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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Policies Pros & Cons: Are They Right for Your Business?

Employee using personal smartphone while working remotely

Using a smartphone to stay connected has become a staple of American life. The Pew Research Center survey of smartphone ownership found that in 2021, 85% of all American adults own a smartphone compared to a mere 35% in 2011. Stuffed in purses, backpacks, and briefcases or shoved into office drawers and pockets, employers and employees are bringing their devices to work. What is your business's position regarding digital devices? When it comes to establishing a bring your own device (BYOD) policy, businesses should be aware of potential advantages and pitfalls.

Although the primary focus of this article is on BYOD policies focused on the use of the device for work-related purposes, businesses should be aware that they may wish to also consider developing a general workplace policy limiting the use of smartphones and other personal technology for personal use during working hours.

The number of businesses implementing BYOD policies continues to grow, likely spurred by several contributing factors such as:

  • More employees working remotely
  • Demand for employees to interact with customers
  • Demand for employees to manage their work and life through apps

The role of the COVID-19 pandemic in this shift cannot be overlooked. It severely disrupted many traditional work environments, which for many businesses resulted in an increased number of employees working from home.

Understanding BYOD pros and cons can help you make the right decision for your business and employees. The following topics can help you be prepared for the future of BYOD:

What Is a BYOD Policy?

A BYOD policy is typically a collection of rules and guidelines that sets parameters and governs how your employees may use their personal devices for work. In today's hyperconnected environment, many employees expect to have the right to bring their devices to work. This can create a delicate situation between respecting employee rights and protecting your business's technological security. A BYOD policy can also be referred to as "bring your own technology" (BYOT), "bring your own computer" (BYOC), or "bring your own phone" (BYOP).

Factors To Consider Before Implementing a BYOD Policy

The growing interconnectedness of smart devices and their mobility is giving businesses a chance to take advantage of a new opportunity and, with it, new challenges to navigate. The sweet spot between ensuring your organization's data remains secure while respecting BYOD employee rights can be difficult to find. When it comes to a BYOD policy, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. However, there are common issues businesses face. Consider the following factors before drafting and implementing BYOD guidelines.

BYOD Tax Implications

Tax implications for an employee or a business will vary depending on a business's BYOD practices. For instance, is the employee bringing their own device that they purchased with their own funds? Is the business reimbursing the employee's data plan in full each month as a fringe benefit? Are employees given a stipend to put toward the purchase of an approved personal device of their choosing? In many cases, a monthly reimbursement for a data plan would qualify as a "de minimums" fringe benefit. It's a business expense for the employer and the employee would not need to claim it as taxable income. However, employers and employees should check their state and federal tax laws to make sure they are compliant and/or taking full advantage of any tax implications that apply to their arrangement.

Potential Liability in BYOD Policies

As employees increasingly blend work and private time through their personal devices, employers are faced with increasingly complex liabilities. But BYOD issues are becoming a fact of life. Consider how some of the following issues may affect your business:

  • FLSA. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, covered, non-exempt employees must be paid at least 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all time worked over 40 hours in a workweek (this may change depending on your state’s overtime requirements). A business should track all hours an employee works and must compensate them accordingly, including the time an employee spends on business-related emails or phone calls outside of regular shift hours.
  • Safety. There is potential for general liability and workers’ compensation liability if an employee is involved in an accident caused by using a device (e.g. talking on the phone while driving or texting while walking) or causing harm to someone’s person or property by using a device, if that employee is using the device for work purposes and/or during work hours.
  • Reimbursement. Depending on the reason, conflicts can arise over replacement costs for lost or stolen devices, intentionally disconnected or disabled devices, broken devices, and/or operating system crashes. Additionally, reimbursement for ongoing costs of devices used for work purposes is required under certain state laws.
  • Ethical Use and Privacy. A business may be at risk for being sued based on use of a device by an employee representing a business on social media, using the camera feature inappropriately, or using inappropriate apps or websites on a device that is used, even partially, for work purposes. Additionally, depending on the state, privacy laws can protect an employee's right to use their device for personal social media use and safeguard their privacy over any information that may be stored on their device.
  • Cybersecurity. Old devices with cached or stored information about your business can get transferred to a new user. Malware can accidentally be downloaded, which can also put your data at risk.

Laws can vary by state. It's important that employers seek professional advice to ensure they and their employees are protected from legal entanglements by outlining acceptable use behaviors, expectations, liabilities, and disciplinary actions in a BYOD policy.

