My ears perked up when I heard that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing a case that dealt with individual rights to privacy at work. Specifically, the case is addressing the use of company communication channels and personal texts.
One thing that always surprises me is how little most people know about the “terms and conditions” at their workplace. Sure, the legal department spent a lot of time putting that nifty document together, but most of us never read the fine print. We assume that everything will be fine, sign and date the acknowledgment, and then forget that any such document exists.
Depending on what you do – and what, if anything, you create – that document is far more than an appendix to your company’s employee handbook.
What should you be looking for?
INTERNET USE POLICIES: At least a half-dozen people I know have lost their jobs because they didn’t meet the guidelines of their company’s Internet usage policy. Make sure you’ve read yours.
A good rule of thumb: Minimize your access to a few minutes, a few times a day. Don’t access personal, Web-based email at work (many workplaces block those programs). And if it’s something you wouldn’t check out around a spouse at home – gambling, message boards, or porn – it follows that you shouldn’t check it out at work.
Sounds like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people think they won’t get caught. (And no, clearing your cookies doesn’t make it all go away.)
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: If you have a legal agreement with your company about something you’re creating as a member of their team, it’s important to read it very, VERY carefully and ask yourself these questions:
- Do you own any part of what you create?
- Will you receive any payment beyond your salary (or the initial payment) if your creation is used multiple times or generates a steady stream of profits?
- Will your name always be clearly and prominently attached to what you’ve created?
In most cases, your employer has outlined very restrictive terms about what their rights are and what you can lay claim to. Most companies have intellectual property clauses that are designed to give them full rights to what you create while under their umbrella.
What you should negotiate for: clear credit as the creator of the work.
I learned this the hard way after a former employer removed my name from everything I’d ever written for them (after they’d laid me off, naturally). To add insult to injury, they’ve also been re-posting the work in recent months as new content.
I don’t have any issues with them re-posting the articles and blog entries, and I don’t expect any additional compensation for what I created. But I’m at a loss to understand why my byline was removed. For a writer, bylines are EVERYTHING. The lack of a byline on my written work (especially the work posted online) severely impacted my ability to highlight my experience when I was looking for a new job.
Lesson learned: Make sure you know where the boundaries are, and what might happen if those boundaries shift – or give way.