It seems like almost everyone carries a cell phone these days. Estimates are 23,000,000 or more Americans will have a cell phone, by year end. Industry analysts predict the digital camera feature now an option on millions of cell phones, will soon be a standard item on all cell phones. Do these camera phones present a problem for employers? You bet they do. Protection of competitive and proprietary information as well as confidentiality and privacy are a primary concern to all employers. The risk of lawsuits and unanticipated liability is obvious. Employers need to think this issue through before a major loss occurs.
Employers have long had and exercised the right to ban conventional cameras from the workplace. This new digital cell phone technology must be taken just a seriously and should also be prohibited in most if not all areas of the work place. Some of the largest employers in the country have taken action already, including, Texas Instruments, General Motors, Daimler Chrysler, Intel and the largest cell phone manufacturer, in the world, Samsung. As with other personnel policy issues, an appropriate written policy on the subject, thoroughly published to all effected, must be adopted.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Write an unambiguous policy statement that bans possession and use of cell phones containing cameras in those areas of the workplace which must be kept safe and secured. (i.e., research areas, production areas, areas containing business and employment records as well as, bathrooms and dressing areas, to mention a few.)
2. Make sure the policy covers all issues relating to cell phones, such as driving a company vehicle while using cell phones, PDA's and other electronic devices.
3. Make sure the policy applies to both employees and visitors. Publish the policy in Employee Handbooks and post the policy statement throughout in the building, including entryways.
4. Take the disciplinary action indicated in the policy statement in the event of any and every violation.
5. Require written permission prior to any use of camera cell phones from a designated member of management.
6. Require immediate reporting of any suspected violations by all members of the workforce.
Professional service providers such as doctors, hospitals, attorneys, architects and accountants should give an extra measure of consideration to adopting a similar policy statement.
In addition to protecting the security of confidential and proprietary information, employers' have a duty to protect employees from harassment of all types, including sexual harassment. With the advent of digital camera technology installed in cell phones, the risk of the instant transmission of harassing or embarrassing photographs to third person or onto the Internet is a concern for all employers. Digital pictures of employees undressing or caught in revealing positions during the performance of the job or in bathroom or dressing areas is of particular concern. The risk of expensive lawsuits or the loss of a valuable employee is obvious. With a minimum amount of planning and the adoption of an effective policy statement along with the enforcement of that policy, substantial risk of major loss from employees with cameras in their cell phones can be effectively managed or eliminated.
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