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Avoiding Liability While Fixing Employee PCs? 121

Posted by Cliff
from the a-risky-venture dept.
ellem asks: "The upper management team of my company has made a decision that the IT department will work with employee's home computers and laptops. Despite every possible explanation of liability and the loss of proprietary information, the decision was made in order to satisfy a 'need' that the employees have expressed. Many of our employees are, in fact, independent contractors and could go elsewhere with little impact to themselves. Upper management feels offering this service to our employees will separate us from our competitors, and is so committed to this that they have allocated a special budget for tools, software and new hires to handle this particular segment of IT. However, I am still rather worried about general liabilities. While I can keep the network relatively safe and guard against certain types of file transfers, the fear I have is a tech wrecking an employee's home machine/laptop - whether they actually do or the employee perceives that they did. Are any of your shops offering this type of extra service? Do you have any policies in place to protect your company from liabilities that could spring up?"
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Avoiding Liability While Fixing Employee PCs?

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  • by plover (150551) * on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:54PM (#15217942) Homepage Journal
    First, you should be asking your corporate lawyer the answers to some of these questions. SINSFARL (Slashdot Is No Substitue For A Real Lawyer.) He'll probably recommend things like insurance, etc.

    That said, you may want to have the aforementioned lawyer draft up a legal-looking piece of paper that says "In the event my computer or data is hozared by incompetent employees, I agree not to sue The Company..." bla bla bla.

    I think you probably should look at the technical aspects, too. Establish rules for the fixit shop, such as "Never plug an employee's home machine directly into the company network." Your service shop should have a firewalled safe zone that can get to the internet, but not to your internal network.

    Bring in an experienced repair shop manager. Get someone who knows how to set up and run a safe workbench, and who knows how schedules, policies, etc. work. Have them run as an independent agency inside your company. He doesn't have to turn a profit (duh) but should be responsible for maintaining service levels, providing estimates and setting prices (you're not GIVING away brand new replacement 512MB nVidia cards, are you?) and have purchase authority.

    • SINSFARL
      holy F*!%$^!!! I had no idea.

      is this new!?!?
      was there a warning somewhere?

      and most importantly: can I sue someone now that I know this?

      • by plover (150551) * on Friday April 28, 2006 @12:05AM (#15218543) Homepage Journal
        Well, I orginally was going to write IANAL, but then a case of 'duh!' set in. What kind of person asks legal advice on Slashdot? We need something like SINSFARL; or maybe one of those form letters for Ask Slashdot:

        You posted a(n)

        • [ ] inane
        • [ ] insane
        • [ ] incomprehensible
        • [ ] off-topic
        • [ ] pointless
        • [ ] frequently-asked
        question on Ask Slashdot.

        Your question deserves one or more of the following replies:

        • [ ] Don't ask Slashbots for legal advice. They are not lawyers.
        • [ ] Slashbots will get it wrong as often as they get it right.
        • [ ] Your topic is controversial and will only start a flame war.
        • [ ] Your topic has only one correct answer and that is: _______, and you should have been smart enough to recognize that.
        • [ ] Your question has been asked on a weekly basis, please follow this link: ________ for the most recent answer.

        In addition, you are:

        • [ ] foolish
        • [ ] a troll
        • [ ] pedantic
    • It should be pointed out that lawyers are wrong 50% of the time. This of course only refers to when they believe in a case suffuciently to take it to court - but if they don't test the case in court, their opinion is unproven.
    • My company wouldn't touch my personal PC's, but we have an A/V site license that allows us to use the software on any machine that connects to our network, so the net effect is free A/V for my windows machine. My company will provide me a laptop should I have a justifyable business reason for working at home.

      As the "hardcore" technical guy in my department, I get to help managers out on occasion when their kids open up the firewalls, enable sweeping ranges of port forwarding, and proceed to make the house
      • What do they consider connecting to your network? If I send an email then I have sent information over the network to your system. It's not a direct connection, but it's a connection. Any computer in the world may connect to your network given the IP address. They may be disconnected quickly if they don't provide the right credentials, but they are still connected.
        • The way it works at my job is authenticated users. In order to get authenticated on the vpn you need a valid login, current patches from wsus, current av from our av servers and current wireless/firewall protection from our servers. Naturally you have access to wsus, av, etc without authentication.
    • All good points. Also, minimum requirements (RAM, OS version, etc.) ought to be specified. My worst home computer repair nightmares have occurred when the OS is so badly outdated that it's going to take all day just to download the patches, or when the friend/family member has stolen software installed. (My father-in-law now knows that my wife and I will kill him if he ever lets one of his friends install software on his computer.) Or the computer has WeatherBug, Kazaa, and God knows what else installed
    • I would suggest that if you want to provide this service, outsource it to another company. It appears this organization already uses contractors exetensively, so why not hire someone who can absorb the liability if something goes wrong during repairs?
  • Waivers anyone? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Phantombrain (964010)
    Could you possibly have employees sign waivers before having tachs work on their machines? I'm no Lawyer, but it seems like having them sign something to the effect of "We will do our best to fix it, but if we make a mistake you can't hold us liable. if you have any complaints we will look into them blah blah blah" should protect you.
    • IANAL

