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Smith Welch Webb & White Blog

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Number One Reason It May Be Time to Update Your Company’s Policy on Electronics

Have you forgotten your smartphone, laptop or tablet lately?  Just a few hours without access to technology makes you realize how dependent we’ve become on it.  In fact, the ubiquitous shift to mobility is the number one reason your company’s electronic communications policy might be outdated.  When policies regarding electronic communications were first drafted, employees were using company-owned, stationary desktop computers.  Today’s policies need to address a number of scenarios regarding the ownership and use of electronic devices and Internet connections.

Different companies may use their own lingo.  But whether you refer to it as your electronic communications policies, user guidelines, electronic media policy, Internet access policy, or communications policy, the document needs to address the current reality of the digital world we live in.  For simplicity’s sake in this post, I’ll refer to it as an electronic communications policy or “ECP.” 

Effective ECPs need to anticipate ways employees may potentially misuse equipment and/or an Internet connection, and liability concerns in a number of different scenarios.  When it comes to mobile devices, some companies allow (or encourage) employees to buy their own equipment and wireless service, and reimburse them for a portion of the expense.  On the other hand, some companies supply the equipment and wireless connection and discourage personal use.  In this scenario, it’s highly likely that employees will bring their personal smart phone to work in addition to the company-issued phone designated for business only. 

A company has far less control over what an employee does with their personal equipment and Internet connection.  However, employers also need to consider that employees may connect their personal equipment, such as a smartphone or tablet, to the company’s WiFi network while at work.  Ultimately, your organization’s ECP needs to clearly address the appropriate use of company-owned devices, personally-owned devices as well as the company’s Internet service. 

How and When Employees Go Online

ECPs should also address how and when employees can go online.  An example of “how” an employee goes online should include the necessity of password-protecting any device (smartphone, laptop, tablet or desktop computer) and setting a standard for automatically locking the screen, requiring the user to log in again.  It should also explain whether employees are allowed to connect company-issued devices to free WiFi services when available, or if employees should exclusively use the service designated for the device.  Depending on the provider, free WiFi networks may not offer the level of security as the company’s provider. 

“When” employees go online may set expectations about how frequently employees can use personal smartphones (with service paid-for by the employee) while at work. 

When Employees Lose Their Electronic Devices

For obvious reasons, people are far more likely to lose a smartphone or tablet than a desktop computer.  Therefore, ECPs should clearly outline steps employees should take if a device has been misplaced, lost or stolen.  This is especially important if mobile devices contain confidential information and loss of equipment may put the company at risk of a security breach.  Employees may be hesitant to report stolen equipment, because they are worried about the repercussions and hope it may be found.  The ECP should include a clear protocol for both the employee and the IT department to follow (such as remotely wiping the device and discontinuing service) when a wireless device has been misplaced.

While companies should ensure policies regarding mobile devices are included, mobility is only one aspect of a comprehensive ECP.  Overall, employers should continually evaluate the boundaries set for appropriate use of all Internet-enabled devices related to the workplace.  In fact, it’s smart for organizations to revisit their electronic communications policy annually.  If you have questions about your organization’s ECP, or would like an employment law attorney to review your existing policies, contact Megan Pearson today at mpearson@smithwelchlaw.com or call 770-957-3937.

 

Any representations regarding the law in this Blog is made available for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog publisher. The Blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


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