This one is tricky. Because we’re still figuring out how new technologies relate to work, there is no straightforward answer to this. In general, if your employer specifically tells you not to, or gives you other specific guidelines on what use of your Blackberry is considered appropriate, you should follow those directives. If they don’t, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Much like your company email, your Blackberry or your employer-provided cell phone is owned by the company. This means that your employer owns the contents as well. You do, however, have a certain very limited right to privacy. Your employer shouldn’t read your messages for the fun of it. They should have a legitimate reason to be digging through your emails, files, or text messages. Be forewarned, though: that legitimate reason would most likely be something like a disciplinary investigation.
You should also remember that, even though you do have some rights to privacy, you can’t guarantee that they’re being respected. Since we’re in new territory here, employers aren’t being as careful as they might be. We have had cases where members have shown up to investigation meetings, only to be shown a printout of text messages they had sent from their employer-provided cell phone. While those text messages might be ruled by an arbitrator to be private and not admissible as evidence, it might be advisable to think about what you’re comfortable with your boss knowing before you send text messages or emails from your Blackberry. The same is true about your work email account, any phone calls you might make from any work phone, and any web pages you might look at on a work computer, including your personal email, Facebook, Flicker page, and online banking. While some things, such as your banking information, have stronger privacy rights around them, it is smart to be careful about what information you’re putting out there.
Finally, it’s good to remember that, for the vast majority of members, even if you have a blackberry or a cell phone, you do have the right to turn it off at the end of the day. You aren’t required to work when you aren’t at work, and answering emails and phone calls is definitely work!
Jean Broughton is the Guild’s union services co-ordinator. You can get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 416-591-5333 or 1-800-465-4149.