Crafting a workable, livable cellphone usage policy

While cellphones are modern technological miracles, they can also be distracting to employees and even subject businesses to liability. Get tips and strategies for crafting a sensible cellphone policy for your business.

by Tim Peterson, Esq.
updated February 10, 2023 ·  3min read

In the ancient days before cellphones, phone policies at work were simple and straightforward: use business phones only for business purposes, except for emergencies. After all, calls were paid for by employers, who paid employees to work and not be on the phone for personal business.

Crafting a Workable, Livable Cell Phone Usage Policy

Today, cellphones and other wireless devices are vastly more powerful and useful than the phones and computers of not long ago. Phones don't merely communicate but also act as wondrous entertainment hubs and very capable cameras.

Because many cellphones belong to employees, bringing with them distractions and sometimes even danger, establishing a workable and livable cellphone policy can be a tricky task for employers, especially since wireless communication devices can also play a critical role in business success and employee productivity.

For this reason, many businesses have chosen to adopt policies regarding the use of cellphones in the workplace.

What to include in your business' cellphone policy

Before crafting a cellphone policy, first ask yourself who your employees are and what kind of business you run. A neurosurgeon might be distracted into a critical mistake by something as minor as an ill-timed reminder chirp, while reporters or salesmen might rely heavily on such alerts to perform their jobs. Most well-drafted policies include guidelines for the following:

  • Driving and other activities. A cellphone policy should mandate distraction-free or hands-free use of wireless devices whenever employees are driving for business-related purposes. In many situations, companies have been found liable for employees who were making business-related phone calls or text messages while behind the wheel. Make sure you state that his requirement extends to any activities in which cellphone use could prove dangerous, such as cooking or operating machinery.
  • Company-owned phones. While most employees have their own personal cellphones, it's easier to monitor and establish stricter guidelines for a phone owned by the business. Your policy should state that use of business phones is restricted to business calls and that the phones your business distributes are not intended to be a substitute for personal devices. To further enforce this rule, consider distributing cellphones only to those employees whose jobs truly require them, and secure business e-mail accounts by limiting access to company-owned phones. Your IT personnel will thank you.
  • Use in the workplace. Unmuted alerts and audio can be very distracting to other employees and can convey an unprofessional image to visitors or outsiders. Phones should be kept on silent when in the possession of employees, and personal conversations and other usage should be confined to a break room or other designated area. Some businesses provide secure areas to store personal cellphones. While this might be an unpopular solution, it could prove effective in workplace environments where employees work in close quarters and convenient break areas are limited.
  • Illegal use. Although it may seem obvious, employees should be reminded that using personal or business cellphones for illegal purposes on company time is strictly prohibited and grounds for immediate dismissal.
  • Cameras. Use of a cellphone camera in the workplace could pose a significant risk to your business. An employee, even with innocent intentions, could take a photo showing sensitive company information. Also, some employees may feel their privacy infringed by a co-worker snapping shots. Unless the job requires it, prohibiting camera use on the job could be wise.

Enforcing the policy

Employees often have a lot of administrative paperwork to sort through, but getting the cellphone policy documented and presented to your staff is crucial. Once your policy is established, you may even wish to include the document in your orientation documents for new employees.

As with other employee policies, such as those regarding computer and internet use, you should enforce your cellphone policy on your employees strictly and consistently. Failure to do so may invalidate your written policy, leading to potential company liability where an employee's misuse of their device causes a mishap or accident. Develop a process by which infractions of the policy can lead to employee discipline, up to and including dismissal of the employee.

Whether you start with a cellphone policy template or develop one from scratch, following these guidelines will help you tailor guidelines that everyone can live with. In doing so, you'll be protecting your company while helping keep your employees connected, productive, and happy.

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Tim Peterson, Esq.

About the Author

Tim Peterson, Esq.

An attorney with over 20 years of experience working in a variety of law firm and in-house positions, Tim Peterson speci… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.