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Avoiding Liability While Fixing Employee PCs?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | 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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first post? (-1, Offtopic)

Ajmuller (88594) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217930)

first post?

Re:first post? (-1, Offtopic)

Ajmuller (88594) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217937)

yes, still lame.

Re:first post? (0, Offtopic)

uofitorn (804157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217951)

That was the most boring first post ever.

A couple of points. (5, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217942)

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.

Re:A couple of points. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15218035)

YAALAWMATMANSW (You Are A Lame Ass Who Makes Acronyms That Makes Absolutely No Sense Whatsoever)

Re:A couple of points. (1, Funny)

dwandy (907337) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218489)

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?

Re:A couple of points. (4, Funny)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218543)

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

Re:A couple of points. (1)

wo1verin3 (473094) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218956)

>>In addition, you are:
>> * [ ] foolish
>> * [ ] a troll
>> * [ ] pedantic

What if I'm shallow and pedantic you insensitive clod?

Re:A couple of points. (1)

vulcan25 (943758) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219314)

Lois, I find this meatloaf rather shallow and pedantic.

Re:A couple of points. (1)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15223242)

  • In addition, you are:
  • [ ] foolish
  • [ ] a troll
  • [X] shallow
  • [X] pedantic
  • [X] insensitive
  • [X] clod

Now are you happy? :-)

Re:A couple of points. (1)

Grab (126025) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219346)

You're missing some other major options on these "Ask Slashdot" things.

[ ] If you were competent at your job then you'd know the answer already.

[ ] If your company needs someone who knows this, hire someone. Don't settle for a half-assed guess from someone on Slashdot.

[ ] If you'd checked on Google first, you wouldn't have needed to ask this.

The number of "Ask Slashdot" topics that fall into these three categories is frankly amazing.


Re:A couple of points. (1)

dwandy (907337) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219676) you're suggesting they turn off Ask Slashdot? :)

Re:A couple of points. (1)

twoflower (24166) | more than 8 years ago | (#15221377)

Uh - yes. Please.

Re:A couple of points. (1)

ynohoo (234463) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219488)

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.

Re:A couple of points. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15219705)

It's called an E&O (Errors and Ommissions) Policy. Your company should already have one in place.

Re:A couple of points. (1)

beacher (82033) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219936)

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 a zombie home.

I wouldn't wish this kind of service upon any support group. Clueless employees with moderately locked down installs are hard enough to clean up after, much less their entire home kit.

Re:A couple of points. (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220039)

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.

Re:A couple of points. (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220987)

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.

Re:A couple of points. (2, Informative)

OhHellWithIt (756826) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220197)

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 on it.

Re:A couple of points. (2, Funny)

Tankdagger (829413) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220614)

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? (2, Interesting)

Phantombrain (964010) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217948)

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.

Re:Waivers anyone? (2)

topham (32406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218358)


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).

Re:Waivers anyone? (1)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219946)

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.)

Issue of trust? (1)

Lacit (909742) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217953)

It sounds like your trying to cover your ass legally, but isn't this really an issue of trust? Do you not trust your own employees to not screw the company?

When I did IT for a company, we fixed all our empolyee computer issues. We didn't do any ass covering. (Not to say you shouldn't, just saying we didn't)

Special liability of these PCs? (3, Insightful)

mcarthur (442256) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217961)

So what if these are employee's home computers and laptops.

What liability is there that is greater than an retail Computer fixit shop?

well, lets say they repair a laptop (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219508)

and discover someones religion (wiccan) or sexual orientation (homo not hetro) or lifestyle (hightimes subscription) medical confition (hiv positive or just about anything

and next week the employee is let go

Re:Special liability of these PCs? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220459)

Does this mean I have to hide all my midget porn every time my computer goes on the fritz?


Re:Special liability of these PCs? (1)

RevDobbs (313888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220629)

Eric, I already know about your midget porn.

And stop touching yourself.


Re:Special liability of these PCs? (1)

smbarbour (893880) | more than 8 years ago | (#15222072)

According to the wording in the summary, there is a chance that information from another company (possibly the employee's former employer) could exist on the employee's computer. This can result in the contamination of the business. This is a situation that that is "less likely" to occur with an unbiased third-party service.

