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My wife recently attended a conference for work some seven hours travel time away. At the end there was a purely social closing banquet, during which her boss demanded that she, and the other three managers turn off their phones and pass them to her. She then took possession of them and put them out of reach of the managers. The reason the boss gave was that she wanted them to have a "nice conversation". Prior to this banquet there had been no restrictions placed on phone use and my wife and I had remained in touch via text message (initiated by my wife when convenient around her duties at the conference).

The primary concern my wife and I have with this demand is that I have some long-standing health concerns of a serious and potentially life-threatening nature that could easily result in hospitalization on very short notice (as has been the case on several occasions in the past). Therefore, my wife was uncomfortable with being completely unreachable in the event of an emergency. When I came to know of this later, I too was uncomfortable.

However, what is strange is that the boss is also in a similar situation regarding her father's health and therefore chose to leave her phone turned on. The boss is also fully aware of my medical conditions, yet she chose to deny my wife access to her family while she did not do the same to herself.

Was my wife's boss request unreasonable or inappropriate? How could my wife have reacted to this request and push back against the requirement to relinquish her phone? Or how should she handle it in the future should it come up again?

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    actually, I did create a problem with my post since I did not include the fact that, because of the severity of my health issues, my wife Nearly opted out of attending the convention. Thought this might shed more light on the whole health issue. She decided to attend Only because of my persistent prodding because I know that she has always enjoyed attending these functions in the past. Not so much this year however. – Bill Hierstetter Jan 28 '18 at 14:28
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    "I'd rather hang onto it in case there's a family emergency" would've been a hard argument to counter, and so would "I'd prefer to avoid a situation where I hold you responsible for something happening to it while it's in your care", and one can presumably just leave if they insist. Although both of those assume that it's not a company phone. – Dukeling Jan 28 '18 at 14:33
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    Paragraphs please. Also what country? – Dan Neely Jan 28 '18 at 15:16
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    I found this deleted with three reopen votes and have undeleted it to give the community a chance to edit further. Whether the boss had the authority to do that is likely to be too opinion-based, but if you were to ask how she could have addressed the matter or how she should follow up to prevent a recurrence, that would be solidly within our scope. – Monica Cellio Jan 29 '18 at 22:12
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    @BillHierstetter Your original post mentions that your wife's boss is aware of the fact that you have serious health problems, but is the boss aware of just how serious, specifically the high odds of emergency situations and the importance of your wife being reachable during one? Did she mention it at all / push back against the request to hand over her phone or was she caught off guard? – Lilienthal Jan 29 '18 at 22:25
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One of the major questions that needs answering is, was it a work or personal phone?

If it was a work phone then the boss could very well be in the right to request the phone off your wife (you'd need to check company policy, local laws on that), to help her to switch off from her working life (No emails or work calls). I would recommend in these cases that it would be best to have a personal phone so in a family medical emergency your wife could still be contacted.

If it was a personal phone, then the boss has no right to take the phone. The boss did only make a request. Your wife should have made it clear that she needs to keep the phone due to personal reasons and will not relinquish it. No further word needs to be said and the boss should not probe further. Your wife might want to divulge that it's because of a family medical issue, but that's up to your wife. I would also suggest that your wife would make it clear she'd only look at her phone if she receives a phone call, and would only pick up if it's from a family member. This is where self discipline comes in and the family needs to be understanding that they should only call the phone if such a family emergency arrives. A quick text to the family should be enough to explain this. This way the meal can carry on and your wife will hopefully never have to look at her phone, keeping the "nice conversation".

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    Yes, she could refuse to relinquish her personal phone. Regardless of laws or etiquettes, that could be viewed as "not a team player" and put on bad terms with the manager, especially if everyone else did turn in their phone. – Dan Jan 31 '18 at 13:42
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    It's an odd situation being called a bad team player when the boss also chose to keep their phone turned on, that's a bit of a pot calling kettle black... – Draken Jan 31 '18 at 13:43
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    True, but I mean it's the boss though. The person who handles your reviews, pay raises, etc. So looking like a "team player" is a good thing. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying by not doing what your boss intends to do, can put you on the bad side. – Dan Jan 31 '18 at 17:04
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    A boss who judges their employees on separate rules then they do themselves is not worthy of my time. I would prefer a boss who's going to lead by example – Draken Jan 31 '18 at 21:54

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