NLRB Permits Employer to Prohibit Cell Phones in Working Areas


In Cott Beverages, the National Labor Relations Board held that employer rules prohibiting cell phones on the production floor and in the warehouse were lawful.

The employer, a beverage manufacturer, maintained work rules prohibiting employees from possessing cell phones while on the production floor and in the warehouse. The administrative law judge previously held the rules to be unlawful, reasoning that the rules infringed on employees’ Section 7 rights to take photos, record audio and video in the workplace, and make legally protected phone calls from work areas.

In The Boeing Company (which we discussed in detail in a December 2017 E-lert), the Board divided workplace rules into three categories, depending on whether they (1) are lawful, (2) warrant individualized scrutiny, or (3) are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act. Applying the Boeing framework, the Board reversed the ALJ and held the rules to be lawful. While acknowledging that the rules potentially infringed upon the employee rights cited by the judge, the Board found that the impact of the rule was tempered by the fact that it was limited to working areas as opposed to nonworking areas. Turning to the employer’s justification, the Board found the rule’s broad prohibition of personal items, including cell phones, from work areas to be a “reasonable, lawful effort to ensure the integrity” of the employer’s beverage production process and to satisfy FDA requirements for food-production facilities. Additionally, because of the distractions posed by cell phones, “a blanket prohibition on usage in work areas is a reasonable restriction” to reduce on-the-job accidents and product contamination. The Board found that the employer’s justifications for the rule far outweighed the impact of the rule on employees’ rights. Accordingly, the Board consider the rule prohibiting cell phones in work areas to be a “Category 1” (lawful) work rule under Boeing.

This is a good decision for employers. Employers may now prohibit employees from using cell phones in work areas, particularly where the distractions caused by cell phones would pose safety risks or product integrity issues.