up exactly where we were. Any solution to the complications of this court case is likely to require smart software, and one option is an expansion of the concept of containers that already exists in the mobile device management world. Soon we may have two phones—but one device.

Your BYOD device will carry two (or more) logins. One will be the login you set up for personal use. The other will be one IT puts on your phone for business use. When you log in for business, the calls you make go to a business billing account. Log in for personal use and all calls get billed to a personal account.

It’s only one solution out of many, but it seems a likely one. And while it doesn’t solve the issues of employees misusing their devices (they can still log into their work account and use it to call grandma), software can’t do everything, and this plan at least addresses the recent California Court of Appeal ruling.
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