Mixing Work and Personal Creates Risks and Stress

The risks of mixing work and personal have shown themselves in new ways during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Maintaining a separation between work and home has become challenging since we’re forced to work from home. This can be mentally exhausting and stressful without enforced boundaries.

Where many are faced with layoffs, workers who use employer-provided services for personal use and business are cut off from them with no recourse. They also lose access to resources and services (especially online) that aren’t related to the employer at all.

This article will help outline some of the risks of mixing personal data with work, and offer tips on how to eliminate those risks.

The Bottom Line

You do not own anything your employer provides to you.

  • Laptops, mobile phones, computers, electronics, accessories, and other equipment are the employer’s property.
  • Email addresses and email systems are the employer’s property.
  • Home drives or network drives are the employer’s property.
  • Phone numbers, phone systems, and mobile phone accounts are the employer’s property.
  • Accounts and privileges to access employer systems are the employer’s property.
  • Data and files contained within any of these items are the employer’s property.

Access and use are predicated on your employment.

  • You have no rights to the continued use of any of their services if you’re no longer an employee.
  • The employer can take away access for any reason they see fit.

Know the Policies

Employees of Mohawk College must comply with college policies. The following policies have specific articles on the personal use of employer IT systems and resources.

  • Acceptable Employee Use of IT Resources
  • Electronic Communications Policy
  • Wireless and Cellular Technology Policy

A Very Brief Policy Summary

The policy documents detail more than just personal use. It’s in your best interest to read them and to understand the consequences of non-compliance.

On personal use, the policies say:

  • Access is only provided to active employees.
  • Occasional personal use permitted but:
    • It can’t interfere with your duties or the performance of your job.
    • It can’t incur a monetary cost to the employer.
    • No political, religious, or commercial uses.
    • No personal business that results in personal or financial gain, which would be a conflict of interest.
    • Personal data will not be accessible or returned to you if your employment ends.
  • The employer can restrict use or revoke access at any time for any reason.

Related to personal use:

  • Security risks and violations are serious.
    • You can be suspended, terminated, forced to pay damages, or face criminal or civil action as a result of violating policy.
  • The employer has the right to monitor all usage, accounts, web activity, and data stored within its systems and services.
    • This includes (but isn’t limited to) employer email accounts, home drives, network shares, IM and chat conversations, etc.

Privacy on Employer Systems

The employer has the right to monitor the usage of its systems and the data within them. For example:

  • They can access the contents of a corporate email account.
  • They can access the contents of a home drive or shared drive.
  • They can access the contents of a computer.
  • They can access your chats and IMs on Skype for Busines or Microsoft Teams.

Remember: these do not belong to you. 

Employer Accounts on Personal Devices

Device Control Permissions Screenshot

Using employer accounts on personal devices creates risks for the employer too. By adding an employer-owned account to a personal device (phone, iPad, etc) you must give them a level of control over your device.

In this example screenshot, a corporate email address is added to a personal phone using the phone’s built-in mail app. It shows what controls you must allow.

By storing employer data on a personal device, you are subject to their security policies. These could include the abilities to:

  • Delete or wipe data your phone without warning.
  • Enforce password rules and expiry.
  • Monitor screen lock activity.
  • Control when the screen locks.
  • Limit what apps or services could be used on the phone.

Policies like these could extend to computers, tablets, or anywhere else that requires you to sign in to your corporate account to use a service.

What are your risks?

If you were cut off from employer email, mobile phone, or data storage services, what personal items would you lose?

  • Photos?
  • Documents?
  • An email address?
    • Who uses this email to contact you for non-work reasons?
    • What websites use this email address for an account if you had to reset your password?
  • A phone number?
    • Who has this phone number to contact you? Doctors? Schools? Friends and family?
    • What websites use this phone number for your account?
  • Anything else?

If you answered Yes to any of these, start making a list of them to transition usage away from the employer.

Tips and Resources to Keep Personal Data to Yourself

Get a personal email address that you own and control. Services like Gmail and Outlook are free, and come with bundled cloud storage features you can use to backup data on your phone or computer.

Get a personal mobile phone. Check out OPSEU’s member discount program with Bell Mobility for competitive plan prices.

Transition your personal items away from employer-owned systems

  • Change your email addresses and phone numbers for accounts and services
    • Banking, financial, government, medical, utilities, internet/TV service providers
    • Accounts for websites like shopping, social medial, streaming services, etc.
  • Tell your friends and family to contact you at your new address or phone number.
  • Always conduct Union business using personal addresses, not employer addresses!


Request PowerPoint

Members can request a copy of the presentation this article is based on by emailing ftunitsteward@opseu241.ca.