Separate Business from Personal on Your Work Computer

Data privacy and cloud computing are two issues that are not going away anytime soon. Along those lines, courts across the country are ruling on whether using your work e-mail address on your work computer invalidate the attorney-client privilege.

If your work computer has become a blend of work and personal matters, spend some time clearing out your personal info.

Why it matters

Two big reasons. One, your employer might have the right to access all the data on your computer. This depends on variety of factors, including whether your employer provides your computer, your employment contract, and the discussion of computer usage and data access in the employer/employee handbook.

Even if your employer only retains the right to access your work e-mail, that should give you pause. If you engage in long-winded personal e-mail exchanges using your work e-mail, now is the time to stop. Regardless of what the e-mails say, creating a long paper trail that shows you spend a large chunk of your day e-mailing your friends is a bad idea.

Two, if you are ever subject to an ethics investigation, your computer could potentially be seized and everything on it could potentially be searched. If you setup an e-mail application to read your personal e-mail on your work computer, that could potentially be searched.

If you use a Mac and use a MobileMe account to sync everything (including personal stuff) on all your computers, all of that could potentially be searched.

Better safe than sorry

Depending your employer, they might never search your work e-mails to see what you are up to. But if they do, it is simply not worth the risk. If you had a bad day and decided to rip on a partner on your work e-mail, do you really want your employer to see that?

Hopefully, you will never be subject to an ethics investigation. If you are, that will be stressful by itself, without the additional stress of having all your personal data on your work computer being looked at.

Two rules

Follow two rules to avoid potential problems down the road.

One, access your personal e-mail through a browser. Even better, do not access it at all on your work computer—use your personal smartphone for that.

Two, do not keep any personal files on your work computer. With all the cloud technology out available, there are plenty of ways to have access to those files without storing them on your work computer.

If you can stick to these two rules, you can save yourself some future headaches.


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