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Company SMS: Is it legal to mass text employees?

John Rost

Internal communications teams and HR teams are often asking the same question these days… can I text my team? Mass texting employees is a pretty enticing idea, and it can be the solution to many of the challenges of reaching in-the-field or frontline workers. After all, not everyone can check their email (and many don’t even have a corporate email). The intranet often isn’t available or accessible everywhere, all the time.

But… the laws are unclear. Legally, can you mass text employees?

The short answer is… yes, it’s generally OK!

(Reminder: Please confirm all decisions around text messaging and employee consent with your legal counsel. We’ll update this post as new laws are passed or clarified, but we want to be sure to highlight this!)

Best practices and most legal teams will agree, though: you should get consent to text your employees. The absolute best way is to include consent in your employee onboarding and/or as part of your standard employment agreement.

But, that’s not so simple when you’re looking to add employee text messaging to an existing workforce.  What many people use is called “implied consent” to send mass texts to employees, which means that all employees have agreed to receive text messages (or work-related information) simply by inputting their phone number into your HRIS system. And, big note: There also is usually an exception for emergencies. 

Best practices for employee text messaging systems

No matter whether you’re asking for employee texting consent or assuming consent via employment agreements, don’t just show up on your employees’ phones without letting them know it’s going to happen!

Using a channel employees already know, tell them that it’s going to happen and describe the texts that they’re going to get. If they’ll be getting schedule information every week, make sure they know. If you’ll only use the system for emergencies or weather updates, make sure all employees know what to expect. Read more about employee text message best practices.

Keep reading for answers to all of your questions around the legality and best practices for sending mass employee text message to your organization.

What we know about employee texting laws

It’s not consistent from state to state, so there’s no simple answer for your business. Please, consult with your legal counsel to make sure you’re compliant. But, in the U.S., the rules that will apply will come mostly from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and related regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but state laws and mobile carrier requirements also are important.

What laws apply to sending text messages to employees in Canada?

In Canada, text messaging is governed by Canadian federal and provincial privacy legislation and, depending on the type of message, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (“CASL”). It’s important to always consult with your legal counsel to ensure you are complying with these laws!

What laws apply to sending text message to employees in California? 

A new California bill would potentially fine employers if they repeatedly tried to get in touch with their employees after work hours. The exact applications of this are still a bit unclear, but the bill has not yet passed in California as of this publication date. Some experts say that, if passed, an unsubscribe button may be mandatory in employee communications to California employees; others say that you simply just can’t email an employee after work hours.

(We’re all about work-life balance! Currently, Workshop offers time zone sending to ensure employees get emails during their standard working hours. In addition to that, we proactively monitor all regulations like this and, in the instance that this law does pass, Workshop would quickly and proactively offer tools to make sure you’re compliant!)

Notifying employees about text messaging

If you can start from the beginning, your employee onboarding process is the best place to manage consent for employee SMS. Build an agreement to receive texts into your standard employment agreement, and give a heads-up on the kinds of messages people will receive. You can add it to your handbook and training, too.

As far as employees already in place, you can update your standard agreement with explicit consent to communicate via text message or you can use “implied consent.”  That idea basically says that if an employee inputs their phone number into the HRIS, they are implying they consent to receive SMS messages until they opt out.

These ideas do NOT apply to marketing or sales messages, even to your employees. Workshop and any other employee SMS tools can’t be used to sell things or encourage participation in a commercial activity. 

Please confirm all decisions around text messaging and employee consent with your legal counsel.

Opting in and opting out of company texting

You can go with implied consent, or you can ask your employees to opt in. The easiest way is to use internal email and/or intranet to ask employees. A simple submission form or pulse survey should be all you need. Once you’ve gathered consent, the way that you begin using your employee text messaging system will have a big impact on how people use it… and whether or not they opt out!

There are a few steps we recommend when after consent and opt-in.

  • Tell employees what to expect in their texts, including
    • The types of texts you plan to send (weather alerts, shift changes, company events, etc.)
    • How often you expect that they’ll get employee text messages
    • Your expectations about texting replies or confirmations

Opting out is another story – offering text message opt-out is a legal requirement. Providing clear instructions for opting out and respecting employees’ preferences regarding communication channels is crucial for maintaining positive relationships and compliance with regulations like GDPR and TCPA.

Getting employees’ phone numbers for texting

In order to mass text employees, you will need an up-to-date database of mobile phone numbers. Currently the only way to effectively text your entire company is through a tool like Workshop, which can manage that list for you. If you have phone numbers in your company’s directory or HRIS, our software can keep that list synced. (If you don’t have a managed directory that includes phone numbers, you can upload a CSV of phone numbers.)

Crisis communications and emergency alerts

When setting up an employee text message system, it’s a good idea to let employees know that they’ll be receiving time-sensitive alerts through their phones. Depending on your business, this could be weather-related building closures, unexpected cancellations or delays, or even alerts to avoid an area or facility. Telling people that SMS is now a channel where they’ll receive very important information can also help boost opt-in or consent rates on your team.

Two-way texting with employees

Most employee texting tools only offer one-way messages, meaning you can reach your employees and send them a link to somewhere, but they can’t text back. Only Workshop has built-in two-way employee texting, so you can ask for responses or answer questions on your messages. If you expect employees to reply, we recommend communicating this clearly when they opt in. Some of our customers have even used Workshop’s SMS channel to gather event RSVPs or take simple surveys using the two-way response feature.

Implementing an internal communications texting tool

Text messaging is a crucial part of a complete internal communications strategy! Along with email, intranet, and instant messaging, it can help you reach every employee in the right place, at the right time. Workshop’s super-fast, seamless two-way texting adds this helpful channel to your communications mix…and now, you can get both email and SMS within the same platform! It’s easy to use, provides comprehensive analytics, and syncs directly with your HRIS.

Learn more about Workshop’ employee texting platform by booking a time with one of our friendly product experts!

 

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