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Employers Have Options to Stem Cellular Abuse

by Garland M Baker on January 2, 2006

Workplace conversations waste time and money

Give an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

Offer a hand, and lose an arm.

These management axioms also have to do with cellular telephones. Cell phone abuse is rampant among employees.

Even someone who still does not have a cell phone is not immune from the increased numbers of them. In a movie, a restaurant, a church, or a meeting, people are using the technology and being a disturbance.

In the workplace, some employees will not take a job if they do not get a cell phone. Yes, the instruments can be very productive tools. They save time. They also contribute to lost productivity and employees avoiding making their own decisions because they can always call someone else and ask what to do.

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to have a business meeting with an employee and the wife calls, or the kids call, or Mami calls. In Costa Rica, one always needs to talk to Mami, it is part of the culture.

Nowadays, people don’t even need to call. They can send SMS or MMS messages. SMS stands for “Short Message Service” which is available on digital GSM networks allowing text messages of up to 160 characters to be sent and received. MMS is short for “Multimedia Message Service,” a method of transmitting graphics, video clips, and sound files over wireless networks.

This, too, is a big drain on productivity. A short “beep” or some other kind of annoying sound notifies the employee of a waiting message. They then have to look at the phone and then answer the message with another message — all on company time.

The situation is going to get much worse.

First there was Millicom, a private phone company that came to Costa Rica in the mid 1980s and setup a mobile telephone system. Soon thereafter, the government decided it was a mistake to give the firm a license and kicked it out of the country while conveniently taking over the already in place system. Millicom sought a big settlement from an international arbitration agency.

Then came analog, digital, TDMA, GMS and now WAP enabled GMS. Each system brought new phone lines, and cellular telephones started to grow out of people’s anatomy like mushrooms.

The newest system introduced in December is WAP enabled GMS. WAP stands for “Wireless Application Protocol,” a set of communication protocol standards to make accessing online services from a mobile phone simple.

Can employers save themselves from all this technology and still follow Costa Rica’s labor laws? Yes! Here is a checklist:

  1. Employers should not give an employee a cell phone unless it is absolutely necessary.
  2. If employees need a company phone, employers should set a written policy of cell phone use and spell out what is considered abuse. A company phone is a privilege and responsibility not a birthright.
  3. Written reprimands or warning letters should go to any employee who does not follow the rules. And employers can take the device away or fire an employee who cannot work within the policy.

What about a personal cellular owned by an employee?

Again, the employer should set a policy. The best is that all cellular phones must remain turned off during work time.

Where one gets into trouble is letting an employee use a personal cellular in a business because the organization needs the employee to have a phone. In this scenario, there are too many ways to dance around the rules and waste working time.

In the recent past, cells in Costa Rica were scarce, so companies had to work around the problems and accept employee personal cell phone abuse. This is no longer true. There are plenty of mobile phones in the market.

Cell phones are wonderful gadgets and incredible tools. They get better and become more useful every day. Who wants to be out on a dark road with a broken down car without one.

The point is, in the workplace, they become distractions and ways of wasting time, money and avoiding responsibility.

Recently, in a Sala IV ruling, the Constitutional Court of Costa Rica upheld banning their use in banks because they can contribute to robbery. In the workplace, they can contribute to theft and certainly loss of vast amounts of employee time, not to mention the bills generated by company-owned devices.

The best mobile telephone policy is one that would set a balance and works for the employer as well as the employee. However, these policies seldom work. With thousands and thousands of new lines available for 2006, this is a good time for employers to get a policy on paper for employees and household staff.

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