Chances are, technology and communication trends have advanced more swiftly than your company policies. Do your managers give work instruction to employees via text message? Are your employees reporting a work absence using text messaging? Is this communication happening on personal devices or work devices? Does it matter?
Our Human Resources Department has seen an increase in complaints from employees who are reporting bullying, sexually explicit photos, and racial slurs sent by text messages from co-workers or supervisors. Even more alarming is the group text, which may start out with work-related content and digress into a conversation that wouldn’t be, and shouldn’t be, spoken aloud in the workplace.
Set your policy and tell employees
First and foremost, employers should make their position on texting known. A company’s silence on the matter may be viewed as acceptance of this type of behavior. Even if your employee handbook states that employees are to call their supervisor if they will not be reporting to work, a practice of accepting text messages makes this your new, unwritten policy. (Anybody familiar with a “Code Red” from A Few Good Men where extrajudicial punishment was used causing a character in the movie to die)
At a minimum, your anti-harassment policy should be updated to include all forms of harassment and all forms of communication.
Text messages are documentation
Your supervisors and managers need to be aware that any text messages they send to employees can (and will) serve as documentation. Promises of money, work performance critiques and requests for dates verbalized in the past and viewed as passing comments are now documented and available to be produced on demand.
However, this street runs both ways. In the matter of U.S. District Court case of Enriquez v. U.S. Cellular Corp., an employee sued because her supervisor sent her inappropriate and, what she claimed were, offensive texts. However, evidence was presented that the employee had in turn sent the texts on to other employees indicating that she did not find them offensive. Judgement was found in favor of the employer in this case.
What about texts sent between members of your management team? Is there an expectation of a response whether or not it was sent during business hours? What about when that manager is on vacation or out sick?
Regardless of whether or not you decide to use texting as a part of your regular business communications, make sure your expectations are clearly understood by your employees. Our Human Resources professionals at BCN Services are available to discuss policy options and assist in updating your employee handbook and communicating with your employees. Contact us at 800-891-9911 anytime for assistance.
Sue Kester, HR Manager