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Cell Phone Cameras Can Develop Into Legal, PR Problem

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in Human Resources

In an age where cellular telephones give directions and make dinner reservations, you’d be hard-pressed to find a phone that doesn’t take pictures.  As convenient as they might be outside the workplace, they can become a headache for employers.


Picture this: Two employees at the University of New Mexico Hospital used their cell phones to take pictures of patients being treated in the emergency room and then posted the images on an employee’s private MySpace page.  The two employees were fired for violating a hospital policy prohibiting cell phone cameras in patient areas.  Other employees were disciplined for not bringing the pictures to the attention of managers.


Besides patient privacy, companies need to protect proprietary information.  An employee can easily take pictures of confidential documents and share them with non-employees without ever leaving the premises.  For this reason, you should have a policy banning cell phones from areas in which trade secrets and proprietary information are accessible.


Protecting the privacy of employees is important, too.  Employees have been known to use their camera phones to share pornographic pictures with co-workers.  Or worse, to take pictures of unsuspecting colleagues in restrooms, locker rooms, etc.  Make sure your policy bans the use of camera phones in areas in which employees have an expectation of privacy.  Also, make sure employees understand that the dissemination of offensive materials, regardless of the medium, is strictly prohibited.


Policy Pointers


Incorporate the following information into the appropriate company policies pertaining to cell phones, privacy, harassment, and conduct.


  • Where cell phone cameras may be used (e.g., outside, break rooms) and where they are strictly prohibited (e.g., patient areas, restrooms, research and development areas);
  • What uses of camera phones are prohibited (e.g., taking, showing, and disseminating offensive pictures);
  • The consequences of violating a policy;
  • How employees can receive outside calls in an emergency, if cell phones must be turned off or put away.

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