May 14, 2019

It’s Your Company—You Own The Passwords

By Paul Bieber

In our current computer age more and more time is spent on computers and smart phones, which the company owns and gives to employees to useThis is your equipment and you are entitled to own the data and history on it.  So, if it is so cut and dried, why the blog at all?  Because there are still some issues.

If you give an employee a phone or a computer and say, “here, this is for you,” you may not have the right to enter the phone or computer and see what is on it. When you give out a piece of electronic usage, give each employee a letter stating:

  • The phone (or whatever) is owned by the company and is given to the employee for their use on company business. The password is ________ and they cannot change the password under any circumstances without first advising the office.  They must take good care of the device and do their best to protect it.  The device must be made available to management at any time requested.  If an employee is leaving the company, the device must be turned in prior to a final check being written.  If the device is not turned in the device value will be deducted from the employee’s final paycheck.
  • The information on the device belongs solely to the company, without question.  If an employee copies information, for any reason, the employee is subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.  If the information on the device is sold, given, procured or is used by the employee or a third party for any reason that impacts the employer’s business, then the company will take full and complete legal action to protect its’ rights to the data involved.
  • The employee can use the device for personal usage as long as it does not impact company operations, such as using the phone in the evening.  Absolutely no programs may be downloaded with the express written permission of the company.  (For instance if the employee wants to add a music program to their laptop, that is OK, provided they check with you first and the size of the program doesn’t slow down the device such that proper work cannot be done.)

Now let’s look at the other side.  You find that an employee has used his laptop improperly.  Here are your choices:

  • Not much

You may fire someone for downloading porn on their phone, but, if you told the employee go ahead and use it all you want, or worse, say nothing, you may have a court case for wrongful termination. Ouch.

Bottom line, go to your local attorney for a one-page document that is valid in your state.  If you operate in multiple states you may need a separate letter for each one.

For all of my complaining, giving a phone is necessary in today’s work environment. Letting the employee use it for a personal call is alright with me.  Just make sure there is no abuse. How? Periodically look at all electronic equipment and see if there are problems, extraneous programs, or serious problems, like porn, on company devices.  How?  After all, you have the passwords.