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Cell Phones and Other Electronic Devices

  1. Employer may regulate use or possession of such devices in the workplace; reasonable limitations are common.

  2. Company-issued cell phones can have any limitations the employer cares to impose.

  3. No law requires employers to allow employees to make or receive personal phone calls during working hours.

  4. Most employers allow some use within reasonable limits, but provide that excessive personal calls can lead to corrective action.

  5. Excessive personal calls / texting / other costly activities on company cell phones can be billed to an employee, but remember that wage deductions need to be authorized in writing.

  6. Solutions for excess company cell phone charges: Texas Payday Law-compliant agreement for recoupment of wage advances or deduction of such excess charges, or even simpler, do away with company-issued cell phones and pay each employee a set amount per month for reimbursement of business-related use of their own phones (disadvantage: the company loses some control over how the employee uses such a cell phone).

  7. Advise employees to use common sense and discretion - example: leave personal phones in purse or desk and let personal calls go to voice mail, return calls only during breaks, and use discretion when discussing company business over the phone.

  8. With camera phones or other types of image-capture devices, extra precautions are advisable - provide that pictures in non-private areas are allowed only if taking such pictures would not violate a law or the privacy rights of anyone being photographed, and indicate that no cameras whatsoever are allowed in private areas where anyone would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

  9. Risks: invasion of privacy, theft of company secrets, improper photography.

  10. Sexual harassment claims have been filed based on coworkers' use of such devices.

  11. Provide that a violation of the policy leads to loss of phone privileges or other disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination.

  12. Safety issues - policy may provide: do not use cell phones while driving, pull off to the side of the road to use the phone, use hands-free equipment for any use of the phone while driving or using machinery or equipment, and that any violations of law or liability from accidents incurred while using a cell phone in violation of the policy will be the sole liability of the employee.

  13. Aside from cell phone cameras, employers must also be concerned with other data-storage technology such as digital cameras, digital movie recorders, iPods™ and similar personal music devices, and flash memory drives ("thumb" or USB drives).

  14. Since offensive pictures of coworkers in private, embarrassing, or intimate situations can be taken and sent via e-mail or the Internet to other people and locations ("improper photography" is a felony in Texas), and such technology can be used to quickly and efficiently conduct industrial espionage by photography, video recording, or copying company files, many employers are now regulating the use of such devices in the workplace unless the employee has been given express permission by the Company to use them for the performance of job duties.

  15. Regulating such devices and their use can be one tool in preventing harassment claims from employees who feel their privacy has been invaded.

  16. Employees should also be warned that they may face both civil and criminal liability for misuse of imaging devices against coworkers and the company, or for unauthorized copying or transmitting of company information.

  17. The company policy should make it clear to employees that the employer reserves the right to physically and digitally search any devices with storage or memory capabilities that they might bring to work and connect to company networks or electronic systems, and to make copies of any files found therein (see the sample "Internet, E-Mail, and Computer Use" policy).

  18. Employees who object to such a policy may be instructed to leave their electronic devices at home.

  19. The policy should also remind employees that submission to searches is a condition of continued employment and that if they bring such devices to work, but refuse to allow searches provided for in the policy, they will be subject to discharge - do not include such a provision in the policy unless the company really means it!

  20. Have all employees sign a copy of the policy - keep the signed copy in the employee's file, and give a copy to the employee.

 

For information on how to handle the signing of employee policies, click here.

 

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