      As I understand it waivers are useless if it actually comes down to a lawsuit. You don't get to have a sheet of paper say your not responsible for something if you're incompetent.

      As you are doing under the instruction of the company you work for, in most places, you can't be individually sued unless you are acting outside your duties. So really, the only thing that has to worry is the company. And likely they are prepared to eat the cost of a motherboard, or hd once in a while. (hopefully, not often).
      • Indeed. Wavers are more useful as legal evidence that you were made aware of the risks of some activity, rather than an explicit disclaimer of liability. (At least in cases of criminal negligence. I don't know about the rest.)
  • So what if these are employee's home computers and laptops.

    What liability is there that is greater than an retail Computer fixit shop?
  • by creimer (824291) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:56PM (#15217962) Homepage
    1. Maintain a fast server with plenty of storage space.
    2. Get a good disk imaging program to make a full backup before any work is done.
    3. ???
    4. Have updated resume listed on all major job search websites.
    • 3.5. Profit!!!
      • You clearly missed what is going on here, you archive the "customers" data to a central server (3)

        3.5 is harvest the individual porn pictures off the computer using a custom script you wrote which accepts no .jpg|.jpeg|.gif|.png|.whatever_else_ext_you_want of size less than 25kb and none larger than 250kb (quite a large jpg) and then put them on a seperate server.

        5 is sell your buddies a "subscription" to this ever enlarging database of files

        6 is PROFITs-ah
        • none larger than 250kb (quite a large jpg)

          My 2 Megapixel camera takes pictures that are ~750 KB each. If you don't include that then you're leaving out all that home made pron that employees have on their home computers.
  • ...just to provide a cheap laptop for the contractors with a standard build of corporate software and a VPN client. leave it up to the individual to connect to the VPN (DSL, Dial-up, whatever)

    it is secure and the corp can control the software.

    what will happen when your tech 'fixes' an old PC and it electrocutes the cat?
    • I would second that. IANAL so this is a solely technical/financial take on this.

      In an average corporate deployment the software licenses exceed the cost of the computer. Depending on the area you work on this factor is anything between 2 and 10 times for a desktop. The cost of maintaining a windows machine in man-hours per year depends on the number of machines and tools in use but it is pretty much close to the cost of the computer (once you add up AV, Anti-Spyware, etc). So on, so fourth.

      It is not worth i
      • The poster stated that

        Despite every possible explanation of liability and the loss of proprietary information, the decision was made in order to satisfy a 'need' that the employees have expressed.

        Apparently the decision has been made.

        Upper management feels offering this service to our employees will separate us from our competitors, and is so committed to this that they have allocated a special budget for tools, software and new hires to handle this particular segment of IT.

        Apparently they realize it wi

  • Easy... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    ...Just say no. If it's not yours, or you aren't specifically employed to fix it (by, say, a company), you're better off not doing it. Just about every geek goes through the same early phase: offering to take a look at any sick computer you hear about. But bitter experience teaches you to run screaming from any machine you're not actually contracted to service.
    • Okay, you didn't even have a feature article to read, you just had to read the summary. "The upper management team of my company has made a decision that the IT department will work with employee's home computers and laptops." I guess he could find a new job, but that seems a rather drastic approach.
  • Done all the time! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by _Sharp'r_ (649297) <sharper AT booksunderreview DOT com> on Thursday April 27, 2006 @09:59PM (#15217977) Homepage Journal
    Special Liabilities? Yes, go to your local computer repair shop. Pick up one of their service forms with all the legalese and take it in to your corporate counsel and have them copy it. Hand it to the contractor/employee to sign at some point prior to the first time you go to work on their computer.

