Court affirms obligation to pay employee cell phone costs

By Anthony P. Raimondo

A California Court of Appeal has affirmed that that when employees must use their personal cell phones for work-related calls, Labor Code section 2802 requires the employer to reimburse them for the use of the cell phone.  In Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, decided August 12, 2014, the court ruled that 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 as represented by the work related calls.

Employers must be cautious when calling employees on their personal cell phones.  If the employer decides not to issue company phones to employees, it should have employees acknowledge a reasonable percentage of the bill as work related calls in writing and should revise the percentage as cell phone usage changes.

Expense reimbursement cases are on the rise.  Employers should be alert to covering expenses that employees incur in the course and scope of their employment.  In agriculture, it is common for employees to move from field to field during the day.  In construction, employees may move from work site to work site during the day, or may check in at a shop or office and then go to their work site.  Employers must keep in mind that they must reimburse employees for any use of their personal vehicles that occurs after they arrive at the first place where they report to work.  The standard method of reimbursement for use of a personal vehicle is mileage at the IRS rate. Given the increase in these cases, employers should be sure to reimburse employees when they use their personal vehicles during the workday.

Generally, employers do not have an obligation to reimburse employees for travel to and from work.  But if the employees bring tools or other equipment in their vehicles, they may be entitled to pay for their commute time and reimbursement for the use of their personal vehicle.

The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at Raimondo & Associates in Fresno, at (559)432-3000.