Re:Special liability of these PCs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15222823)

The problem is that the business would be liable for problems period. I am assuming that the company is NOT a computer repair shop. If this company offers this service they are opening themselves up for a lawsuit if they do not have the proper legal protections in place, should an employee decide that the company's IT staff has messed their computer up.

Re:Special liability of these PCs? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 8 years ago | (#15223298)

So what if these are employee's home computers and laptops.

What liability is there that is greater than an retail Computer fixit shop?

Because. If the corporate IT guy fixes the corporate computer, and it dies, the corporation will need to buy a new computer and get it up and running again. If the corporate IT guy hoses too many computers, you might need a new corporate IT guy.

If the corporate IT guy hoses YOUR computer, and says "whoops!", that's gonna cost you, co-workers of corporate IT guy get pissy. Figures the corporation or IT guy need to fix the part that died and pick up the cost (despite the fact that the dust-bunny finally shorted out the mobo or whatever).

The company sure as hell isn't gonna take liability for the machines. And you can't fairly expect the IT guys to take liability for it, since they've been voluntold for the position. Not to mention that you could suddenly overload your IT people with a bunch of extra crap, and still expect them to get their REAL work done on time.

No matter what, the IT guy isn't gonna want to track down obscure parts for a bunch of different machines and try to source all of the parts. What do you mean you can't find ECC RAM from three years ago? Why not? You're IT!

It sounds like an incredibly stupid move to me, with all sorts of potential for extra crap and nuisance for all parties.

This is easy... (4, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217962)

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.

Re:This is easy... (3, Funny)

auspiv (769470) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218016)

3.5. Profit!!!

No, 6 is profit (1)

drachenstern (160456) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218830)

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

Re:No, 6 is profit (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220085)

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.

It would be much cheaper... (1)

i_am_the_r00t (762212) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217966)

...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?

Re:It would be much cheaper... (2, Interesting)

arivanov (12034) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218961)

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 it financially. Numbers do not add up. The saving and convenience will be eaten up.

That is besides all the AUP and "my kid installed the spyware" crap.

Re:It would be much cheaper... (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 8 years ago | (#15221179)

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 will cost them money. They're doing it because a lot of people think like you do. Maybe it will differentiate them from their competitors. I know a lot of users that would stay at a job for free support. Or at least stay in touch and buy me beer once in a while.

Easy... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15217969)

...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.

Re:Easy... (1)

punkr0x (945364) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220068)

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! (4, Insightful)

_Sharp'r_ (649297) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217977)

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.

Re:Done all the time! (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Done all the time! (1)

plover (150551) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218479)

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 karma you want to stick around. You can feed your protective aura even for the simplest of tasks, just because you were brave enough to not tell her "no".

Even so, I still wear my thinkgeek T-shirt [] to work every so often. (Doesn't help much -- even the pizza guy still asks us computer questions at lunch.)

Re:Done all the time! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15220399)

Like many things, karma flows both ways.

Ever rescue your boss' home computer for her? That's the kind of karma you want to stick around. You can feed your protective aura even for the simplest of tasks, just because you were brave enough to not tell her "no".

I'm the original AC on this subthread and yes, when you get to cherry pick your clients this works and yes, I've done it. The problem when you support everybody's machine you're getting the few that can help your career along with a whole lot that can hurt it. As far as being "brave" enough to do anything, yes, I always give them the straight scoop. The problem is that I work with a huge number of lawyers and they're never wrong.

And no offense, but if you wear anything from ThinkGeek at work and it's not a tie then we're working in entirely different sectors. I do wear their stuff on my time though.

Re:Done all the time! (1)

SlamMan (221834) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220469)

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.

Re:Done all the time! (1)

g1zmo (315166) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220607)

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.

