Use personal device for work? Employer can wipe memory for security reasons

By Eryka Washington , Consumer Reporter, Fill-in anchor, ewashington@wkmg.com
Published On: Apr 04 2014 02:38:25 PM EDT
Updated On: Apr 05 2014 12:16:35 AM EDT

More companies are asking employees to use their personal devices, but it also means they have control over those electronics

ORLANDO, Fla. -

Chances are good you’re reading this article right now on your smartphone.  And chances are even better that you’ve sent a work related email recently too.

[WEB EXTRA: Cellphone for work]

A new survey of 1,100 workers showed employees who use mobile devices for work and personal issues put in 240 more hours per year.

That's six extra weeks of work.

If you're tired of carrying around that extra work cellphones your company's bring your own device plan may sound like a good bet, but you need to beware before you sign up to use your personal cellphone at work.

Health care consultant Michael Irvin says he was just going about his day, when suddenly his phone reset.

When he turned it back on he says it was blank.

“It was just like I got it originally. It had no emails; it had no text messages, no apps, nothing. It was just completely wiped,” said Irvin.

At first he thought it was just a glitch.

Then, Irvin says, he learned his personal phone, which he also used for work, had been wiped clean by his former employer.

“There were photos of my mother with my kids, a lot of new phone numbers, contact information that I had gathered," said Irvin.

Bring your own device programs are skyrocketing in the United States with 38 percent of companies saying they plan to require employees to supply their own phones and tablets within the next two years.

But while these programs can save companies money and be more convenient to employees, they're not without draw backs says Lewis Maltby, founder of the National WorkRights Institute especially when the employee leaves the company. 

“You can understand why the company would want to wipe the cellphone. You've got a lot of communications on there that are business oriented maybe company data. But unfortunately what happens is that the whole cell phone gets wiped, and now you lose everything," said Maltby.

Irvin is not alone. Maltby says cellphone wiping has become the No.1 workplace complaint they receive

Labor and employment attorney Mark Terman suggests companies provide a disclosure of their policy and get written consent from employees.

He also believes they should invest in new "sandboxing" tools that allow for a more selective wipe. 

“Systems that operate in one sandbox on a device could be accessed and wiped out while not disturbing the sandbox where the personal information of the individual is on," said Terman.

Meanwhile, Maltby has this message for anyone using a personal device at work saying, “if you leave your job tomorrow, download anything on your cell phone you don't want to lose."

As for Irvin, he says he was never able to retrieve his lost photos and contacts.

And wiping isn't only an issue when you leave a company.

If you lose your phone or tablet - even temporarily - a company may want to wipe it immediately to ensure the data isn't accessed by anyone else.

Be sure to back up your device often.

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