Considering how common cell phones have become in our daily lives, it's not surprising that most employees bring their phones to the workplace. This introduces a set of concerns every business leader must address, such as:
- A potential drop in employee productivity
- Ongoing distractions (phones ringing or buzzing, loud phone conversations, etc.) for employees
- Using phones to access inappropriate content or images
Perhaps most importantly, as Kimberly Hegeman notes at ForConstructionPros.com, "Texts, emails and photographs can now all be used in litigation and arbitration cases. This can both benefit and harm a company and needs to be addressed in your cell phone policy." This concern applies to virtually all types of businesses, large and small.
It's not enough to occasionally speak with employees about the proper use of cell phones at work. These days, any business without a consistently enforced written policy may be exposing itself to the issues listed above and to other, potentially more serious, ramifications.
Here are five considerations for establishing a cell phone policy for your employees:
1. Put it in writing
The policy you create for appropriate cell phone use should be put in writing. Strive for clarity in all of your directives, so employees cannot later claim they "didn't understand" the rules. Be clear on the technology covered, such as any device used to make or receive phone calls, send text messages, browse the web, etc.
Also, consider the type of work environment and culture in which the policy is meant to work. 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," writes HR specialist Tom Ceconi.
2. Address privacy, accountability, and legitimate cell phone use
The policy should emphasize employee responsibility for their cell phone activity during work hours.
At the same time, it's important to acknowledge circumstances when personal cell phone use is legitimate and acceptable. These may include emergency situations when an employee must either make a call or accept one, text a spouse or family member that they will be working late, and/or make health-related appointments or call in a prescription.
3. Specify what is not permitted
Again, you should be as specific as possible when you create your policy. Depending on the business, a cell phone policy is likely to forbid some or all of the following:
- Inordinately long calls that cut into an employee's work schedule
- Downloading offensive, discriminatory, or obscene language on the phone
- Using cell phone cameras in the workplace
- Use of a cell phone while operating a company-owned vehicle (hands-free exceptions may be made)
4. Communicate the policy through all available formats
Once the policy has been created, be sure to let employees know via an email announcement, printed notices distributed to the entire workforce, and/or however you typically communicate this type of policy addition/change. Most importantly, the policy must be included in the employee handbook and discussed with every new hire. It's important to maintain employee awareness of this high-priority policy.
5. Enforce the policy consistently and across the board
It’s important your policy is enforced in a consistent and fair manner. Employees must understand the consequences of failing to comply with requirements. Outline how violations of this policy will be addressed, whether through progressive discipline, or even termination in extreme situations. As with any other human resources policy, employees need to know you'll follow through with anyone who chooses to disregard the explicitly stated wishes of the company.
A clear, consistently enforced cell phone policy can help improve productivity and morale, while still enabling employees to use their phones for personal use at the most appropriate times. If your company provides employees with cell phones, you should consider additional policies for the unique situations those devices can cause, such as use of a company phone outside the office or after work hours, and when driving the employee’s personal vehicle.