Employee Warning: Charging Your Phone At Work Could Get You Fired

Recently, a client contacted our firm regarding a wrongful termination case.  The client works for a large company.  The client’s battery on his iPhone was low so he plugged his phone into his company computer to charge it.

While the phone was charging, the company’s IT department id its standard scan of all computers within the company for viruses and inappropriate content.  Because the iPhone was plugged into the computer, it showed up as an external drive.  The IT department also scanned his iPhone and discovered pornographic material.  The client was immediately terminated.

Unfortunately, we were unable to take the case.  The law has not caught up with the technology, and we did not feel that a suit was viable under the current laws of the State of California.

Labor Code Sections 96(k) and 98.6.  Even though two California Labor laws seek to protect an employee from termination for lawful activities engaged in off duty, bringing inappropriate content into the work environment would likely not fall under the statutes’ protection.

Labor Code section 96(k) provides that the California Labor Commissioner may assert claims on behalf of employees for loss of wages that may occur as the result of demotion, suspension, or discharge from employment for lawful conduct occurring during nonworking hours away from the employer’s premises.

Labor Code section 98.6 prohibits discrimination against a employee because he or she exercised any right afforded him or her that is specifically protected by section 96(k). Examples of conduct employers may not be able to regulate could include dating a fellow employee, providing consulting services for a competitor, or participation in extremist political activities.

Similarly, in a school environment, a junior high school would not be able to discipline a student for looking at pornography in the privacy of his or her own room at home, but could undoubtedly suspend or expel a student for physically bringing pornographic photographs onto the campus.

RECOMMENDATIONS:  Do not charge your iPhone with a USB cable plugged into your workstation.  If you have to charge your iPhone with a USB cable at work, make absolutely sure there is no objectionable content on your iPhone.