CBS reportedly axing ‘60 Minutes’ producer Jeff Fager over a text is a wake-up call for employees everywhere to think twice before hitting ‘send’
Let’s talk about texts — and work texts, in particular.
Employees are becoming more conscious about keeping their social media feeds and emails professional, since there have been plenty of high-profile cases of workers getting fired or disciplined for what they’ve tweeted or let slip in a company memo. But one place many people are still courting digital disaster is in their text messages.
After all, texting is the most frequently-used smartphone feature, the Pew Research Center reports, with 97% of smartphone users across all age groups texting, often at least once a day. And as the lines between our personal and professional lives blur thanks to being accessible via our smartphones 24/7, more employees are naturally starting to communicate with their professional connections through text. Almost three-quarters (72%) of employees surveyed by mobile messaging provider TigerText said they use texting as a work messaging tool. But the problem is, many companies don’t offer much guidance in the acceptable ways to text a colleague, supervisor or subordinate.
And this leads workers into dangerous digital territory. On Wednesday, CBS fired long-time “60 Minutes” producer Jeff Fager, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by several former employees who spoke to the New Yorker. But Fager countered in a statement obtained by Page Six (which is owned by the same parent company as Moneyish) that he was axed for texting CBS reporter Jericka Duncan, who was covering the allegations against him. He texted, “Be careful … if you pass on these damaging claims without your own reporting to back them up that will become a serious problem.” CBS said he “violated company policy,” and CBS anchor Jeff Glor said the text was “unacceptable.”
In fact, a recent report by On Second Thought, an app which allows you to unsend texts within a minute of firing them off, found that 16% of 1,000 surveyed mobile users admitted that they faced serious professional consequences (like getting fired) because of a bad text that they sent. And 71% said they had sent a message they wished they could take back, with one out of five having done so in the past month.
“Texts can absolutely get you fired,” labor and employment lawyer Karen Elliott with the firm Eckert Seamans told Moneyish, who noted that the first thing she does in any investigation is pull a person’s text and phone records. “Most of my cases and situations deal very heavily in text messages, and screenshots and downloads, and pulling phone records to tie into what phone number they came from.”
For one thing, your texts are not as private as you think. If you’re using a company-owned smartphone or tablet, your employer has access to your text history. Even if you delete your texts, they may be backed up in the cloud. But keep in mind that even if you’re firing off messages from your personal phone to a coworker or client, these missives might be going to their company phone, so your workplace can still pull those records. Or anyone can take a screenshot or download your text conversation, and show it to someone else.
But too many of us are texting like no one else is watching. “Millennials in particular and younger workers have all of their conversations through text messages … and I’m a long way from being a millennial, and I’m a pretty avid texter. It’s how you communicate,” said Elliott. “And I think that people think, ‘Well, texting is more casual, so I can drop my guard.’ But in fact, what you’ve got now, as with email, is printable, documented proof of whatever rule you’ve violated.”
So Elliott and Vicki Salemi, a career expert at job site Monster.com, shared their tips to work texting without risking your reputation or your career.
Ask your coworker or client’s permission. If you haven’t already built a friendly rapport where you’re communicating by text, it’s best to ask first if it’s OK if you text a professional acquaintance, so that they don’t just get a the text version of a cold-call. Something like, “Do you mind if I text you after work once I’ve file my report?” works. And when you do text, begin the message with your name so that they don’t have to text back, “Who is this?”
Limit texts to asking a quick question or sharing an important detail. This is the place to share that a meeting location has changed, or to ask someone to share contact information. This is not where you gripe about the boss or criticize someone’s work. “If you have a more involved problem that needs to be worked out, or you need to talk to someone about their poor performance, do not put that in a text,” said Salemi. Send a text that says, “Let’s discuss this – are you available tomorrow?” “And you may even want a third person in the room, like your boss or someone from HR, just to keep yourself covered,” she said. Or if the message you need to convey will take more than two or three sentences, send an email with more detail, and then simply text them a note to check their email.
Avoid anything that could be seen as racially or sexually inappropriate, of course. It’s easy for remarks to get taken out of context in a text message, particularly in the #MeToo era, with more employers and fellow employees calling out the kinds of jokes and comments that may have been given a pass in the past. “Follow the same guidelines that govern your emails and conversations. Ask yourself what is the impact that these words are going to have on your colleagues, and how is this going to be interpreted by the recipient,” said Elliott.
Only text during work hours and on work days. There’s exceptions to every rule, of course, such as 24/7 positions or a pressing deadline where a late text makes sense. “But if you are in a 9-to-5 job and it’s unusual for you to speak with someone after-hours … then inferences get taken from somebody texting someone at 11 o’clock at night. Were they drunk? Why were they sending this? And then it becomes potential evidence of sexual harassment,” said Elliott.
If a coworker sends you an awkward or inappropriate text … don’t get sucked in. You can choose not to respond, or simply fire back a note suggesting you talk in person tomorrow. Or Elliott suggests using this as a teaching moment. “As a result of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, in trying to change corporate culture, one would hope someone could write back, ‘You know, this is really offensive’ or ‘This is not appropriate,’” she said.
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