When you use a company device for personal purposes, you must be very careful. First, you do not have an expectation of privacy in your personal, non-password protected data on a company device. Second, you must ensure that your personal data is not co-mingled with the company data. Third, you have to be very careful about removing your personal data from company devices when you leave your job.
The third warning is particularly important in this day and age when employers claim to spend time and money to protect their work product, their proprietary information and their business strategies and client lists from disclosure to the marketplace. Companies focus on preventing anyone else from gaining a competitive advantage over them and achieve this objective by several means. First, you may be required to sign a non-compete. Second, you may be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Third, companies may include non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements in their employment handbooks. The goal of all is to protect their data from being used against them to gain a competitive advantage.
Companies are most vigilant about data loss and protection when an employee is separating from the company. Regardless of the reason for separation, the company IT department is likely to be monitoring your use of company devices to see if you are copying, downloading or forwarding any company data to yourself or anyone outside the company. All of these activities are trackable and will be used against you, particularly if you decide to bring a claim against the company for harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Companies like to use these actions and your personal use of their devices to argue that your termination was justified by after acquired evidence or that you have violated their confidentiality provisions.
Here are some guidelines to think about in regards to data transfer when you are leaving your job:
- Hopefully you have not been using company devices for personal use. If you have, you will likely want to remove your personal data, photographs, or documents from the company device. You should do this with the company’s consent so as to avoid the argument that you are stealing company data.
- Avoid downloading your entire company email inbox or drive folders as this leaves you open to the impression that you are stealing company data.
- Change the passwords for all of your personal accounts (social media, email, online storage) that you may have used and accessed using a company phone or laptop.
- Review your employee handbook to make sure that you are not violating any company policies and to follow proper procedures when exiting the job.
- Do not do a factory reset of your company device as it raises the presumption that you did something wrong with the device or the data.
The Bottomline: Avoid using company devices for personal reasons at all costs. However, if you have and need to remove personal data from those devices, work with the company HR or IT department to avoid this being used against you later.