Should network administrators have their mobile phone and home internet expenses reimbursed?
June 19, 2007 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Is it reasonable for a network administrator to require reimbursement for his personal mobile phone and home internet connection?

The network admin at my workplace says that it's a standard practice for a cell phone and home internet connection to be provided to someone in his job. He says that he needs them in case an emergency arises.

There may be an inequity here, since other people at the same office perform work from home using their cell phones and internet connections without reimbursement. Is this an appropriate thing to require of an employer?
posted by Xazeru to Work & Money (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is he on call? Is he expected or obligated to answer the phone at any hour to respond to a problem? Then I would say yes.
posted by mkb at 11:57 AM on June 19, 2007

It really depends on the context. At my former company, blackberries were standard and reimbursed. Home internet connection? Yeah, right.
posted by phaedon at 11:59 AM on June 19, 2007

If he's "on call" when he's at home, or if he's expected as part of his job to monitor the servers / network continuously, when he's not at the office, then sure -- that seems like a reasonable expense.

However, if he's basically a 9-5 employee and isn't expected to be reachable 24/7, and if there's no reason why he'd need to get online from home, any more than a regular employee would ... then it doesn't seem justifiable.

I'd ask him to give the "business reason" for his request in writing, including possible alternatives. At the very least, you'll want to have some good reason for telling people why he's getting his WoW-access-line picked up when everyone else isn't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:00 PM on June 19, 2007

I'll followup just by saying that my company only pays for the internet lines for employees that actually WORK from home, i.e. they don't have a cubicle or other dedicated space in the office, and they're listed as work-from-home for tax purposes.

But some companies are a little more generous, particularly with sysadmins.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:02 PM on June 19, 2007

Plus One on the on-call designation. Company-provided "Leashes" are pretty common, but I've not heard of subsidized home access either.
posted by Skorgu at 12:03 PM on June 19, 2007

I work in an on-call role for my job as system administrator, and I pay for my own cell phone and home internet connection. But then I use those primarily for my personal use, and only once in a while needing them for work.

I mean, my basic cell phone plan gives me free evening and weekend calls (gee ... that's when my pager goes off for off-hours support), there's no additional cost to using the cell phone for work.

Some guys at work only do work with the company-provided computer equipment. It's a convenience (for me) to use my home internet connection to connect to the VPN at work. The alternative would be a dialup connection.

From a strictly financial point of view, $40/month cell phone, $40/month internet connection x 12 months = $960. But then I'm only on call 1 week out of every four. So now the cost is $240/year.

Lastly, I think the on-call responsibility is a part of the job and that my salary covers these additional expenses. If I do get paged when I'm on call and I spend a significant amount of time resolving the problem, then my manager is cool with me coming in late, leaving early, or accumulating enough on-call hours for a vacation day based on comp-time.
posted by indigo4963 at 12:05 PM on June 19, 2007

IIRC, my boyfriend (a sysadmin, not usually on call but an occasional telecommuter nonetheless) explained that it was possible but would be a giant hassle, given that it would be a royal pain to sort out the personal use from the business use. (Given the amount of YouTubing that goes on at the office and the amount of scripting that goes on at home, I don't blame them.)

I know that my department's network guy telecommutes from a different state and we DO reimburse him. I think he may have a very specific work area in his home office, though.
posted by Madamina at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2007

My former company paid for home high-speed access for some employees, it was basically a per-case determination based on how often the employee was expected to have to be on from home, how vital their role was, etc. Core developers almost always got access, because in the middle of the night they're the person who's ultimately going to get called. Network Admins did in one case where there were only 2 guys to cover 24 hours, in another location with a 24hr NOC, not so much.
posted by pupdog at 12:09 PM on June 19, 2007

Only pay for a cell phone if he doesn't have one already.

I would only pay for the home Internet connection if he could guarantee me that it would only be used for work. And if he did that I'd fire his ass for lying to me. So "no" on the home Internet.

I'd keep an eye on the guy. Sounds like he's trying to nickle and dime you and play on your ignorance of his job. Not someone I want in charge of my company's infrastructure.

If he's an independent contractor then forget about it. It's part of doing business and can be expensed. Hire someone else.
posted by Ookseer at 12:13 PM on June 19, 2007

I have been on call as a sysadmin for 10 years. Pre dot-crash, companies handed out free cell phones, blackberries, laptops, and dedicated T1s out like candy to their ops teams.

