While many companies provide their employees with cellphones and PDAs for personal use, it is common for workers to purchase their own hardware...

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While many companies provide their employees with cellphones and PDAs for personal use, it is common for workers to purchase their own hardware and use it to make business calls or check corporate e-mail.

In many cases it is more expeditious to get your own stuff and connect to the server, so you don’t get stuck with equipment that doesn’t suit your lifestyle. Or as one friend puts it, “My company doesn’t force me to deal with substandard equipment. They let me buy and use my own.”

While carrying around two devices seems to be an unnecessary hassle, it is perhaps the only way to protect your privacy, and in some cases, keep your job.

According to Zach Hummel, a New York attorney who specializes in labor law, the privacy agreements that employees agree to in order to connect to work mail with their personal devices may give the employer legal access to all the data on the device.

Hummel’s advice is simple: Read the agreement before signing, and pay special attention to any clause that defines the digital property line. When signing these agreements, you may be giving your employer permission to examine the device at any time.

A graphic example: If you are one who visits adult sites, you most likely would not do so on your work machine. It is the wisest course to refrain from such activity on any portable device connected to the office e-mail system.

“You need to be very careful,” Hummel said. “Many people are under the impression that their own device is exempt from any rules and requirements imposed by their employer. But the activity on these devices can be monitored.”

Many of us are dedicated to our jobs and work all hours of the day. We check our work e-mail at home before going to bed and when we awaken, which somehow balances the tendency to check in with our personal accounts in the middle of the day.

Now, we have workers who spend an estimated 90 minutes each day browsing the Internet for nonbusiness-related ventures and a huge percentage of the IT effort is used to monitor how people use their computer time.

This doesn’t mean that geeks are sitting in a dark room watching your every move; rather the companies assign rules to flag certain red-letter words that indicate Internet abuse.

Still, it cries out for some kind of treaty: I will stop spending an hour and a half on eBay each day, and you can dismantle these expensive spy systems.

With the money saved you can raise my salary. I will become more productive and the company will make more money. We will all be happier.

Except people keep doing stupid things, as when two employees use company e-mail to plot false harassment allegations against a third. Hummel has seen all this and worse.

It’s clear that the real solution is to do the right thing: Don’t steal from your boss. Don’t snort smut when you are on the clock. All common sense.

Even so, it appears that another version of the good old days has slipped away.

If you have questions or suggestions for Charles Bermant, you can contact him by e-mail at cbermant@seattletimes.com. Type Inbox in the subject field. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.