Q. We give our employees company phones. It boosts our employees’ ability to respond to messages quickly and is seen as a valuable perk. An employee recently resigned and turned in her phone to her supervisor, in compliance with our technology policy. A week later, it came to my attention that the supervisor had not deleted the departed employee’s email that was still on the phone. A new hire who had been issued the phone could read those messages. What should we do?
A. Your question raises two important but distinct issues: what you should do now, and what you should do as a company going forward.
With this specific situation, you should have the new employee temporarily surrender the phone. Remove the personal email applications of the departed employee before returning it.
Additionally, you should consider alerting the departed employee that she returned her phone with personal email still on the device. Assure her that the company removed all that data when it was discovered.
Resolving this issue promptly is important, as the departed employee could potentially have claims for invasion of privacy and violations of other state and federal laws.
As a company policy, you may want to seriously reconsider whether to provide employees with company-issued phones. If you still want to offer phone as an employment benefit, you could consider reimbursing employees for part or all of their own monthly phone bills.
Additionally, you should specify to employees whether they can use employer devices for personal communication.
Your technology policy or user agreement should specify how devices are to be returned or surrendered, and what is to be done with personal or employer technology devices upon an employee’s separation of employment.
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