What's New in Technology for March, 2010

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Manners Matter: Cell Phone Etiquette at the Office

Cell phones in all their forms, from simple to smart, are a fact of life for most of us. They allow us to be accessible, provide endless convenience and help us manage our jobs and lives more effectively. Their functions - text messages, taking photos, Internet access and a host of smart phone-based applications - allow us to communicate faster and easier via channels that didn't exist a few years ago. Of course, increased connectivity has its downside, too. Employers can face some significant problems and legal issues resulting from disruptive and excessive cell phone use in the workplace.

If you dont have a cell phone policy, here are some suggestions for how to develop one:

  1. Gather relevant information

    Talk to your managers as well as any technology staff. Find out what the issues are (disruptions during office hours, noise in the workplace, lessened productivity, spiraling telecommunication costs, etc.). If you are in a regulated industry or a profession where confidentiality is crucial, you might want to talk to your legal advisors, too.
  2. Outline cell phone etiquette

    Common courtesy is anything but common. Make sure all employees know:
    1.  When and under what circumstances personal cell phone calls may be made or taken.
    2. To switch cell phones off, or to silent mode, during meetings.
    3. To lower their voices in the workplace and avoid disrupting others.
    4. To use businesslike language and to refrain from street language.
  3. Consider safety, company liability and legal issues.

    Do you need a written policy restricting the use of phones and cameras in certain areas? Get input from your lawyer before you finalize your policy. Think about the following possibilities:
    1.  Employees sending confidential data over the phone or via a cell phone camera.
    2. Potential harassment claims resulting from employees distributing inappropriate photos, text messages or emails to coworkers via a cell phone.
    3.  Unsafe use of mobile devices on the job (while operating equipment, etc.) or on the road while driving.
  4. Employers must take into account several factors when deciding whether or not to provide employees with cell phones.

    If employees use their own cell phones for calls and email for company-related business, be sure to clarify your reimbursement policies, including spending limits and backup documentation. If your firm provides cell phones for employee use, make sure employees know what you will pay for and what is not acceptable. Here are some further points to consider:
    1.  Privacy issues - let employees know that the content of messages sent on company-owned equipment should not be considered private.
    2. Likewise, GPS capability allows employers to track the locations of company-owned phones and employees should be advised to turn their phones off after work to maintain privacy.

When you have drafted a document and had it reviewed by legal counsel, distribute copies to employees and new hires. All recipients should sign a form acknowledging that they have received, read and understood the policy. Make sure that employees know what disciplinary action will be taken for various infringements. Lastly, be prepared to review and update your cell phone policy document once a year to keep it current and relevant.


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