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Policies and Procedures

9.46 Cell Phone and Data Access


To ensure that an allowance provided to employees to provide access to portable communication devices and/or remote data/Internet service for University business is provided in a manner that is justifiable, documented, consistent, and compliant with applicable law.  


The University of Northern Iowa recognizes that employees’ performance of certain job responsibilities is enhanced by access to portable communication devices and/or use of remote data/ Internet service. 

The University will allow employees who use personally-owned and maintained portable communication devices and remote data service for University related activity to be compensated for such use via a nontaxable monthly allowance.  Employees requiring remote Internet service to a remote computer, typically located in an employee’s home, for University related activity, shall be compensated with a taxable monthly allowance.  Allowances must be approved by a dean or vice president, and will be issued through payroll monthly.


Communication device:  A cell phone, including smartphone, that allows for two-way communication.

Remote data service:  Remote Internet service as provided to a smartphone or iPad through a cellular communication company. 

Remote Internet service:  Any method for bringing Internet service to a computer for the purpose of performing work-related duties at a location other than a University office.  Reimbursement for Internet expense incurred during the course of travel should be treated as travel expenses and sought at the same time as other travel expense reimbursement.


Acquisition of communication devices and remote Internet service

University employees who meet the eligibility requirements for business use will be given a taxable or nontaxable allowance, depending on type of service, to cover the approximate monthly cost of a communication device and/or remote data/Internet service.   The monthly allowance shall be based on the approximate proportion of the service that is used for business purposes, and should be less than the actual monthly service cost incurred by the employee for the communication device or remote data/Internet service.  Employees are expected to procure the relevant services at the most economical rate available, i.e. take advantage of preferred pricing available to UNI or State of Iowa employees (refer to list of purchasing agreements for cellular service listed on OBO web site).  This amount is subject to the approval of a dean or vice president (or designee). 

 The monthly allowance should be less than the actual amount of the employee’s plan.

Purchase of a communication device and/or remote Internet service is the responsibility of the employee; replacement of a communication device, including those lost or damaged, is the responsibility of the employee.  The university assumes no liability for any employee-owned communication devices or service plans and will not reimburse for the cost of insurance.

Employees will provide their department head with current access numbers for the communication device within five working days of activation.  It is the expectation of the university that all employees who use their personal cell device to conduct university business use voice mail and ring tones that are professional.  If, in the judgment of the approving authority the voice mail and/or ring tones are not professional, the approving authority will withdraw approval of the allowance.

The employee must retain an active cellular service, data service or Internet service contract as long as the allowance is in place.  The employee agrees to notify their department head within 5 days if he/she no longer meets eligibility requirements, fails to replace non-working, damaged, or lost devices, selects a lower- priced plan or fails to maintain a service plan.  Because the cellular device is owned personally by the employee and the allowance provided is based on business use, the employee may use the communication device and/or remote data service for business and personal purposes, as needed.  The remote Internet service may be used for business and unlimited personal use since the allowance is taxable.  The employee may, at his or her own expense, add extra services or equipment features as desired.

 Eligibility requirements for providing communication devices or remote Internet service allowance

The guiding principle for eligibility is that the use of a communication device or remote data or Internet service by an employee is for the benefit of the University, rather than for the convenience of the employee.

Employees are eligible to receive an allowance, subject to the approval of a dean or vice president (or designee), if they meet all of the following criteria:

(1)   the employee is required, as part of their job,  to be readily accessible for frequent contact or critical contact with the public or with University administrators, faculty, staff, or students; and

(2)   the requirement for accessibility extends to time away from campus (at home or traveling), involves on-call responsibilities, or the employee's job limits his or her access to regular land-line telephones or data/Internet access that would satisfy the required business communication needs; and

(3)   a strong business case can be made that supports the University incurring the cost of the service and is subject to budget constraints at all levels of the Universtiy.  The cost of the service is the responsibility of the employee’s department.

In order for an employee to receive an allowance under this policy, the employee must complete a Request for cellular communication device and/or remote data/Internet service allowance form, annually in December and attach a monthly service bill to initiate payment of the allowance.  An updated allowance form is required if the employee changes positions or transfers within the university.

Equipment costs

 Departments may make a taxable payment, up to $100, to the employee through the payroll system not to exceed the actual documented cost of the equipment.  When applicable, these types of reimbursements may not be made more than once every two years.  In all cases, the employee assumes ownership and all maintenance responsibility for the equipment.

Other circumstances

Departmentally purchased contracts.  Certain units may have special needs that justify departmental ownership of cell phones.  Transportation employees, maintenance personnel, custodians, information technology services, and police officers are examples where phones are assigned or rotated among employees.  This would also include organizations that have multiple employees sharing a single cellular phone for on-call rotations. Faculty and staff may qualify for only intermittent and temporary use of departmentally owned cell phones, when the department determines there is a valid, documented business need.  In this instance, the communication device can be provided to the employee under a departmental plan, which can include pooled-minutes.  Minimal and infrequent personal calls may be made on these contracts without requiring reimbursement to the university.   Employees are responsible for reporting to their department their personal use of a university owned phone/plan on a regular basis, as determined within the department.  Excess personal use or abuse may result in termination of usage rights or other disciplinary action. 

Pagers.  Some departments currently use pagers for their communication needs. Since the cost of pagers is very nominal and because potential personal use does not pose a financial risk to the University, it is recommended that departments pay for pagers directly, therefore eliminating the need for reimbursement of these expenses.

Exceptions.  Employees who do not qualify for the allowance may submit an expense reimbursement request for occasional, incremental business expenses.  Incremental business expenses are those cell phone calls that result in additional costs that are above and beyond the employee's normal calling plan (e.g., excess minutes, roaming charges).

When requesting reimbursement, the telecommunication expenses incurred by the employee must be additional (incremental) and must be substantiated and documented with a copy of the bill in accordance with University policy and with applicable federal and state laws and regulations.

An example of a bona fide policy exception would be occasions where employees are traveling for University business and make calls to work that involve roaming charges.  The University may reimburse those employees for their additional out-of-pocket roaming charges; such expenses should be treated as travel expenses and sought at the same time as other travel expense reimbursement.

International expenses. For employees who receive an allowance, this policy allows for reimbursement of incremental expenses incurred when international travel is involved for official business calls and data transfer.  Such reimbursement should be treated as travel expenses and sought at the same time as other travel expense reimbursement.

For allowance form and additional resources refer to the OBO home page at:

Office of Business Operations, approved September 2012

President’s Cabinet, approved September 24, 2012