How Personal is your Personal Cell Phone?

Before I continue with this post, let me get some housekeeping out of the way up front.  The following scenario is based on an actual situation, but not in reference to any specific event, person, business, or organization.  I’m in no way supporting or repudiating the decisions or policy.  I’m simply laying out some facts of a situation and eliciting your feedback on the situation.

So, where is the line between what is yours, and what is owned by an employer?  We’ve all heard of the situations where an employer implements policies to regulate what activities an employee engages in outside of their direct employment.  Understandably, many of these regulations and policies prevent conflicts of interest regarding the employee’s time and efforts.  Some of the policies go further and state that an employee can’t take any additional work outside of the organization without prior approval, or even discourage attending evening college courses due to the fear that it will distract from the employee’s regular work responsibilities.  These policies have been employed for a number of years by a variety of organizations and can be debated regarding necessity, effectiveness, and legality, but that debate has been had many times over and will continue to be debated.  That’s not the question here.

But what about your cell phone?  Here’s a scenario to consider:

Business X provides cell phones to a limited number of employees.  Traditionally, some employees utilize these phones, but some choose to keep their own cell phone service.  There is no requirement from the business to have a “business cell phone”. Those who utilize the provided cell phones have to take a business provided phone with a standard phone model and service provider, and in turn, the business pays for that phone.  Those who chose to not take the provided phone, simply use their personal phone for the limited phone calls they take from inside the business and take no subsidy or compensation for their phone.

This policy is in place for a period of time, until a decision is made at some level that cell phones should be listed on business cards.  At this time, the business takes the prerogative to publish the cell phones of employees on the reprint of business cards, but makes no discrimination between those who utilized business cell phones and those who had personal cell phones.  Those business cards are then printed and distributed to customers.

There was no communication to the employees with personal cell phones.  Nor was there a choice given to take a business cell phone prior to the publishing of personal cell phones to customers.

The employee was using the personal cell phone for business purposes. But the business was not compensating the employee for that business use.

So…

  • Does the business have the authority to publish the personal cell phone without notice?
  • Is that cell phone the sole property of the employee, and thus fall under the right of privacy to the individual?
  • Does the employee’s waiver of a business provided phone and subsequent use of the personal phone for business purposes cause the personal phone to fall under the purview of the business?

Share your thoughts below.  I’d love to hear what you think!

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