In August 2014, a California Court of Appeal held that class certification was appropriate in a case alleging that the employer failed to reimburse employees for expenses associated with using their personal cell phones for work calls.
In the case, Cochran v. Schwan Home Service, Inc., class certification had previously been denied because the employer had argued successfully that liability could not be established on a class wide basis, and that employees could not prove who was paying their cell phone bills
The Court of Appeal rejected the employer’s arguments and held the class certification was improperly denied. The Court of Appeal held that class certification was appropriate because all the employees had to show to prove liability is that they necessarily incurred expenses in the course of job duties. According to the court, employees do not need to prove that they incurred expenses over and above what they would have incurred absent the job, and they do not have to prove who actually pays their cell phone bill.
The court held that if the rule were otherwise, the employer would receive a windfall by being able to pass on some of its operating expenses to employees. Therefore, according to the court, employers have to pay a reasonable percentage of an employee’s cell phone bill if the employee used a personal cell phone for work purposes. In other words, employees should be reimbursed for work calls placed on personal cell phones.
Employers that have employees using personal cell phones for business calls should review their expense reimbursement policies to ensure that these employees are reasonably compensated for the expense of making business calls on their personal devices.