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A Workplace Must-Have: Comprehensive Technology Policy

Considering how common smartphones have become in our daily lives, it’s likely that most, if not all, of your employees bring a smartphone to work.  As helpful as our handheld devices are (since we use them for everything), they can be distracting, and at times, can lead to bad publicity or security risks for a company.  It should not be surprising to employers that the presence of smartphones in the office introduces a new set of concerns that must be addressed.  Some of these concerns include ongoing distractions for employees, a decrease in employee productivity, and potential problems resulting from an employee’s mismanaged social media.  Studies have estimated that Americans spend over 5 ½ hours per day on social media.  How much of that time is spent in the office?  Whether your business has a smartphone policy that was drafted 5 years ago or your company simply does not have a policy addressing cell phone use or social media, it is critical to adopt a wide-ranging technology policy to effectively protect your company.

A comprehensive technology policy should include policies regarding use of smartphones and devices in the workplace and a social media policy for each employee’s personal social media channels.

Your cell phone/smartphone/smart device policy should be drafted broadly to include all devices employees may bring into the office and should include the following topics:

  • Smartphone etiquette: There is nothing wrong with telling your employees how you would like them to use their cell phones during work hours. However, a policy banning cell-phone use would be unreasonable and it is not likely employees would comply with the policy.  Instead, aim to curb cell phone use by asking employees to use their common sense by taking personal calls or texting when only necessary, limiting the calls to brief sessions and speaking quietly when making or receiving personal calls.  Employees should also be cognizant of cell phone use during meetings so as not to be preoccupied or distracting to others because they are texting or checking emails during the meeting.
  • Accident prevention: If part of an employee’s job entails driving a company-owned vehicle, not only should talking on a cell phone be prohibited (hands-free exceptions may be made), but text-messaging and any use of other functions of the device should be banned.  If a call must be made, the driver should pull over to a safe place to make the call.  Employers may also modify the voicemail greeting or have an automatic reply text sent to indicate the employee is unavailable to answer calls or return messages while driving.
  • Company-issued devices: If your company provides your employees with company-issued phones or other devices, employees must be made aware that any communications sent on the device are company-owned property.  Employees should have no expectations of privacy with respect to such communications.  The policy should include a statement that the company-issued device is subject to review by the employer and that the employer owns the telephone number associated with the device.
  • Anti-harassment policies still apply to smartphones and devices. Employers should be aware that inappropriate use of smartphones in the workplace can lead to potential sexual harassment claims and litigation. Employers should emphasize that any use of a smartphone (i.e., sending inappropriate text messages to coworkers, etc.) is subject to the company’s anti-harassment policies, including the sexual harassment policy.
  • Camera usage: Most smartphones and smart devices are equipped with the ability to take pictures and videos.  Employers may want to ban the use of all cameras on phones and devices during the workday to protect the privacy of the employer as well as fellow employees.  Employees should be made aware that any proprietary information is property of the company and employees are prohibited from taking pictures or recording video of proprietary information.  Depending on the business, this may include, but is not limited to, photos or video of any prototypes, notes from development meetings, upcoming product releases, customer receipts, etc.  In addition, if a business has trade secrets or patents, employers should implement an absolute ban on any camera use in the workplace.

A strong social media policy should clearly outline what your company believes to be acceptable conduct online, even off-hours, in order to protect your company and your employee’s rights.  Your social media policy should address the following topics:

  • Workplace conflicts should stay offline: Be sure to outline the procedures employees may use to air grievances before they choose to post about a situation on online.  However, employers may only request and cannot require employees to use the appropriate channels to resolve workplace grievances.  Many employers do not realize that a social media policy may violate the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) if it precludes employees from engaging in protected concerted activities.  Employees also have a protected right to seek help from third parties on social media to improve their terms and conditions of employment.  A social media policy should not discourage employees from discussing conditions and terms of employment or from sharing information about themselves or other employees with outside parties.
  • Content restrictions: Your social media policy should specifically restrict employees from posting or sharing confidential or proprietary information on social media.  In addition, any use of brand trademarks or company logos by employees should be used only in an approved manner.
  • Consequences for unprofessional behavior online: Legally, employees may post whatever they choose on their personal social media channels (so long as they do not break any of the channel’s terms and conditions).  Employers may prohibit defamation and of course, employers may also discipline employees for online behavior during the workday when the employee is supposed to be working.  To note, employers must consistently enforce this policy with respect to all employees.