Solutions: Advice from HR Knowledge Advisors

Jun 27, 2014

May CoverCan an employer remotely wipe an employee’s personal cellphone?

More and more employers are implementing “bring-your-own-device” (BYOD) policies to allow employees to use their smartphones for work. At the same time, employers are growing increasingly concerned over the potential security risks they face if confidential company data fall into the wrong hands.

As a result, many companies are adopting security measures to protect their data. One way is by requiring employees to install software on their phones to help guard sensitive data and to allow the devices to be wiped remotely in the event they are lost or stolen or an employee leaves the company.

This software has been available through the 3.0 operating system on the iPhone and is now accessible for Android, IOS and Palm’s webOS as well. Usually, all that is required is a connection to a company’s e-mail system. Information technology (IT) staff sends an e-mail message to a lost or stolen cellphone, and all data—both company and personal—is erased.

While employers’ right to erase information from a company-issued cellphone is obvious, it’s not clear whether they should be able to do the same for an employee’s personal device. Currently, the practice isn’t prohibited under state and federal regulations, but it has yet to be tested in the courts. Employers should therefore proceed cautiously.

HR professionals should ensure that company BYOD policies are reviewed regularly and updated to reflect the latest legislative actions and court rulings. International companies should review the laws of each country where they have operations prior to implementing a remote wipe policy or practice. The European Union and other jurisdictions place greater restrictions on employers’ access to employees’ personal devices than the U.S. does.

An employer’s BYOD policy should clearly address how the IT staff will manage employees’ mobile devices, including what steps will be taken if devices are lost or stolen and what will happen when employment is terminated. Before being allowed to access company data on their phones, employees should be required to sign an authorization allowing the company to wipe the device of data. Regular training on the BYOD policy is also recommended.

Edward Yost, SPHR-CA

When do group health plan benefits terminate for an employee who is not on federal Family and Medical Leave Act leave?

Continuation of group health plan benefits during periods of leave depends on the type of leave an employee is using. When an employee is on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, a covered employer is required to maintain group health insurance coverage for an employee and his or her family under the same terms and conditions held before the leave.

However, when an employee is not on FMLA leave, an employer should determine if the leave falls under other federal or state leave laws. For example, Wisconsin has a family leave law that allows an employee to maintain health benefits during leave.

If an employee is on leave as a reasonable accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer must continue an employee’s health insurance benefits during the leave if it does so for other employees on similar leave.

For example, if an employee is permitted to continue health benefits during periods of unpaid personal leave, an employee on unpaid leave under the ADA should be able to continue health benefits, too.

While the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not provide leave benefits, it does require employers to treat pregnant employees the same as other temporarily disabled employees with regard to benefits.

Therefore, if an employee can take leave due to a temporary disability and the employee is permitted to maintain health benefits during that time, an employee on leave due to pregnancy must be allowed to do the same.

If an employee is not eligible for federal or state leave, but is qualified for a company-provided leave of absence, the continuation of health benefits may be based on the language in the benefit plan.

If approved by a health insurer and outlined in the insurance plan, an employee may continue health benefits during periods of company-provided leave. If health benefits are not continued, he or she may elect to pay to continue health insurance coverage under COBRA due to the qualifying event of a reduction in hours.

Amber Clayton, PHR-CA​


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