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Business and Financial Policies and Procedures

FAQs for Mobile Communications

1. How do we determine the legitimate business need for a stipend or purchase?
It is within the discretion of a unit to determine whether there is a business need and funds available to support any expenses associated with mobile communications stipends or purchases, unless your campus applies additional restrictions.  It is important to ensure that the employee receiving a stipend or University-owned equipment/service plan is in a position where the associated benefits justify the cost to the University.  Some considerations to identify a legitimate business need for a stipend or purchase may include:

  • Employees who work in the areas of Advancement, Information Technology, or Public Safety.
  • Faculty members who frequently travel on University business and must maintain regular communication while in travel status. 
  • Employees who support or are responsible for programs, services or systems that necessitate frequent and immediate communications throughout the day, after-hours, or while away from the office on travel.
  • Employees who must be available 24/7 to monitor essential systems or for immediate service calls or trouble-shooting.

2. For which mobile communications equipment and/or services can we give an employee a stipend?

  • All mobile telecommunications equipment and cellular-delivered data service plans across any type of network for mobile communications equipment including cell phones, smart phones, IPads, tablet devices, and other equipment utilizing cellular connectivity.
  • All service plans (and required hardware) intended to provide non-mobile communications equipment access to the Internet (such as cable Internet, DSL, mobile WIFI hotspot, cellular broadband modem, etc.).

3. I will be receiving a stipend. Will it be considered taxable income?
Yes, it is considered taxable income. If eligible, employees may claim un-reimbursed business-related expenses on their personal income tax returns. The stipend may not be grossed-up by the unit for tax purposes.

4. Will a stipend count towards SURS contributions or the 6% rule?
No, the stipend does not count towards SURS, nor does it count toward the SURS 6% rule.

5. My researchers frequently hire staff (non-faculty) that are required to carry cell phones. Does the policy apply to sponsored project employees?
Yes. The policy applies to all University employees.

6. My unit pays for a full-time employee's Internet access. The employee's headquarters are outside of Illinois, and the majority of the employee's work is done online. Does the policy apply to this service?
Yes. The policy includes Internet service plans, which means Internet access cannot be paid for by a unit unless approved by the college-level executive.

7. Can units request an exception to the maximum annual dollar amounts for stipends?
No. Stipends are not intended to cover fully the cost of service for personally owned mobile communications devices or for Internet service. It is assumed there is personal as well as business use of the devices/services, and units should ensure stipends do not allow the employee to fully cover the cost of the equipment and services.

8. What does it mean to have mobile communications equipment and related service plans for groups of employees for University business purposes? How are groups different than individuals?
Group equipment is not assigned to any one individual, but is used by various individuals on duty at a given time. Some employees in service units with multiple shifts, such as Facilities or Housing, need to be able to communicate with their central offices as they go from location to location conducting their work. In the case of group phones, the employee turns in the mobile communications equipment at the end of the shift, and the equipment is used by the next employee on the shift. Such phones typically do not leave the campus, although there are some cases where group equipment is used in the field.

9. What mobile communications equipment and/or services can we purchase for a group of employees?
These may be purchased in accordance with University procurement and property management policies:

  • All cellular phone and cellular-delivered data service plans across any type of network for mobile communications equipment.
  • Wireless/handheld devices that require a service or data contract for operation, such as cell phones, smart phones, Blackberry devices, or push-to-talk phones.
  • Tablets and related service plans, two-way radios (such as those used by security or maintenance personnel), and pagers

10. If I receive a stipend for cell phone service for my personal phone used for both University and personal use, could my personal phone calls, texts, or emails be subject to disclosure in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests?
Possibly. The definition of public record under FOIA is very broad and includes electronic communications regardless of the physical form of the communication. The FOIA specifies that public records relate to "the transaction of public business" and includes an exemption from disclosure related to personal privacy. However, recent revisions to the FOIA have narrowed certain exemptions and have strengthened the role of the Attorney General's office in interpreting the application of the FOIA for all public bodies. Accordingly, it is difficult to predict whether data related to personal phone calls, personal text messages, and personal email messages would ultimately be deemed to be protected from disclosure.

Last Updated: December 9, 2015 | Approved: Senior Associate Vice President for Business and Finance | Effective: September 2012

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