It's not done all the time...*sigh* (1)

Mr.Ziggy (536666) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218082)

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, it's fastest to disk image by ripping the drive out, but still time consuming. Reinstalls are painful because of varying hardware/drivers and because users many times don't have valid licenses for all their software. Finally, there are problems with warez and pr0n in the corporate environment. ---- In summary, I think your problems are less legal, and more time consuming. I'd say easily 2x time per trouble ticket. If your boss really wants to go this route, I'd be forward thinking and begin allowing employees to purchase the same identical hardware/software packages you are using the enterprise. Then you're slamming out the same ghost images and drivers, and you're not scratching your head wondering if some obscure part is defective or not.

Re:It's not done all the time...*sigh* (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218922)

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 have upto 10G of data backed up prior to formatting and installing with original supplied disks"

"primary componant failure (MB/CPU) will not be repaired, replacement being the only solution"

The usual disclaimers of course would have to be applied, no liabillity for data lost while the machine is on the premises or for any hardware damaged as a result of previus work done by other repairers, etc...

He needs not only to talk to the company law peeps about their liability, but also to someone outside the company in regards to covering his own arse.

Re:It's not done all the time...*sigh* (1)

TheJediGeek (903350) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220943)

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.

First things first: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15217988)

1. Always make an image of the data on the drives before starting.

2. Search for the porn AFTER you have finished with the computer.

Re:First things first: (2, Funny)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218053)

no no no you
1 create the image
2 check it into a forensic quality workspace
3 do your scans
4 forward the evidence to ....


Re:First things first: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15218196)

This is all for installing a DVD buner

Re:First things first: (1)

Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219970)

2 check it into a forensic quality workspace

...using military-grade cryptography...

Re:First things first: (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 8 years ago | (#15222034)

Serious question:

What constitutes a "forensic quality workspace"?

2nd post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15217991)


ellem (-1, Troll)

baldass_newbie (136609) | more than 8 years ago | (#15217997)

You're a toe sucking pig and I'm willing to burn karma to say so.
I told you in your JE [] how I thought this was a bad idea, and I still say so now.
BTW, tell the wife I said "Hi".

Simple legal disclaimer should work (2, Insightful)

Psykechan (255694) | more than 8 years ago | (#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... (2, Interesting)

mcamino (970752) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218010)

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 bring the pc in to get fixed) You wouldnt belive how many customers who would bring in their pc's to me back when i worked at the sweatshop called compusa would hear that warning, pick up their pc, walk out, and come back the next day without the offending files.

The real liability is dataloss, because it is impossible to defend against if they claim you wipe out 10 months of files (which were never there to begin with) and the going rate for REAL datarecovery (ISO Clean rooms) is like $900 per GB (multiply that by a 160 or 200gb hard drive and you got a major problem)

Re:Simple Answer... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15220192)

Maybe they were just too dumb to understand that "illegal adult materials" = child porn, and thought that they had to get rid of anything "naughty", such as a faked Britney Spears half-shelters poor banana from harsh sun on beach. Or I dunno, a real one.

Punt! (3, Interesting)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Actually, I get maid service (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15221151)

It's odd that you bring up the maid service actually, because the company subsidized housing that I live in actually does provide maid service for me.

And at $450 a month in the North Chicago suburbs, right near Deerfield, which also include utilities and internet/cable, it's a tough deal to beat.

Liability (3, Insightful)

Detritus (11846) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218039)

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.

Don't take liability for spyware accidents etc (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218764)

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 in a computer support call center where everyone thought bonzi buddy was cool and got very angry when it was not reinstalled after fixing their work PC to the point where it was functional for work.

Do it if you have to - but unless ordered otherwise try to make it absolutely clear that home computers are fixed at the owners risk, need to take lower proirity to work related business and the increased workload from spyware removal has to be taken into account. I forgot how bad things are out there until I connected a bare Win2k SP3 machine on dial up last night to download a program update. The first popup to try to fool me into buying "regcleanerpro" before my computer exploded was there within a minute - and that's after IE had only ever been to MSN since the fresh install and the windows install had never been on a network apart from dial up.

Re:Don't take liability for spyware accidents etc (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219149)

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 viruses. Maybe I'm just lucky. Registry rot is another matter.

