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[Source: Burr Alert, RWEP, 2016 | Keywords: Human Resources, Cell Phone]

It is likely that most, if not all, of your employees bring a personal cell phone to the office. Determining when it is/isn’t acceptable for them to use cell phones at work requires a careful balancing act. If you haven’t revisited your cell phone policy recently – or don’t have one – here are some things to consider.

Legal Risks

Smart phones have become so commonplace in today’s workplace that employers shouldn’t ignore the legal risks they pose.

Claims, claims and more claims. More and more litigation (or arbitration) involves the discovery of texts, emails and photographs for proving or disproving claims. Any written policy should address the use of cell phones and tablets with an eye for document preservation.

Photos, video and audio. Cell phone camera, video and audio recording capabilities, along with text functions can be an employer’s worst nightmare when it comes to harassment and discrimination claims. Since they can be used discretely anywhere, anytime, and leave an undisputable record. Revise harassment policies if they do not address electronic devices and activities outside of work, including those on social media. In addition, prohibit the use of cameras on cell phones during work to protect the privacy of your business and employees.

Keep secrets secret. Cell phones are often used by departing or disgruntled employees to transfer confidential company information. Lost cell phones may also expose business, customer and employee information to third parties. Have protocols in place that identify and protect confidential information; require the return of an employee’s equipment at the end of his/her employment; and implement internal procedures for locking the employee out of your computer network.

The always connected employees. It is important to note that time spent responding to emails, texting and handling phone calls outside of normal work hours can be compensable for non-exempt employees. Review your practices and policies to address these issues and train employees and supervisors on the best practices.

Don’t text and drive. Employers can be liable for employee accidents that occur when they are distracted by texting or on the phone. As a result, employees should be prohibited from texting while operating vehicles, using heavy machinery or engaging in other behavior that would distract their attention. This holds true whether they drive full-time or occasionally to carry out their work, and whether they drive a company vehicle or their own. Instruct employees to turn cell phones off or set them on silent/vibrate before starting the car and to pull over to a safe place if a call must be made or received while on the road.

Etiquette

Good cell phone etiquette is a must in today’s technology-driven workplace. As a result, you may want to provide some rules surrounding “cell phone etiquette” at your business.

Focus your attention to the person in front of you. Don’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation with someone by taking a call or texting. Whenever possible, put your phone away during face-to-face meetings.

During meetings, avoid “reading under the table.” Scrolling through emails, checking social media, texting and tweeting in your lap is not only distracting and discourteous to the speaker, but to those around you. It’s important to appear engaged and a team player.

Have a professional ring tone. Whether it’s a personal cell phone or one issued by the company, a professional ring tone is important to convey a professional image.

Turn off ringers or change ringtones to “mute” or “vibrate” on personal cell phones during training or meetings; when meeting with clients or serving customers; and when sharing a workspace with others.

Take personal calls in a private place. Hearing someone talk loudly on a cell phone, especially about personal business, is distracting and discourteous to co-workers trying to do their jobs. Make personal cell phone calls during break or lunch times to the maximum extent possible. In addition, personal cell phone use should never include language that is obscene, discriminatory, offensive, prejudicial or defamatory in any way.

Remember the concept of business hours. With access to so many different forms of communication, it is easy to forget that not everyone wants to work beyond traditional business hours or on the weekend. Keep this in mind before emailing, calling or texting on the weekend or after business hours.

Stay professional. The quality of messages (regardless of how it is sent) is a reflection of the business and expertise. Be sure to spell check and stay away from abbreviations and emoticons.

Do not bring cell phones into the restroom. This is not the place to share personal or confidential company or client information because you never know who might be in listening range; the person on the other end of the line will hear bathroom sounds (toilets flushing, etc.); and it’s invasion of your co-worker’s policy.

Communicate Expectations

Take the time to communicate expectations regarding appropriate cell phone conduct to all employees. Cell phone policies should be expressed as clearly and unambiguously as possible; should not discriminate against any employee or group of employees; and should be applied consistently and fairly.

Ignoring the realities of cell phones in the workplace is no longer an option. Smartphones and mobile devices will continue to present challenges in the workplace, so now is the time to update your policies and practices accordingly.