16 October 2023

Can staff be required to use personal phones for work?

Tom Martin Solicitor

In the recent case of Razan Alsnih v Al Quds Al-Arabi Publishing & Advertising, the London Central Employment Tribunal was asked to look at the fairness of the dismissal of an online news editor who was sacked after refusing to install a work-related app on her personal phone.

The app was used to communicate about online content and messages were exchanged throughout the day and night. The claimant objected to having the app installed on her personal phone as she felt that it would interfere with her private life and wellbeing. The respondent added her to the group without her consent and, when she challenged this and refused to use the app on her phone, terminated her employment.

The tribunal concluded that the claimant had been dismissed for conduct. They looked at the legal test in conduct dismissal cases and found that the respondent did genuinely believe that the claimant had committed an act of misconduct (refusing to use the app on her personal mobile phone), but that the respondent had failed to carry out a proper investigation and did not hold the belief on reasonable grounds. No disciplinary hearing was held, alternative ways of accessing the app were not fairly considered, and the claimant was never warned that her job was at risk if she did not use the app.

The tribunal concluded that no reasonable employer would dismiss an employee for refusing to put an intrusive work-related app on their personal mobile phone, using their personal number. They found that it was reasonable for the respondent to insist on their staff, including the claimant, using the app. What was unreasonable, was the expectation that the claimant put it on her personal mobile. It meant she could not separate her home and work life.

The tribunal also found that the claimant’s dismissal was procedurally unfair, as no formal investigation or disciplinary hearing was carried out. The claimant’s claim of unfair dismissal succeeded and she was awarded one year’s pay (the statutory cap in this case) as compensation.

The issues in this case could have been largely avoided had the employer provided a work mobile phone and taken measures to allow notifications to be paused or muted outside of working hours. This case serves as a reminder that employers must look to balance their quest for ever more efficient communication with the importance of employees being able to separate home and work life.

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