Mobile phone use is becoming a problem in many workshops

Public news

Smartphones have become an increasingly used item in workplaces and whilst they can bring a number of benefits to a business such as being available while away from a desk, there is a continual risk that over usage of phones for personal reasons could lead to distraction and cause injury.

The MTA’s training and WR staff have encountered apprentices and employees in businesses who use their phones while on the job, including in welding bays and around vehicle hoists, and this is simply dangerous.

The continual usage of mobile phones for non-work related personal calls can also result in employees neglecting their duties and can potentially cause frustration to their colleagues.

Whilst excessive mobile phone usage by employees can, effect productivity and attentiveness there are also WHS considerations that employers need to consider. Employers hold a duty of care to their employees and particularly in busy and high-risk environments such as vehicle repairers, distraction will increase risks of injury and incidents.

It is important for an employer to set out expectations of where and when an employee can use their mobile phone so that they are taking steps to effectively mitigate accidents e.g. no usage when standing out on the workshop floor. Due to this, employers should consider implementing a Mobile Phone Policy to clearly set out the expectations surrounding mobile phone usage. Any policy however will need to properly drafted and circulated in order to be effective.

The need to have a strong and clear policy has been reflected in two cases, the first being Hansen v Ceres Natural Goods Pty Ltd T/A Pure Harvest [2018]. In this case, a worker who was dismissed for breaching the company’s strict mobile phone policy twice in a matter of a few hours was upheld. The policy clearly stated that employees were prohibited from using their mobile phones whilst performing operational tasks and the employee was seen twice using their phone whilst on a forklift.

The employee was also on his final warning and was aware of this when he once more breached the policy. Due to the clear nature of the policy and the fact there had been previous warnings the dismissal was held as being valid.

In contrast, the case of Condello v Fresh Cheese Co (Aust) Pty Ltd [2018], found an employee was unfairly dismissed after being summarily dismissed for using his mobile whilst in a freezer room. The employee had previously been employed for 16 years without any warnings and claimed that whilst company policy prohibited usage in the production area he was unaware this included the freezer.

The court held that the employer had failed to be consistent in applying the rules about mobile phone usage in the workplace and employees had been provided with insufficient detail regarding what the policy entailed. The employer also claimed they had raised the policy in a toolbox meeting a week prior to the incident but had no records of this.

What these cases have highlighted is when creating a policy there is the need to be clear in what it states and to ensure that any disciplinary action taken is proportionate. Employers should be clear in setting out what will be deemed as business usage and reasonable personal usage. It is also important that employers don’t immediately seek to implement a “zero tolerance” policy and assess the risk of their workplace and determine the most appropriate disciplinary action that will occur for any breach of policy.

A template mobile phone policy can be accessed in the Membership Portal by clicking here.

If you would like further information or assistance with the creation of a Mobile Phone Policy, please contact the MTA’s Workplace Relations team on 8291 2000 or via email by clicking here.