Can I Ban Cellphones and Recordings at Work?

Completely banning cell phones is not something you can legally do. It is, however, possible to create policies that encompass the appropriate time and place for cellphone use.

Employees can be expected to give their undivided attention to the work you pay them to perform, and if that means cell phones need to be turned off or put away, you are entitled to make this request. During break and meal periods, this time needs to be truly their own in order to satisfy the requirements of state law.

Attempting to ban cell phone use during all non-break time may lead to some fairly aggressive push back. It might be a good idea to implement a more lenient policy. For example: “Personal cell phone use should be kept to a reasonable limit during working hours. Reasonableness will be determined by your manager.” This language gives your managers considerable discretion, but it is important they are trained to use the same reasonableness for all employees to avoid claims of discrimination.

Similarly, audio, video and photography cannot be strictly prohibited, but they can be limited. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the National Labor Relations Act, has said that employers cannot outright prohibit recordings as this could interfere with employees’ ability to organize with respect to their terms and conditions of employment.

It would be reasonable that an employee chooses to record a conversation during their lunch hour related to asking for raises, and wants to share that recording with employees who work different shifts. This would need to be allowed. It is also reasonable to have a policy in place that prevents recording (via audio, video, or photography) confidential information, such as proprietary business practices, customer lists, client or patient information, or employees’ personal information. Naturally not all information can be deemed confidential. Policies that include “all conversations in the office” or “anything related to customer/patient care” for example, are too broadly defined and need to be reduced to specific circumstances.

If you feel it is important to have such a policy (for reference, this is not one we generally include with the handbooks we make for clients), I suggest something like: “Audio and video recording devices, including cameras and smartphones, may not be used to record or capture any confidential information, whether it is proprietary business information or clients’ or employees’ confidential personal information. If recording non-confidential information, e.g. taking photos of colleagues, please seek the consent of all parties to the recording.”

A policy like this can be added to your handbook during your next handbook review, or if you feel the need is urgent, you can distribute it to all employees now and have them sign an acknowledgement form.

By |2017-06-27T20:40:48+00:00July 5th, 2017|Compliance, Hot topics for 2017, HR 101|1 Comment

About the Author:

Tom Engel
Tom Engel has over 20 years of customer-facing, professional experience, in the areas of IT, human resources and marketing – with companies as diverse as Sage, Intel and Providence Health & Services. Tom works with a wide range of industries to include automotive, professional services, healthcare and transportation.

One Comment

  1. Julie Gorham July 13, 2017 at 3:34 pm - Reply

    Valauble information. This sheds a lot of light on where you can draw the line.

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