Over the past two decades, cellular
telephones have morphed from being primarily luxury items and accessories for
business executives to a must-have item for just about anyone who ever leaves
their house. Many people, particularly
those under 35 years of age, don’t even have landline phones. And today’s smartphones serve as much more
than communications devices – they are essential tools for finding important
information, managing finances and payments, and an ever-expanding list of
social and work-related uses.
Which brings us to the workplace
angle of all this. The Society for Human
Resource management reports that 86 percent of employees own the mobile device
they use on the job. Gone are the days
when most cell phones at work were the property of, and controlled by, the
Technology has historically
advanced more quickly than policy, and we can see how the use of employee-owned
cell phones and other personal communications devices at work can become a
headache for many companies. Even the
White House has faced this issue, recently ordering employees to surrender
their personal phones so they could be checked for phone calls to journalists.
At the same time, we find among our
clients that many encourage or allow personal mobile devices to be carried and
used at work, on the assumption that to prohibit them wouldn’t do much to
improve productivity and that it might even be a detriment to deny their
“connectedness” to colleagues and friends.
For example, an employee with a smart phone would likely continue to
work on company emails when he or she is not at their desk computer, and is
otherwise always reachable.
If this is the way your company
approaches it, then just because they are not “company phones” doesn’t mean you
shouldn’t have a clear policy on the use of these devices in order to protect
the integrity of the company’s information and to help the employees understand
what their responsibilities are regarding their use.
There are legal limits,
however. And unfortunately, these vary
from state to state. But, in general,
state laws provide that an employer can’t intentionally intrude on the private
affairs of an employee if the intrusion would be “highly offensive to a
reasonable person.” Understanding the
rules of your state can help you fine tune any HR policy, but using a fair and
general approach is a good place to start.
However, navigating through the various state employee privacy laws can
be overwhelming and many don’t specifically address cell phone or other
employee-owned devices. For example, the
Pennsylvania employee privacy law does define employee wiretapping and
surveillance rules, but does not mention personal cell phones. Many web sites that discuss this issue say
that generally one should consider what would be the employee’s reasonable
expectation of privacy.
Here are some basic elements of a “Bring
Your Own Device” (BYOD) policy that employers should consider when addressing
this issue in their employee handbooks.
· Employees should try to make personal cell calls
only during break or lunch times. It is
understood that situations arise where this is not possible, but in those cases
personal phone calls should be kept to a minimum and as brief as possible. Also, employees should speak
quietly and forego discussions of personal or intimate issues until non-work
· Employees should not play games on the cell
phone during work hours.
· Personal cell phone use, even when permitted,
must never include language that is obscene, discriminatory, offensive,
prejudicial or defamatory in any way (such as jokes, slurs and/or inappropriate
remarks regarding a person's race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation,
religion, color, age or disability.)
· Employees should turn off or change the ringers
to “mute” or “vibrate” during meetings, trainings or when meeting with clients
or serving customers.
· The use of phone-based cameras or recording apps
should not be allowed. (This is
important as it protects the privacy of other employees and protects the
employer as well.)
· Employees should never text when driving. Texting and driving is a violation of many
states’ laws and is just plain dangerous.
If an employee drives full–time or only occasionally for work-related
duties and needs to make or receive phone calls they should only use a hands-off
Bluetooth device. Even this can be a
distraction, so the employer should encourage the employee to pull off the road
before making any calls.
If the employer is concerned about
employees having company information on their personal phones they may want to
include a policy about what the company will do regarding the device in the
event of the employee’s termination. The company termination policy may be to
wipe any device used by an employee. If
this is the case, the employee may need to consider the fact that they may lose
personal pictures and other important private information. If there is a clear BYOD policy explaining the
monitoring and termination procedures, one could eliminate a lot of the
frustration for both employee and employer.
As we know, the workplace is
constantly in flux. With the rapid
development of new technology and desire to maintain a fair and effective work
environment, HR policies need to adapt to these changes. Creating a fair and effective BYOD policy
that is updated and reviewed periodically can help your employees and employer
work effectively into the future.
By Claudia St. John, President –
Affinity HR Group, Inc.