USE OR ABUSE? ALLOWING EMPLOYEES TO USE COMPANY ASSETS
The unauthorised personal use of company assets by employees is a growing and ongoing problem, and the greatest area of concern is usually the abuse of company telephones and cellular phones. How can the personal use of company phones be contained?
Most employees have some form of access to a company phone, either because they require this facility as part of their jobs, or because there is one close by – and most employees do make personal calls on company phones from time to time. However, the real problem is that when employees abuse this asset, there is often no clear policy in terms of which corrective or disciplinary action can be taken. Subsequently there may be no other option than to accept the costs and warn the employee “not to do it again”.
THE REAL PRICE OF “FREE ACCESS”
Where there is easy access to company phones, employers will usually turn a blind eye to employees using them for personal calls, provided that their usage doesn’t “get out of hand”, e.g. provided that the calls are local, don’t take too long and don’t interfere with production or service delivery. Such attitudes are usually based on the assumption that access to the company phone for personal calls is a “perk”, which doesn’t really cost much, and helps to keep employees happy. It is also believed that the time and costs involved in trying to monitor and control personal phone usage aren’t worth the effort or the savings.
The results of such a relaxed approach are, firstly, that costs may spiral out of control to unacceptable levels, and secondly, that the practice of allowing employees access to phones for personal use, sets a precedent, and consultation with the affected employees may thus be required before any changes can be fairly implemented.
There are only two options available to management: ban the personal use of company phones, or allow only restricted use. While a total ban on personal use is possible, it is seldom reasonable and practical. However, various restrictions can be justified by the circumstances. A number of issues must be taken into consideration when restricting the use of telephones.
· What restrictions should be placed on personal usage?
Restrictions may vary from “emergency use only”, to “a specified number of local calls per period, of not more than x minutes’ duration”, to “personal use during lunch or tea breaks only, with the express permission of the employee’s line officer”. There is no one “ideal” restriction.
The decision to set specific, or broad restrictions (or to ban usage completely), shouldbe determined by the size of the organisation, the number and the level of the employees, the capacity to bear the costs of some personal phone usage, and the feasibility and costs of monitoring employee usage on a regular basis.
· Restrictions should apply to whom?
This question to whom restrictions should apply, requires careful consideration. On the one hand, it may appear discriminatory to allow different levels of personal usage for different job levels. On the other hand, there may be good reason to do just this, in which case there is no reason to act otherwise. It would thus not be unreasonable to set certain limits or restrictions for employees below a certain level, but to allow greater use, or fewer restrictions, at more senior levels. There is no requirement to provide all employees at all levels with exactly the same degree of non-contractual company ‘perks’, and an employer may thus decide what variances would be most appropriate in light of the particular circumstances, and to implement and enforce them accordingly.
The key is to determine what limits or restrictions should be applied, and to then ensure that they are applied consistently.
Whether or not an employer wishes to restrict the use of company phones, it is advisable to at least have a general policy to cover the use of company assets for personal purposes. Such a policy makes it considerably easier to manage abuse of company assets. Whether it is a simple or comprehensive policy, such a policy should be included in all induction programmes.
Barney Jordaan of Maserumule Employment Consultancy for www.labourwise.co.za
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