February 5, 2013

Personal Devices the New Legal Headache on the Block for HR

yellow folderThe inherent risks of allowing personal mobile devices in the workplace extend beyond IT and into the realm of HR who should be paying close attention to the growing phenomenon. As more employees begin to bring their smartphones and tablets to work and do their jobs on those devices, companies were expected to spend 48 percent more on smartphone management in 2012 than in 2011, according to research released by Osterman Research. The primary issues affecting HR include those involving wage and hour concerns, “textual” harassment,” and confidential data stored on personal devices.

Companies typically do not give non-exempt workers company-owned mobile devices to ensure that no work is done off the clock. But this doesn’t mean that exempt employees can’t land a company in hot water. For example, if an employee does a minimum amount of remote work while on leave (usually just a couple of minutes), that employee could be entitled to a full week’s pay. Lesson: Staffers on any type of leave should be prohibited from spending more than the minimum amount of time working.

Most every company has policies addressing all forms of harassment. But what happens when employees use their own devices to communicate inappropriately with co-workers, customers, or others? Texting is widely considered the most casual form of communicating; even more so than email. And workers can easily save offensive messages received for future litigation. Anti-harassment training must include lessons on using good judgment when using personal devices for communicating.

Firms with bring-your-own device policies are at great risk for inadvertently allowing sensitive information to leave the premises on a staffer’s mobile devices. And simply wiping an employee’s personal phone or tablet memory opens a company up to any number of legal issues. The best ways to limit potential damage includes limiting the need for sensitive data to be stored on personal devices, recording all information that is retained in personal devices, and require the signing of a release-upon-hire that requires employees to allow sensitive information stored on their device to be recovered upon exit from company premises.



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Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.