Ridout Barron


Can employers restrict employees’ use of personal smartphones?

Apple iOS upgrades sometimes have unexpected results. Its most recent upgrade includes Screen Time, a feature that allows iPhone users to track the amount of time they spend using their iPhone. The feature revealed some interesting statistics that may worry employers and force them to develop new employment policies.

Matthew Field, a writer for the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom, was appalled to discover that he checks his smartphone 140 times every day. He spends four hours every day using his smartphone. This is 25 per cent of his waking hours. Marie Claire, a Canadian magazine, found that 25 per cent of women in their 30s and 20 per cent of women in their 40s check their smartphones 200 times a day – once every few minutes.

How can employers cope with this reality?

The law in this area is still evolving. Employers can take measures to reduce the amount of time employees spend on their smartphones:

  • stricter usage policies
  • company-wide standards on personal phone use
  • discipline of worst offenders
  • compel employees to leave their smartphones at a central dock when they arrive at work and monitor how often and for how long they are used
  • set up ‘mobile-free zones’ in which unauthorized smartphones don’t work

Employers should prepare and enforce smartphone use policies until the courts rule about the legality of restricting smartphone use in the workplace (is it discriminatory, for example). These policies should explain precisely

  • what employees may do with personal devices
  • when they can do it
  • how long they can use them, and
  • if they can be used for work-related purposes.

Employers who need assistance developing smartphone use policies, or employees who believe that the policies are too draconian, should speak with experienced employment law lawyers. They can provide guidance as new law develops regarding smartphone use

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Ridout Barron
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