    You do realize that there are lots of people who actually do what you are describing for a living, right? One upon a time about 10 years ago I managed such a shop. Your resistance to the feasibility of the idea seems to argue against you considering that all you are doing is basic PC work, just like lots of other people in your town do every day. There's nothing special legally in this case about the fact that you have an additional contractual relationship with the people you are doing the PC work for.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:14PM (#15218042)
      You do realize that there are lots of people who actually do what you are describing for a living, right?


      You do realize that if you work on a machine and the customer has more political clout than you do within your company, no matter what you say is going to save your ass, right? I can assure you if even a mid-level exec takes his freshly loaded PC home and little Johnny Turnipseed loads CoolWebSearch v113.8 and the machine crashes, if that exec says its your fault, it's your fault. You can do forensics all day long to prove your point and it won't matter.

      One upon a time about 10 years ago I managed such a shop. Your resistance to the feasibility of the idea seems to argue against you considering that all you are doing is basic PC work, just like lots of other people in your town do every day. There's nothing special legally in this case about the fact that you have an additional contractual relationship with the people you are doing the PC work for.


      With a proper contract your personal liability is likely (IANAL) not at stake, I'll grant you that. Your job is. Piss off a politically connected computer illiterate in your company by working on his home machine and having him/her fuck it up in rapid succession and you'll be pounding the pavement for a new job.

      We've been doing this sort of support where I work and it generates nothing but bad karma with the computer illiterates (yeah, we've tried training them). In many companies it will not be the same as running a standalone shop. You get to look at these people every day in the office and the cafeteria after they've dumped their Quicken data and somehow now it's your fault. Don't give them that out.
      • We've been doing this sort of support where I work and it generates nothing but bad karma with the computer illiterates (yeah, we've tried training them). In many companies it will not be the same as running a standalone shop. You get to look at these people every day in the office and the cafeteria after they've dumped their Quicken data and somehow now it's your fault. Don't give them that out.

        Like many things, karma flows both ways.

        Ever rescue your boss' home computer for her? That's the kind of kar

        • You only get that Karma when its a favor. When you have to fix their home PC because its your job, then the boos sees that you just did your job.
      • You get to look at these people every day in the office and the cafeteria after they've dumped their Quicken data and somehow now it's your fault.


        I'd be more uncomfortable if I had to see the bible-thumper from the company softball team in the cafeteria after stumbling across his barely-legal porn stash and his bookmarks full of Scientology websites.
      • This is absolutely true! I work as a Windows admin/desktop whore for a major university and have the misfortune of having to support the deans and upper management types. This always entails home support and is completely thankless. The Dean's son's porn downloads are my fault. The fact that he cannot connect his ass to a toilet any better than he can connect his tablet at Starbucks(tm) is my fault. The fact that some jackass from Sun's embedded videos in the powerpoint that he added on his personal latop w
    • Most of these fixit shops are small mom+pop stores, and don't worry about the things large corps do. Things like data rentention, backup, and hostile workplace/sexual harrasement issues. I've done work on home PC's and it's much more difficult and time consuming to provide a level of service + professionalism than in the corporate setting. To do the job right, you've got to start with creating good backups, which takes time and space. If the current install has a dead NIC because of spyware/malware/etc,
      • Working atm in a medium sized business that does a large number (typically juggleing about 2-3 repairs per day, in addition to other duties) of repairs and "cleanups". What the OP will need is to draft a proposal to his manager to limit the types of solutions to each problem provided, its just not feasable to remove some of the modern spyware kits going around the web (vx2 anyone?) even microsoft is admitting that a format/reinstall is the only complete solution to them.

        "major spyware/virus problems will ha
        • Some of those are good policies, but not something to post. The reason for that is most people would get confused by them. You'd want to get them OK'd by the highest up tech savvy person in mangement, and then make sure the techs know them. You don't need to be broadcasting those to everyone.

          Also, most repair shops don't waste their time with troubleshooting and repairing spyware/virus/software issues. The most that they usually do is save critical data and format/reinstall.

          • "Also, most repair shops don't waste their time with troubleshooting and repairing spyware/virus/software issues. The most that they usually do is save critical data and format/reinstall."

            Just posting back fyi, we actually do attempt to (we let the customer know in advance, based off their description of whats going on, what their chances are of removeing the virus) remove virus/spyware if the customer really wants us to, of course we charge a premium for doing that kind of thing.

            And yes, those pollicies ju
  • by Psykechan (255694) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:05PM (#15218005)
    It's a computer. Use a standard click-through disclaimer.

