When you walk through your office, are you noticing employees making more personal calls or perhaps spending an excessive amount of time on websites that have nothing to do with their jobs? Did you know that this activity could result in financial losses for your business due to decreased productivity and distracted worker focus? Other employees may also find the behavior disruptive, as loud phone conversations and the constant buzzing and ringing of devices can add noise pollution to your work environment. Even worse, what if employees are accessing inappropriate content or using the company's time and resources to share or view explicit or malicious material?
While ingrained in our daily routines, you likely do not want cell phone and internet usage that is not business related to negatively impact your employees’ ability to perform their job. However, it can seem impossible to keep tabs on your employees' mobile and internet activity, let alone control it. What can be done to address this growing issue in the workplace?
Set Your Policy
If you have not done so already, develop a written policy for the acceptable use of cellphones, other mobile devices, as well as the company’s computers and access to the internet. If you already have policies in place, make sure you are frequently reviewing and enforcing these policies as well as consulting with legal counsel as necessary to avoid potential exposure to unfair labor practices or other violations.
When creating your policy, consider the following:
- Privacy Expectations. Make it clear to your employees that while they are using a company network, email system, mobile device, or other mode of communication, they should not expect any of their correspondence or activity to be private, and that they are subject to lawful monitoring. This also goes for employee-owned devices used during company time that have access to any of your business' systems. It is typically a best practice to have security controls in place for personal devices to protect any sensitive information that may be accessed from the device. Consider consulting with legal counsel to review federal and state privacy requirements.
- Accountability. Employees should know that they are responsible for their activity while they are on the clock and even beyond that time if they use their company-owned device after hours. During the work day, employer-provided cellphones and internet-connected devices should be used responsibly, and for work-related activities only. Accessing or communicating any discriminatory or harassing content during the work day should also specifically be prohibited. Consider adding applicable language to your Non-Harassment policy and training.
- Clarify Acceptable Use. To ensure your employees are clear on what is and what is not appropriate use of devices during working hours, or beyond if applicable, explain and provide examples of what activities are considered appropriate. Job-related internet use may include research, training tasks, and anything that would help someone do their job. Using the internet to search for vacation deals or to go on personal social media sites typically does not fall into the acceptable use category—unless you happen to be a travel agent or a social media manager.
- Define Consequences. Clearly explain what will happen when an employee fails to comply with your policies for internet and device usage. Ramifications could include progressive discipline for each succeeding infraction, suspension from the use of associated technology, or even termination in extreme or reoccurring cases. Employers are cautioned to ensure consistent enforcement to help mitigate exposure to discrimination claims.
Also, consider that every business is different, and that it may be a good idea to consult an HR professional—and possibly even legal counsel—when determining your policies.
Enforce the Rules
Once you have a set of guidelines and rules around the use of cellphones, internet access, and other electronic communications, be true to your word and consistent in your enforcement. When infractions occur, ensure they are properly documented as well as any resulting disciplinary action taken.
Of course, reprimanding employees for inappropriate usage behavior requires that you catch them in the act. While you don't want your employees to feel as though "Big Brother" is lurking over them constantly, you should check-in on the office floor to observe from time-to-time. Are employees chatting away on their cell phones discussing personal matters? Are they glued to their phones texting or checking Facebook?
Use Your Best Judgment
While setting and enforcing policies around cellphone and internet use can help your business be more productive and profitable, treating your employees with dignity and respect can also improve your bottom line. It is important to understand that, like you, your employees are only human. Emergency calls are a fact of life, and your employee may sometimes need to take or make a personal call during the work day. Or perhaps they need to call or text their spouse that they will be home late due to working overtime. Communications of this nature are generally not considered violations unless they become excessive or prevent an employee from performing their job. As you develop and enforce your policies, it is ultimately up to you to decide how strict you need to be with your employees, based on your industry and specific business needs.