Since then, I've generally seen companies willing to reimburse a share of someone's cell/pager and their home DSL.

Is it company-mandated that the guy be reachable 24/7? If so, they should give him at least a pager, and subsidizing his internet access is wise.
posted by popechunk at 12:15 PM on June 19, 2007

At 3 different places where I worked (because of the on-call stuff), network admins had their home internet and cell phone paid for by the company.
posted by k8t at 12:19 PM on June 19, 2007

I'm a school's tech admin and half my phone bill's covered- I'm on-call and use it for personal use, so we figured a 50/50 split was fair.
posted by jmd82 at 12:23 PM on June 19, 2007

Last place I worked provided a cell phone and paid for half of the home internet connection, which seemed pretty fair to me.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:24 PM on June 19, 2007

Yes, this sounds totally normal and fair to me. If they are on call, it is the least that you can do for them since they're going to be waking up at 3am to take care of the stuff no one else wants to think about.
posted by voidcontext at 12:29 PM on June 19, 2007

Absolutely. At my place myself and the other two administrators are reimbursed for home Internet (but not cell phone since we rotate with a shared BlackBerry). The logic is that if you have to connect or do work at home at all, the company has to foot the bill for the connection.

If we each had a cell phone and were always supposed to be available then that would get expensed as well.
posted by LukeyBoy at 12:29 PM on June 19, 2007

Many large and small companies I've worked at have provided cell-phone reimbursement to anyone who was expected to answer their own cell-phone for work use. All managers, IT people and sales/marketing people usually had a cell-phone provided or paid for.
The larger companies also provided internet reimbursement for people who worked 10 hours or more per month from home (evenings, weekends, telecommuting). It was generally done on a case-by-case basis for engineers, but absolutely for all IT people.
Additionally, other perks like laptops and comp time (when no other employees had comp time) were common with IT folks who were expected to work at odd hours.
These practices are very standard at larger companies -- smaller companies, it varies. But, there is nothing shady about this request.
posted by j at 12:29 PM on June 19, 2007

My company reimburses for home internet connection and cell phone up to a certain limit per month, but only for employees who are designated as "mobile" or "work from home", i.e., they don't have a permanent office location. I have worked for previous employers who would reimburse a portion of the home internet connection/mobile phone depending on on-call status, etc. So the answer is: it depends, as many others have said.
posted by bedhead at 12:31 PM on June 19, 2007

It isn't automatic where I work but I could get it if I asked (and I'm not a sysadmin, I just sometime check email from home and get occasional after hours calls). I don't ask because then I feel like I'm obligated to answer the phone and do after hours computer work from home. If he takes a significant number of work related calls on his cell and often does computer work from home I think the 50/50 split sounds reasonable.
posted by Carbolic at 12:32 PM on June 19, 2007

I worked in IT pre-crash and yes, back then it was free for the asking for employees, not so much for contractors. But if he's on call, it should at least be considered and you can work something out. There's a significant difference between "working from home" and "tumbling out of bed to secure tunnel into the server and see why the Brazil office isn't able to get through". The company has a business interest in seeing that his service is not interrupted.

The words "standard practice" are a bit much. "Common" is more like it.
posted by dhartung at 12:33 PM on June 19, 2007

Purely as an anecdote, I make goddamn sure not one byte of company property ever exists on my private hardware (not even as an email). I don't telecommute, but if I did, the same rule would apply.

Separate hardware, separate lines, separate phones.

It makes so many things easier, and I've yet to have trouble from anyone on it. Particularly once they've seen the waiver they'd have to sign to get me to back down on it. I've seen people get burned, and I will be damned if I get burned the same way.
posted by aramaic at 12:40 PM on June 19, 2007

I'm on call in a similar role on opposite weeks in case something in our systems go down after hours. The company reimburses half of my monthly cell phone bill (where I get the alerts when things break), but they don't reimburse my home internet access. If things broke around here more than 3-4 times a year, I would want them to reimburse at least part of my home internet access too, because it's necessary for me to log in from home to fix whatever's broken.
posted by vytae at 12:50 PM on June 19, 2007

My company reimburses both, at least for ops people. Another company I was offered a job at did the same thing.
posted by kdar at 1:00 PM on June 19, 2007

I think this happens commonly, yes.
posted by chunking express at 1:01 PM on June 19, 2007

If and employer expects you to do work from home at that requires a network connection (monitoring and potentially fixing problems with production servers), they should be reimbursed for their internet.

