Employer can access hard drive on company-Owned laptop — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Employer can access hard drive on company-Owned laptop

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Employers that provide laptops to employees and that suspect an employee might be aiding a competitor can inspect the company-owned laptop without violating the employee’s right to privacy. Employers should, however, exercise discretion while searching the computer. Don’t, for example, attempt to access an employee’s private e-mail account using stored passwords.

Recent case: Enea Teksci, a technology company, issued laptops to some employees. Mohammed Baghai had one of the laptops and claimed that the company had a policy of allowing employees who were leaving the company to purchase the laptops for their own use.

Baghai, assuming he could buy the computer later, used it to access his private e-mail account via the Internet. He also downloaded and stored some of those private e-mails on the hard drive.

When the company suspected Baghai had used the computer to send trade secrets to a competitor, it confiscated the laptop and searched the hard drive. During the course of the search, it discovered the stored e-mails.

Baghai sued, alleging invasion of privacy. But the company explained that it limited its search to the hard drive and never used any stored passwords to read e-mails other than those stored on the laptop.

The court dismissed the privacy claim, noting that the company owned the computer and had a right to protect its interests. (Hilderman v. Enea Teksci, No. 05-CV-1049, SD CA, 2008)

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