    Seriously, just get with HR or whomever is in charge of personnel and have a simple disclaimer written up that states that anyone who takes advantage of this waives all rights to sue for damages. Make sure that it covers both the company and the individual contractor performing the task. Include this in the employee handbook or in the information packet that is given out to people when they are hired.
  • Simple Answer... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mcamino (970752)
    Follow the same rules and procedures the big stores do when they service pc's (think Staples, Compusa, and Geek Squad)... get mangement to have the contractors sign a agreement saying "we give up right to sue for lost data and malpractice, we give up right to sue for everything and anything including neglegence blah blah blah"

    And rememind the contractors BEFORE they bring in their pc's that illegal adult materials must be reported to the FBI for persecution.(so if they have a kiddie porn collection dont bri
  • Punt! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zadaz (950521) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:08PM (#15218018)
    If your company is big enough to provide this "Service", they have a legal department. Have them whip up something. Of course that will only protect your company, not the poorschmoes who are fixing (non)employee equipment, but any layer would rather go after the entity with more money. At any rate they'll have to write something up to keep people from taking advantage of the system. (How easy would it be to abuse the system to get free components?)

    And this doesn't answer your question, but, seriously: WTF?
    How sadly misguided is this? If they want to give employees and contractors perks, how about something with a little more common sense. Like healthbenefits (for contractors) or gas/travel vouchers. Both are something people would be glad to have and have tax benefits to the company. Or how about spa gift certs or something where there's little liability.

    Alternately, they should subcontract the work out (Clearly they have no problem doing that). Get GeekSquad or something out there to do it for you. Sure, the liability is a headache for you, but I can't believe that any marginally responsible company would take on the infrastructure to do something like this. Maid service for all employees would be cheaper and have less overhead. And I'm sure would be a nice perk.

  • Liability (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Detritus (11846) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:13PM (#15218039) Homepage
    If one of your techs does wreck an employee's computer, I hope that your response is something better than pointing to a sheet of paper that the employee signed. Even the best technician will do something stupid on occasion, that's how people learn. It's much cheaper to just fix the problem and eat the cost. To do otherwise risks generating a lot of ill will and you may end up paying for it anyway, plus legal and court costs.
    • It's much cheaper to just fix the problem and eat the cost.

      Data loss of someones crap rewrite of someone else's SF short story or angsty poetry badly written in a hurry will be seen as priceless - let alone anything else of more value. Some maladjusted person could attempt to get very large amounts of cash out of your personal hide unless it is made clear that either there is no liability or the company pays (and gets reimbursed from insurance possibly years later).

      It was bad enough keeping things going i

      • I assumed that the user was responsible for backing up any valuable data on their system. Knowing the average user, that probably isn't a good assumption. I don't think the repair shop should be liable for data loss, it's the user's responsibility to make backups. Besides periodic backups, I always do a backup before doing any major hardware or software maintenance. If the tech accidentally fries some hardware, it should be repaired or replaced.

        Somehow, I've always avoided problems with spyware and viruse

  • Run far far away (Score:5, Insightful)

    by edremy (36408) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @10:14PM (#15218044) Journal
    The small college I work at used to do this before I arrived. They don't anymore for many of the reasons listed below. It's unmanageable long-term, basically due to scope creep. Sure, you'll fix their laptop when it gets infected with a virus. You'll help them with (obscure program) that has conflict with (driver of obscure program). In fact, you'll spend hour after hour at it, and they'll bring it back the next day after they visited "Spyware 'R Us" for the 37th time. Remember that you'll have *no* control over this hardware and software. If they turn off their firewall because it blocks some site they must must must get to there's *nothing* you can do about it, except pick up the pieces. Remember- wipe and reimage won't work here, since you won't have an image and all their files aren't backed up anywhere else.

    Then they'll wonder why they can't get connected to their cable modem. Guess who will be driving out to their house since you can't troubleshoot that at the office? Yes, this actually became the expectation where I work. IT makes house calls. I wondered if they asked Buildings and Grounds to mow their lawns for them.

    Next, what kind of liability are you going to run when the employee blames you for deleting (really really super important file)? Yes, I know you had nothing to do with the hard disk crash, but tell the CEO's son that when he just lost the first draft of his novel.

    In all seriousness, here are a few suggestions

    • Get a *written* contract for them to sign every single time they bring in the machine along with a detailed description of the problem. Make sure this contract spells out that they are responsible for backups of all important files on the machine, not you.
    • No personal machine can connect to your intranet, ever, for any reason. Block all the ports to anything without a known MAC address and dump them into a space where the only two machines that exist for them are windowsupdate and a site to download antivirus and antispyware tools- everything else resolves to 127.0.0.1 (Check NetReg for a free solution here)
    • Develop a detailed written policy about privacy. Make sure they understand that you aren't snooping, but sometimes finding out information simply can't be helped. Make it clear that stumbling across stuff like kiddie porn will be reported to the cops. Run this past your law folks
    • Keep stats on abusers. 5% of your folks will take 95% of the time. Make sure the powers that be know how much money these 5% are costing them.
    • No house calls, ever. Verizon DSL has tech support- they can bug them.

