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I'm going on a trip this weekend with my family, and I expect there will be some idle time in the hotel room or by the pool.

I'd like to fill this idle time with Netflix or video games etc, but I don't currently own a laptop.

I have a laptop at work, but I don't really use it and I've never taken it out of the office.

Is it unprofessional to ask my boss if I can take the laptop with me to the vacation? We are on moderately friendly terms, but I'm kind of new to workplaces and I don't know if there's an unspoken rule about using company property for entertainment purposes.

Edit: Trip is outside the country.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Dukeling, user8365, Dmitry Grigoryev, Jim G. Jan 25 '18 at 17:47

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  • "Questions seeking advice on company-specific regulations, agreements, or policies should be directed to your manager or HR department. Questions that address only a specific company or position are of limited use to future visitors. Questions seeking legal advice should be directed to legal professionals. For more information, click here." – gnat, Community, Jim G.
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  • 91
    Do you have a plan if this laptop were to be stolen or compromised in some way? Also, does your work have a written IT usage policy (almost all do)? – Bilkokuya Jan 22 '18 at 13:39
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    Possible duplicate of Is it appropriate to use my company laptop for leisure activities? – Dukeling Jan 22 '18 at 14:02
  • 4
    You may want to add a location tag. – Lilienthal Jan 22 '18 at 15:14
  • 3
    If you want to discuss the digital or physical security issues, use The Workplace Chat. – Monica Cellio Jan 22 '18 at 20:03
  • 1
    Its a laptop. Everyone in the world occasionally uses it for basic personal use (some surfing, some netflix, etc). DOn't use it for porn, don't install video games, don't do side work (due to IP issues), but go ahead and use it for basic entertainment/research. Anyone who says otherwise needs to get the stick out of their ass. – Gabe Sechan Jan 26 '18 at 8:03

14 Answers 14

141

Is it rude to ask my boss if I can take the laptop with me to the vacation?

I am not sure about rude (this is opinion based), but to request permission to use company equipment for strictly personal use would be un-professional. My advise to you is to not ask unless you are going to work extra hours or need one for after hours support.

In addition, most companies have controls in place on their equipment to prohibit company assets from reaching specific video only sites such as Netflix. Also, you may not have permission to install un-authorized software, such as video games, due to company policy and there are security concerns too.

Short answer: Don't ask, and don't do it.

88

You can most surely ask a question on this topic without looking unprofessional. Just ask "what is our company policy of using the work devices for personal purposes" instead of "can I install computer games on my work laptop". If you are expected to be informed about this topic already (e.g. via regular security trainings), then it's a different story, but then you probably wouldn't have asked this question.

By phrasing correctly, you demonstrate you care about company policies and are open about your intentions and therefore trustworthy. Laptops in general are supposed to be protected from occasions like being stolen using full disk encryption and from virus infections by antivirus, and taking it to vacations is not very different from taking it to a business trip, from security perspective.

Installing certain software like games is a different story, and usually the rules are strict. But if you just want to use the company approved web browser (which has all the security updates installed), there's not much difference if you are doing it in a hotel due to a customer meeting or during your holidays. But of course, your company rules are the ultimate answer to your question.

  • 10
    I agree. I’m allowed to take my work laptop home and also use it for personal purposes as I see fit. Of course changing the laptop (or its OS) in a significant way or using it for illegal purposes is not allowed. – Michael Jan 22 '18 at 20:49
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    I very much agree. Workplaces are a spectrum ranging from insanely locked down (zero privilege users, and an internet whitelist, not allowed offsite at all, etc) on one end to BYOD (and we'll give you $X to buy yourself a nice computer) that you can do anything you want to with outside of work. While it's probably true that most employers would draw the line on acceptable use short of installing games, asking what a companies policy is should be OK in any but the most dysfunctional organizations. – Dan Neely Jan 23 '18 at 16:30
  • This. Company policies on this vary widely: some state that company devices are strictly for work purposes (banning any personal use), others allow personal use of company devices but typically impose some restrictions. In the latter case, you’ll want to inform yourself about what you can and cannot do with the device. – user149408 Jan 25 '18 at 12:09
19

Assume not.

Your work-provided laptop is a connection to your corporation. If the laptop gets stolen while on holiday and your password is compromised, then the thief has a direct route to your corporate network and has your credentials to authenticate themselves with.

This becomes your responsibility, regardless of whether you claim it's stolen.

If it's stolen, your have to pay (your company's insurance won't cover you using the laptop for personal reasons).

