Cell Phones in your Workplace

More than 80 percent of workers keep a smartphone in their view throughout the workday – and our collective phone addiction costs employers two or more hours each day, according to a CareerBuilder survey. More than half of employers said phones and texting were the No. 1 distraction for their employees, beating smoke breaks and socializing.

That’s vexing, to be sure, but workers and smartphones pose much more serious concerns for businesses. If an employee’s use of a smartphone leads to a distracted-driving accident, the costs can be human, profound and extraordinarily expensive. The Independent Electrical Contractors Insights magazine shared a sampling of jury verdicts levied against employers whose employees’ phone use caused accidents or fatalities:

  • $24.7 million – A truck driver who was checking text messages hit 10 vehicles in backed-up traffic.
  • $21.6 million – An employee driving a company car and talking on her phone rear-ended a vehicle, causing a fatal collision.
  • $4.1 million – An employee was trying to use GPS on his cell phone while driving a company car; he ran a red light and injured an elderly woman.

For productivity and safety’s sake, it’s imperative to have a smart cell phone policy in place – and those ubiquitous phones should be addressed in your safety and business travel policies, too. If your company needs help, call us (from your desk, not the car); we’re happy to help make your smartphone policies a lot smarter.

Some of our Frequently Asked Questions on smartphones in the office:

Our company doesn’t pay for or supply phones – employees just use their own. Can we still be on the hook for any accidents or tomfoolery?

This really depends on whether you allow your employees to have access to their business email. Their phones are their phones; what they do with them is up to them, but there are standards you must maintain if they have access to their business account. Privacy is paramount; you must make sure that if the phone is lost, your company data is secure. If an employee leaves, how can you remove data from his or her device? Another concern is overtime – what happens when hourly employees access their work email outside of work hours?

If we don’t supply the phones, can we still have a cell phone policy?

You not only can have a policy, you must have a policy – it should cover the items listed above and several others (harassment, liability, et cetera). Without a policy, you’re stuck. Developing a policy will help you think through all the things that could wreak havoc, regardless of whether you supplied the device.

How do we address texting while driving?

Simply put, it can’t happen – policy should reinforce that. This should be stated in your cell phone policy, safety policy or business travel policy – or all three. If you don’t have these, give us a call. There’s a lot of liability in each of these areas.

How can we address how much time people spend on their phones – texting, playing games or cruising social media – during work hours?

Again, this is a simple fix: policy. Policy might deter some of this behavior, but it won’t totally stop your employees from wasting their paid time on things other than performing work for you. At a minimum, policy gives you recourse – all the way up to termination in the most severe cases. We’ve run into cases where employees are spending 7.75 hours of an eight-hour day surfing, gaming or hanging out on social media. While a little of this action doesn’t create too much of a problem, severe abuse does.