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Can An Employer Ban Personal Employee Cell Phone Use During Work Hours?

Founding Member of Moshes Law, P.C.
During his years of practice, Yuriy has concentrated in litigation and real estate transactions as his areas of expertise.
Can An Employer Ban Personal Employee Cell Phone Use During Work Hours?

In light of the mass shooting tragedy that occurred on April 15, 2021 in Indianapolis at a FedEx ground facility in which nine people were killed, including the gunman, questions have risen in regards to an employee’s right to have a cell phone while at work. In Indianapolis, an ex-employee of FedEx opened fire and executed various co-workers before shooting himself.  Many Americans, including FedEx employees, have questioned FedEx’s company policy of prohibiting cell phone usage while in the facility. 

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Some employees at the scene of the shooting have been vocal against FedEx, stating that since they were not allowed to have their personal cell phones on them at the time, they were unable to call for outside help to notify anybody of the shooting.  Some opponents of the FedEx company policy of banning cell phones during company hours call the policy an infringement upon their personal liberties.  If an employee has an emergency, such as an injury from their child at school, or should a relative or loved one become sick or die, that employee has no way of retrieving that information or of being notified right away of what is going on. 

Some opponents of the FedEx company policy even argue that being allowed to access their cell phone during company hours might have saved lives since someone in the facility would have been able to contact the police sooner and/or given the police information to help find the shooter quicker.

According to FedEx, cell phone access is limited to a small number of workers in the dock and package sorting areas to “support safety protocols and minimize potential distractions.”

What the law says

Currently, the law makes it very clear that cell phone usage is not a personal liberty that is protected.  Accordingly, an employer does have the right to limit or prohibit an employee of personal cell phone usage during company time and hours.  This means that it is not illegal for a company, like FedEx, to require that all employees leave their cell phones at home or in their vehicles while working in the company facility.  The rationale behind this is company productivity.  The less time the employee is on the phone either talking with someone, taking calls, or on their cell phone playing games or on the internet, such as using Facebook, the more focused the employee is on their task and the more productive and safer the work environment is.

Despite the company’s right to establish this ban, employees, however, must still be permitted to use their cell phones when they are not on the clock, such as on rest breaks or during lunch.  It is also important that employers clearly communicate with their employees that in cases of emergency, that their family members may be able to contact the employer to reach them without delay.  This may include having family members call the employer and talk with the receptionist, who will then contact that individual employee.  Or, in the alternative, this may include having an alternative separate employee line that is specifically designated for employee emergencies only.

In addition to the prohibition of cell phone usage, similarly, the employee may also limit or completely ban usage of personal emails or usage of the internet as well.  As long as such mediums can be argued as being viewed as distractions and therefore have the potential to make the employee lose productivity, such devices can also be subject to company banishment.

Moshes Law Comments About This Situation.

In a recent news interview with Brooklyn News 12, local New York City attorney Gennady Litvin of Law Office of Yuriy Moshes P.C. stated that the employer can dictate productivity and that the cell phone can be a distraction and so therefore while that employee is working company hours, the employer can justify a ban of cell phones since “they want that distraction eliminated.”  

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However, just because an employer has the right to ban cell phone usage, it is important that such a prohibition applies universally to all employees, and not just some.  Accordingly, if certain employees or managers are somehow an exception to the rule, it is important to determine the reasons why or whether illegal discrimination has taken place instead.

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