    Good luck. You'll need it.

    • by scoove (71173) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @11:15PM (#15218297)
      No house calls, ever. Verizon DSL has tech support- they can bug them.

      Thanks. As the senior net tech for an ISP, I really appreciate you dumping these people my way. As if I didn't have enough "Your damn Internet service caused my Microsoft Word to have weird font problems" issues.

      Actually, you had a pretty good post and the feature creep issue is very serious. Best of all, your mention of the 5% troublemakers is dead on.

      We're a smaller non-incumbant broadband provider with 2500 subscribers in a portion of our state. We struggled with growth at first but discovered that by isolating the loser customers from the winners (and encouraging the losers to go to the DSL competition), it totally freed us up to take care of good customers.

      I still get the occasional nasty emails from customers who threaten to leave us because we won't go solve their complicated VPN issue for free or rid their Windows 98 that never saw an antivirus package in its life of great malware nastiness for free. The great thing about my job is that I have the liberty to make the judgment call. I'll actually give the losers the phone number of Qwest or Direcway and tell them I'll even waive the early termination penalty and help them go to the other provider. The shock I get from them being shown the door is incredible. Some quiet down and become more realistic in their expectations, but the majority of that dead-weight 5% storms off and becomes someone elses liability. If you troll the business shelves in Barnes and Noble, you'll find quite a few firms (like Nordstroms) known for exceptional customer service that quickly separate the winners from the deadbeats, and show the latter the door.

      My recommendation to every slashdotter: Ask yourself in every situation you are in as a customer if you are a good customer or a liability to that firm. They have to make at least 12% to 15% on you to pay their creditors, shareholders, the tax man and stay in business. I've left extra money on the table many times to make sure my vendor stayed around and didn't think of me as nothing but a drain. Don't ever be a parasite! If your vendor doesn't do know how to separate good from bad, they're destined for failure.

      *scoove*
      • Your story about how you'd tell customers to go somewhere else would fit perfectly in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
      • Amen. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by artifex2004 (766107)
        When I started on the bottom rung of the ISP ladder in the 90s, I was doing dialup support. We only supported helping customers set up their DUN (or PPP or SLIP, etc.), DNS, install a web browser from FTP if they didn't have one and didn't want us to mail them a CD, and set up any one of a small palette of email clients to get mail from our servers. We later expanded it to tell people how to upload to their web space, when we added that. Oh, and the name of our NNTP server, if they asked. Officially, that w
      • ...from the customer side. But if you're an ISP tech, read the second one first, you'll like it better.

        Story number 1. My Verizon DSL modem one day refuses to sync up. No signal. No connectivity. Only light on is the power light. I call Verizon. They give me an trouble tag number. Three days later: still dead. I call them for an update. They insist that they have no record of the number. After many call transfers I am told that they simply cancelled every trouble report received during a two-day window, bec
  • Your liability towards your "customers" will be the same as if you were running a repair department at a computer store. You should look into what those local PC mongers are doing. The SBA may have some resources you can use.
  • If you are doing it at your employer's behest, and on company time, then they are the ones liable. This is a gross generalization, but for the most part true. Think of it this way: If you are an employee of XYZ Inc. and you are working on a software project for a customer, and you hose it up. Would you be sued directly? No. The company would be sued. You were acting as an agent of the company. If someone brings their computer in, and you lose all of their Quicken (tm) data, then you did it while act
    • False.

      An employer is not liable for a tort committed by one of its employees if the injured party was also an employee of the same employer who was also acting within the scope of his or employment at the time the tort occurred. (This is the fellow servant doctrine. It is an exception to the normal rule of respondeat superior.)
  • Previously, I was a sysadmin at a small company. Sure, my job was to take care of the company's computers, but I spent a certain amount of time fixing the home computers of the other employees too. It wasn't even really too hard to justify it -- people would sometimes work from home on these computers, so having them working was in the company's interests.

    I never really worried about liability. I just assumed that it was part of my job (after all, my boss's computer was one of the ones I'd occasional

  • WTF?

    Pardon me but it sounds like you're pulling excuses out of you ass because this is a job nobody in your department wants to do. Your execs see it that way too, most likely.

