In this burgeoning age of technology, employers are looking for more and more ways to use the latest developments to increase productivity and make their businesses more efficient. Many anticipate that by the end of 2013, more people will be accessing the web through smart devices than PCs. Thus, it is no surprise that employers frequently supply employees with smart phones and devices.
But, beware. There may be legal implications for employers once an employee is terminated and the phone is returned to the employer.
Smart devices feature the ability to download various applications (apps). Apps are software downloads onto a smart device that range from things like webmail and weather, to social media. While they are common among smart devices users, in the employment setting, they may pose great risk to employers.
Employees who download apps give the provider the ability to access information stored in other places on the device. Unfortunately, the app will be unable to distinguish business versus personal information. This means protected work information could potentially be accessed, leading to trade secrets being revealed and competitors gaining access to such information. Further, the apps often contain personal information about the employee that the employer likely did not previously have access too. This includes personal webmail and social networking activity.
Thus, employers have certain duties with respect to accessing this personal information after an employee has been terminated.
First, if employers allow employees to download apps on company devices, (employers should really think about this) there should be a policy in place alerting the employee that he or she has no expectation of privacy concerning use of the device. This policy should be in writing and signed by the employee.
Second, before the employee hands in the device, the employer should advise him or her to disable the automatic login mechanism for all downloaded apps. Further, the phone or device should be powered down before its return.
Third, the employer should turn the phone or device over to its technology department or equivalent to avoid inadvertent access of such information.
Finally, the employer should stay apprised of the technology of such devices used by employees so privacy and other company policies can remain up-to-date.
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