Business phones and the employers monitoring them

almost 2 years ago by Jessica Brown

Business phones and the employers monitoring them


Last week, reports were publicized about a junior M&A banker, who’d lost his job due to ‘Tinder-related transgressions’ on his work phone. Although the exact details of the bankers indiscretions have been kept private from the public, when it came to his employers, his dating life was not. As technology becomes more prominent and our working lives regularly breach the walls between personal and professional, these occurrences are becoming more common, with applications which track phone user’s activity becoming popular with businesses. Whereas once employees need only worry about their work emails and whether they’d spent too much time using company minutes on the phone to their mum, now these restrictions extend to what they’re actually saying.

Companies like VoxSmart, which specializes in the financial sector are currently able to both record and store mobile calls… and their functions don’t stop there. Conceived in an attempt to detect fraud, VoxSmart and applications like them, now capture Whatsapp and Webchat messages, opening up new channels for employees to drop themselves in it.

As talk about employees privacy has risen, these techniques for checking up on employees can seem daunting, and although it’s unlikely your employer is spending their time ‘stalking’ you, it isn’t completely unheard of. With laws stating that phones which have either been fully or partially paid for by work are available for this level of surveillance, and with BYOD (Bring your own device) becoming more popular, even an employer paying the phone bill for a phone you previously purchased can cause issues with privacy, on both ends.

Christine Walters, author of ‘Helping Leaders Limit Their Liability by Learning the Law’, says of this “it’s likely not private if the employee used the employers time or property to send the message”. In 2015, Myrna Aria and her former employer, Intermex Wire Transfers, were caught up in the complications caused by such rules, after Aria was fired for disabling a GPS app on her company phone. Suing her former employer, Aria claimed that the application which was tracking her every move, even after working hours, was an invasion of privacy. The issue was settled out of court. Aria and Intermex Wire Transfers hit upon a key question within their lawsuit; whether what we do outside of work is any of our employers business.

Experts on employer law, posture that this is all dependent on whether the employee can cause “reasonable harm to their company’s stature within the community”. Aria’s saving grace then was that “how often [she] visited her grandmother or took the family away”, wasn’t in fact harming anybody. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for others who’ve lost their jobs due to the contents of their phone. With any success Aria achieved being a needle in a haystack. Meaning our anonymous M&A banker will need to think a little more carefully about his messages in the future.