Court refuses to punish employer for scrubbing employee’s cellphone — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily
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Court refuses to punish employer for scrubbing employee’s cellphone

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

A federal court has dismissed a former employee’s claim under the Electronics Communication Privacy Act (ECPA) alleging that his employer illegally destroyed valuable information when it remotely wiped clean his iPhone after he resigned.

That’s good news for IT departments that must protect company information that might be stored on former employees’ smartphones.

Recent case: Saman worked in residential construction for many years, collecting information about the industry. When he was hired to work for a construction company in sales and marketing, he had to use his own iPhone to stay in touch. The device could access company computers and the email system.

When Saman gave two weeks’ notice, he was terminated. A few days later, the company remotely wiped clean the phone to its factory settings.

Saman sued, alleging violations of the ECPA, arguing it was his personal phone and that he had lost photos, contacts and other valuable information when the employer wiped the phone clean.

The court dismissed his lawsuit, reasoning that information stored on a smartphone isn’t covered by the ECPA. Instead, that law is designed to punish hackers who break into computer servers that store electronic information. It doesn’t prohibit deleting cellphone information, even if that phone wasn’t company property. (Rajaee v. Design Tech Homes, No. H-13-2517, SD TX, 2014)

Final note: This is a rapidly developing area of the law. A safer bet is to provide phones to employees and take them back at termination.

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