Honesty, The Best Workplace Policy (And, No Camera Phones In The Office)

If there were no more camera phones, many more lawyers would be out of work. Litigation regarding cell phones–and the photos they conceal–are on the rise.

Last year, a man was awarded $40,000 from the city of Atlanta after policeman forcibly confiscated his camera phone, which the man was using to record police actions from the street.

After the lawsuit police spokeswoman Kimberly Maggart said to CBS Atlanta, “Commanders have made it clear that Atlanta police officers in the field should not interfere with a citizen’s right to film them while they work in public areas.”

This suit is not the first of its kind.

A middle school student was once expelled after his cell phone was seized by authorities, who then claimed to have found evidence of “gang-related activities” on the camera.

The Mississippi ACLU filed a federal rights lawsuit as a result of the event, claiming the photos, which were of two boys and a BB gun, were illegally obtained and the expulsion wrongful, reports PC World.

It makes a person wonder if cell-phone cameras are helpful or a hindrance to justice today.

Now, another camera-phone case has employers questioning their workplace policies.

This week, The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision to uphold a ruling by the NLRB that a workplace policy banning employees from using a cell phone to photograph other employees infringed on “protected concerted activity.”

The Social Media Employment Law Blog reports on the story:

“After getting a really bad haircut, a supply clerk at a long-term care facility in North Carolina decided to wear a hat to work.  Her supervisors informed her that her hat violated the company’s dress code, yet she refused to remove the hat, and instead claimed that other employees were allowed to wear hats without a problem.

“The employee decided to document the alleged inequitable enforcement of the dress code by speaking with co-workers who ‘expressed support for her grievance.’ She also used her cell phone to take pictures of other employees who, she claimed, were violating the dress code without being disciplined. After investigation and discussions with the employee, the company terminated her employment for violating a policy that prohibited taking pictures inside the office without authorization.”

The aforementioned stories are important reminders to law firm administrators that workplace policy should:

  • Be written clearly and comprehensively in employee manuals
  • Not infringe on any employee rights as protected by law
  • Be enforced consistently across all departments and employees             
  • Not be considered non-negotiable

Workplace policy is not set in stone. Lawyers, of all people, should appreciate the nuances of any contractual agreement.

So, to prevent your law firm or its clients from catching the ever-spreading camera phone litigation disease, encourage open dialogue and constructive criticism by employees. Ask for opinions and suggestions regarding workplace conduct.

Clear, open, and honest communication is always the best policy. And, maybe, no more camera phones in the office (here’s to hoping).

-WB

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