While management has embraced the anywhere, anytime work environment that mobile broadband and the proliferation of mobile devices has enabled, the rank and file is beginning to push back by filing grievances or seeking compensation through litigation for potential violations of privacy or labor laws. As mobile technology increasingly blurs the line between work and personal life, boundary-defining litigation is likely to increase.
As the legal dust settles, a Corporate-Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) approach to enterprise mobility management could provide organizations with several solutions for reducing or eliminating privacy or labor-oriented lawsuits related to the use of mobile technology.
Solution 1: Ensuring Work Hours Don’t Extend After Hours
The City of Chicago Police Department would have been wise to have applied usage policies to police officers’ corporate-issued smartphones. Officers who claimed that messages and voice calls placed to smartphones outside of normal work hours constituted overtime sued the City of Chicago for back pay in 2010 under the Fair Labor Standards Act. While city officials have publically commented that the smartphone activity was part of the officers’ normal responsibilities, the lawsuit may have been avoided with a carefully worded user policy or if the police department had configured the smartphones to be unavailable for work-related activities during off hours.
An increase in legal actions related to smartphone usage outside of normal work hours prompted a California law firm specializing in employment law and labor relations to dedicate a blog post to the topic. The May 2, 2013 issue of the California Public Agency Labor & Employment Blog on after-hours smartphone use recommends that companies follow several precautions to avoid potential lawsuits. Included on that list is a recommendation for businesses to reduce risks by monitoring employee access to the network and email.
Solution 2: Protecting Against International Implications
The potential for labor or privacy lawsuits related to mobile device management, however, is likely even greater outside the United States. Portions of Europe, in particular, are vigilantly protective of workers’ rights and the privacy of citizens.
Police officers, this time in Sweden, could end up in legal hot water after mistakenly including a civilian in a chat session about ongoing investigations. The incident, recounted in several published reports from February 2014, involved multiple officers using a popular consumer messaging application to chat about and share images related to ongoing investigations. Though the sensitive information was apparently not distributed beyond a university professor who was inadvertently included in the group chat, leakages of this sort by government agencies could easily result in lawsuits, as well as damaging the reputation of the agency and seriously eroding public trust.