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Wireless Communication

Title: Wireless Communications Policy and Procedures
Effective Date: July 1, 2017
Responsible Office: Finance & Administration
Last Updated: June 29, 2023

I.  Scope

This policy applies to all employees of the College of William & Mary, including the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (hereafter referred to as the “University”), which includes all benefit eligible faculty and staff, full- or part-time.

II. Purpose

The University recognizes that certain employees, due to the nature of their jobs and/or the location in which they work, may require wireless communications devices in order to adequately conduct official business. Further, the University recognizes the need to be able to contact and/or communicate outside of business hours with certain employees who possess essential knowledge, decision-making ability and/or whose expertise is critical for the on-going operation of the University. This policy establishes the rules and procedures for compensating employees for wireless devices or providing them with such devices. 

III. Definitions

Wireless Service Plan is any service plan used to make or receive wireless voice, text or data communications on a cellular telephone network.

Wireless Communications Device is an electronic device used to communicate information wirelessly.  Mobile communication devices relevant to this policy include, but are not limited, to the following devices: cellular telephone, smartphone, tablets, mobile cellular internet connectivity device, and mobile internet device.  For purposes of this policy, a mobile internet device is defined as a large format smartphone or a tablet computer.  Laptops, notebooks, and netbooks are NOT included in this definition or addressed by this policy.  A mobile internet device may or may not have cellular telephony capability.

Mobile Cellular Internet Connectivity Device is an electronic device that allows internet connectivity for a mobile computing device such as a laptop.  Connectivity is provided through a cellular network provided by a mobile network operator.  They may also be referred to as an “internet stick”.

De Minimis is so small or minimal in value and/or the frequency as to make accounting for it unreasonable or impractical.

IV. Policy

The University’s preferred business approach is to provide employees who are required to have a wireless communications device as part of their job responsibilities with a university compensation stipend based on the level of required business use.  Academic or administrative departments requesting employee stipends for this purpose must demonstrate a bona fide business need and receive approval from the appropriate executive employee (typically, a Vice President, Dean, Senior Vice President, or the Provost). Simple convenience is not a criterion for granting a wireless communication device/stipend.  Criteria for employee stipends include:

  • The employee’s job requires them to work regularly in the field and to be immediately accessible.
  • The employee has administrative responsibilities related to critical business functions or support of the university’s infrastructure and needs to be immediately accessible at all times.   
  • The employee travels on university business and needs to be accessible or have access to information technology systems while traveling.
  • Access via voice and/or access to information technology systems via a wireless communications device would, in the judgment of the supervisor, render the employee more productive and/or the service the employee provides more effective, and the cost of mobile communications service is therefore warranted.

The amount of the stipend will vary depending on the business need, as provided in Section V, below. 

When necessary for substantial business reasons, the University may issue a university-owned wireless communications device to an employee instead of providing a stipend. The university-owned phone may be provided as a “duty” phone that is to be shared amongst a group of employees or may be assigned to an individual for business use.  The business use of a university-owned device will be treated as a working condition fringe benefit[1] and any reasonable personal use will be treated as a de minimis fringe benefit.  The associated department’s management must review the bills on a monthly basis to note any significant variances in charges. See Procedures for Authorized University-Owned Devices under Section V.

This policy assumes that for most employees, the device will be used for both business and personal use and it is therefore appropriate for the University and employee to share the overall cost.  The amount of the allowance is not intended to cover the full cost of the employee’s monthly service plan.

V. Procedures
A. Employee-owned Wireless Communication Devices with University Stipend

1. Department Authorization and Approvals

A. Authorization Based on Employee Job Duties; Stipend Amount: Departments are responsible for determining whether or not an employee's job requires the use of a wireless communications device, applying the criteria established in Section IV above, and availability of departmental funds.  A stipend for an employee-owned device is based on the employee’s actual job duties, not a particular title or position. Department heads are responsible for determining when wireless communications devices are warranted and what stipend level should be provided.

