"The general advice we give when people leave a company is you should leave everything behind. So you leave the contacts behind -- that means you take them off BlackBerries, PDAs, smartphones," he says. "Contacts may be [employer property] if the employer has invested in those relationships, and that includes creating the technology and providing the employee the time for engaging in social networking."
In the best of all worlds, companies should have clear policies regarding these issues, and workers should maintain separate electronic devices for business and personal use.
That said, Segal also believes that workers need some wiggle room, and employers should be reasonable in meeting that need.
Segal acknowledges that the personal and professional have become so blurred -- even when such policies are in place -- that departing employees often do need to access and take information stored on company computers, and, conversely, that companies may feel the need to access personal devices in search of corporate data.
Workers should be able to take personal data such as digital photos or contact information for their kids' teachers. In many cases, Segal believes, they should also be allowed to print out or forward some professional material -- for instance, contact names to a user group -- provided they can argue that what they're taking isn't protected, proprietary or confidential to the firm.
The high tech kill switch
Many employers already are protecting themselves, and using technology where possible to help. Companies can track and even block what files employees forward, print or copy, Segal and others say, to ensure that workers aren't making off with trade secrets, client lists and the like.
On the hardware side, companies can even disable devices remotely.
"Most companies that I know of that support smartphone use have enabled it with a feature that allows them to erase all data -- 'spike the phone' -- at their discretion, usually at termination," says Sean Ebner, regional vice president for Technisource, the IT services division for SFN Group Inc. "This means that the employee would lose pictures, contacts, emails, files, and so forth."
Some workers might find that draconian, but legal contracts like non-compete and non-solicitation agreements give companies the right to take such actions to protect their assets and interests, according to Segal and other experts.
That said, employers do recognize that the lines between personal and professional are blurred when gadgets are involved, and, as a result, many are trying to accommodate employees' needs when possible, Ebner says.