Employment Law Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law and HR

Dec 05, 2013

Distractions from mobile phones can pose big safety risks

Safety and Health 

These days people are so coupled to their mobile phones that it’s like a bodily appendage.

These days people are so coupled to their mobile phones that it’s like a bodily appendage. People obsessively check and interact with devices everywhere, even at inappropriate times and events. You may think you’re an excellent multi-tasker, but cognitive research shows that perception is off-base. At work, the problem isn’t limited to loss of production or focus. Workers playing Angry Birds while walking can injure themselves or others.

What can you do? Consider adopting a policy for mobile devices such as mobile phones, smart phones, tablets, e-Readers, etc. Production and manufacturing work is probably the most risky situation. A policy can be limited to safety-sensitive functions or it can be broader. You can adopt alternative procedures for family to reach employees in emergency situations and take steps to enforce your ban on handheld devices. Besides safety issues, there have been cases of employees sending inappropriate messages and images to co-workers. A good mobile device policy can help limit the potential for these types of harassment situations.

Things to consider regarding a mobile device policy:

  • Be careful about disciplining an employee for violating the policy if he or she is documenting alleged safety concerns. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) protects most nonsupervisory employees who engage in such “protected concerted activity.” There are also protections in the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). As long as the employee reasonably believes the situation is unsafe, he or she is protected from discipline even if the situation being documented isn’t actually unsafe. See our Legal Guide, “Handling Workplace Protests and Complaints” (1238).
     
  • Develop a plan to communicate the new policy to employees at regular team or plant meetings (in addition to getting a signed acknowledgment).
     
  • Provide uniform and consistent discipline for violations of the policy.

Want help drafting or revising your own policy? See our Model Policy, “Personal Calls and Use of Personal Communication Devices” (3454), or contact us to learn more about affordable employer counsel with Vigilant.

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