QUESTION: My company restricts employee use of personal cell phones while on duty. This policy does not stop employees from using their phones to text, talk, take pictures, and post on social media while at work. What can I do to curb cell phone use during the work day?

ANSWER: It is important to implement and enforce common sense written policies for employees’ use of personal cell phones and social media while at work. The details of the policies will depend on the size of your business, your company culture, and your area of industry. For example, some employers allow employees limited use of cell phones while on duty to allow them to check on childcare or other urgent and time sensitive personal matters. For those employers, it is important to be vigilant in making sure employees are not abusing this privilege.

However, some employers impose more restrictive policies because cell phone use while on duty can detrimentally interfere with delivery of services. For example, in the healthcare field, it makes sense to prohibit personal cell phone use during working hours to protect patient privacy and ensure the safe and efficient delivery of health care. In the restaurant industry, employers often restrict employee cell phone use to ensure good customer service. In these instances, it is recommended that the employer require employees to leave their cell phones in a locker or other location, and not carry them on their person or have them at their workstation. However, employees must be permitted to use their cell phones while on rest breaks and meal periods. It is also important that these employers tell employees that in cases of emergency, their family members may call the business to reach them without delay.

Regardless of whether you decide to allow limited use of personal cell phones during the workday, or preclude such use altogether except during rest and meal periods, you should implement written policies that clearly set forth your expectations for both cell phone and social media use. Employees who violate the policies should be appropriately disciplined.

A cell phone use policy should include:
• Specifications on if and when personal cell phone use is permitted, and whether cell phones are allowed in work areas.
• Where limited cell phone use is permitted, requirements that all ringtones be set to silent and that all calls be taken away from work areas.
• Restrictions on use of the cell phone camera, video, and recording features when on duty and on work premises.
• Prohibition on use of personal cell phones when off duty for work-related purposes unless authorized by a manager. This is because time spent off-duty by a non-exempt employee using a personal cell phone for work is compensable if the employer knows or should know that the employee is using his or her personal cell phone for such purposes.
• Restrictions on social media posts that identify the employer or imply the views expressed are those of the employer.
• Prohibitions on checking personal Facebook or other social media sites, and posting on these sites when on duty.
Having written policies in place that clearly detail permissible use of employees’ personal cell phones while at work and use of social media, and enforcing the policies, will assist you in curbing misuse of personal cell phones and protecting your company in the event of a lawsuit.