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How to Stop Employees From Using Their Cell Phones at Work

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Whether it’s playing a game, texting or chatting with a friend, reading emails or laughing at the latest cute cat video, cell phone use in the workplace can become a time-suck that diminishes workers’ productivity, annoys other workers and even compromises workplace safety. An employer is within his rights to limit or even prevent employees from using their cell phones at work.

Observe how employees are using their cell phones during office hours. Record any complaints about loud conversations from co-workers, and take note of deadlines that may have been missed because workers were distracted by texts or phone calls. Such a record will be useful in explaining to employees the need for restrictions on cell phone use.

Establish guidelines for the use of cell phones. Start by insisting that phones be turned off during meetings. The guidelines should spell out whether cell phones can be set on vibrate while in the workplace, and limit the number of calls an employee can make and receive during work hours. Guidelines should cover all devices, including cell phones, smart phones, Blackberries, pagers, tablets, iPhones and other wireless communications gadgets.

Develop a policy. If the guidelines alone prove ineffective in curtailing cell phone use, create a stricter policy, with consequences for violations, and make it part of the employee handbook. Consult human resources representatives and, if the company has one, the IT staff. Although a business owner has the legal right to establish cell phone policy, the company’s legal counsel should check it over.

Adjust the policy according to the type of work the company does. A factory, for example, might need stricter rules to prevent accidents than a business office. The policy should also address common courtesy, including speaking softly or leaving the area to converse on the phone.

Differentiate between calls made for business purposes and those that are purely personal. Personal calls and texts can be limited to before and after office hours and during lunch and other breaks. The phone ban should include playing games, Internet, email and text messages as well as personal conversations. The policy should also limit the use of camera phones, to protect the privacy of co-workers as well as confidential documents and information.

Provide for emergencies in the policy by instructing employees to set their ringtones for specific people, like a hospitalized relative, a sick child or a pregnant wife. The employee should also let his superior know that such a call could be coming in.

Enforce the policy fairly on all employees, and include contractors, temporary workers, part-time employees and everyone who works on the premises. The policy should prohibit harassment of other employees through inappropriate phone calls, text messages or emails. Train the employees on the policy and display copies in all departments. If the policy contains disciplinary actions in the case of violations, those procedures should be spelled out and enforced. Require all employees to read and sign the policy to ensure they understand what is expected of them.


Managers can set a good example by following the cell phone policy.


As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.

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