Most businesses have accepted the use of smartphones in the workplace as an inevitable part of doing business in the digital age. With this use comes, however, a need to establish and understand the legal ramifications of personal or company-issued smartphone use by employees. Here, the computer forensics experts at Atlantic Data Forensics provide guidance for business owners when considering the legal ramifications of smartphone use in the workplace.

Legal Considerations for Personal Smartphone Use

Businesses who request that employees use their personal smartphones for work-related purposes may still create guidelines by which employees must abide. Business owners are within their right to terminate an employee if they use their personal smartphone for reasons that are not business-related during working hours or on work property. If a business chooses to pursue such a policy, it is important to include it within the employee handbook—it may also be valuable to have a business attorney review the policy to ensure it does not violate any local or state employment laws.

A business or outside entity is also within its rights to collect the personal smartphone of an employee for discovery purposes if it is used for work, and if the company or employee is involved in civil or criminal litigation. Companies may wish to include language within their smartphone policy that sets the expectations for employees regarding their level of expected privacy when using a personal smartphone for work-related purposes.     

Legal Considerations for Company-Issued Smartphone Use

Providing employees with a company-issued phone allows for even more company regulation and oversight. Because smartphones are company property in this instance, business owners are within their legal limits to access anything stored on them at any time, whether it be emails, text messages, call logs, photos or more. Business owners also have the discretion to terminate an employee if they have used their company-issued smartphone or other device to send something offensive or damaging to the company.

Business owners may also choose to track the physical location of the phone via GPS or a tracking program downloaded onto the phone—currently, there are no federal privacy laws that prohibit such activity, and there are also no laws in Maryland and many other states that explicitly require business owners to inform their employees whether any company-issued device is being tracked or monitored. Businesses in Texas, Virginia, Minnesota and Tennessee must inform employees whether a device is being tracked, and in California, some have argued that a component of the state’s penal code that forbids tracking “any movable thing” can be used to forbid tracking company-issued smartphones.

To ensure legal protections for businesses when company-issued devices are used in malicious or problematic ways, business owners should strongly consider including language within their employee handbook that explicitly forbids employees from using company-issued smartphones and other devices in any way that is not allowed and defined within the scope of the policy. In this way, a company is not liable if an employee uses a company-issued device to commit a crime or offense.   

One additional legal consideration regards the return of company-issued devices at the time of an employee’s departure or termination. To ensure that company data is removed from devices or destroyed, businesses should put in place policies within their IT department regarding the handling of devices during these transitional times. Business owners have the right to file charges against former employees who refuse to return a company-issued phone. However, such instances should be discussed with a legal professional.

Navigate the Corporate-Smartphone Relationship with the Assistance of Atlantic Data Forensics

Smartphones will only become an increasingly necessary component of the corporate world as time goes on, and it is vital for business owners to understand the ramifications of smartphone use—both personal and company-issued—in the workplace. Although the convenience of smartphones is unquestionable, security issues are inevitable due to the mobile nature of such devices. This raises an important question: how are companies ensuring not only the legal solidity of their smartphone policies, but also crafting policies to help prevent data loss or employee theft in regards to smartphones and other mobile devices?

The expert team at Atlantic Data Forensics is available not only to quickly and discreetly assist companies when these issues occur, but to also put best practices in place to prevent these issues from happening at all. To speak to a team of experienced professionals committed to data security, contact Atlantic Data Forensics today.