This post was contributed by Tony D. Dick, Esq., an Associate in McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Labor and Employment Practice Group in Columbus, Ohio.
In the last several years, there has been an explosion in the number of workers who use their own personal mobile devices to perform work functions (commonly referred to as “Bring Your Own Device” or “BYOD”). In fact, according to a study conducted last year by tech giant Cisco, approximately 90% of all workers say they use their own personal smartphones, tablets or laptops in some work-related capacity, whether the practice is officially endorsed by their employers or not. A number of factors have contributed to this trend, including the enormous popularity of personal mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads, and Android devices in general, advances in technology that have made using such devices relatively easy and more intuitive, and the focused marketing of personal devices as potential business tools.
Though the statistics show that the practice of BYOD is widespread across American business, surprisingly, only about 30% of employers have formal BYOD policies in place that provide guidance for employees to follow when it comes to using their personal devices for work purposes. Such policies are especially important given the risks and challenges that come along with BYOD.
One of the most obvious challenges associated with BYOD is the inherent lack of control an employer has over an employee’s personal mobile devices. This lack of control can lead to increased data breaches, privacy violations, and exposure to viruses, malware, and data theft. Compounding these risks is the fact that almost half of all workers that utilize their own personal devices for work admit to not even taking the most basic security precautions, such as using password protection on their devices. Another obvious challenge concerns the potential for overtime violations that can occur when an employee is using their own personal electronic devices to perform work. In fact, in just the last couple years, there have been multiple lawsuits initiated by non-exempt employees who claim they are entitled to overtime pay for the time spent reviewing and responding to business e-mails on their personal devices during non-work hours.
Even with these risks, there are a number of reasons why businesses should embrace BYOD. For one, BYOD is generally more cost effective than the traditional arrangement where the company provides and manages all hardware devices. Studies also suggest that, on average, employees who use mobile devices for both work and their personal lives perform approximately 240 more hours of work per year than those who do not. At the same time, employees are reporting that they feel more satisfied and empowered by being able to use their own electronic devices at work and the flexibility that BYOD affords them.
Whether or not you believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, it does not appear BYOD is going anywhere in the near future. Accordingly, employers should adopt comprehensive BYOD plans to mitigate potential security risks and legal liability that naturally comes along with employees utilizing personal mobile devices to perform work tasks. At a minimum, every BYOD plan should address three core components:
Technology and Software. Mobile device software exists that allows employers to enforce security policies, manage password controls, manage the installation of applications and programs, and remotely wipe devices or preserve important data when necessary. If employees will be handling sensitive information regularly, then such software tools must be considered as part of a comprehensive plan to limit security breaches.
Policies and Practices. A written industry-specific BYOD policy should be implemented that identifies the devices supported by the company’s network, establishes security protocols that must be followed by employees, and makes clear that business information contained on personal devices is the property of the company and that there is no expectation of privacy related to such information. The BYOD policy should be signed by the employee and included in their personnel file.
Employee Education. A BYOD plan is of little use if employees are not aware of its existence or do not understand what is required of them as it relates to using personal mobile devices in the workplace. Accordingly, employees should receive periodic training on the company’s BYOD practices and policies. In addition, employees should be required to sign updated acknowledgments from time-to-time that spells out their ongoing obligations under the company’s BYOD plan.
Before implementing any BYOD plan, employers would be wise to consult skilled legal counsel to ensure that the full gamut of compliance-related issues has been considered and addressed. As others have learned the hard way, getting caught flat-footed could have catastrophic consequences.