You also can't trust the WiFi while on holiday (it's easy enough to hack, and again, the thief has access to your company's internal network).

In short, don't do it, and don't embarrass your boss by asking.

Buy a cheap laptop/tablet for your own personal use, and take that with you instead.

  • 16
    @LaurentS. "can't be compromised" is a huge fallacy. It may be hard, but far from impossible. In fact, that VPN doesn't add to security - it detracts from it for the sake of usability. A VPN to access a company network is another way to access that company's network. – Duncan X Simpson Jan 22 '18 at 15:08
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    Yes. A lot of authentication is linked to the domain account, so knowing the laptop credentials often leads on to more things, especially if any "I forgot my password" just emails the corporate email account with a reset link. – Snow Jan 22 '18 at 15:10
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    @LaurentS. if I get hold of your computer, it's mine. I can break a laptop's security in under 5 minutes, and I'm on the low end of hackers. A skilled hacker will PWN you completely in half the time. – Richard U Jan 22 '18 at 15:17
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    @TheSnarkKnight yes, if you have physical access to the computer, no one can stop you from hacking it. Not the best software. Having bitlocker might avoid getting your data stolen tho, but not 100% sure – Mafii Jan 22 '18 at 16:20
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    @RemcoGerlich "And people are encouraged to use them as much as they want, as they regularly do things with them that benefit the company in the end." As a developer, this would be a red flag for me to read the company's Intellectual Property agreements very carefully. Often anything done on a company computer belongs to the company, regardless of when and where it was done (though some may not enforce it). "Oh, you built a killer app on the weekends, using our laptop? Awesome - we own it now. Please hand over the proceeds, source code, and App Store credentials immediately." – brichins Jan 22 '18 at 20:27
19

Is it unprofessional to ask to use company resources for private use?

Not as a rule no. There are very few questions where the mere fact of asking them would reflect badly on you. Generally that's only if the question makes it clear that you're out of touch with workplace norms ("*What do you mean, I have to work forty hours a week?!"), demonstrates questionable judgement ("Hey it's fine if I take this lunch spread home for dinner right?") or are otherwise absurd/inappropriate ("How come you're not married?").

When it comes to asking about things like this, where an employer typically has zero obligation to accommodate you, the key point you want to hit when asking about it is to set yourself up for a negative answer. You want to make it clear that you realise you're asking for a perk and that it's fine if it's not something the company wants to set-up. So when it comes to this:

I wanted to ask if we're allowed to use [device] for personal use, for instance installing Netflix on it. Of course I realise that there could be a number of reasons why it might not possible so I fully understand if it's not something [company] allows but I figured I'd ask.

Since you're specifically thinking of using it to travel abroad, you need to mention that for full transparency. Unfortunately that means the answer will likely be "no", for the reasons already given in other answers and comments, but perhaps your organisation is fine with the somewhat increased odds of theft that leisure travel presents.

You could offer to offset the increased risk by saying that it would allow you to work remotely to resolve minor issues or answer emails if there's a work emergency, but don't do that unless it makes sense for your job and you're actually willing to do that. Personally I'd only interrupt my vacation if the sky were falling and in that scenario I'd be running for cover, not booting up my laptop.

Since it doesn't cost your employer anything and it will simply be up to company policy whether they allow it or not, you shouldn't offer to work additional hours or otherwise compensate for this perk.

  • 7
    Asking to use company equipment for purely personal reasons is bad advise. Love most of your answers sir, just not this one. – Mister Positive Jan 22 '18 at 15:12
  • I agre with your answer, but I'm not sure what you wrote doesn't entirely come under the poorly worded approach mentioned earlier. Consider: 'Hey boss, while I'm on leave, I was thinking of taking my work laptop so I could stay in touch by email and maybe get some work done in quiet moments.' If that gets agreement then throw in: 'is it cool to use it for personal reasons? I wouldn't mind copying photos I take onto the harddrive when I fill up the sdcard, and maybe d/loading netflix ...' – mcalex Jan 22 '18 at 15:30
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    @mcalex I'm not a huge fan of the wording but I'm struggling to think of an improvement. I'm not a fan of veiling your intentions when asking for favours since it's so transparent and I wouldn't follow the tactic you suggest unless the OP is truly willing to become more available outside work hours. Doing that once will often mean doing it forever and that's probably not worth saving money on a peripheral. – Lilienthal Jan 22 '18 at 22:08
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    @MisterPositive What's wrong in asking "I was wondering if I could take the laptop to stay in touch for critical communication. Can I log into my netflix, spotify and maybe game Z and use it for some time killer as well?" It's up to manager and policy how to handle that. Many companies take this trade off. And my bet is, that nearly all of company devices are at least occasionally, used for personal purposes, be it reading news or facebook. – luk32 Jan 23 '18 at 13:32
  • @luk32 because it's very un-professional – Mister Positive Jan 23 '18 at 13:58
12

To take a slightly different approach - if you don't ask, the answer is always "no", and it generally doesn't hurt to ask.

