Owning the cell phones your employees use for business purposes can allow you to control costs, keep confidential information private and even protect your business legally. However, there are often gray areas when it comes to cell phones, especially if your employees only occasionally use them for business.

Many employers opt to reimburse employees for business use on their personal phones — but then that can open you to a lot of risk. Here are some tips to help you make your decision:

To own:

  • Rate plans for businesses typically come at a lower cost than individual or family cell phone plans, and by selecting the type of phone and plan best suited for each employee’s job, you are paying for just the right amount of voice, data and text.
  • If you own employees’ cell phones, you also own the phone numbers. If an employee who has given the number to customers or suppliers leaves the company, you can transfer that number to a new employee so you don’t lose business.
  • You have a legal obligation to protect client data. Owning employees’ cell phones can allow you to set up passwords and use private applications that aren’t visible to the public.
  • Purchasing cell phones for your employees can also simplify the tech support if you decide on one platform — like Android or BlackBerry — that all employees use. Information technology technicians will be able to construct network and software connectivity and security in a uniform manner, which will minimize the security risks and protect company data.

Not to own:

  • If you aren’t comfortable with employees using cell phones for personal calls, reimbursement might be a better option. In addition, some employees may insist upon using a specific type of device rather than using a company phone.
  • If the employer owns the phone, the employee could go over the plan’s allotted minutes because of personal use. To determine whether that’s the case, you must go through the bill line by line, which most small business owners don’t have time to do.
  • If an employee leaves your business and refuses to turn in a company phone, you would have to go to the carrier to deactivate it. The company can then reroute the number to a different employee, which is a hassle.
  • If you don’t want to manage company-owned cell phones, employers can opt to reimburse a set amount each month, such as $50, adding it to the employee’s paycheck.