Should Employee Text Messages Be Private?

Nutshell answer: It all depends. If you’re using a company cell phone, then no. You have no guarantees nor should have expectations of privacy. If you’re using your own personal cell phone that you pay the bills for, then yes. In that case, anything you text on your own time outside of working hours is nobody else’s business.

Work Phones Are For Work Communications

Some companies issue their employees mobile phones for work purposes, and the debate is whether those employees should have to disclose their text messages sent and received on those phones. This would apply to both job-related and personal texts sent on company cell phones. Employers will often have acceptable use policies in place for the use of these phones, including:

  • Voice mail use
  • Email use
  • Text message use

Even with these policies, some people may still think they have freedom of personal expression and rights to privacy when using company-used smartphones. The reality is often the opposite. Companies typically archive texts, emails and voice mails on their servers and can request access to a certain employee’s work phone data at any time from the mobile carrier.

The Law Backs The Employers

The US Supreme Court has recently ruled that employers have the right to access employees’ work smartphone text messages if they have reasons to believe workplace rules have been violated. The ruling does allow for privacy when it comes to personal smartphones. People opposed to this law argue that employees’ privacy is being eroded, and supporters argue that the companies pay for the work phones and therefore have a right to access employee text messages on them.

To me, this debate is something of a no-brainer. To avoid possible problems that could jeopardize your job, don’t use your work smartphone for anything but work. Don’t send or receive email jokes, don’t text your friends, and don’t access social media on your work phone. Actually don’t set up social media at all on your work smartphone, unless it’s a job requirement. Set up only your work email address on your work smartphone–not any of your personal email addresses. In fact, only give your work smartphone number and email address to your colleagues and business contacts–not to friends or family. They can contact you via your personal smartphone, and you can get back to them when you’re off the clock.

Granted, it’s a pretty extensive version of the CYA Principle, but I believe it’s a small trade-off for keeping a good job. Just the world we live in today.

Leave a Reply