The following chart should be used in determining the appropriate stipend amount:

Required Business Use Monthly Stipend Taxable
Low – Data not necessary, only voice/text required.  The job requires the employee be occasionally accessible outside of normal work hours. $15 No
Medium – Up to 4GB data use required with both voice and text.  Employees are expected to monitor and administer mission critical information systems or other University resources during non-business hours. $30 No
High – Greater than 4GB data use required with both voice and text.  More than 60% of work is conducted away from the employee’s work station and the employee is required to be contacted on a regular basis when away from their work station OR the job requires the employee to be regularly accessible to receive and/or respond frequently to business communications outside of working hours. $45 No

B. Stipend Approval: Supervisors must review stipend levels for all employees receiving a stipend for an employee-owned wireless communication device prior to July 1, 2017.  Stipend levels provided on or after July 1, 2017 must conform to this policy and the following procedures.  All new and continuing stipends must initially be approved by the supervisor, department head, and responsible executive employee.  Subsequent reviews and approvals are outlined below. See Wireless Communication Device Stipend Request Form (doc). Completed forms must be submitted to Human Resources.  In accordance with federal regulations, once the stipend level is approved, supervisors may request a copy of their wireless communications plan contract or invoice to ensure that the stipend does not exceed actual costs for verifying no tax withholdings are necessary.

C. Annual Review of Departmental Needs: It is the department head's responsibility to review wireless communication needs in his/her department on at least an annual basis to determine if any monthly stipend provided to an employee should be changed or discontinued, considering the employee’s business needs are, the device/service plan requirements necessary to meet this need, and the approved stipend amount.  The following chart indicates the approval(s) required to adjust a stipend:

Stipend Action Department Head Executive Employee
Initial Stipend Approval X X
Cancel Stipend X
Decrease Stipend X
Increase Stipend X X

The department must either:

(i) affirm that no changes are needed to existing stipends

(ii) if a new stipend is to be approved or an existing stipend modified, complete and submit to Human Resources a new or revised Stipend Request Form, or

(iii) if a stipend is to be canceled or discontinued, notify Human Resources as provided in (d) below.

D) Discontinuation of Stipend: A department head may discontinue a stipend at any time.  The department should notify Human Resources immediately if a stipend is to be discontinued. Notification can be made by modifying the End Date on a copy of the original Stipend Request Form and submitting the modified form to Human Resources specifying that additional pay should be discontinued.

E) Costs above Stipend Levels: International Use.  In some instances, international business requires incremental cellular service costs that may be reimbursed through the Travel Office with appropriate documentation. If business use results in a billed amount that is more than the nontaxable stipend amount, reimbursement may be sought with appropriate documentation through regular expense reimbursement procedures. If increased business use will continue, the monthly nontaxable stipend can be revised by submitting an updated form to Human Resources specifying that the monthly nontaxable stipend should be increased and the effective date of the increases.  Increases will not be considered retroactively.

2. Documentation/Audit Requirements

For employee-owned devices, current copies of the approval forms/agreements must be on file at all times with the Office of Human Resources.  The Office of Human Resources shall retain such records for a period of five year for internal or external audit purposes.

3. University Control of Compensation

Stipends or other university compensation for wireless communications devices or plan is not considered an entitlement, is not part of an employee's base salary, and may be changed and/or withdrawn by the University at any time. 

4. Employee Responsibilities

A) Select and Purchase Device/Plan: The employee is responsible for the selection and purchase of a device and enrollment in an appropriate wireless service plan. The plan must, at a minimum, cover the requirements identified and approved by the department head. The employee may select service from any vendor whose service meets the requirements of the employee's job responsibilities as determined by the department head. Insurance or accessories not required by the Agreement are the responsibility of the employee as the employee owns the device.  The employee may obtain a more expensive plan if desired for personal use, but will only receive the stipend amount agreed upon for University business use. Payment of bills for the service plan and device are the responsibility of the individual, not the department.

In addition, the University will not provide direct payments to a vendor for the purchase of equipment or monthly service charges for the equipment covered under these procedures.  Additionally, the University will not enter into contracts with vendors for employee use of these devices or services on behalf of employees; University-owned devices are addressed in section V.B, below.  Failure to notify the University when a device is disconnected or a plan is terminated may be considered fraud and constitute grounds for disciplinary action and repayment of excess funds to the University.

B) Provide Department with Phone Number: Any employee receiving a stipend must provide his/her department with the device phone number or other identification number (if the device does not have telephony capabilities) within five (5) working days of activation or the stipend will be discontinued.

C) Provide Bill for Verification of Usage: The employee must be able to show, when requested by their department head or University administration, that the monthly bill for his or her wireless device usage, including taxes and fees, is at least the amount of the stipend being received.  If the monthly bill does not, on average, equal or exceed the stipend amount, the department head may decrease the stipend to a lower amount or discontinue the stipend.

5. Fees for Contract Changes or Cancellation

A) Employee-initiated Change or Cancellation: f, prior to the end of the service contract, a personal decision by the employee, or employee misconduct, or misuse of the device, results in the need to end or change the service contract, the employee will bear the cost of any fees associated with that change or cancellation.  