In my experience (primarily as a Systems Administrator/Engineer), most places aren't going to care much, so long as you don't cause problems with your personal use of corporate assets. Check your company's acceptable use policy - there may be a "reasonable personal use" clause in the policy, or if not, you can always check with your IT personnel to get an inside view of the AUP. Most often, those clauses are really more about having an ironclad reason to take disciplinary action against an employee who causes problems.

However, as noted in Snow's answer, you're exposing yourself to a lot of liability if you go down this road, and it's much easier to be that problem-causing employee than you think it is, so make sure you know what you're doing, and that it's worth the risk. My inclination is that it's probably not, even though that's a bit hypocritical of me to say, given that I use my corporate laptop (and smartphone) for personal use on a regular basis. I've run into that problem myself, a couple weeks after starting a job, when my manager and our CIO called me into a rather awkward talk, asking about whether I was looking for a new job or not. Turns out that my workstation was hitting up a domain called jobs.stackoverflow.com at a very high clip, so they were concerned. That worked out alright, and wasn't even "really" personal use, but I've seen a lot of cases in my career were it was personal use (that was originally sanctioned or not-cared-about), and ended badly.

For example, I worked at a major computer security firm (anti-virus vendor) for a few years, and while they were happy to let people use their corporate laptops and such for personal use, we ended up terminating several people when their personal use of corporate assets brought malware back to the corporate network. (As you can imagine, that was kind of a hot-button issue for us - "Anti-virus vendor spreads malware from corporate network" headlines would have destroyed the business.)

Similarly, an employee an at a different employer got himself noticed in a bad way by the executive team when our web filter started denying a lot of requests to explicit, homoerotic-themed web domains. I investigated, and quickly discovered that the person in question had installed a hookup app for use while out-of-town (generally on business). Although he wasn't using it at work, it was running at startup, tucked away in the system tray, and was ad-supported. And so, the poor guy ended up [unintentionally] trying to download explicit pornographic [ad] content at work. That also didn't end well.

The last example I'll bore you with is an employee who ended up at some site in the rural US on temporary assignment, and decided to set up social networking and email and so forth on his corporate iPhone. Again, no one cared much, until the end of the month, when there were $1500 in overage and roaming charges on his line, all for personal use.

So, bottom line, even if you get an OK to use corporate assets for personal purposes, it's probably not a good idea. There are a lot of ways for it to go bad, and assuming you're a relatively well-paid knowledge worker, it's generally better to drop a few hundred dollars on a personal device than risk your job using a corporate one.

4

Is it unprofessional to ask to use company laptop for personal uses?

It mainly depends on why you would tend to use you corporate laptop outside of working hours.

The general rules are :

  • Do not keep a corporate asset (e.g. laptop) with you unless you are required to do so (e.g. on-call duty, commuting, etc.).
  • Do not use corporate asset for illegal or unethical activities.
  • Do not spend time on personal activities during working hours
  • Do not leave traces (software, files) of personal activities on your corporate computer

If all rules are respected, then it may (or may not) be tolerated to use your corporate laptop for personal activities in some cases :

  • Browsing YouTube at lunch break
  • Using Netflix at the hotel during a business trip
  • Checking Facebook on the train at 9pm while riding home from another business trip
  • Etc.

Those may be considered unprofessional or completely accepted depending on your company culture and policies (you should check).

However, using your corporate computer while on vacation would fail the very first rule: you shouldn't have it with you in the first place, it's a liability. You shouldn't do it, and you shouldn't ask.

  • 1
    But who defines what is unethical? IMO this part needs to be clarified or removed. – Sarge Borsch Jan 22 '18 at 20:22
  • @SargeBorsch For large company, the definition of ethical is usually part of the corporate guidelines and may be under the responsibility of a dedicated committee. If no such guideline exists, one have to use common sense. The general rule of thumb being : "If you have to ask if it's ethical or not, it's probably not". – zakinster Jan 22 '18 at 21:41
2

Yes, it is highly unprofessional, showing bad judgement at least about:

  • security of company data
  • safety of company equipment against damage, loss, or theft
  • separation of your own personal data and privacy from work

Regarding the third point, consider how you would feel if one of the following scenarios happened:

  1. Due to some security breach or legal scandal, the contents of your work laptop had to be exposed to a third party, and it was full of your personal email, browsing history, porn, chat logs, or whatever.

