By Thomas Gryta 

When a gunman began shooting at a FedEx Corp. facility in Indianapolis late Thursday night, many workers didn't have access to their mobile phones to call for help or loved ones.

FedEx policy prohibits most workers from having cellphones inside the company's sprawling sortation centers, citing safety reasons. Some workers leave them in their vehicles or lockers before starting their shifts. The situation prompted some people on social media to criticize the delivery company for its policy.

Indianapolis police officials said the cellphone policy didn't appear to delay the reporting of the deadly shooting to authorities. Police said many FedEx workers didn't have their phones after the late-night incident, which delayed their ability to reach family members.

"That was certainly frustrating for those employees as well as their families," Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief Craig McCartt said at a news conference Friday.

A FedEx spokeswoman said only some workers are authorized to have access to their phones in certain areas of FedEx Ground facilities, in order to "minimize potential distractions around package sortation equipment and dock operations."

Distractions and safety are important issues in massive sorting facilities that bustle around the clock and are busier than ever during the pandemic, executives say. The operations can move millions of packages through networks of conveyor belts, scanning machines, and other equipment to quickly get packages on trucks to their next destination.

Last year, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that some companies can prohibit employees from holding or using their cellphones on the manufacturing floor or at workstations.

In a case involving a beverage company, the NLRB said the company's legitimate business interests outweighed "the relatively slight risk" that the policy would interfere with an employee's rights.

"Because of the unique distractions cellphones pose, a blanket prohibition on usage in work areas is a reasonable restriction in order to reduce the risks of product contamination, slowed response times, and on-the-job accidents," the board's decision said.

FedEx isn't the only delivery giant with limits on cellphone use by employees inside its facilities. Rival United Parcel Service Inc. said its "policy allows employees to enter UPS facilities with cellphones in some instances." UPS also said its facilities have multiple security measures and phones available for staff use.

The U.S. Postal Service doesn't have a policy banning possession of cellphones in its facilities but it does restrict workers from using them for personal matters or taking pictures while on the job, a spokesman said.

FedEx said about 875 people work at the Indianapolis facility and roughly 100 were there at the time of the shooting. The incident occurred around 11 p.m. when there is typically a shift change and people doing the midnight sort arrive for work.

Write to Thomas Gryta at thomas.gryta@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 16, 2021 17:15 ET (21:15 GMT)

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