white houseAccording to a November 13, 2014 article in the New York Times (based on a review by the Department of Homeland Security), an intruder was able to enter the White House back in September due to a succession of performance, organizational, and technical failures.  One of the specific findings was that:

“Omar Gonzalez, the man charged in the incident, could have been stopped by a Secret Service officer who was stationed on the North Lawn with an attack dog. . . [b]ut the officer did not realize that an intruder had made it over the fence because he was sitting in his van on his personal cellphone. The officer did not have his radio earpiece in, and had left the second radio he was supposed to have in his locker.”

Wait, what? We know from the report, as well as from Clint Eastwood movies, that Secret Service members use their own communication system with ear-buds for professional duties, so there is no excuse for this agent to have been on his cell phone.

The Report suggests that the United States Secret Service either needs to adopt or enforce a robust policy prohibiting or limiting the use of personal cell phones or any personal devices (e.g. cell phones, smartphones, tablets, etc.) while on duty.  Landscapers and insurance adjusters working in the field might very well use a personal cell phone for work purposes to great efficiency pursuant to a Bring Your Own Device (“BYOD”) to work policy, although many companies restrict smart phone use while driving. For other positions, however, unrestricted use of smart phones can cause problems ranging from customer satisfaction, loss of efficiency, and sexual harassment up to life-or-death safety issues, as in the case of Omar Gonzalez and the un-named agent who, for all we know, was playing Angry Birds on the North Lawn.  One often observes restaurant hosts, receptionists, government clerks and other employees tapping on their smart phones while customers tap their feet in line. Employers are within their rights to curtail such behavior, even as members of the public obnoxiously talk into their phones while ordering a latte. It’s bad enough that employees from ticket agents to medical doctors are forced to spend more time looking at computer screens than looking people in the eye, but personal use of smart phones on the job is rampant and in certain circumstances can lead to safety issues. Proper drafting and enforcement of policies can mitigate these problems.

Due to the sensitive nature of its work, a BYOD policy allowing the use of personal cell phones while on duty would probably not work for the Secret Service.  Many private employers, however, have found great success in limiting the use of personal devices by allowing employees to utilize their own devices for work purposes and adopting BYOD policies to address such use.  BYOD policies may properly address not only who will pay for a smart phone, access to organizational systems, and how to protect company information, but also when employees may access smart phones while on the job.