It's likely that most, if not all, of your employees bring a personal cell phone to the office. Determining when it is acceptable for your employees to use their personal cell phones in the workplace, and when it is not, requires a careful balancing act.
On the one hand, employers do not pay employees to converse with friends and family. On the other hand, a cell phone policy generally should not be so restrictive as to prohibit all uses of a personal cell phone. Employees may need to check in on their children, for example, or may need to attend to important personal matters during business hours, such as doctors or pharmacists.
Communicate Your Expectations
Employers should take the time to communicate their expectations regarding appropriate employee conduct to all employees. Workplace 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 by the employer.
The policies we've included here can be incorporated into an employee handbook or they may be communicated to employees in other ways, including:
- As part of written orientation materials distributed to new employees;
- An email "blast" to all employees;
- Written notices distributed to all employees (note that it is a good idea to have each employee acknowledge receipt of the policies by signing a copy of the notice, which can be placed in the employee's personnel file); and/or
- Postings in areas frequented by employees, such as break rooms, main hallways or bulletin boards.
Create an Effective Cell Phone Policy
The policies listed below can, and should, be adapted to your company's specific work environment and "culture." For example, businesses that rarely have clients or customers at the worksite may choose to have more lenient policies than those where current or prospective clients or customers visit regularly.
- Employees should make personal cell phone calls during break or lunch times to the maximum extent possible.
- Frequent or lengthy phone calls are not acceptable as they may adversely affect the employee's productivity and disturb others.
- Employees should be encouraged to use common sense when making or receiving personal cell phone calls at work. For example, employees should speak quietly and reserve personal or intimate details for non-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).
- Personal cell phones generally should not be used for business-related purposes unless a business-provided phone is not available.
- Employees should turn off ringers or change ringers to "mute" or "vibrate" during training, conferences and the like; when meeting with clients or serving customers; and if an employee shares a workspace with others.
- The use of cameras on cell phones during work time is prohibited to protect the privacy of the employer as well as of fellow employees.
And for Employees on the Road...
Texting while driving puts millions of Americans who drive on the job at risk every day. As an employer, it's your legal responsibility under federal (and some state) safety and health laws to safeguard drivers at work. This holds true whether your employees drive full-time or only occasionally to carry out their work, and whether they drive a company vehicle or their own.
Keep in mind that if the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving or organizes work so that texting is a practical necessity, it will investigate and issue citations and penalties where necessary to end this practice.
OSHA offers a sample policy on distracted driving which includes the following rules:
- Turn cell phones off or set them on "silent" or "vibrate" before starting the car.
- Pull over to a safe place if a call must be made or received while on the road.
- Modify the voice mail greeting to indicate that the employee is unavailable to answer calls or return messages while driving.
- Inform clients, associates and business partners of this policy as an explanation of why calls may not be returned immediately.
You can check out OSHA's distracted driving web page for additional safety tips for reducing work-related driving distractions.
For More Information
Our sample policies are not intended to address every issue that may arise in connection with an employee's use of a personal cell phone at work, and you may find that you need additional and/or different policies that are specifically tailored to your workplace. Our Forms and Policies section is a great resource for creating even more employment policies, including a model Employee Handbook and self-assessment tools.