  2. You got fired as soon as you got back and your work laptop was the only place you had stored a bunch of important personal files like photos, writing, saved games, etc.

A laptop suitable for watching movies and browsing the web can easily be obtained for under $300, so the whole question is pretty silly until you throw in gaming. If your hope is that your employer will loan you a portable gaming rig to take on vacation, don't. Either go without or buy one if you can afford it, and if you can't, consider whether your employer is paying you enough. If not, the question should not be about "perks" like borrowing a laptop for gaming, but getting compensated enough that you can afford some comforts yourself.

  • #1 is not always the case. Our laptop offer a connection to our VMware server, so no company data is stored on the laptop. #2 can happen anywhere even at work so your company should have insurance. (However, this why you ask permission to make sure it covered) – cybernard Jan 22 '18 at 18:49
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    Security of company data is not limited to scraping data off the device. It could come in the form of installing a keylogger on the device, stealing authentication tokens from the device to connect to company resources, etc. etc. etc. – R.. Jan 22 '18 at 18:57
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    Keyloggers are not a problem exclusive to the OP situation. Get a key logger installed, on a work pc and you have the same problem. Have a laptop at work same thing, your 1 phishing email away from compromise. Beyond, what little vmware client stores on the local PC no other tokens exist. Obviously saving the username/password in the vmware client is not permitted. When the user logs out the VM is destroyed and each session gets a fresh one. Other security measure are deployed to make the risk tiny. – cybernard Jan 22 '18 at 19:26
  • @cybernard: Carrying your work laptop unnecessarily to vacation destinations & installing random software on it (games, etc.) for personal use introduce a lot of new opportunities for it to become compromised with keylogger/backdoor/etc. – R.. Jan 22 '18 at 21:09
  • Another excellent answer. – Fattie Jan 25 '18 at 0:00
1

This isn't so much about "using the laptop for your own purposes", IE: 'May I use the company's computer to check private email at lunch?', or 'Can I pay for use of the 3D printer to make a gift for someone?'.

It's more about 'Can I risk company security and property for the heck of it?'.

Offering to purchase an old laptop from the company is a better idea, they would have the right to examine the laptop after you use it and along with any scratches who knows what they would find.

If you get hacked or download a virus that attacks IT when they're checking it you'll either never hear the end of or worse, you will.

  • 5
    "Offering to purchase an old laptop from the company is a better idea". You better do research on what your getting, you could probably do better with new stuff. Unless the price is under $300-$400, or the hardware is really awesome. – cybernard Jan 22 '18 at 18:42
1

I would not use company property in holidays, or not even take a potentially expensive notebook to an hotel, not mine and much less from work.

I would also not take the initiative of opening the door for suggestions of working on holidays just for the heck of (mis)using company property.

If I were in your shoes, for pure holiday purposes, I would buy the biggest phablet I could get for watching netflix and gaming.

It is far less intrusive than using a laptop, can be used in much more places including near the pool, can be used for gaming, for taking photos, for GPS in a car, and also have a mobile Internet contract in case the Internet in some places is not good.

In addition, it is easier to carry on holidays than a laptop, and you can keep using it after the holidays for your free time.

You can also carry it pretty much of the time instead of leaving it unattended in an hotel room.

1

In my field (tech) it's common for laptops to go home, in fact my company issued me a laptop backpack specifically so I could take it home. But the putative purpose is to work from home. So obviously this only applies to jobs where working from home is a reasonable thing to do. And indeed in my company, most people do WFH one day or another.

In fact, IT/InfoSec prefer that when you work remotely, you use company-issued hardware with company-controlled updates, antivirus and the like.

From an IT perspective, laptops cost twice as much as desktops, and last half as long, and are a far, far greater theft risk for a tailgater following an employee through a door and then wandering the cubicles stealing laptops. Such tailgaters are often hackers targeting company assets. As such, some companies only issue laptops to people they expect to WFH, and they actually want you to take it home (and really, everywhere with you), because if you leave it at your cubicle, it is vulnerable to tailgaters. Bizarrely, your house is much safer than the office, which puts an interesting spin on the "take it home" discussion.


