BYOD? Start here: A draft reimbursement policy for mobile users

Many companies still struggle with reimbursement and access policies for employees on the go

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It's one of the most frequent questions I get at conferences: How to manage all those users who would like to -- or simply do -- use mobile devices and want their work usage reimbursed. This question usually comes up in the context of BYOD, but of course can be raised in terms of company-provided devices. In other words: Who gets those in the first place?

Although every company has its own requirements, employee-enablement bias, and context, every company can start from core, equitable principles, then modify them for their own needs and culture. What follows is my proposed draft policy based on these principles. As you begin a new year, now is a good time to (re)think your own policies around mobile and remote-access reimbursements and permissions.


The company's business units have different patterns and mixes of employee communications and information access. Thus, companies need a flexible approach that lets each business unit optimize its use of mobile devices for communications, information access, and systems access. But don't forget consistency in the framework governing how money is spent on such tools, so employees with similar roles are treated similarly.

In applying this policy, the department head must make two key decisions to determine which policy section applies to each employee:

  1. Are there employees who need access to company resources via mobile devices as part of their job requirements, and thus for whom such access should be a company-paid resource, akin to desks, phones, and computers? A sales engineer who regularly travels for customer engagement is an example of such an employee, as is a department manager expected to be regularly on call outside of the office and outside of business hours. These employees should be reimbursed for both the devices and at least a portion of their access costs.
  2. Are there employees who become more productive or otherwise valuable to the company if afforded access to company resources via mobile devices, and thus should get at least some reimbursement to encourage that beneficial access? A software developer or nurse who travels to conferences several times a year is an example of such an employee. These employees should be reimbursed for at least a portion of the access costs.

Employees may fall into either class or into neither class, in which case they would be eligible for no reimbursement or company-paid service. That decision is a departmental manager's decision, with oversight by company management.

Unless the company has a common technology budget for all employees, the department managers will need to budget for mobile-related expenses for these two classes, to ensure the resources are available for the desired mobile reimbursement strategy.

Company-paid mobile devices 

For employees whose work regularly requires that they be accessible and have access to company resources outside of their company and/or home offices, the company pays for the required equipment. Such equipment may include a smartphone, tablet, and/or cellular hotspot device, as determined by the department manager based on the employee's role and needs.

The company will reimburse the purchase price, including taxes and carrier setup fees, of approved equipment, not to exceed a price limit set by the company. Employees would be eligible for a new device every two years.

The company may impose additional requirements based on information security needs for specific roles, such as requiring additional security software or hardware, limiting corporate communications and data access to only company-provided devices, or accepting stricter data management and security requirements.

Proposed reimbursement limits:

  • Smartphone: $450 (that supports a 32GB or 64GB professional device, including taxes and carrier setup fees, when bought under a two-year contract)
  • Tablet: $850
  • Cellular hotspot: $200

Employees must agree that the device is owned by the company, with the same rights and responsibilities provided for company-owned laptops and other equipment. Should an employee leave the company, the equipment is transferred to the company, which may dispose of or transfer it as it sees fit.

If a company-paid device was purchased under a carrier subsidy contract, the company assumes the cost of any termination fees and outstanding fees should the company terminate the employee. If the employee leaves voluntarily, the employee is liable for expenses and is advised to work with the carrier to shift the existing contract to cover an employee-owned device.

Employee-paid devices

Employees who desire to access company resources on their own equipment (BYOD, or "bring your own device") may do so, subject to their devices complying with any technical and/or security requirements determined by the company.

The use of such devices on the company's networks or systems constitutes employees' acceptance of company policies regarding management and securing of company data and services, including the right to deny access to, lock, or wipe devices determined to be at potential risk, such as due to loss or theft.

Employees also acknowledge that such access may expose personal information to the company or cause loss of such information in case of the need to lock or wipe the device; employees are advised to back up their personal information and assets. These policies apply to home computers as well.

Company-reimbursed access fees

Whether or not employees' devices are paid for by the company, the company may choose to reimburse all or some of the devices' communications access fees to compensate for the work usage of the devices. Employees are responsible for costs associated with personal usage, whether the devices are company-paid or employee-paid.

The company will reimburse the following types of expenses, up to limits set by the department manager and/or corporate management:

  • Wi-Fi access, such as at hotels, conferences, airports, and cafés, for work-related access. Given the typically high per-use costs of Wi-Fi, cellular data use should be considered first.
  • Cellular data access for work-related access. International roaming must be preapproved, and employees should consider using a local pay-as-you-go plan when abroad where possible.
  • Cellular voice access for work-related access. International roaming must be preapproved, and employees should consider using a local pay-as-you-go plan when abroad where possible.

Such expenses should be submitted using the standard expense-reimbursement forms. Whether the devices are company-paid or employee-paid, expense reimbursements are subject to the following monthly limits (total spend, not per-device) based on the mobile-reimbursement class the department manager has determined for the specific employee. That class may be changed temporarily for exceptional circumstances, such as for a period of overseas travel.

  • Standard use: $80 per month. Covers "roving staff" -- that is, those who are often out of the office such as for client meetings and conferences but need to accessible when outside the office, as well as staff who may not travel often or attend events frequently but are expected to be accessible when not in a corporate or home office.
  • Medium use: $100 per month. Covers "highly mobile" staff, such as employees who travel a week a month on average for business or work frequently at sites where computer usage is less feasible or efficient than mobile device usage.
  • High use: $125 per month. Covers "road warrior" staff, meaning those who travel several weeks per month or work regularly at sites where computer usage is less feasible or efficient than mobile device usage.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.