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Employers: Do Not Let an Employee’s Smart Phone Outsmart You

Today, with advances in technology, an employee can virtually work from anywhere, the ability to work remotely is becoming common place in our society. Typically, employers will provide an employee with a smart phone or laptop in order to conduct business-related activities. In nearly all corporate-level jobs, an employee is provided access to the Internet. As a business owner, you must consider the repercussions of your employees’ handling of client information while using work or personal devices, especially when handling sensitive and potentially confidential client information. Under the theory of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of an employee that occur within the scope and course of the employee’s employment. From a historical perspective, an employer would not be liable when the employee’s actions were motivated purely by personal interest (i.e. actions not within the course and scope of the employee’s employment). However, recently, courts have been increasingly willing to expand an employer’s liability in situations where the employee acts purely for its own benefit. For example, a court may hold an employer liable when the employee harms a third-party through an opportunity (i.e. Internet, smartphone, laptop) provided by the employer. Another risk a business owner faces is experiencing a data breach. Not only can this expose a business to bad publicity and customer loss, it could open up the employer to liability for any information that was compromised as a result of the data breach.

The purpose of this article is to outline several measures an employer can take to minimize exposure and liability related to a data breach or employee misuse of employer-issued equipment. The following are measures an employer should take to minimize or possibly eliminate vicarious liability:

  • Adopt clear, concise company policies regarding employee’s use of the Internet and employer-issued equipment.
  • Train new employees on these policies and provide updates and follow-up training for other employees.
  • Adopt and enforce a policy on employee’s use of personal devices for business purposes, train employees on this policy, and provide updated training, if needed;
  • Install (and monitor) filtering and virus protection software (you can either monitor in-house or contract with an IT company for regular monitoring); and
  • Check your insurance coverage to make sure necessary coverage is in place for employer liability related to illegal or improper Internet and/or email use by employees.

This article merely brushes the surface on this issue, however, I hope these tips provide a good starting point for employer’s to put policies and procedures in place to protect their business from liability associated with an employee’s misuse of company-issued equipment.

Kyla Wilder

Phone: 281-367-1222

Fax: 281-210-1361

[email protected]

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