Employers at risk with employee-owned devices

Lynne Curry

Q. My employer furnishes all employees with BlackBerries. I don't need one because I have an iPhone that works well for me and is more advanced than the BlackBerry. Corporate, however, issued the policy that I can't access company data from my iPhone, so I have to carry both BlackBerry and iPhone.

How can I convince them that it makes more sense for them just to let me use my iPhone?

A. If you can address their concerns, you have a chance.

Employers take on a surprising amount of risk when they let employees access company material with their own iPhones or other smartphones. What if you suddenly leave your employer while retaining sensitive company data or trade secrets on your iPhone? Who owns the company information on your iPhone -- you, because it's on your phone, or your company?

Will you let your company's information technology guru ensure your personal iPhone's security -- so no hacker can break into your phone and gain access to confidential company information? Will you give your employer the right to manage and even wipe the company information you store on your iPhone -- or would you view that as a violation?

Alternatively, what if you suggest your company buy your iPhone from you for a nominal amount, giving you the right to use it for personal reasons and to buy it back for the same price if you leave your company?

Q. My employer terminated me Friday because I keep a gun in my car trunk. I have a legitimate reason for the gun because I go hiking or camping most weekends and it saves time if I keep my gear in the trunk.

I tried to argue, but apparently the company can immediately terminate me because this is against company policy. I'd never seen the policy but the Human Resources officer showed it to me. She also told me she'd received a complaint from two employees about my gun.

Since I have a gun permit and the gun wasn't in the building, are my rights violated? Or do I have to take this even though my gun is my personal business?

A. Employers have reasons for strict no-gun policies. According to recent studies, 52 percent of working Americans "have witnessed, heard about or have experienced a violent event or an event that can lead to violence at their workplace." According to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 420 fatalities resulted from workplace shootings in 2009.

At the same time, if you work in one of the 13 states that allow employees to keep firearms in their vehicles while at work -- and Alaska is one of them -- your employer's policy is not enforceable. According to lawyer Renea Saade, "Alaska Statute 18.65.800 provides that any policy or rule prohibiting an individual with a legal right to possess a firearm from storing the firearm in a locked vehicle while it is otherwise legally parked -- even on another person's property -- is not enforceable."

Saade adds that "nothing in the law prohibits employers from banning guns or other weapons within the workplace or otherwise on their property outside of the employee's locked vehicle." In other words, your employer should not have fired you simply for having a legal gun in your locked car.

However, if your gun was safely locked in your trunk, how did two co-workers know to file a complaint? Did you tell them about it or show them the gun? In any case, that unnecessarily made your personal business your employer's business. If you hadn't helped create this problem, you and your employer would have been spared a headache.

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management-employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Co. Inc. For questions, Curry can be reached at thegrowthcompany.com.

Column note: For those interested in the Americans with Disabilities Act case mentioned in the April 30 column, it was Samper v. Providence St. Vincent Medical Center (9th Circuit, 2012).The column intended to mention the "interactive" process but misspelled it as "iterative."