Run far far away (5, Insightful)

edremy (36408) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218044)

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 (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.

Re:Run far far away (5, Insightful)

scoove (71173) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.


Re:Run far far away (1)

auspiv (769470) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219002)

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. (2, Insightful)

artifex2004 (766107) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219248)

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 was it.

Of course, ignoring the rules and accepting the calls from clueless clients on dialup who also had T3s with us, handed off by our veeps and prez, were how I climbed the ladder, started supporting broadband before getting trained, and eventually became a "customer engineer" (network engineer) :)

However, times have changed. You're an ISP, not their personal tech support. If it's not related directly to their connectivity through you, it's not your problem. Seriously. People aren't totally clueless about the boundaries of support any more (I'm not sure most of my "special issues" ever really were) and you've hit the nail on the head about the margins being such that it's not really worth it. If you don't have calls waiting, and the customer is really nice, sure, be the hero, and feel better for it afterwards. But don't let anyone demand or guilt you into anything your company hasn't promised. I've even encountered people who have done serious damage to their systems, and wanted me to help them outside official bounds, with their intent being that they would later claim that we wrecked their systems, and should pay their consultants for them. Just another thing to remember, when someone asks you to support their horrendously complicated issue :)

OT, just two random stories... (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 8 years ago | (#15222201)

...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, because some worm, I forget which one, hit. I'm, yes, a bit angry, because I insist the virus couldn't have been responsible and that the report shouldn't have been cancelled. Tech says, sure it could. I say, no, because my machine is a Mac and my wife's machine is running Windows 98 and this virus doesn't affect either and she just ran a Norton AV scan and came up clean. And anyway, I say, on my DSL modem the only light on is the power light. And a guy I know in town who also has Verizon DSL says his is out, too. And it's not likely to be a wiring problem on my side of the interface because the phones work. He says the virus could have infected my LinkSys home DSL router. He wants me to cycle power on everything and review through all the network email settings with him, etc. etc. I humor him--well, actually I have no choice--and after we work through his routine he issues a trouble tag number. About twelve hours later, the other lights on my DSL modem start flashing and it syncs up and everything works.

Story number 2. We suddenly lose all connectivity with the Internet. I call Verizon, he wants me to power-cycle and reboot everything, I explain all sorts of excellent reasons why it can't be that and has to be a problem at their end, he tells me he can't go any farther unless I do what he asks, I power-cycle the DSL modem, the LinkSys Router, and my Mac... and bingo, everything worked fine. (Yes, I apologized to the tech for being testy).

Re:OT, just two random stories... (1)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 8 years ago | (#15223059)

Power cycling the equipment is the FIRST thing you try. ;p

see: Computer Store (1)

TheSHAD0W (258774) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218068)

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.

No worries... (1)

The Waxed Yak (548771) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218176)

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 acting as an agent of the company. The company is liable, you aren't. (Again, gray area.) I wouldn't be worried about it, but IANAL. Hopefully some of the other posts will give better insight as to this.

Seems to be common, at least for a small shop (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218231)

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 occasionally fix, though he was good at it himself so I only got involved if it was tricky.)

In your (the person asking) case, I'd just suggest doing your job. You're the IT guy, and you were told to fix the computer, so fix the computer. It's the legal department's job to work out any legal issues (and it's management's job to know if legal needs to get involved and to involve them.) If you think legal should be involved, send your boss (and maybe the legal department) an email, keep a copy of it for your records, and leave it be -- you've done your job, brought up your concerns, and so if somebody doesn't listen to you and it blows up (which seems unlikely, I might add) -- you've got proof right there that you did mention it.

You're kidding right? (2, Interesting)

Run4yourlives (716310) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218260)


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 still, there has to be something more important for you to worry about than this.

Re:You're kidding right? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15223031)

Excuse me, but it doesn't sound like it is appropriate for him to "stfu" because working on these personal computers is not "doing his job". It sounds like this is something new for him, and that management hasn't even considered the legal implications.

If there is any way that the technician is held personally liable for the work on the machines, then he has every right to feel cautious about working on the machine.

