There are times when employees have to use their own phones to make work-related calls. In such circumstances, it often becomes necessary to reimburse the money that the employees spend on such phone calls. However, certain questions tend to arise with regard to the reimbursement of employees’ phone bills. The first question is as to whether, in fact, an employer is under any obligation to reimburse such expenditure. The second question is as to what qualifies to be viewed as a ‘work-related phone call’ – on the basis of which reimbursement can be done. And the third question is as to how an employer can keep track of the expenditure incurred in this way, to ensure that they don’t end up reimbursing too much. Those are the questions we will be attempting to answer in this article.
On whether employers really have to reimburse employees’ phone bills
In some places, there are actually laws in place, making it mandatory of employers to reimburse employees for funds spent on work-related phone calls. In other places, the employers are allowed discretion on whether to reimburse the employees for funds spent on work-related phone bills or not. But even where an employer is under no obligation, it would still be a good practice to reimburse the employees for funds spent while making work-related phone calls. Failure to do so can lead to loss of morale on the part of the employees, which can in turn start hurting the business.
It is worth noting that there are some situations where employees have to make numerous work-related phone calls. There are, for instance, sales employees who may find themselves having to make phone calls whose total cost is nearly half of their salary. It would then be very unfair to fail to reimburse such people the money they spent making such phone calls. It would amount to ‘impoverishing’ them, and chances are that staff turnover rates for such positions would be very high. On the other hand, there are employees who only have to make work-related phones very rarely – sometimes once in two months. Such employees therefore spend very little on the work-related phone calls, and they probably don’t even expect to be reimbursed.
So the most important thing here is to ensure that all the employees who have to spend sizable sums of money on work-related phone calls are reimbursed. It is something you should do, as an employer, even if you are not legally required to do so. At the very least, reimbursing the employees will raise their morale, and that will surely be beneficial to your business.
On what qualifies to be viewed as a ‘work-related phone call’
In most cases, it is not hard to figure out what qualifies to be viewed as a work-related phone call. Like if, for instance, a sales rep calls a customer on behalf of the business, that would qualify to be termed as a work-related phone call. If a person in HR calls a worker whom the business is headhunting (on behalf of the business) that too would qualify to be termed as a work-related phone call. But then, there are some tricky cases – where some employees try to pass off some personal calls as work-related calls. So this is where the controversy arises. And there is really no way in which an employer can know for sure whether the phone bills he is being asked to reimburse are work-related or not. That is unless one takes the rather drastic measure of recording the phone calls (which can in turn bring legal complications, if the people who are being recorded aren’t notified properly).
When all is said and done, the best an employer can do is to request the employees to ensure that they only request reimbursements for work-related phone calls. Then the employees would need to be informed that if they request reimbursements for phone calls that are not work-related, they would be committing fraud. And that could make them legally liable. They need to be told that in any event, by defrauding the company they work for, they would be potentially contributing to its downfall (which could in turn leave them unemployed).
In most cases, when people are told what the right thing to do is — and why it is in their best interests to do it– they tend to comply. So in this case, you only need to tell the employees that they only need to request reimbursements for work-related phone calls, and that it would be in their best interests to only do so. Most of the employees would then probably comply.
On how an employer can keep track of the reimbursable amounts
Employees who really make lots of work-related phone calls can be given special, company-owned phones, through which they would be making the phone calls. Then there would be a system through which the phone calls made through the device can be audited, before the employees are reimbursed. In fact, the company can go a step further, and take the responsibility of paying the bills incurred on that phone. So it is not the employees who would be paying the bills, and the question of reimbursements wouldn’t arise… Even then, the phone calls made through the device would have to be audited, to ensure that they are all work-related.
Another approach that can be used is that of giving employees worksheets, on which they would be logging all work-related phone calls they make. So they would include details like who the (work-related) phone calls were made to, what the purpose of the calls was and what the outcome from the phone calls was. Reimbursements would then be based on these stats.
Figuring out the exact reimbursable amounts can still be tricky. You see, many people pay flat monthly phone bills (under contracts with the phone carriers like metro pcs). Having made these flat monthly payments, they are able to make both personal and business phone calls – assuming they are using their personal phones for work. So it can become difficult to know what percentage of the (fixed) phone bill to reimburse, on account of the work-related phone calls. But the most important thing is to ensure that, as an employer, you reimburse a ‘reasonable’ amount. You may therefore find yourself having to work with estimates. So you look at how many work-related phone calls the employee made, as well as their durations. Then you get to make a decision (an educated guess really) as to what would amount to reasonable and adequate reimbursement of the phone bills for such work-related phone calls.