Allowing employees to use their smartphones or mobile devices for work, also known as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), is becoming a trend in most workplaces. It helps businesses cut the expenses of providing employees with mobile devices and offers employees convenience and flexibility. However, using smartphones at work exposes your company to numerous challenges with legal implications. Here are common legal risks of using personal smartphones at work.
1. Data Breach
With the rise in cybersecurity threats, employees are the most vulnerable channel for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to company data. Also, third parties can easily access crucial information if they access an employee’s smartphone, such as when a phone is damaged or lost. When a data breach occurs, sensitive information may fall into the wrong hands. Criminals can use it to commit crimes such as identity theft and fraud. In such cases, the company’s reputation suffers, and the company will be legally liable for exposing confidential information.
To avoid data breaches and related lawsuits, implement security measures such as using strong passwords and VPNs. Also, wipe-out technologies can help protect company data when the employee’s phone gets damaged or lost. You may also prohibit employees from storing sensitive company information on their phones. By being proactive about data security, your company can defend itself against negligence claims in case of lawsuits.
2. Privacy Issues
Since employers may need to monitor and track their employee’s work activities on their smartphones, they can easily violate employee privacy, leading to lawsuits. Practices such as monitoring employee emails and conversations, access to employees’ contacts, web history, and the apps they install in their smartphones can lead to privacy issues. Also, employees may lose personal information and content during necessary updates on work-related apps or during a wipe-out exercise in case of phone loss to protect company data.
Create a clear BYOD policy that states how much information the company can access and how they can use it. Also, make it clear to employees not to expect much privacy once they start using their smartphones at work. Since you may need to search your employee’s phone due to reasons like litigation, you should state the circumstances that may warrant such action to avoid lawsuits. Doing so puts you on the same page with your workers and reduces privacy disputes.
3. Employee Safety
Using a personal smartphone at work may cause distraction and accidents. For example, employees may use their devices while driving, leading to accidents. In case an employee suffers injury or death while performing work duties under unsafe conditions, the company may be liable for wrongful death and violation of workplace safety and health laws. To minimize this risk, ensure your company has policies that regulate smartphone use and promotes employee safety.
Usually, law enforcement and insurance providers ask to check the company’s policy in case of accidents at work. Therefore, your policies should provide clear phone usage guidance and prohibit phone use when driving. They should also state employee obligations, rights, and limitations regarding smartphone use to promote workplace safety. Doing so protects your business from costly lawsuits due to compensation and damages.
4. Employee Misconduct
Employee misconduct can land your company in legal trouble if they engage in illegal behavior using the smartphone they use for work. While you have limited control over what your employees do with their devices, activities such as cyberbullying, fraud, and sexual harassment can make you liable for their actions. The complainant only has to prove that the employee used a smartphone they also use for work when committing the crime.
You may also be liable for your staff’s crimes if you witness illegal activity on their smartphone, such as child porn, and do nothing about it. Set clear boundaries between personal, and work activities to reduce the impact of employees’ behavior on your business. In case of employee misconduct, always take the necessary action as stipulated in your internal policies.
5. Payment Disputes
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers should pay non-exempt workers overtime for the time they work more than 40 hours in a week. If an employee uses their smartphone to check their emails and find work-related emails way past their working hours, they may claim overtime pay. The law applies even if you did not instruct them to check work emails at their convenient time.
Failure to pay non-exempt employees for overtime, whether working in-office or remotely, can attract penalties. As an employer, you need to keep accurate records of working hours by non-exempt employees and pay them accordingly. You can also set off-hour policies for employees using personal phones and ensure compliance to avoid compensation disputes.
The best way to minimize the legal risks associated with smartphone use at work is by having a sound BYOD policy in place. You can seek the help of an employment lawyer to help you draft a policy that suits the needs of your business.