If he was hired with the understanding that part of the job was to work on personal machines, and the company had already set this up with legal, fine. But this is something that someone higher up decided would be a good idea, and gave about as much forethought to as half the other "great ideas" management comes up with. This will get stopped the instant someone reaches for a lawyer

Flee! (1)

blueZ3 (744446) | more than 8 years ago | (#15218331)

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 be out of a job. It doesn't matter if there's no possible connection between installing a video driver and the malfunction of the LAN card, because these days logic is the last resort.

I well remember working my way through college as an electrician for a company serving Beverly Hills, 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. This is a lose-lose if ever there was one.

Re:Flee! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15218578)

Flash-based MAME frontend? For the love of God that sounds like a terrible idea.

Re:Flee! (1)

Homology (639438) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219006)

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?

Re:Flee! (1)

easter1916 (452058) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219776)

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".

Re:Flee! (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 8 years ago | (#15222498)

> 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.

Re:Flee! (1)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 8 years ago | (#15223131)

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.

Outsource (1)

sgent (874402) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219050)

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 prevents you from being the bad guy when you wipe out your bosses data.

There are also some national/international venders that provide helpdesk services for resellers -- you might want to talk to some of them as a front line even if you retain the actual hands on work.

Re:Outsource (1)

darrell73 (69855) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219196)

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 costs SIGNIFICANTLY over running it in house and the liability (not to mention stress) goes to someone else. And if they have a problem they can take it up with someone who they don't work with.

If your company really wants to give the home computer abusers a warm and fuzzy feeling they can subsidise the cost of repairs.

Data Privacy (2, Insightful)

baadger (764884) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Backup. (1)

rew (6140) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219520)

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.


Outsource IT (2, Insightful)

rmckeethen (130580) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Beware of Software Licensing Issues (3, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#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

File security... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219738)

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.

Opinion from an Independent Contractor (2, Insightful)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

VPN & VMware client (1)

losman (840619) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219820)

VPN connectivity over a broadband line to the office should be a requirement. Not some half-a** solution, something tokened and secured.

VMware Player and an Image built/controlled and managed by your IT department. By controlled I mean locked down where controll what's on it.

But their PC doesn't have enough RAM or doesn't have enough DISK or blah blah blah! If they want to use a home PC to connect to your network then these are the requirements.

But how do we support them? Forget their home PCs, you support the image.

Just do what big corp IT shops do internally (1)

gregor-e (136142) | more than 8 years ago | (#15219844)

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.

My thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15219876)

I realize this echoes many of the opionions already expressed, but here's my take:

It sounds like you've already raised the issue of liability and have been ignored. There is not much more you can do there, except recommend (if you haven't already) that users sign a waiver indicating that the company is not responsible for damage to the customer's hardware, and (more importantly) data loss resulting from your work.

That said, I think the liability is the least of your concerns. I would be far more concerned about the time you will end up spending on this. I could easily see an IT staff spending more time fixing employee computers than on maintaining the corporate network. So keep a log of all the time spent fixing employee-owned computers. When management wants to know why projects are behind, etc., point to this information. At that point, the management team has three choices: except the backlog of company work, hire more people, or change their mind.

The other problem, I strongly suspect, is that you personally don't want to make a career out of fixing employees' personal computers. I wouldn't either. I don't know what to tell you, except that you can either explore alternative employment, hope that the situation doesn't get too bad, or hope that the company changes its mind or does hire additional people to deal with employee computers.

Keep track of time spent (2, Insightful)

nizo (81281) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220531)

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 (3, Informative)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 8 years ago | (#15220548)

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.

We already do this... (1)

HavokDevNull (99801) | more than 8 years ago | (#15221432)

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 how thoughtful!

We are a two person IT shop; My Boss the Director of IT, and myself Sr Sys Admin. I mostly deal with my network and servers and some luser (local user) stuff, while he gets the majority of face time with said lusers (my people skills are lacking, on purpose). The problem I have is the we are both on call 24x7, and well everyone at the company has been bugging us relentlessly for trivial stuff.

