In the past, most employers have implemented a policy governing the use of traditional company telephones by employees, although the widespread possession of personal cell phones has made many of them obsolete. Personal cell phone use (or tablets) can raise serious workplace issues like loss of productivity, customers who receive poor service, improper or sexually charged text or social media fallout.
Cell phone (or digital device) policies should consider your company’s specific work environment and “culture.” For example, businesses that rarely have customers at the worksite may choose to have more lenient policies than those where current or prospective clients or customers visit regularly. In some workplace settings, personal calls might be a minimal disruption, but in other circumstances where employees must leave their work area to use any phone, personal calls may be limited to meal or other breaks.
Frequent texting or lengthy personal cell phone calls should be designated as not acceptable since this may adversely affect the employee’s productivity and disturb others. Employers may outline how to handle emergency calls or texts if they occur during working time.
The use of cameras or recording capabilities on cell phones and other digital devices during work time should be prohibited to protect the privacy of the employer as well as of fellow employees. There may be exceptions if it is approved by management in advance in a capacity related to job duties. Our recommendation is to issue a company device for this purpose with set guidelines for use.
Accessing social networks during work time can affect productivity for the employee and the company. We recommend that employees should be instructed not to access social media while at work unless it has a direct correlation to their job duties and is approved in advance by management.
Personal device use, even when permitted in the workplace, must never include language that is obscene, discriminatory, offensive, prejudicial or defamatory in any way such as jokes or slurs and/or inappropriate remarks regarding:
- sexual orientation
Protected Concerted Activity
According to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regulations, employees have the right to discuss their wages, benefits and working conditions with each other. They have this right at work and they have it on social networking sites. For example, a disgruntled employee accesses his/her social networking account and posts, “My boss is a jerk and this is the worst company I’ve ever worked for. They treat me poorly and don’t pay me enough to live on.” The supervisor sees this post and promptly fires the employee for posting it. The employee then files an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the NLRB, claiming that the posting was “protected concerted activity.” We suggest:
- Staying off the personal social media pages of employees.
- Don’t “friend” or follow your employees on social media.
- Tell your supervisors not to “friend” or follow employees on social media.
- If you or your supervisors have already “friended” your employees, we recommend that you “defriend” them immediately.
Compensable Working Time
If a non-exempt employee is using his or her cell phone or device on company business, at home or during non-work hours, this is compensable work time. The employee must record the time and it must count toward his or her total weekly hours.
If employers do not want non-exempt employees to engage in company business after hours, a policy should instruct employees to turn off their devices after a certain time, if the employer provides the device; or, if the employee owns the device, told explicitly not to engage in business related calls, emails or text messages after work.
Device Use and Vehicles
Employers have a responsibility under federal and state regulations for the safety of their employees operating vehicles at work. This applies whether your employees drive full-time or only occasionally to carry out their duties, and whether they drive a company vehicle or their own. A company should outline clear guidelines prohibiting texting while driving. Employees may be instructed to pull safely off the road and place the vehicle in park before making or receiving calls or utilize a hands free device in compliance with state regulations.
This underlines and emphasizes the importance for employers to have a comprehensive cell phone and digital device policy.