Same thing goes for the phone in my opinion (and at the place I work).
posted by zackola at 1:11 PM on June 19, 2007

I'm a sysadmin for a large oil/gas exploration company, and am on-call and occasionally need to work from home after hours, etc. Everyone in my group gets reimbursed for their home Internet connections; I think the allowance is "Up to $50/month" for broadband.

Eventually I realized that I would have my home DSL connection anyway, and the paperwork hassles weren't worth the $17/month I got back - so I stopped submitting expenses for it.

As for cellular phone - up until about three months ago, the office reimbursed us for mobile phone costs. Now, the company pays our AT&T/Cingular bills directly, as they're under the main company account.
posted by mrbill at 1:16 PM on June 19, 2007

Mr. Tigerbelly has been working w/dotcoms since pre-crash, and has always had his cell paid for. We used to have the DSL paid for, but that was pre-crash, and he was working for a startup -- which meant a) money was being tossed around and b) the built-from-the-ground-up system was pretty unstable and required a lot of round-the-clock work. The cable isn't paid for by his current employer these days, and alas, neither are his laptops or his pdas/treos. His rank is more like a sysadmin's boss, but he works for small companies and at every job has always been on call. Based on what I've observed, it's expected that the cell, at the least, will be covered. Sometimes internet connection and equipment.

What is covered depends on the job and the company, but as j says, the request is not shady.
posted by tigerbelly at 1:17 PM on June 19, 2007

I used to work as a Network Administrator and my cell phone was paid for by the company. I was expected to be able to answer it 24/7. My home internet connection was not paid for by the company, but there was talk that it soon would be. Before the company had a chance to decide if they were going to pay for my home internet connect I quit because of unrelated issues.
posted by mjger at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2007

I work for an IT consultant, and I have a company provided cell phone + $50 per month for broadband. I used to not get the latter, until I pointed out to the boss that he was constantly calling me at home and saying "Can you log on and take a look at X" or "Are you at your PC? I need you to review this email" etc...

As for what "Mr. Friendly" = Ookseer has to say - "I would only pay for the home Internet connection if he could guarantee me that it would only be used for work. And if he did that I'd fire his ass for lying to me. So "no" on the home Internet." Jesus, what a tight ass. Does he monitor his office employees as heavily? Maybe he should create a new MeFi account as "Overseer."
posted by Liosliath at 1:26 PM on June 19, 2007

It depends how the job was described. If the company requires 24 hour access to this person, it is the company's responsibility to provide the equipment and services that make it possible to contact him and allow him to work remotely. Unless specified differently in the employment contract, that means a cell phone, computer, and possibly home internet access.

In most cases employees already have an adequate cell phone plan and internet access and will not request reimbursement for them. If they do, you should be willing to reimburse at least a portion of both - full reimbursement is not necessary unless it will be used 100% for company business.

As far as a computer, you should always provide them with a laptop for remote work just to avoid company data existing on their personal PC.
posted by chundo at 1:37 PM on June 19, 2007

My husband is the network admin for two departments at a local university. He does quite a bit of work after hours and on weekends from home. (Checking on servers, answering e-mail requests, etc.)

He'd always been provided with a laptop that he brought home each night, but we paid for our own internet access. When he learned that other employees who did less at-home work than he (like the woman who maintained the departments' website) had their home internet access paid for by the university, he asked if he could be similarly reimbursed, and was told "sure, no problem".
posted by Lucinda at 2:00 PM on June 19, 2007

I'd say very common at any professional place- in previous Ops jobs, the cell was either provided or reimbursed; the home high-speed line was also covered (especially since it's usually less than $50) in full. And the argument is, if even one time a month you get paged to handle a "major site issue" in the off-hours, the cost of you not fixing it in a timely fashion is far far more than paying for the monthly fees to get that immediacy. I've worked in small offices where that downtime could meant hundreds of dollars lost from some remote employee working an event planning gig, or from an MSN-driven site where the loss of traffic is measured in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. $100 a month for phone and broadband for each of your two Systems Engineers? That's a pretty good deal...

