No Policy, No Problem: Union Employee Disciplined for Use of Phone Despite No Policy Prohibiting Same

Cargill has a “no cell phone” policy in its employee guide. The policy provides that all employees must be attentive and alert to their jobs, and are not allowed to read books, magazines, newspapers, or other materials while on the clock.  From 2014 to 2016, the grievant was cited multiple times for his cell phone use while on the job. On October 10, 2016, posts were made to his Facebook page while he was on duty. On October 28 the grievant received a written reprimand for his use of social media during work.

The union grieved the employee did not violate a cell phone policy or a job productivity policy because there was no written policy or verbal policy that forbade the use of personal cell phones on the job.

Per the arbitrator, the grievant had sufficient notice of the employer’s work rule banning personal use of a mobile phone on duty since he had been cautioned about his mobile phone use in three performance reviews. The arbitrator also found that the work rule banning personal use of a mobile phone on duty was reasonable, given that distraction from work duties was the primary concern and the rule was consistent with other polices in the employee handbook requiring employees to be attentive and alert.

Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can reach Matt by calling him at (614) 843-3041 or emailing him at