People using personal devices at work shouldn't put your business at legal risk.

Make Sure Your BYOD Policy Doesn’t Make You Liable

It should come as little surprise, given the meteoric rise in mobile device usage and the ubiquity of wireless networks, that people would eventually want to employ their personal mobile devices at work, be it a smartphone, a laptop, or a tablet. After all, it’s convenient having all aspects of one’s life brought together on one device.

In the spirit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” many businesses have jumped on the Bring Your Own Device (or BYOD, as the cool kids call it) bandwagon. This is a welcome development, but unfortunately, a poorly conceived BYOD may result in certain liabilities, which can have severe ramifications for the host company. Here are a few of the legal issues that a bad BYOD policy will create.

Employee Litigation

It’s not unheard of for an employee to bring a complaint to a labor relations board regarding being made to work extra hours on-site without proper compensation. But BYOD brings a whole new dimension to this issue, as the article “6 BYOD Disasters You Can Avoid With Good Planning” tells us that some employees have actually sued their places of employment to claim unpaid overtime accrued due to working with their BYOD resources off the clock.

After all, if you’re at home on a Saturday morning, and you get a call that some work needs to be done and would you please use your device to log on and get it done, wouldn’t you want some sort of compensation?

There needs to be a clear delineation of what constitutes being on the clock. While one possible solution may be to limit BYOD to salaried employees, that’s not a cure-all, and if said employees are being taken advantage too often this way, there could be pushback.

Licensing Pitfalls

Many software licenses have strict usage conditions, particularly regarding which devices the software can be used on. As a result, there may be certain programs that either cannot function on a mobile device, or are legally forbidden from running on such devices. If the latter condition is violated, it could result in some extremely messy problems with the license vendor.

On a related note, what happens if an employee downloads software at home, after hours, on their personal mobile device, but with the intent of using it to do their job? This leaves the employee’s company open to a possible breach of license.

Loss Of Confidentiality

If your company has a set of terms of service that feature guarantees of confidentiality of customers’ data, what happens to the out of office employee whose BYOD laptop is stolen, and its hard drive is chock full of personal data? The company could be in violation of their confidentiality agreement, and a legal firestorm ensues.

Privacy Problems

Let’s say that an employee has a device they use for personal and business use. Files for both aspects of their life are mingled together. Now, what happens if the company is involved in litigation (not related to BYOD, a different matter), and those files need to be accessed as part of the legal proceedings? The data is going to have to be sifted through in order to remove anything personal, and you can bet that the employee is going to be rather aggrieved at what they will see as a breach of privacy.

What To Do?

The first step is to become aware of what the pitfalls of a bad BYOD policy are, and congratulations, that’s what you’re doing here. Next up is craft a BYOD policy that addresses these concerns. A good policy answers these questions:

What software can an employee use?
Who is responsible for a lost device?
What’s the policy of storing personal and work-related data together?
What’s defined as being “on the clock”, and are there any comp time considerations for excessive hours logged in?

The answers to these and similar questions are the foundations of a sound BYOD policy. Take them into consideration, create the plan, and make sure that everyone in the organization is made aware of it, and that it applies to everyone regardless of their title or place in the hierarchy.

Byline: John Terra has been a freelance writer since 1985. He writes about everything from Internet culture to the applying Big Data to online marketing.