In our article on “Court Decisions and cell phone Safety,” the most high-profile court cases involving cell phones were employer liability cases. A handful of well-known accidents since the late 90s put the issue of employer liability, as it relates to employee cell phone use, squarely in the middle of every corporate boardroom.
Following the public payouts to victims and families, risk managers across the country urged companies and businesses to respond to employee use of cell phones on corporate time. But a few well-intentioned rules may not be enough. Most sources agree that because a few cases have already set a precedent that there is growing risk to employers who choose to continue to conduct business as usual.
Most lawyers suggest that to avoid employer responsibility, the kind that has already impacted a handful of businesses, well-written cell phone policies must be made part of employee handbooks.
When it comes to planning a corporate cell phone plan, most legal advisors suggest a company protect itself most completely with a comprehensive and well thought out policy statement. A thorough and conservative cell phone safety policy may include some of the following components:1
A policy like this may work for a large corporation, such as ExxonMobil. In 2004 Exxon’s new cell phone policy pioneered the way for other corporations. The rules are conservative and explicitly prohibit employees from using cell phones for business when driving.
But what about smaller businesses heavily rooted to cell phone communications? How can a contractor safely keep up with customers and site managers while driving? How can a salesperson make sure to be on the other end of the phone when a client calls?
In circumstances like these hands-free headsets offer a modicum of safety, at least in the eyes of the law. But as far as conducting business goes, the safest rule of thumb is keep it brief, schedule an appointment a bit later when you’re off the road and keep tasks to a minimum; prohibit note-taking, emailing and text messaging, both business-centric tasks.
The intent behind state and municipal laws that ban hand-held cell phones and texting is likely different from that of corporate policies that regulate the same.
Mixed reactions on the effectiveness of state laws call into question the mechanism of driver distraction. Driving with a hands-free headset likely reduces incidents only slightly since according to a number of vehicle safety studies it is not the cell phone, per se, that is the mechanism of injury, but the conversation it invites.
In contrast, employer cell phone policies are designed to protect company liability. The fact is that in those cases where it can be determined that a cell phone distraction contributed to a death or injury, a company without a cell phone policy will almost always pay out a large sum of money. Now, armed with solid policies they at least have a fighting chance.