BYOD Data Security

Even if you are careful about distributing your network password, that does not mean your data is secure. Malware, device loss, or employees using unsecured access through public wireless networks or even Bluetooth usage can all increase the risk of exposing your business data to hackers. Bring your own device guidelines should address topics such as:

  • The level of minimum-required security for devices;
  • Company rights for maintaining data hygiene such as remote access to wipe lost or stolen devices;
  • Lock screens;
  • Password requirements; and
  • Internal IT support to ensure security and company-provided components such as malware protection software to strengthen security measures.

A policy should also clearly outline device-related protocols in the event an employee is terminated, laid off, or quits.

Benefits of a BYOD Policy

With so many implications regarding a company's bring your own device policy, you may be wondering what an employer can gain out of the arrangement. With a solid policy in place, there are an array of benefits that can come from a BYOD program.

Cost Savings

With a BYOD program, an employer can dramatically reduce equipment expenses by not having to purchase a phone or laptop for every employee. Moreover, a person may take better care of their own device than one owned by another entity, such as their company, so devices could last longer.

Improved Employee Morale

Related to ease-of-use, an employee will likely appreciate the convenience and trust that comes with being able to use their own device. They may also appreciate the perk of being reimbursed for monthly data service plan costs. This can have positive implications in their overall morale, loyalty, and productivity.

Conversely, an employee may not feel comfortable using their personal device for work related purposes, and the company should examine their policy and consider alternatives. For example, if they offer a stipend to employees who use their own device, they could just pay for a separate device for those who don't want to use their personal one.

When implemented correctly, a BYOD program can be good for corporate culture and help employees feel adequately supported.

Ease-of-Use

Employees already understand how to use their own preferred electronic devices. An Android user does not have to spend time learning the Apple ecosystem, and vice-versa. When an employee is permitted to use their own phone or tablet, they won't spend extra time maintaining and keeping track of two devices.

Updated Technology

Employees are also more likely to keep their personal devices updated with the latest technology and protections. Not only does your business stand to benefit from the increased efficiency, performance, and productivity enabled by ongoing access to current technology, it is another opportunity to save money. Your business does not have to invest in ongoing, costly equipment upgrades. You may want to consider passing some of those savings along to your employees to encourage an even greater boost in employee morale!

Challenges & Risks of a BYOD Policy

The flip side of the benefits of a BYOD policy are the potential challenges and risks. In addition to the challenges posed by addressing potential liability and legal issues, there are other risks to consider.

Increased Security Risks

The reality is that employees will use their devices for work and personal use. Passwords may be weak, confidential information may be archived in email, and the device may be occasionally used by someone else. Employees may innocently use a business-related app on an unsecured network. Private information can become more accessible to hackers as apps, household technologies, and devices are increasingly interconnected. It's up to the employer to establish BYOD guidelines that protect business data across these devices from a potential breach as well as anticipate how to handle theft, the selling of old devices, and what to do in the event an employee no longer works for the company.

Complex IT Support

On one hand, when employees use their personal devices, there is no lost time in learning new systems. On the other hand, an employer is on the hook for providing consistent software and services that work across disparate devices and operating systems. Even with the same system, employees may have different models and different versions of upgrades. For instance, one employee may love their iPhone 13, while another does not want to part with their iPhone 6.

Privacy Risk

Using a personal device for work means employees may be sharing their personal email and phone numbers with clients. How will employee and client privacy be maintained when an employee changes roles or leaves the company? Additionally, your current customers may reach out to your former employee, thinking that they are contacting your business. This gives your former employee the opportunity to convert a customer to their new business . . . at the expense of yours.

Inequity

As of April 2021, 96% of Americans between ages 18-29, 95% between ages 30-49, and 83% between 50-64 owned a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. Those numbers are impressive, but they are not inclusive. Access to increased productivity and efficiency with a BYOD policy can discriminate against employees who are unable to afford the latest and greatest technology or those who choose not to have a personal device.

Utilize BYOD To Improve Your Business

Saving money while improving employee morale and productivity are all attractive and potential benefits of a BYOD policy as long as the potential downsides in compliance, liability, and security risks are carefully addressed. As you seek to manage this growing technological trend, take time to assess whether your BYOD policy is empowering employee productivity while not burdening them with IT responsibilities and costs. It's important to take the time to consider all the factors and talk to your employees about their needs while you decide if a BYOD policy is the right choice for your business.

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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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