HR Question: Banning Personal Electronics

Question: Can I ban cell phones at work? How about audio and video recordings?

Answer: This question has brought up issues that have been the subject of recent litigation, so it’s a great time to be asking.

To answer your first question: yes, you can limit or even prohibit use of cell phones during work hours. Employees can be expected to give their undivided attention to the work you pay them to perform, and if that means cell phones need to be turned off or put away, you are entitled to make this request. However, employees should be allowed to use cell phones during their break and meal periods, as this time needs to be truly their own in order to satisfy the requirements of state law. Fair warning: if you attempt to prohibit cell phone use during all non-break time, you may receive some fairly aggressive push back. A more lenient policy may do the trick. Typical standard language says, “Personal cell phone use should be kept to a reasonable limit during working hours. Reasonableness will be determined by your manager.” This language gives your managers considerable discretion, but they should be trained to use the same standard of reasonableness for all employees to avoid claims of discrimination.

To answer your second question: no, audio, video, and photography cannot be strictly prohibited, but they can be limited. The National Labor Relations Board, which enforces the National Labor Relations Act, has said that employers cannot outright prohibit recordings as this could interfere with employees’ ability to organize with respect to their terms and conditions of employment. For instance, employees might choose to record a conversation during their lunch hour related to asking for raises and want to share that recording with employees who work different shifts. This would need to be allowed. However, you can still have a policy that prevents recording (via audio, video, or photograph) confidential information, such as proprietary business practices, customer lists, client or patient information, or employees’ personal information. Be aware that you cannot deem all information confidential, e.g. “all conversations in the office” or “anything related to customer/patient care.” 

If you feel it is important to have such a policy, you may say something like, “Audio and video recording devices, including cameras and smartphones, may not be used to record or capture any confidential information, whether it is proprietary business information or clients’ or employees’ confidential personal information. If recording non-confidential information, e.g. taking photos of colleagues, please seek the consent of all parties to the recording.” A policy like this can be added to your handbook during your next handbook review, or if you feel the need is urgent, you can distribute it to all employees now and have them sign an acknowledgment form. 

This Q&A was provided by Mineral, powering the UST HR Workplace. Have HR questions? Sign your nonprofit up for a FREE 60-day trial here. As a UST member, simply log into your Mineral portal to access live HR certified consultants, 300+ on-demand training courses, an extensive compliance library, and more.

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09/08/22 9:38 AM

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UST maintains a secure site. This means that information we obtain from you in the process of enrolling is protected and cannot be viewed by others. Information about your agency is provided to our various service providers once you enroll in UST for the purpose of providing you with the best possible service. Your information will never be sold or rented to other entities that are not affiliated with UST. Agencies that are actively enrolled in UST are listed for review by other agencies, UST’s sponsors and potential participants, but no information specific to your agency can be reviewed by anyone not affiliated with UST and not otherwise engaged in providing services to you except as required by law or valid legal process.

Your use of this site and the provision of basic information constitute your consent for UST to use the information supplied.

UST may collect generic information about overall website traffic, and use other analytical information and tools to help us improve our website and provide the best possible information and service. As you browse UST’s website, cookies may also be placed on your computer so that we can better understand what information our visitors are most interested in, and to help direct you to other relevant information. These cookies do not collect personal information such as your name, email, postal address or phone number. To opt out of some of these cookies, click here. If you are a Twitter user, and prefer not to have Twitter ad content tailored to you, learn more here.

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