Are Employers Liable For Technology Addiction?

    August 28, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

The advent of the always-connected workforce has spurred a management researcher to ponder the liability of employers who take advantage of employee’s “propensity toward workaholism and technology addiction” as employees remain on-call even during leisure time.

In a forthcoming study, Rutgers University School of Business professor Gayle Porter warns that the fast pace of technology-enhanced work environments creates a source of stimulation that could be addictive.

If so, employers who encourage non-stop Blackberry use could face liability for contributing to their staff’s addiction.

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“There are costs attached to excessive work due to technology,” said Porter. “Information and communication technology (ICT) addiction has been treated by policy makers as a kind of elephant in the room — everyone sees it, but no one wants to acknowledge it directly. Owing to vested interests of the employers and the ICT industry, signs of possible addiction — excess use of ICT and related stress illnesses — are often ignored.”

Technology addiction is potentially “devastating,” she says, equating the mental health impact to the damage caused by chemical or substance addictions. Corrective actions stop short of legislation, however.

“It may be unfeasible to regulate how much people use technology,” said Porter. “However, it is reasonable to imagine a time when policy-makers recognize the powerful influence of employers that sometimes results in harmful excess among the workforce. The pressure for using technology to stay connected 24/7 may carry employer responsibility for detrimental outcomes to the employees.”

According to the researchers, the key to determining liability is finding the line between employee choice and employer manipulation.

“If people work longer hours for personal enrichment, they assume the risk,” she said. “However, if an employer manipulates an individual’s propensity toward workaholism or technology addiction for the employer’s benefit, the legal perspective shifts. When professional advancement (or even survival) seems to depend on 24/7 connectivity, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish between choice and manipulation.”

Porter is unaware of current court cases regarding the issue, but admonishes that employers with concerns for the health of their employees should encourage them to “walk away” from the Blackberries, email, and cell phones while on vacation.

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