Needless to say, when the laptop is at home, it does get used for personal stuff during non-business hours. And in tech, this is generally understood and tolerated. Not least because it's typically a salaried postition putatively 40 hours/week, but actually 45-70 hours/week with some of that happening at home. It might be 6:30 and you're embroiled in company emails and messaging, while also in a window Netflix is streaming some low-attention-required TV like Full House or Buffy's you've already seen. That's normal in my industry.

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And IT is not going to care if you are playing some World of Warcraft on a Saturday at home on company iron, unless they have some InfoSec issue with you installing non-approved software.

But all this is done with a nudge and a wink. If an employee, by nature of their job, could only work in the office, and wanted a laptop only to do personal things at home, that is an inherently unreasonable request. If the company allowed it, they would choose to do it as an employment perk, and that itself might be a bit nudge-wink and not to be spoken of openly.

I pretty much assume that if they issue you a laptop, they want you to work from home and off hours. I'm guessing it's a salaried position.


Of course, I'm talking about the norm in my office. What matters is the norm in your office. And most especially what matters is that this applies to people who normally take their laptops home. Who, notably, isn't you.

Suddenly wanting to take the laptop home now, after never doing it before, will look like exactly what it says on the tin: aiming to take it on vacay for personal use at significant risk to employer.

So expect your employer to take careful note of whether you actually dialed into the VPN several times a day, and were reasonably responsive to important emails, messaging and other things you're expected to keep an eye on. They wouldn't expect a full workday on an approved vacation day, but they will expect you to keep your finger on the pulse. If you're not willing to convincingly do that, then don't take their laptop.

  • nice illustrative screen shot :) – Fattie Jan 24 '18 at 23:59
0

It is unprofessional not to abide by what your IT staff tells you about that, including instructions what to do or not to with it if you are allowed to use it privately. Ask them, they will know what the policies are and why.

If you are told things like "do not visit XYZ sites while logged into this company VPN", "run program ABC weekly", "stop using it and phone me if this and this happens", "do this and this if it gets lost or stolen", "do not disable this and this", "here is a local admin account but you will use it to do your own maintenance as we discussed, not use it for daily work" - make sure to ask questions if anything is unclear, and treat such things as law, not advice. Don't, and you can be sure IT will recommend to management to restrict such uses more and more. Even if you benevolently ignore them because you didn't bother to listen.

0

There are a lot of good answers that go into detail the risks that would be introduced by an employee doing these things. But the best answer won't be found here, but will be found in your companies employee handbook and/or their published policies. If you happen to be in a company that does not yet have policy around this, please understand all the good information here -- and perhaps there is an opportunity in your company to shore up it's HR/IT policies.

Regarding whether it is "unprofessional" to even ask -- again, if the organization has an acceptable use of IT assets policy that clearly defines what is allowed, and that company requires all employees to review, know, and work by that policy (as well as others), then yes it would be unprofessional to even ask -- because asking the question demonstrates glossing over the handbook and policies.

Acceptable use policies haven't been around the workplace as long as policies for personal conduct and such, and the manager you ask might not see it as a big problem that asking the question demonstrates ignorance of the policies.

On the plus side, it is highly unlikely that the company provided laptop would play and decent games anyways.

0

Others have already discussed the merits and issues with using a company-issued computer for this kind of stuff and I agree with the general "not recommended and probably not allowed either" pattern.

However, depending on the size of your company and the main business the company does, you might have alternatives. More specifically:

  • If your company has a lot of users that need to get a new laptop every so often and the company usually just gets rid of the obsolete devices, you could ask whether you could buy one of the laptops they're tossing out for a fair price. Note that these devices will probably show some wear and tear, and they won't have modern hardware. However, depending on the games you play, it might be enough, especially if the laptop turnover rate at your company is. And it'll most likely be good enough to watch Netflix.
  • If part of your company services include providing hardware to other companies as part of a complete service package, they might provide a company discount for their employees. For example, a company I used to work for offered the chance to buy computer hardware (including laptops) through them, directly from their supplier, for sale price plus VAT, so effectively at cost for them. I never made use of it, but it might be the case that your company offers something similar.
0

If you are expected to work outside of work hours. Or are expected to bring your laptop with you on vacation in case of emergencies then I would be surprised if the answer would be no. Being in programming the different companies I have worked for their policies have always been that it is OK to use the computer for personal use (within reason). It would be onerous for the employee to be expected to carry two computers everywhere they go. But if you do work for others on company computers, now your getting into other legal matters.

As for the original question I think the others have done a good job of addressing the issues with Haspemulator's answer being especially good.

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