INDIANAPOLIS — Jose Lopez sat in a Holiday Inn Express for hours waiting for news of his friend at the nearby FedEx facility here, where a gunman killed eight people late Thursday night.
“It is hard because if my friend had a phone, he would be able to contact me right away,” said Lopez, who has worked at the facility for about six months. “Even if it’s a message with one letter, you know he is living.”
FedEx prohibits employees from having their phones with them while they are working, a policy that came under scrutiny in the aftermath of the mass shooting at the company’s Ground Plainfield Operations Center that resulted in the fatalities and left dozens of families scrambling to get in touch with loved ones.
The company told Insider early Friday morning it is reconsidering the policy in the aftermath of the killings. But a FedEx spokesperson would not comment on the policy when asked by the USA TODAY Network’s Indianapolis Star on Friday morning.
“Our immediate priorities are the safety and well-being of our team members and cooperation with law enforcement at this time,” the spokesperson said.
The no-phone policy forced many family members and friends to wait overnight in a packed Holiday Inn Express to find out if their loved ones were hurt or killed.
If employees were allowed to have their phones, the “police wouldn’t be flooded with calls and family members also wouldn’t be flooded with calls and there would be more news, more details,” Lopez said.
►Stimulus news: When will ‘plus-up’ stimulus check payments arrive?
►Not a joke anymore: Dogecoin, the cryptocurrency created as a spoof, sees its market value top $40B
Deaths make ‘a statement’ about bans
Lopez noted phones could cause a distraction during work hours but said employees should be able to have their phones with them, even if they can’t use them during work.
“A policy of not having a phone in the workplace — a situation like this makes a statement,” he said.
It is not uncommon for employers to ban cell phone use in certain situations, such as when doing so could compromise their safety, such as operating vehicles or heavy machinery.
What the law says about phone bans
In other cases, workers may be disallowed from using their cell phones while interacting with customers or while attending meetings, according to jobs site Indeed. Those sorts of bans are legal, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
But it’s not clear whether bans on having cell phones on your person at work are common or legal.
“Some might say cellphones help save lives in the workplace, especially in an emergency,” personal injury liability attorney Mark Litton wrote in a recent analysis. “While having a phone on hand is indeed helpful in those cases, there’s a difference between allowing workers to have cell phones, and allowing them to use it for anything other than an emergency.”
The National Labor Relations Board has generally held that employees have a right to use their cell phones for personal use at the workplace when they’re not on the clock, such as when on breaks.
In a recent memo in a case involving an alarm monitoring company, the NLRB ruled that the California-based company’s policy banning cell phone use except for “work-related or critical, quality of life activities” was “unlawful.”
Claiming lost productivity
The company, known as P1, had banned phones based on the premise that they were a “distraction in the workplace,” resulting in “lost time and productivity.” The ban included text messaging and digital photography.
“Although the employer has a legitimate interest in preventing distractions, lost time, and lost productivity, that interest is only relevant when employees are on work time,” the NLRB wrote.
Olivia Thla Sui, another FedEx employee who worked Thursday night, said employees had to leave their phones in the locker room.
“We don’t know when this stuff can happen,” she said. “It was hard to get in touch with family members saying they’re okay and stuff.