Let’s face it, we are all addicted to our phones. Some of us have jobs where our phones are required to be locked up in a locker for the day and we only have access to them on breaks. As a desk worker – who does not have to lock up her phone – I can only imagine the agony!

Time spent on a personal device can interfere with work and productivity. Ever fall into an Instagram trance and next thing you know 2 hours have passed? Sure, you haven’t…

Personal devices and the persistent distractions of the digital era can be a problem for employers. In certain workplaces, distraction by a digital device can be dangerous or bad for customer relations. I’m sure we’ve all been kept waiting at some point by an employee who was giggling into their phone instead of helping us.

So, what can employers do?

Personal Device Policies

A policy is an employer’s friend. It will spell out expectations for employees and also give the employer something to rely on if the need to discipline an employee for breaching the policy arises. Employers should ensure that employees are aware of and agree to the policy. Get them to read and sign a declaration that they have read it and will abide by it.

The content of the policy should be reasonable and realistic. Would you like to be separated from your phone for up to eight hours before you could check it? Didn’t think so.

Some employees may feel that they need their phones, in case there are emergencies with their kids, for example. Being unduly harsh in your policy will likely only lead employees to not follow it and to general unhappiness.

If the job involves driving or working with machinery, likely it’s reasonable to require phones to be kept in a locker and only accessed on breaks.

When Employees Don’t Follow the Policy

Regardless of how reasonable your policy is, it’s likely that keeping personal device use to a reasonable level, that does not interfere with work, will be a struggle for some employees. This was the case for a BC dental assistant who was terminated with cause for excessive texting at work. A with cause termination is a typical “You’re fired!” situation where the employee walks away without any notice pay.

This particular dental assistant appealed her termination to the BC Director of Employment Standards, who determined that her texting did not constitute cause for termination. Her former employer appealed to the BC Employment Standards Tribunal, who affirmed the decision.

Cause for termination was not made out and the former employer had to pay the employee notice and a fine for breaching the Employment Standards Act.

How to Establish Cause for Termination

Cause for termination is a long and bumpy road. To make out cause, the employee’s conduct usually has to be pretty bad as in dishonest or dangerous. Stealing money from the employer or behaving in a dangerous way could constitute cause, but not necessarily. Employers generally have a duty to warn their misbehaving employees that they need to improve or they will be terminated for cause. This is why a policy is important. The policy sets the expectations, it also should warn the employee of the possible consequences of not complying.

If an employee is breaching the policy, they should be counselled on the fact that they are doing so, possibly disciplined and warned that continuing to breach the policy could result in cause for their termination. This should be done repeatedly to establish a pattern of misconduct. And for the love of all that is relevant in law, please do this in writing.

Takeaways

All employers have phone addicts on their hands. At least this is an issue they can probably relate to! Employers should establish reasonable policies and enforce them. Employees who refuse to comply with policies regarding texting and personal device use should be spoken to and potentially disciplined, but given an opportunity (or multiple opportunities) to improve.