Texas court ruling shows employers without BYOD policy are skating on thin ice

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A federal judge in Texas has ruled an employer who wiped a fired employee’s personal device did not violate his privacy rights.

The ruling against Saman Rajaee, who was employed by Houston-based construction firm Design Tech until February 2013, sounds a warning to employers who don’t have a BYOD policy in place, according to legal experts.

Design Tech did not have a personal device policy; instead Rajaee, who had been working in residential construction for over a decade, had to connect his iPhone to the work’s Microsoft server to access his email and contacts.

Rajaee informed Design Tech of his intention to resign in two weeks in February last year, to which his employer immediately terminated his contract and wiped his device. Rajaee complained his loss, including more than 600 business contacts, family photos and information on a home remodelling project, amounted to $100,000.

This was dismissed by the judge, who noted in the ruling that the plaintiff had “not produced evidence of any costs he incurred to investigate or respond to the deletion of his data, nor do the losses and damages for which he does produce evidence arise from an interruption of service.” However, the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning Rajaee can pursue further action in a state court.

Even though the employer won the ruling, it shows the importance of a BYOD policy, according to Brian Hall of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP.

“Had Design Tech had such a policy, it could have – and indeed, should have – told its employees that upon separation of employment (or, for instance, also if the device is lost or stolen), any device used to access the employer’s network would be wiped,” he wrote. “This would enable the employees to preserve any important personal data on their devices.”

The ruling sheds further light on the fine print of BYOD policy – or not, as the case may be. A ruling in California in August found an employer had to reimburse employees for work phone calls taken on their personal devices.

These rulings are immature – the California decision, for instance, didn’t take into account the likes of SMS and data – and therefore will be expected to be built upon as precedents are set. Yet there are simple takeaways for the time being: employers should have a BYOD policy in place, and employees should back up their data.

You can read the full ruling here.


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