A perfect storm of gossip, technological syncing and plain old bad luck has resulted in a New Jersey-based lawsuit that you just can't make up. It has also shined a light on a whole new area of trouble facing companies and their workers.

Man with smartphone and tablet computer
Adam Radosavljevic, ThinkStock

The suit from two former employees of Anheuser-Busch's Jersey City facility claims they were wrongfully discharged after text messages from their personal devices ended up on one of their company-provided tablets. The text messages were bashing the performance of a colleague, and that colleague just so happened to be the next in line to receive the very same company tablet that featured the unsavory texts.

"There's nothing unlawful about what they were doing," said Chris Lenzo, the plaintiffs' lawyer, in a conversation with New Jersey 101.5. "Can you be fired for something you did in your living room?"

The complaint features a race discrimination claim as well, contending that black employees were treated differently than nonblack employees. Five workers were involved in the text conversation about a year ago.

Anheuser-Busch has not yet responded to the complaint, but must do so by April 9. The company has moved the suit to federal court, and Lenzo predicts the company will seek arbitration.

Gregg Salka, an associate with labor law firm Fisher & Phillips in Murray Hill, said unfortunately, there is no blanket solution to protect workers or employers when it comes to situations involving company-provided devices.

"Because it's such a new area of law, how to craft a policy that specifically addresses what you want to address can be an onerous task," Salka said. "Having a policy is a determination that should be made by each company based off of speaking with their lawyer, speaking with their HR team, speaking with their IT team and really taking a look at the goals that they want to accomplish with their policy."

Salka said the concerns go way beyond unpleasant actions performed on a company's device. Employers may also face complications with wiping a device of an employee's personal information if the device ends up getting lost or the employee is terminated.

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