Here is an example; I was called by one of the executive admins last night at 11PM asking how to remove stationary from her outlook so she can send personal emails. If your company goes through this, it is what you can expect. Also note: These idiots computers are so bad off with spyware and virii it's just easier and takes less time to wipe the box clean and do a clean install of Ubuntu and tell them it's new version of winblows. Never in my life have I seen computers so hosed in the two years I been here.

I should also note that I saw an earlier post that said

"5. Make sure your resume is posted on every job board."

Well mine is and had 4 interviews this past month, and this time I'm the one doing the interviewing, taking my time to find a company that will not treat it's IT personnel as... Well... as IT whipping boys!

To Sum it up: You will get taken advantage of, and when it goes wrong or perceived something is wrong with these computers you will waste constant personal time to fix them and or hold the lusers hands and try to appease them. Let the "Geek Squad" charge them a couple hundred to take care of them and hose their computer even more.


Computers are cheap (1)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 8 years ago | (#15222446)

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 than have them sit around not telecommuting while they're waiting for you to diagnose their home PC problem.

If your management is sincerely offering the service as a "fringe benefit", then go for it... but it doesn't seem like it would make sense unless your company was in the business of fixing computers as a core competence and you had a large pool of extra techs sitting around playing with themselves otherwise. Most IT departments I've seen are too busy investing time into company infrastructure projects to have extra time to let techs sit around and screw with random computers.

Home Machines (1)

hackus (159037) | more than 8 years ago | (#15222496)

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 20 people now with these laptops, and I hardly here a peep out of them, except for the occasional phone call of "How do I connect to the internet at this Hotel?"


Couple options (2)

Glamdrlng (654792) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Good God!! (1)

grudgelord (963249) | more than 8 years ago | (#15223332)

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 passed to them.

Having worked as an IC for an out-sourcer, I can say that the potential of liability is significant. Both myself and the company to which I contracted dodged a few bullets. In every instance data loss was involved. Some were due to poorly established procedures within the company, others were due to ignorance or negligence by the client. In either case, litigation could have resulted in disaster for the company if not for myself. It is for this reason that I tread with extreme caution when contracting.

Depending on the stipulations of liability, your ICs would be wise to flatly refuse work outside of the company's directly controlled resources. As the control and ownership of the hardware and data changes (in this case from the company to privately owned machines) the distinction of culpability becomes blurred, further exposing both the company and the independent contractors to liability, should the unthinkable occur.

I highly endorse the recommendation by many other readers of developing a liability waiver. While this won't deter a righteously pissed-off litigant, it may serve to assuage frivolous suits. It certainly won't protect anyone from complaints to management, or demands for someone's job.

Aside from convincing upper management of the potential horrors in store the implementation of downright draconian and imperialistic standards of practice are in order here. Create the most anal and hellish SOP you can devise; one which leaves a little room for error or deviation as absolutely possible. Force the strictest adherence to an established protocol which sanity can withstand and take nothing, even the smallest thing, for granted. While such policies are anathema to most of us, this is a case where it might be the only thing between your ass and the chopping-block.

Establish a clearly defined protocol for data retention and disaster recovery, including the provision for the appropriate hardware and its use (all designed with mobility in mind). Establish practices of fully backing up all data, no matter how trivial. And regardless of all else, never take the hardware owner's word for anything , ever !!

The best practice would be to do some research and present the upper management with a series of disaster stories. Be sure to emphasize the financial loss incurred directly or indirectly (via lost production over time, etc.) in each instance. The surest way to get their attention is to clearly illustrate the financial risks involved in such a decision. Consider, after showing the ultimate financial wisdom inherent, in making alternative recommendations, such as providing computers (owned by the company) to these employees, thus eliminating the control of ownership and thus limiting liability. While I do not believe that the company is likely to be willing to loan hardware to their employees this might lead to other creative solutions.

While my stance on this matter may sound alarmist, I have seen enough near-misses to make me gun-shy. You could operate for several years with no incident, but once that first incident occurs the floodgates will be open. And, in the end, it will be your IT people who serve as the scapegoats. The company will hang them out to dry, one and all.
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