Privacy Versus Property – or Who Owns What?

by Erik Sorenson | May 20, 2009

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In this 24/7, work-never-stops world, many of us conduct personal business on our company computer or Blackberry.  We research movie times, make purchases, share data with friends and store photos.  Most times, our company handbook has told us not to.  Policy says we are prohibited from visiting social network sites, e-Commerce sites and sending personal email.  But let's be real:  who really follows that policy?


Most companies these days accept this reality.  Most forward-thinking bosses realize that technology has blurred the dividing lines between office and home, work life and personal life.  In fact, most bosses understand that balancing and blending the two makes for happier and more informed employees.  Many companies block some of the stickier sites that could lead to abuse of this balance (eBay, Facebook, etc.)  And most keep the usage policy in place for legal reasons and so that abuse of the balance can be enforced.

Now, the flip side of electronic policy is getting attention due to the flood of layoffs we've seen the past few months.  In addition to prohibiting personal activities on company computers, most company policies now state that employees have no rights to privacy or ownership related to personal content sitting on hard drives, PDA's, and the like.  When employees suddenly receive a pink slip, their company will typically shut down electronic access to secure company property (communications, contacts, contracts, etc.) but for employees who've taken advantage of laissez faire management by storing personal items on company devices they find they have more to lose than just their job.

This is a good reminder to employees (yes, that means you and me!) to keep our personal stuff separate – separate folders, separate files, separate email accounts.  If you do choose your work computers to store personal items (photos, calendar entries, contacts) it's a good idea to regularly transfer them to a device you own.  If you are laid off, one of your first questions might be:  "may I please take my personal files?"   If you are doing the laying off, consider an enlightened approach if possible:  protect your company's property, but see if there's a way to allow dispensation for the newly unemployed person's personal items.  It's the least you can do, right?   

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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