B) University-initiated Change or Cancellation: If, prior to the end of the service contract period, a University decision (unrelated to employee misconduct) results in the need to end or change the service contract, the University will bear the cost of any fees associated with that change or cancellation.  If, for example, the employee's supervisor has changed the employee's duties and the device is no longer needed for University purposes and the employee does not want to retain the current contract, change or cancellation fees will be reimbursed by the University.

6. Security Standards

All University departments and employees are responsible for protecting university information no matter where it is stored.  Employees accessing university information on mobile devices must comply with University data protection and security policies; see Section VI below.   

7. Privacy Rights

Employee-owned wireless communication devices may be connected to University servers, therefore, information passed through the University systems, servers, etc. is considered University information and subject to the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), University records retention requirements, and other policies and procedures.  Employees who use their personal cell phones, computers, tablets, and other electronic devices to communicate on University business should be advised that such communications may be subject to the FOIA and other policies.

8. See Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Policy 1.75.  

B. University-Owned Devices

The University’s policy and preferred business practice is to provide a monthly stipend to employees who are required to have a wireless communications device for business purposes.  In limited instances, an academic or administrative department may have a business need or find it more cost-effective to purchase a limited number of University-owned wireless communications device and issue them to employees for business use on an as-needed basis.  For instance, certain departments within the University have specific responsibilities for safety, security and/or effective operations of the University community at all times and may find it more cost effective to assign a University-owned phone to the employee(s) “on-call” on a periodic or rotational basis rather than require employees to have an employee-owned wireless communications device and provide a monthly stipend based on the level of service needed to meet the employees’ job functions.

In those limited cases and with approval by the appropriate Vice President, Senior Vice President, or Provost, departments may request the purchase of a university-owned device through the Procurement Office.  Procurement will ensure that appropriate wireless contracts are developed to address the number of employees required to carry wireless equipment, the volume of calls, and the most cost effective means of addressing the requirements. Departments are required to submit documentation regarding the business purpose of all wireless communications devices to the Procurement Office, the employees to which they are assigned, and documentation that the devices are provided for business use, using the Wireless Device Form.

No documentation of usage is required since these devices are restricted to business use.  Any reasonable personal use of a University-owned device will be treated as a de minimis fringe benefit. However, the department’s management should review the bills on a monthly basis to note any significant variances in charges.

  1. Annual Departmental Review and Documentation of Business Need:  It is the department head's responsibility to review wireless communication needs and budgetary impact for University-owned devices in his/her department on at least an annual basis.  Both the employee and the department head must sign the agreement. For shared devices, any employee that will use the device is required to read and sign the agreement prior to its use.  See Wireless Device Form.

2. Departmental Responsibility for Cost and Contract Obligations: Because University-owned devices are designed to be used for University communication only, the department will be responsible for the cost and contract obligations of the service plan. All University-owned cell phones must be procured through an approved University contract to ensure effective pricing.  All devices procured through the University remain the property of the University and the employee must surrender the device immediately to the department upon termination of employment or cessation of the department need.

3. Documentation/Audit Requirements: Departments are required to submit copies of the approval forms/agreements to Procurement.  Receipts or other valid evidence of device purchases and service contracts, and documentation of device usage shall be retained for five years for internal or external audit purposes.

4. Employee Responsibility to Reimburse the University for Personal Use:  Any unusual or excessive personal use of a University-owned wireless communications device must be paid to the University by the responsible employee(s) based on documented device usage. Charges above the monthly plan are an indication of unusual or excessive use and the employee must explain or justify such use if payment by the employee to the University for excess charges is to be avoided. This applies to University-owned devices that meet the business use definition. 

5. Privacy Rights:  No user shall have any expectation of privacy in any message, file, image or data created, sent, retrieved, received, or posted in the use of the Commonwealth’s equipment and/or access.  The University has a right to monitor any and all aspects of electronic communications and social media usages.  Such monitoring may occur at any time, without notice, and without the user’s permission.  See Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, Policy 1.75. 

6. Recommended Vendors:  Departments are required to purchase wireless communications devices and service plans that are available from approved vendors participating in University preferred vendor programs.  For more information, contact W&M Procurement at [[procure]]

VI. Authority & Amendment; Implementation

This policy was approved by the Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration.  The Chief Financial Officer is responsible for interpreting and implementing this policy. 

This scope of this policy was amended June 29, 2023 to apply to benefit eligible employees consistent with DHRM requirements.

VII. Related Policies & Other Documents

[1] Any property or services provided to an employee by an employer to the extent that, if the employee paid for the property or service, the amount paid would be allowable as an ordinary and necessary business expense deduction.