Should our company allow employees to BYOD?

Pitfalls about when employers allow employees to use their own phones and other devices for business.

Question

I manage the sales department for a company that provides corporate trainings on a variety of compliance topics. Employees in my department spend a lot of time on the road and working at home. It has come to my attention recently that some employees are using their own phones and tablets for work -- to check their email, return client calls, and even demo the online portion of our training programs. We reimburse employees for their expenses, like the cost of long distance calls. But do we need to worry about employees using their own devices for work?

Answer

To BYOD or not to BYOD, that certainly is the corporate question these days. BYOD -- "bring your own device" -- has been a hot trend for several years now. And employers don't seem much closer to figuring out a good solution to all of the security, privacy, and legal problems it poses.

Only four or five years ago, BYOD was almost nonexistent. Companies were advised to ban employees from using their own devices for work. Companies issued work phones or corporate BlackBerrys to employees who needed them, and called it a day.

But employees love their personal devices, especially their iPhones. Companies reported increased demands by employees to use the devices they like and feel comfortable with for work purposes, rather than having to double up on their devices and abandon their favorits apps and platforms.

There's no question that BYOD is convenient. But the concerns about BYOD are real -- and they are complicated. Maintaining the security of company data on employee phones and tablets (like your training programs) requires employee cooperation (for example, to encrypt data, lock devices, and restrict access to devices). If a device is lost or compromised, the company will likely want to perform a "remote wipe." But that could wipe out all of the employee's personal data, from contact lists to vacation photos.

If an employee uses a personal device for business, you might be legally required to reimburse the employee. Some states require employees to pay for all tools, equipment, and other items employees need to perform their jobs. In these states, failing to reimburse an employee could lead to legal challenges. (And figuring out the reimbursement amount can be tricky.)

BYOD also gives employees additional opportunities to work overtime without the company knowing about it. This is fine for exempt employees, but employees who are eligible to earn overtime pay must be paid for all overtime work, whether or not the company is aware of it. BYOD opens a real can of worms here, which could lead to a wage and hour lawsuit.

Given all of the potential drawbacks, you definitely should be concerned about employees using their own devices for work. You should talk to a lawyer to decide whether you want to ban BYOD or develop a policy and some rules for employees who are going this route.

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