She was talking with a friend about her cell phone, all the vacation pictures she had loaded into it, the personal address book, and the videos. And now, it was all gone. Her employer, a small HVAC contractor, had taken the company cell phone away from her. She was spitting bullets.
When the owner came by in the evening to pick-up the phone she offered to buy it from him. He declined the offer because another employee needed it on a jobsite the very next day. He didn’t have time to get a replacement between now and then.
The lack of accommodation only infuriated her more. She had been the one to help snag the great cell phone deal for the company in the first place and had incurred a cancellation penalty for terminating her own personal cell phone in reliance on using this one. Some thanks. Now she was out the use of both phones.
The situation needlessly stirred up a lot of hard feelings on both sides. I say needlessly, because the root cause of the problem related to poorly managed expectations resulting from lousy communications.
This type of scenario can manifest itself in numerous ways. Today the subject of the controversy is a cell phone, tomorrow it could be notebook computer, a company car, or some other business property.
Drawing the line between business and personal use of company property can be a delicate matter; but here are some tips to make the process setting healthy boundaries easier and to clearly communicate what activities are off limits.
1. Start with a company policy that defines property provided by the company for use on the job as company property. Making it clear who owns what.
2. If company property may be used for personal use, clarify how and when such use may be made.
If an employee is traveling out of town on business and is carrying a company computer, is it OK for them to use that computer in the evening in the hotel room for non-business purposes, including the access of pornographic websites that they would otherwise be viewing in the privacy of their own homes, but for this business trip?
Or what if they’re at home, is it OK for one of the employee’s children to use the company computer to research a homework assignment?
To what extent can a company car be used for personal business? Is running an errand OK? How ‘bout a cross country family vacation? These examples all carry various degrees of business liability with them. Evaluate them carefully.
3. Clarify privacy expectations. Smart employers reserve the right to review all employee correspondence, including any documents that flow through company servers and computers. After all, employers do have a legitimate interest in making sure business assets aren’t being used for illegal purposes or contrary to the employer’s business interests.
Setting healthy boundaries fosters healthy employer – employee relationships and helps avoid needless misunderstandings.