Creating a mobile phone policy for your workplace

A mobile phone policy is a set of guidelines that many employers introduce to manage staff mobile phone use when working.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


29 January 2024


17 July 2024
5 min read
Creating a mobile phone policy for your workplace

In various workplaces of all sizes across the country, it is rather standard to see a mobile phone policy that employees are expected to follow when they are at work – whether that is in the office or at home.

Writing a mobile phone policy can help to boost productivity and prevent distractions in the office. It can create more productive working relationships between colleagues, and plays an important role in fostering a positive working environment. Creating a best practice mobile phone policy for your workplace will increase the likelihood of staff understanding and following it.

In this article, we will talk you through how to create a mobile phone policy, the benefits of having one, reasons why mobile phones may not be allowed in the office, how to navigate circumstances in which workers may use personal phones for business purposes, and how to discipline employees who break mobile phone policy rules.

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What is a mobile phone policy?

Mobile phone being use by employee at desk

A mobile phone policy is an important set of guidelines or rules that employers introduce to their staff handbook to limit the amount of time spent using mobile phones at work.

The policy should outline what is considered an acceptable use of a mobile phone when working during contracted hours.

Mobile phone policies are typically introduced to maintain productivity, to reduce disruptions and to uphold health and safety or security.

We will explore the different reasons why an employer may want to introduce a mobile phone policy below.


Why should employers consider having a mobile phone policy?


Workplace where mobile devices are being used

A mobile phone policy is a strategic decision for employers, and reasons for having one can vary from fostering productivity without distractions, to health and safety.

Productivity is a main concern for employers, and by having a mobile phone policy, distractions can be kept to a minimum to enable workers to stay focused on their work.

Making mobile phone use very limited during work hours can mean less time checking text messages, taking personal phone calls or scrolling through social media. In environments where deadlines are important, this is crucial.

Excessive use of mobile phones can also have a negative effect on team communication. Rather than sending each other text messages, colleagues have to interact face to face, or use company-owned internal messaging systems to enhance collaboration while creating a paper trail for record-keeping.

Aside from being distracting, mobile phones can also blur the boundaries between professional and personal life. Being clear about when workers are supposed to be in 'work mode' and off of their phones can encourage a healthier work-life balance.

Many employers choose to have a mobile phone policy for security reasons. In some industries, the use of mobile phones with cameras poses a security risk in terms of the recording of sensitive information.

A mobile phone policy could rule out the use of camera phones in certain contexts to safeguard confidential data and to prevent security breaches. 

A mobile phone policy can also be used to prevent accidents from happening. In a working environment in which staff need to operate machinery, mobile phones can become a dangerous distraction.

Employees who become distracted by their phones while operating equipment can pose a health and safety risk, with a greater chance of causing an accident. In the context of factories and other manufacturing operations, restricting mobile phone use can help to create a safer working environment and reduce the likelihood of injury.


Can an employer refuse the use of mobile phones at work?

Woman in an office using a phone

An employer can request that an employee does not use their mobile phone at all during work hours.

It is common for employee handbooks to have a mobile phone policy that states that all personal devices be switched off or silenced during work hours.

An employer can also request that employees do not have personal phones on them, and that the devices should remain out of sight such as in a locker or in a bag, rather than on a desk.

If an employee has to have access to a mobile device for personal reasons in case of an emergency, for example because they are a carer, an employer can ask the employee to give their contacts the main office number of their employer to ensure the message is passed on.

Employers should however use their discretion on whether it is more helpful to allow employees who are carers special permissions to have access to a phone at work.

In some instances, mobile phone use can breach health and safety laws. For example, if an employee is driving a company vehicle to a business event, or is operating machinery in a warehouse. It is therefore essential that an employee with such duties in their role knows that they should not be using their phone when undertaking these activities.

In customer-facing roles, poor customer service is the impression created if staff are seen using mobile phones when they should be working. This is especially true if customers are waiting to be served, and could cause negative reviews and a bad reputation.

Some employers may consider writing a clause into a mobile phone policy that enables them to confiscate a phone should they feel that staff are breaking rules and what is expected of them in their duties. While this is acceptable during working hours, the phone must be handed back when the employee leaves your premises. 


Mobile phone use during staff breaks

Group of people gathering around phones and computers

Many employers allow staff to use their mobile phones during breaks, even if those breaks take place on company property.

It is worth noting that an overly strict mobile phone policy (such as not permitting mobile phones on the premises), could have a detrimental impact on staff morale, and they may not feel trusted.

Some companies take a more flexible approach and let their staff listen to music on their mobile phones using headphones while they work, which can be helpful for focus and concentration.

A mobile phone policy should not disadvantage people who are carers, parents, or disabled, who may need access to a phone for emergency reasons. A mobile phone policy should clearly outline expectations and exceptions.

It is a good idea to allow staff to take breaks during the day so they can check their phones for important calls or messages. This gives an impression of understanding and flexibility.


Using personal mobile phones for business purposes

Steven Neathouse Partners Employment Tribunal Services in Chester

Every UK company has to be aware of data protection compliance.

If GDPR legislation is breached, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) could fine an organisation a large fine of up to £17.5 million. Asking staff to use personal devices for business could risk a data protection offence, as personal contact numbers are personal information, so all staff in a business should handle this information in line with GDPR rules.

If a business asks staff to disclose their personal information to customers and clients, it is likely to breach GDPR legislation, and such activity is not approved by the ICO.

While GDPR does not state that using personal mobile phones for business reasons is banned, it does set limits on their use. This is to prevent employees' personal data such as phone numbers from getting into the hands of third parties, and ensuring that third-party data is also safely stored in an internal company computer system, rather than being left on a mobile device to be discovered by someone else.

If your business can ensure compliance with data protection rules, and protects staff and customer information, personal mobile phones can be used for business reasons.

For instance, staff can be asked to block their numbers when making sales calls on behalf of a business. Companies can also ask staff to use an app that gives an alternative telephone number.


What should an employer do if an employee breaches mobile phone policy?


Two employees discuss accusations in front of laptop

If any rule-breaking has occurred with mobile phone use, the employer should discuss it with the employee and the matter should be investigated in line with the company's disciplinary procedures. Action taken will depend on the severity of the breach.

If a staff member has just forgotten to put their phone on silent, a polite and informal reminder from a manager will do, and a note could be placed on their file.

However, if an employee continues to disregard mobile phone policy, this could mean that an employer could issue a formal warning.

Any formal warning, whether written or verbal, must be issued in line with a company's disciplinary procedure and mobile phone policy.

If the breach is severe and has caused a health and safety problem (such as using a phone while driving), this could bring an allegation of gross misconduct. Allegations of gross misconduct could result in termination of employment and dismissal.

If this happens, it is important to seek the right legal advice from our experts at Neathouse Partners, so that we can guide you through correct and fair procedure.

Keep in mind that summary dismissal for gross misconduct does not entitle an employer to dismiss a staff member with immediate effect and without following a fair disciplinary procedure.

An employee could bring a claim for unfair dismissal in this case, even if they did breach mobile phone policy in the first instance.


We can create a mobile phone policy for your business


Sarah Simcott Employment Tribunal Services

Our team of professionals at Neathouse Partners can advise on how to balance staff flexibility with business productivity when it comes to using mobile phones in the workplace. Our team of HR consultants and employment lawyers can create a robust mobile phone policy for your company that clearly outlines expectations and best practice.

Call 0333 041 1094 today or use our contact form.

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