    Seriously, what if (during a normal days work) your tech dropped a pc on somebody's foot... you'd be liable for that too, do you bring up the concerns about carrying pc's to managment also?

    The company is liable, not the employee... they're obviously willing to accept the risk, so stfu and do your job. Not trying to be an ass, but stil
  • by blueZ3 (744446)
    I know it sounds like this is a done deal to you, but despite the "it's just IT work" responses, my advice is to put up every obstacle you can... get legal in on it, make estimates (or wild guesses) about how much this is going to cost, and fight 'til your last breath.

    Everything that goes wrong after you (or a tech) touches the machine is going to be your fault, whether it is or not. At some point, you are going to be asked to help someone with a lot of internal clout, this will come to pass, and you will b
    • Everything that goes wrong after you (or a tech) touches the machine is going to be your fault, whether it is or not. At some point, you are going to be asked to help someone with a lot of internal clout, this will come to pass, and you will be out of a job.

      Don't you have some functioning labour laws in USA? Fireing an employee because he is doing his job?

      • In many states, employment is "at will"; i.e., the employer or employee can terminate the relationship at any time with no penalties. This does *not* mean that you can fire someone because, for example, they are gay or whatever -- that is discrimination and that isn't covered "at will".
        • > In many states, employment is "at will"; i.e., the employer or
          > employee can terminate the relationship at any time with no
          > penalties.

          And that is as it should be, since in every state the employee can always terminate the relationship at will with no notice and no penalty.

          If you don't like at will employment negotiate a contract.
          • Um, the employee and employer are apples and oranges. The employer is the more powerful entity (sometimes infinitely more powerful). The people are supposed to be protected from *overabuse* by more powerful entities. If "if you don't like it, leave" was accepted, there would be no work safety laws or even discrimination laws.
            • > The people are supposed to be protected from *overabuse* by more
              > powerful entities.

              "Overabuse"? Abuse is permitted, but overabuse is not?

              Anyway, organize a union. Unions have done far more for working conditions than government has.
          • John, I explained the meaning of "at will". I never said I disagreed with it.
    • and let me tell you, we got calls where someone would say "your guys installed a light and now my toilet won't flush" and they were serious

      I bought a CD player at Best Buy and told them to fit it. Went to pick up the car and it wouldn't start: absolutely dead. (The car was 3 years old and had never had a failure to start.) I assume they had zapped or just reset the ignition electronics. They refused any responsibility and said I had to communicate by mail with some outfit in another state. Tow, repair. Bux.

  • I know that that's an evil term around here -- but this seems like a perfect opportunity.

    Your department isn't set up to service home computers with all the complexities, upgrades differing hardware & software environments, etc. Call some local Mom & Pop organizations, tell them what you want (try to recover, clean & reinstall, helpdesk, etc), and let them deal with the hassle. You might need to give them some internal software, etc to install, but that's what NDA's are for. This also pre

    • Man, this was exactly what I was going to post. For god sake, if you are forced into this travesty of providing service then provide an alternative to management.

      I'd suggest that you form a partnership with a local computer service where you agree to send these machines to them for fixing. Your responsibilities will be getting them to fill in the 3rd party forms, packaging the computers, getting them to and from the service centre and monitoring the status of the jobs.

      I'd suggest that this would reduce co
  • Data Privacy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by baadger (764884) on Friday April 28, 2006 @05:19AM (#15219431)
    Personally i'd be more worried about data protection than hardware failure or human error. You'll have access to employees and colleagues PERSONAL data, which is different from business machines where what personal data anemployee puts on the machine is pretty much at their own risk.

    I wouldn't be comfortable having access to that data. You might not be personally liable for damages but if a fellow employee makes the case to your employer that you have abused their trust you could soon lose your job.
  • by rew (6140)
    Whenever I can, I always make an image-copy of their harddisk, the way it was.

    You say I wrecked it? OK. I'll put it back the way it was.

    Roger.
    • That won't always help. Say they come in, and say the computer won't boot. You fire it up, and some virus has trashed the harddrive. They may still try to blame you when you have to tell them "Sorry, looks like all your data is gone."
  • Outsource IT (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rmckeethen (130580) on Friday April 28, 2006 @06:11AM (#15219521)

    Instead of running this home computer program in-house, why not just outsource the job to a local or national computer repair shop? That way, you can let someone else worry about the liability issues. As an added bonus, any standard computer shop will have far more experience in dealing with the kinds of problems that home computers typically encounter than you might have. That fact alone could easily make outsourcing a cheaper proposition then running the show on your own. It's definately food for thought.

