Who Owns What?

July 23, 2010

This is a touchy subject, but an important one. This is not a full list, as it could be a 5000 word posting, but there can be confusion at times, as to who really owns what in a business. Here are some limited examples:

An employee is utilizing work e-mail on a work owned computer to send and receive personal e-mails. This is an example of business owned property. When an employee utilizes the work e-mail address(s) to do anything outside of his/her actual position (i.e. political information, religious information, etc.) that e-mail is actually the property of the company, and therefore can be construed as company property. Anything stated in that e-mail as well as any content to and from that e-mail account is defined as company property.

An employee utilizes a work owned computer or even a personal computer attached to the companys internet connection is the companys property. There is a new side to this, and that is the utilization of a USB Modem (These can be purchased from a myriad of different providers), but the employee that utilizes their own personal lap-top or net-book on the company internet services, the content itself is the property of the company, not the employee.

An employee utilizes a work issued, or paid for cell-phone (The company name is the main payable on the phone), and uses it for non-work phone calls. The company itself has the authority to review calls made on that cell phone, as well as any charges that may be present on the bill. For instance:

Employee A Uses their company-owned cell phone to call friends after hours and talk beyond the minute limit, therefore incurring excess charges (these can range from over the limit minute usage, or even roaming minutes).

Employee B Uses their company paid for cell phone to download ringers or they decide to text a message to one of the pay per text services (i.e. KGB), and incurs excess charges.

In both of these circumstances, the company has the right to review and ask the employee to pay for the charges, start a disciplinary action, or even just confiscate the company-owned phone.

Here are a couple of other touchy situations that come up with the question of Who owns what?

Employee C has a locker on the job-site, with a lock on it. There is a question of some sort of illegal or other justifiable issue that comes up (drugs, theft, material of a questionable nature like pornographic material), the employer has every right to cut the lock or ask the employee to take the lock off to search the locker. As the locker itself is company property, to where the belongings are employee owned. In the event of a questionable illegal material, a law enforcement individual may need to be present.

Employee D drives a company-owned vehicle (the company name is on the title), and is suspected of carriage of materials that are contrary to business purpose (drugs, or materials of a questionable nature, etc.) That vehicle can be searched at any time, without express notice, and anything inside that vehicle can be considered company property.

Employee E drives a company paid-for vehicle (the company provides substantial financial assistance to the vehicle, but the company name is not on the title), the belongings inside this vehicle are NOT considered property of the company, even though the vehicle is subsidized by the company (mileage reimbursement, insurance reimbursement, etc.)

Having a clear and concise policy about what is owned by the company, as well as who owns what, can be a complex situation, something that People Wise can assist you with, contact us for a free consultation!

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