Yes, You Can Get Fired for Texting at Work

By Barbara Safani

texting-policy-privacyThinking of sending a quick billet-deux to your lover or a quip about your boss or a co-worker on your business cell phone? You might want to read this first.

The Supreme Court recently ruled that a government employer can access and read an employee's text messages if sent on a company-issued device. The court ruled that as long as the employer had a "work-related purpose" for inspecting an employee's text messages, it was considered their legal right.

And just how did this issue make it all the way to the Supreme Court?

It all started when the Ontario, Calif., police department discovered that former police Sgt. Jeff Quon was using his work pager to send sexually explicit text messages to his ex wife... and his girlfriend. Prompted by several months of extremely high pager bills from Quon and several others, the department conducted a content audit of the text messages. Of the 456 texts that Quon had sent, only 57 were work-related, and the police department was footing the bill for the other 399 personal messages.

Upset over their bosses' invasion of their privacy, Quon and others sued the city. In City of Ontario vs. Quon, a lower court in 2008 ruled that the officers had a right to privacy. But when the city appealed the case in the Supreme Court, the justices thought otherwise, ruling that the police department's actions were "reasonable." The court also found that Quon did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy, in part because Quon had signed the city's Computer Usage, Internet and Email Policy, which stated that the city "reserves the right to monitor and log all network activity... with or without notice."

Whether you work for the government or in the private sector, no one should assume privacy when they are transmitting messages via company-owned computers or PDAs. A 2007 workplace monitoring and surveillance survey conducted by the American Management Association revealed that 43 percent of employers read workers' e-mail messages -- and 28 percent had fired workers for misusing e-mail. One-third fired workers for inappropriate Internet use.

So before you start using your work computer for some online shopping or to post messages on Twitter that could get you fired, think. What seems fun and harmless at the moment could actually cost you your job.

Next:Texting and Writing at Work: Reading Between the Lines >>


Barbara SafaniBarbara Safani is the owner of Career Solvers,, and author of Happy About My Resume: 50 Tips For Building a Better Document to Secure a Brighter Future and #JOBSEARCHtweet.

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