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Dealing with Employees Texting

The first text message was sent in 1992, since then, the world has changed dramatically. Online shopping changed the way retailers operated, Facebook changed the way people kept in touch with their friends and family spread across the globe, and the advent of streaming services changed the way people interacted with and consumed content. Text, or SMS, is one of the older forms of digital communication, but it is here to stay. Text message remains the most popular method of communication, and the most effective, too. Texts have a read rate of over 90% within minutes of the message being sent. While text is a great way to communicate it does pose some risks to businesses, especially when employees are allowed, or even encouraged, to use Short Messaging Service (SMS) to communicate within the workplace.

Lack of Control

Company heads know that having control over the communication that happens during working hours can help to avoid potential problems. Access to work emails, firewalls, and regular tracking and review of employee communications can help to keep everyone honest and ensure major issues aren’t brewing away from the watchful eye of human resources.

However, problems can quickly arise when employees begin using devices to communicate with other employees and clients that are not subject to company review. Text messages pose the biggest problem in this arena. Because businesses often offer BYOD cell phone policies, there is a lack of ownership over the materials that are being sent. Employees may also feel more relaxed when using their device, and could potentially send a text that blurs the line between appropriate and inappropriate.

Textual Harassment

Textual harassment is a form of harassment that uses private text messages as their medium. The texts may be lewd in nature, but not all textual harassment cases have a sexual connotation. Any inappropriate message that can seem to be harassing or threatening in nature falls under the umbrella term “textual harassment.”

Text messages, because of the lack of jurisdictions companies often have over a worker’s phone, open the door for harassment in a fashion that simply isn’t there in other mediums of communication. Texts messages are regularly used in cyber bullying, and several cases have come to light that highlight the problem with textual harassment.

In Cicero, Illinois, a municipal employee reported that she received sexually explicit text messages from a superior for years. Redhook, a New York City-based construction company, found itself in hot water when a manager interrogated an employee via text message about where his loyalties lay. In Portland, a head coach found himself embroiled in a sexual harassment investigation after explicit texts revealed an inappropriate relationship between employees. These are just a few examples of how text messages can lead to significant and serious problems in the workplace.

As people get more comfortable with technology and continue to utilize text and other forms of communication nearly constantly, the likelihood of text message featuring in more lawsuits and investigations will only rise. As stated, text messages are the preferred method of communication for many, and with the popularity and the false privacy attached to a cell phone, the risks are easy to see.

Best Practices

Any company that is operating today should have a policy that outlines expectations when it comes to digital communication and where that communication should take place. It is best to regulate how employees can communicate with one another during working hours. For example, a policy that outlines that all communication during workplace hours must take place via email or a company-sponsored chat client can help set boundaries.

Companies that have a driving fleet must also outline their policies regarding texting and driving, or distracted driving. A strict policy that outlines exactly when and how a phone can be used during working hours can make everything clear.

The same policy should also cover electronic communication used for inappropriate behavior, such as sexual harassment or cyber bullying.

Cite this article: Lynch, N. (2017). Dealing with Employees Texting. Available: