Should Employers Ban Cell Phones and Social Media at Work?

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The pendulum of balancing one’s work life and private life can swing wildly through most of our careers. There is also the constant push-pull that takes place between employers and employees on that balance. In a world where it seems like almost everyone is addicted to their smartphones, what would happen if more employers started making employees check their phones or leave them at home or in their cars?

Seeing people walk (or even jog) without looking up from their smartphones is becoming commonplace. Getting bumped into by New York City denizens walking down the street without looking up from their smartphones may be happening almost every block now. And many of us get outraged by people behind the wheel of a car who are paying more attention to a smartphone than to actually driving. So, what about employers regulating or banning the use of a smartphone by their employees or contractors while they are on the clock?

Before thinking this is outright heresy or an attack on personal expression and freedom, there is that never-ending push-pull to consider. Admittedly, there may be no right answer here. Where you stand on this matter might also depend whether you are an employee or an employer.

24/7 Wall St. wanted to address the notion of cell phone and social media use at work — or even abuse at work, if you will. In many instances employees and contractors have no choice but to use their cell phones. Many businesses have decided to go without landlines, or many have gone to VoIP and video conferencing technology only. And then there are uncontrollable instances and emergencies when people need to be reached whether or not they are at work.


Some of the basic statistics about smartphone use are alarming. MobileInsurance.com showed that the average person spends 90 minutes a day on a cell phone, or the equivalent of 23 days a year. Some basic usage rates show both sides of this ban or “banning a ban” on smartphone use:

Hubspot has published a list of 12 bad habits making people less productive. Without surprise, the cell phone at work was one of the items (right after checking social media feeds). Keeping your phone with you at work was considered a top productivity killer. The firm even pointed to a 2015 study suggesting that people who received a text or call while performing a task that required intense focus had more incorrect answers and were more likely to make quick guesses.

A Harris Interactive poll from 2011 addressed online video watching on smartphones. It went far beyond that to show what employees might be doing on their smartphone that they wouldn’t dare do on their computer at work — looking for another job, online dating websites, researching medical issues, shopping, plastic surgery options — and how employees might view their smartphones without being seen.

The site called Ask A Manager discussed back in 2013 that employers can ban cell phone use at work, and that they can fire employees for violations. There would have to be exceptions and allowances on this notion, but that is what they said.

The National Safety Council also in 2015 released a report on employer liability and the case for comprehensive cell phone policies. This may seem extreme, until you consider truck drivers or employees being “on the job” while driving or operating equipment.

Inside Counsel discussed in March 2016 how employees using their cell phones can take companies out of labor law compliance inside the Fair Labor Standards and the National Labor Relations Acts.

Again, the number of opinions and stances on the use of smartphones and social media will vary wildly from person to person. Policies are policies, but there are also serious exceptions for emergencies and other issues. Either way, there is some food for thought ahead of a three-day weekend.