    In addition to these obvious advantages, outsourcing also allows you to accurately track the costs of the program and draw your budgets accordingly. You and your boss can sit down and allocate each employee a certain dollar amount of gratis tech support, which will avoid the problem of Sue in Accounting bringing her desktop computer in every day for a month so you can wipe out the latest spyware her son aquired while searching for Internet p0rn. Also, you can offer special services with an outsourced program, like in-home system repair for CEOs or, if you work with a national chain, remote repair services for the sales team.

    Finally, you should consider the tax issues you could run into if you keep the program in-house. Technically, the type of program you describe could be seen by government tax collectors as employee compensation. That means someone is going to have to track who receives what services, because the government is surely going to want its cut too. With outsourcing, you sidestep all of these problems and are left to concentrate on your primary mission -- maintaining the corporate IT infrastructure.

  • by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Friday April 28, 2006 @06:50AM (#15219599)
    Make sure you have a policy that very clearly establishes (in absolutely no uncertain terms) that you do not install unlicensed software on the machines, no matter who tells you to. Invariably, you will get some guy from accounting coming in demanding that you install Photoshop on his home computer "because he needs it for work." When you mention that you can't install unlicensed software, he'll go tell his boss, who will then tell you "to just do it." Nobody out there seems to give a damn about licensing issues except for the guy responsible for it. Everyone else takes the view of "well, we have a CD, so it's okay to put it anywhere." The one plus to all of this is that if you ever decide to take off, you can always put in a friendly call to the BSA... : p
  • Need I say more? [theregister.com]
  • doesn't mean much unless you've locked down every network port, every USB & Firewire port, optical writing drive and any other means of transferrring files. Otherwise some yokel can walk in with a thumb drive and copy a good amount of data, now up to 4GB per drive, and walk out without anyone knowing who did it, when or who they sold the data to. Any information they can get to, they probably can copy.
  • by Aceticon (140883) on Friday April 28, 2006 @07:33AM (#15219748)
    I would rather that the IT department of wherever i'm working at the moment doesn't touch my personal machine thank you very much!

    Also, it sounds suspiciously like the first steps from management to get employers to use their own machines for work - a big no-no.

    Furthermore, if your management wants to retain those employers that are both highly qualified and highly mobile i suggest flexible working hours, little or no overwork (or maybe pay-per-hour), a location that's easy to access via both car and public transportation and a proper work environment (3-6 persons rooms, no cublicles, plenty of elbow room).
    If you're hiring contractors and then sending them to work at the customer's site there is little you can do to retain them - it doesn't take long for a contractor to figure out that they're best served by removing the middleman.

    Beyond that, i know for a fact that one of the most important ways of streamlining the systems administration/support group work is to standardize the work machines (both HW and SW) so that for example, fixing a HW problem is just a question of backup/change-machines/restore. Doing that is simply not possible when it comes to maintaining the employer's personal machines.

    If they're really keen on wasting money in this half-baked idea, they should outsource repairs/support of personnal machines to a company that's speciallized in selling those services to the general public.
  • All you have to do is say "looks like we need to reformat and reinstall windows". That seems to be the preferred solution for most internal IT support people. It's quick, it "solves" the problem, and any problems aferward are obviously not their fault. Seems like it'd work just great externally as well.
  • by nizo (81281) * on Friday April 28, 2006 @10:09AM (#15220531) Homepage Journal
    Keep careful track of time spent on working on "non-company" PCs; if your boss wonders why you aren't getting work done, show him the numbers. Hopefully this won't impact your job much, but if it does you should let the pointyheads now how much time this leeches from your day. They are pretty good at understanding "we spent 40% of ellem's salary fixing employee's home computers".
  • Bad idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Friday April 28, 2006 @10:12AM (#15220548) Homepage Journal
    It's a bad idea, but only because getting into "computer support" is generally a bad idea. So many people these days have problems that basically just can't be fixed by any technician, and thus are guaranteed to end in unhappiness for everyone involved:
    • They run MS Windows and these boxes just tend to "magically" degrade unless periodically re-installed. Except you can't do that because the user will lose something, because they don't have backups, original distribution media with which to reinstall applications (or even the OS itself), registration keys, etc.
    • They run applications (MSIE, MS Outlook, MS Word, MS Excel) which in turn are vectors by which other malware comes into the system. You can't tell a user "Ok, I made it so that your machine is secure now," when the user has the habit of running MSIE to look at websites on the Internet(!) or is in the habit of loading untrusted data+macrocode into MS Word. (And of course they do these things while logged in as an administrator.) When things go wrong again, these people always complain later that you didn't really fix their problem. It's not like you can tell users to stop shooting themselves in the foot.
    Legal department can care of the liabilities. The real thing to think about is: does anyone who does generic PC support, really want more customers? And these people you're talking about, aren't even paying customers. Holy crap, what a great way to lose money and make everyone hate you at the same time.
  • type of stuff, mostly for the upper management, but not only computers, we are talking about anything that plugs into the wall. From cell phones to iPods, even as I sat down at my desk this morning I even had one voice mail left by an EX employee who worked as an executive admin wanting to know how to download songs to her iPod knock off. Note: she has been gone now for 9 months and this is the first time I have heard from her. She did make sure to say/ask how I was doing at the end of the voice mail geee h
  • It sounds like your management is actually trying to skimp on "telecommuting" money... if they offer to help maintain you employees' home machines, then the employees won't feel slighted about doing telecommuting work from home every once in a while.

