I have recently moved into a new apartment in which I have to pay for electricity. To save on my electricity bill, I have been charging my phone at work rather than at home. I am also thinking about charging rechargeable AA batteries at work, which I can use at home to power clocks, night lights, etc.

Question: Is it unethical to use electricity from the workplace for personal use at home? Obviously, the amount that I am using is relatively small.

Response to comment: I work at a university, so I don't know who I would ask. I imagine that if I were to ask someone, he or she would probably tell me that it were OK.

  • 3
    Approaching this as an ethical (~philosophical) dilemma won't get you anywhere. Just ask whoever pays the bills at your company if it's ok for you to charge your devices there.
    – yannis
    Aug 29 '14 at 10:36
  • 16
    I just wonder what's the price of kilowatt-hour at your location that you really bother trying to save on charging a cell phone?
    – sharptooth
    Aug 29 '14 at 10:47
  • 13
    @sharptooth It costs 41 cents per year to charge an iPhone 5, so this isn't even a "problem" worth approaching, IMHO (just plug the thing in anywhere). You will not save any appreciable amount of money by doing this - at most $10/year if you have a lot of batteries, but how much is the hassle of shuttling batteries back and forth worth?
    – alroc
    Aug 29 '14 at 11:31
  • 5
    Personal fans and space heaters use more in a day than you will in a year.
    – user8365
    Aug 29 '14 at 12:14
  • 3
    By now, we all have wasted more electricity by loading this page than the OP would have used in 100 years of battery charging... Aug 29 '14 at 12:19

I think there's a spectrum here. At the one end, if it's a device you use for work purposes (especially if they supplied it to you) then of course you can charge it at work. If it's a device you use for your own happiness during the working day, then charging it is a minor work benefit that it's reasonable to use. After all, you are allowed to use the bathrooms at the office even though there's no direct work correlation to using them. Having your phone run out of power during the working day would be a bummer, right?

However once you start bringing in random items from home, like AA batteries you will only use at home, and charging them at your desk, I think you're crossing a line. If this is such a small amount of money that it doesn't matter to them, then it doesn't matter to you either. If it's enough money that it is a significant saving to you, then it's a significant cost to them. There's no semblance of a work related reason for it, not even your own mood while you're at work. I think it's going too far.

And if that's not too far, what is? Could you start running a battery-charging service among your friends who also worry about their power bills? Whether for money, coffee/beer, or just "Being that fun cool guy you can count on for battery charging" you could go and get personal gain from your employer's power bill. Would that be ok? You already know the answer.

And don't think nobody will notice. Whether I can see the chargers on your desk, or see you under the desk plugging them in every morning and unplugging them every night, people will see what you're doing. The best case is that they'll think you're a little odd or eccentric. The worst case is they'll feel you're exploiting the benefits of your position. Charge only items you use while you're at work and leave it at that.


Question: Is it unethical to use electricity from the workplace for personal use at home? Obviously, the amount that I am using is relatively small.

While it would be unusual to recharge batteries brought in from home, I suspect the few pennies per year it would cost to recharge a phone won't be any more a problem for your workplace than it would be for you.

If you aren't sure if this is permissible, you could ask your boss first, or you could look around and see if any of your coworkers have anything plugged in that isn't specifically work-related. You could even ask the office manager.

Barring that, you could just plug it in, and see if anyone complains about it. If they do, you could just apologize for not knowing the rules, and then stop using their electricity.

So unethical? Perhaps not. Unusual? Perhaps. Too unusual to be bothered with at work? Maybe.

I took a business ethics class back in college that had some interesting approaches toward deciding if you should think something is "ethical" or not.

One way to think about this ethically would be to ask yourself: "If someone asks me where these batteries will be used after I charge them, would I feel uneasy about telling them that I'll use them at home and that I'm trying to save money by using work electricity rather than using my home electricity?" and "What would my mother think if she learned I was doing this?"

Another way to think about it ethically is to ask yourself "If I think it's okay to recharge a bunch of home batteries at work, is it okay to take spring water home? Is it okay to take home pens and paper? How about some coffee and creamers? Where can I draw the line?"

And yet another way to think about it is to ask yourself "What if everyone did what I'm doing? Would that be okay?"


Is this ethical, yes. Is it useful, perhaps not so much.

Consider the table here from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The power draw of a phone charger (3.68 watts) is very small compared the desktop computer you are using at work (73.97 watts) and that doesn't include the LCD monitor attached to it (27.61 watts).

So the good news is that your employer isn't really burdened by your actions (remembering to turn off your LCD monitor when you leave will save them more than charging the phone will cost!). The bad news is that you aren't really saving much on your power bill. Consider that your TV, when in standby mode, probably draws more power than your phone does while charging!


Ask it to your direct coordinator. Even if you work at a University, you may need to give your status to somebody. Otherwise, if you're the one that people share their status with you, congratulations, you are the rector.

I personally think that charging your smartphone may not be an issue, but as everything, where's the limit? Well, it's obvious that you shouldn't be charging stuff you won't use by any mean at work. I can charge my phone, as I actively use it, but I wouldn't come with my laptop and charge it. Despite what Yannis commented, I do think this can be considered unethical to charge stuff unrelated to your job.

If those batteries are only used at home, charge them at home. I recommend you buy a programmable plug. You can set it to be connected and charging for 8 hours, and then, automatically turn it off. Also, if your country has low budget electricity time ranges, (in my case, anything plugged between 11pm to 9am is cheaper), connect it at those moments.


I re-charge my cell at work. I also re-charge my cell when I visit an office location which is hosting a computer meetup. I also hook up my laptop to power outlets during the computer meetups. Without asking for permission, of course.

Your question about whether it's ethical to recharge your batteries is a first for me.

  1. Decide for yourself what's ethical and what's not.

  2. Or decide that the stakes are so trivial that the question of whether it's ethical is not worth asking - I mean, do you feel guilty about swiping towels from your hotel suite? :)

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