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Wearable Devices at Work: Are Smartwatches Part of a Company’s Cell Phone Policy?

January 16, 2023 | posted by Abacus Payroll

Did you receive a smartwatch during the holidays this year? While they are a fun tech gift to most, for others they may raise issues and impact the safety procedures and cell phone policies at their business. Depending on the company’s industry, smartwatches can actually cause complications when it comes to the traditional cell phone policies that you may be used to.

Most smartwatches function as an extension of a smartphone, allowing for it to be grouped into your employer’s right to restrict cell phone usage while employees are on the clock. This begs the question, are smartwatches included as part of a business’s existing cell phone policy? The answer is, it depends on the wording in your cell phone policy. If the language is vague enough surrounding the technology usage, it may indeed cover smartwatches and other wearable devices. However, if you revisit your cell phone policy, especially if it’s been around for more than 5 years, a revision may be needed in order to accommodate this smartwatch and wearable device trend. As we jump into the new year, here is what you need to know about smartwatches to properly update your HR policies.

Cell Phones in the Workplace

Smartphone usage at work can be a hot topic. Over the last 15 years, cell phones have become a part of everyday life, leading to employers setting guidelines for mobile phone usage while employees are at work. Whether it’s for safety, productivity, security, or ensuring a high level of customer service, there are reasons to justify the need for a consistent cell phone policy. Complicating matters further, some workplaces provide cell phones to employees to accomplish their work tasks. There is a balance needed so that employees can have reasonable access to their device without hindering their job performance or putting anyone’s safety at risk.

Here in 2023, cell phones are not the only personal device that you may see in the workplace. Smartwatches have become increasingly popular. This wearable technology has allowed for users to access almost all of the same functions as their cell phone, but on a much smaller device attached to their wrist. Smartwatches can be difficult to restrict because not all of them have the same advanced technology. Some smartwatches function strictly as pedometers or digital watches. 

Components of a Cell Phone and Smartwatch Policy

With all of the differences between product and industry in mind, it can be difficult to come up with a policy that fits all of the needs of your employees and your business. It is important not to be too restricting on your workforce, if your industry is safe to do so. Allowing your employees to have their personal devices with them during the workday helps create a healthy work/life balance.  Smartwatches also have a lot of positive influences. While personal notifications will be easily accessible, so will work notifications. Many watches also have multiple health and productivity enhancers that your employees can utilize during the workday.

Considerations When Writing a Company Policy About Smartwatch Usage:

  • Safety when it comes to minimizing distractions for employees who are actively driving or in a manufacturing environment and are operating heavy machinery.
  • Security when it comes to confidential company or customer data on a smartwatch (and HIPAA concerns for those in the medical field).
  • Limitations on allowable functionality (i.e. telling time and listening to music may be allowed, while texting is not) and the timing of the device usage (permitted on employee’s own time, such as breaks).
  • Professionalism and spelling out that the device should not be used while in meetings or when in front of customers.
  • Accessibility, since if the device is the only way the employee is reachable, it may not be reasonable to have the device turned off or put away.
  • Health concerns, since given the abundant health and fitness tracking features in many wearable devices, they may be seen as a reasonable request under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There is not a one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to personal technology devices in the workforce. It varies due to industry and can be different based on your personal preferences. See the HR Help Center from Abacus Payroll for more policy information and how your organization can be compliant.

Communicate with Your Employees

The most important thing when it comes to policy changes is being completely transparent with your employees. With most policies, employees will be more receptive to limits and rules when they understand the reasons for it. Keep an open dialogue with your employees regarding your policies and why they are in place to help ensure a smooth transition.

Update Your Employee Handbook

As new employees join the business or current employees gain new technology, it is important to have all of your policies reflected in the employee handbook for them to turn to with questions. This helps create consistency and aids with onboarding new employees. If your language is vague enough, and focuses on the desired actions as opposed to specific devices, you will not need to update it each time new technology emerges.

Extra HR Support with Abacus Payroll

This is yet another task that you must be aware of and on top of as a business owner. There are so many responsibilities already on your plate that policy updates and properly introducing new tech products often fall behind. Outsourcing human resources and/or utilizing resources like the HR Help Center from Abacus Payroll can make these tasks easier to manage.

Starting at $12 per month, you can have access to and download:

  • More Timely Topical Q&As
  • Employee Safety Manual Template
  • Sample Policy for Driving Safety 
  • Sample Policy for Company Phone Usage and Personal Cell Phone Use
  • Sample Disciplinary Action Notice
  • Employee Handbook Assistance/Guidance
  • And more!

Living in the “tech age” means new technology and products being introduced to our communities constantly. As an employer, this challenges your current policies and forces you to continuously adapt and progress. Having a trusted HR Support system will help ensure that your policies are always up-to-date with the latest technology and required laws. Contact an Abacus Payroll advisor to find out how our HR team can help you and your business today!

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About the Author: Abacus Payroll

Abacus Payroll, Inc. is a leading provider of payroll solutions for businesses of all sizes. Whether yours is a family-owned small business or a national corporation, we provide payroll, tax and other financial services on time and at an affordable price. Unlike other payroll providers, Abacus Payroll will assign your very own payroll specialist who will understand your payroll needs inside and out. So no more speaking to a different person each time, no more sitting on hold for hours and most importantly no more missed deadlines! Contact us today to see how we can help your business. You can count on us.