    The better solution would be to just bite the bullet and issue company standard laptops / desktops to your telecommuters. You retain complete control over the software and configuration, and can just offer them a replacement if they screw something up rather t
  • The high price of gas brought this on last year.

    We started a program that offered pptp access for users.

    With one caveat: People had to have permision to obtain a company laptop for travel or remote use.

    No WAY are we touching home machines.

    A few busers were really easy to identify and deal with because they don't work here anymore.

    But for the most part, no problems with the machines after people found out what happens when they load porn and software on the machine by breaking the rules.

    We are up to about 2
  • by Glamdrlng (654792) on Friday April 28, 2006 @03:24PM (#15223034)
    1, The company could supply a company-owned PC to the contractors. That way there's some semblance of standardization and you're not supporting every device on the shelf at Best Buy.

    2, Virtualization is an option. Use a Xen, VMWare, or Virtual PC solution and you can just put out minimum requirements for a user's home machine, and you get your management to agree that the IT shop only supports the virtual box.

    3, Get creative about ways to accomplish management's objectives without saying "No". Maybe you can limit your scope of support to company provided applications and get a statement signed by each user that they're responsible foreverything besides applications x, y, and z. Or maybe you can limit support to web-based apps that you guys host.

    4, Find a different job. No, seriously. It sounds like there's someone in the company with a job title of CxO that isn't listening to the managers who work under him/her. If that person or people aren't listening to you on this one they likely won't listen anytime you give them advice. Not a good corporate culture, imo.
  • I know I am going to be reiterating much of what the slashdot community has said in response to this post, but I feel these points merit emphasis.

    First of all, the upper management of your company is a confederacy of morons. They face the potential of opening a Pandora's Box of both legal and economic chaos. This situation is typical of the "act now think later" mindset that seems to be the MBA's strong suit. I hope your ICs have good lawyers, they may well need them when the liability buck gets passe
  • Company should issue out laptops to the contractors, laptops which give the contractors standard user rights while logged on.

    DO NOT TOUCH HOME MACHINES!!!!!!!!!!!!

    It's something that once you start supporting, you will not be able to stop. You fix Candy's machine and Sam's, then your company decides to pull the plug on this. But Sara starts whining because she was next in line because of some StarForce driver f'ed up her CD-ROM. "Well, just this once, then we'll stop this policy." says the suits. (Y

  • This can't really apply to the OP since it is sanctioned and forced by the management, but my company has no policy on this. I will work on a machine in my spare time, at no cost to the employee (I usually ask them to buy me a lunch when I am done and it works), in a few certain circumstances.

    I try to wait till they are desperate. Before this I will just give them suggestions that they can try on their own. By the time the problem is really big, I will just tell them I will do my best, but I can't guarentee
  • Taxes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Sunday April 30, 2006 @02:57PM (#15232909) Homepage
    This is going to be a taxable benefit. You are going to have to report the value of the service as taxable income to each employee and do appropriate witholding.
  • The upper management team of my company has made a decision that the IT department will work with employee's home computers and laptops. Despite every possible explanation of liability and the loss of proprietary information, the decision was made in order to satisfy a 'need' that the employees have expressed.

    Do you guys get to wear the slender black neckties, white short-sleeved button ups, and drive Volkswagen Beetles to work? Hmmm... [geeksquad.com]

"Who cares if it doesn't do anything? It was made with our new Triple-Iso-Bifurcated-Krypton-Gate-MOS process ..."

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