Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Michigan's New Law: To Text or Not to Text?

First, a confession: I’m addicted to my phone. I’ll be the first to tell you that I travel a fair amount in my work and my phone is a key part of my ability to stay connected to my customers. I do use a hands free one while driving, but I am definitely guilty of checking my email at traffic lights.

Effective, July 1st, Michigan made it illegal to text while driving. While I’m not crazy about the idea of having laws that cover every aspect of our lives, I honestly don’t feel safe passing someone on the highway that is looking down at a phone, texting with both hands and steering with his knees. I remember getting hit from behind by a teenager who was talking on his cell phone a few years back. That experience didn’t exactly leave me with a warm safe feeling.

In a related development back in April, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of City of Ontario v Quon. The case involves Quon, a SWAT team member in California, who was sending and receiving sexually explicit text messages using his city owned and provided pager. While the court has yet to issue a decision in the case, it’s safe to say that the case is where it is because the city did not have a policy that covered this scenario. They did have a general policy regarding email and the use of company equipment, but not texting, and their actions did not always conform to the policy. So what do we need to do?

First, make certain your policy is clear and specific: Explain that no employee should have any expectation of privacy while using company equipment at any time. Then, specifically define what equipment is covered by this and update your policy on a regular basis as technology changes.

Second, think safety: Do your employees drive as a part of their jobs? Do they send text messages to their kids as they navigate their way through a forklift aisle on their way to the cafeteria for breaks? Cover this in your policy as well.

Finally, enforce your policy: If your policy says one thing, but you do another (even for your executives), your policy won’t help you defend any disciplinary action that you may end up taking.

While it may be impossible to cover every potential possibility in a policy, this is one area where you really should carefully consider your operation, expectations, and potential pitfalls. Get a team together to brainstorm scenarios – and include your IT person (and your favorite consultant). Setting clear expectations now may just save you a lot of frustration later.

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