Or wait- is a company expecting that you'd take on ~$100 a month in luxury expenses you don't need just so THEY can get access to you any time of day or night?!? What's next, requiring digital cable TV so that you don't seem out of place at the water cooler on Mondays?

No, my personal life is my own. Everyone should have a very firm policy on where work stops and life begins. The workplace does not have any right to contact you outside of your 40 hours a week; paying for your cell and landline is like a cheap way of getting that access that probably far too many people surrender- and again, is usually reserved for people who will have to be connected potentially 24/7 such as core Ops folk or lead devs that are handling on-call duties. Testers, PMs, general office folk? No way.

In my current position, I never have to sign in from home to do work, and as a result I steadfastly refuse to give out my personal cell number to anyone I work with because they don't need it.
posted by hincandenza at 2:17 PM on June 19, 2007

Regardless of anecdotes it sounds like the OP can answer their own question: what is expected of the employee? If it's to be able to perform their job outside of standard business hours, it's the company's responsibility to provide the means to do so.
posted by rhizome at 2:23 PM on June 19, 2007

Is he expected to answer the phone outside of normal work hours, or have internet connectivity at home? Then YES the company should pay for it. If you don't care if he is reachable, or can connect after hours, then NO.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:24 PM on June 19, 2007

It's completely reasonable.

I feel somewhat cheated that I only get half my cell paid for, since I use it over 90% for work. (Over 1000 minutes, most months, of work usage)

I'd say that less than 1% of my Internet use is for work, though, and I don't get reimbursed for that.
posted by wierdo at 2:29 PM on June 19, 2007

I work as an on-call engineer for a telecommunications company. I'm provided with a laptop, cellphone, broadband if it's available in the area or a mobile broadband card for the laptop if it isn't. Usage is not audited, everything is paid for in full.

It's in their best interests to provide you with broadband/cellphone as it will allow you faster response times to issues via remote access and other things like being able to keep up with work should you be home-bound for some reason.

Although, if you were working as a contractor or a consultant to the company I would expect this kind of stuff to be covered in your fees. If they're not - raise it.
posted by puddpunk at 2:34 PM on June 19, 2007

On the subject of "personal use of company-provided phones", here it's pretty much "feel free to use the phone for personal calls, but don't go over your allocated minutes or run up excessive long distance bills". I don't know of anyone that's ever abused the policy and it works out well.

I carry a work-provided phone instead of a pager, and they don't care if my wife calls me and tells me on it to pick up milk on the way home.
posted by mrbill at 2:50 PM on June 19, 2007

Yes it is.
posted by Megafly at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2007

If a tech doesn't have a cell phone I get one for them and I pay half their Internet connection. If they have a cell phone already, I'll cover it 50/50.
posted by disclaimer at 3:19 PM on June 19, 2007

It's completely reasonable for a network administrator to request this, and in most cases, it should be granted. As many others mentioned, if part of his job description involves fixing a broken network from home outside of working hours, then you need to be prepared to provide him with the tools he needs to do the job.

This isn't about equality and/or fairness. Other employees may work from home occasionally without reimbursement for these things, but it's not as likely that they're being required to work from home the way that an on-call employee is.

Besides, talented ops workers are getting hard to find again. If this guy is worth keeping, then he's probably worth keeping happy. A $50-100 communications stipend seems like an inexpensive investment in employee retention to me.
posted by toxic at 4:38 PM on June 19, 2007

netadmin for a University speaking... my cell phone is paid for by work, my home desktop and roaming laptop are paid for by work... (i myself don't own any computers, i only own external USB Hard Disks for personal data). My DSL goes directly back to my workplace (my DSL IP address is within my employers address space.). For Network Admin and Systems Admin people, everything is paid for if wanted... (some people prefer to use their own cell phone/internet access), but if you are required to be available, work pays for that availability.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:41 PM on June 19, 2007

If you can always afford to wait until 9 AM the next day for him to start working on a technical problem or network outage that may take 8+ hours to fix, then don't pay for it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:05 PM on June 19, 2007

I work as a Network Admin, and my company pays for up to $75 a month for a blackberry, and up to $50 a month for home broadband Internet access.

Yes, this is completely reasonable.
posted by stovenator at 1:06 AM on June 20, 2007

Where I work (a non-profit), the two network admins are reimbursed for their home internet. Lucky.
posted by pyjammy at 11:25 AM on June 20, 2007

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