Ask the legal expert: How can I legally limit my nurses' penchant for texting?

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Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
Q: Some of my nursing staff seems to be texting all the time. What kind of restrictions can I put on them?

A: Texting creates a range of problems for employers, from harassment to disclosure of confidential information to less productivity. Employers may prohibit texting by having a written policy and obtaining a signed acknowledgement that employees have received it. 

The policy should state that employees have no expectation of privacy when using an employer-issued phone or PDA, that any messages or images sent or received on such devices are the employer's property, and that the employer may monitor such messages.

Texting, if permitted, must not interfere with work activity.  Employees must not reveal confidential information. Employees must not violate the company's anti-discrimination policy or code of conduct when texting and must conduct themselves appropriately at all times.  Employees must not make libelous, defamatory or harassing statements via text. The policy should warn employees that violations of the policy will lead to disciplinary action including termination.

Note that employees may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in messages sent and received on personal devices, and an employer's monitoring such devices could be a violation of federal and state privacy right laws.  
While a complete ban on texting may be permissible, it might not be the best choice. Texting is the primary mode of communication for many people and a complete ban could negatively affect employee morale and productivity. It also may be difficult to enforce. Many employers expect or at least tolerate texting on personal devices because it often increases efficiency by decreasing use of other communication devices, such as phones.
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