Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s), such as BlackBerrys, have grown in popularity. So much so, that employer’s are beginning to regulate the use of these devices at and even away from work. The reason: employees are confusing their privacy rights with freedom from workplace consequences.

When a PDA is provided by an employer or accessed through it’s network, employees should have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, when personal use in permitted, employees should concern themselves more with losing their jobs – instead of simply losing unlimited access to their PDAs.

Regarding personal use, employees should keep in mind the following;

Amongst other actions, checking your Facebook account, sport scores, and flirting with friends over instant messaging while at work can be tantamount to theft of an employer’s time. This may amount to cause for dismissal.

Criminal laws can be invoked if employees harass or intimidate coworkers via their BlackBerry. Don’t forget, PDAs normally keep a record of messages sent and received.

While not reported in Canada, there are currently claims in U.S. courts made by pedestrians injured by motorists driving while messaging on their PDA.

Employers maintain the legal right to discipline or dismiss employees for off-duty conduct. So make sure you’re not the employee texting inappropriate jokes to a colleague during drinks after hours.

Rapid messages  fired off from BlackBerrys tend to be less formal and thoughtful. Employees should keep in mind that they are liable for advice given, even if it is misconstrued because of a poorly drafted PDA email.

Many larger organizations have legal requirements that mandate the storage of all business communications. So a text message to your pal via your work BlackBerry can find their way into your employer’s inbox too.

Employees should thoroughly review and follow workplace computer and internet misuse policies and presume they apply to your PDA. Exercise caution with communicating with or providing advising clients or colleagues and allow common sense to prevail.

To avoid legal action, employers who have been doling out BlackBerry’s to workers might want to consider implementing a workplace-wide policy regarding the PDA’s use. Recent class action suits against employers for unpaid overtime has initiated widespread fear that PDA use after work hours will be the next jumping off point for future class action suit. See Tresa Baldas’ article from the National Law Journal for more information on this. 

Daniel A. Lublin is a Toronto Employment Lawyer specializing in the law of wrongful dismissal.  He can be reached at dan@toronto-employmentlawyer.com or visit www.toronto-employmentlawyer.com