Blurring the Line Between Work and Personal Devices Can Cause Mischief
Personal Apple ID used to de-activate work phone, making evidence unavailable, and termination of employee reversed
In a BC case of interest which recently came to the editors’ attention, District of Houston v. Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 2086, an employer’s investigation in to allegations of workplace misconduct was partially foiled by its policy (or lack thereof) regarding the use of work phones for personal purposes. The employee, Standbridge, was given a new work iPhone after his previous one malfunctioned. When the phone was set up, the manager who provided the phone used an Apple ID provided by Standbridge, which resulted in personal pictures and other data being downloaded onto the new phone from iCloud. The manager knew this, and thus did not keep a record of the Apple ID or password. Standbridge claimed that he had told the manager that the Apple ID and password belonged to his wife, though the manager denied this.
Later, Standbridge was accused by several female employees of inappropriately following them to worksites and taking pictures of them with his phone. Standbridge denied this and provided his phone to another manager, Glavin, for inspection, along with the password to open it. Glavin looked at some pictures on the phone but then left it on his desk while at meetings, and when he returned the iPhone had been remotely wiped. It emerged that Standbridge’s wife had learned that the phone was being accessed (though it was not clear she understood why), and because her own personal data was accessible on it, she remotely wiped the phone. Standbridge asked her to provide the Apple ID and password but she refused to do so.
Standbridge was terminated for interfering with the investigation, but was reinstated by the labour arbitrator. The employer had prevented him from being present while some of his personal data was accessed, and some accommodation for protection of his personal information should have been provided—particularly where there was no policy forbidding the mixing of work and personal information on devices, and that up until then it had been a common practice of the employer’s. Evidence substantiating the inappropriate photo-taking, if any, had been destroyed, and the allegations could otherwise not be sustained.