Is It Legal to Limit Smartphone Use at Work?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 05, 2013 10:02 AM

As more and more offices are accepting the reality of smartphones as integral to business, companies have begun to implement detailed smartphone policies to limit the devices' use at work.

Whether you use your own smartphone for work purposes or your office has provided you with a company-owned device, most limits to your smartphone use are completely legal.

Here are a few issues to keep in mind:

Company-Issued Smartphone

You may be delighted to find that your company has decided to issue you a shiny new iPhone or Blackberry to check your email and work outside the office. But remember that your work phone comes with some completely legal limits.

Similar to employee email, you have little to no expectation of privacy in using your work-issued smartphone. Even text messages you send via a company mobile device are fair game for the company to view.

The smartphone which you thought was such a cool new work toy may also turn out to be the key to your being fired, as your employer is more than entitled to give you the boot for sending something offensive or damaging to the company via a company-owned device.

Remember that the company phone isn't your personal phone. If your employer's policy calls for you only to use it for work purposes, don't go installing Facebook or Candy Crush Saga on it.

Your Personal Smartphone

It may be that your employer has requested that you and your co-workers use your own personal smartphone, perhaps as a way to save money and not have their employees juggling multiple phones. But company policies can still control your use of your own phone.

For example, Facebook use on your personal smartphone may be fine outside the office, but it is entirely legal for a company to fire you if their smartphone policy stipulates no Facebook or Twitter use while on company time.

While the First Amendment generally protects your speech from being limited by the government, it doesn't apply to private companies. So think twice before you use your personal smartphone at work to broadcast how much you dislike certain aspects of your work and/or supervisors.

If you feel the need to do personal business on your smartphone while at work, then make sure to remember:

  • Restrictions on smartphone use during company time are generally valid, so wait for a break;
  • Those restrictions may also apply to company space, so you may want to take your smartphone outside; and
  • Don't sext on company time or property, or you can be fired.

Work time is for work, so save your gaming or steamy messaging until you get home.

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