Submitted by: Francine Friedman Griesing and Kathryn Goldstein Legge, Griesing Law

Are you aware that your company can be held liable if an employee is involved in an accident while driving and using a cell phone or other hand held device for company business? Driving while talking, texting, reading or typing have all become commonplace. Almost everyone feels strapped for time, rushing from one obligation to another. Many of us spend hours in the car daily and it seems like an effective way to get some work completed while sitting in traffic or zipping along. Unfortunately, driving while distracted can lead to dangerous consequences for the driver, passengers, pedestrians and others on the road. And if that happens to you or one of your employees, the driver and the employer can be held liable for the harm inflicted.

Employers can reduce the risk of liability by establishing clear rules and making sure employees are educated about them. Most importantly, doing so can save lives, and secondarily, it can save your company substantial exposure. Consider for example the law firm that was sued for $30 million when one of its lawyers hit and killed a teenager while the lawyer, driving home from work, was talking to a client on her cell phone. Your policy should apply if employees are using company owned electronic devices or vehicles, whether on company business or personal time, and if employees are doing company business using their own hand held devices or personal vehicles. In fact, some states, such as California, have passed laws requiring employers to implement policies on employee cell phone use on business calls while driving. Even if your jurisdiction does not have that requirement, every business should promulgate a written policy.

At a minimum, mandate that employees comply with applicable local, state and federal laws regarding the use of handheld devices while driving. Company policy should direct employees to refrain from using handheld devices while driving and urge them to pull over to a safe location before placing or answering a call, texting or otherwise communicating electronically. Many people assume that using a hands free device, such as a speakerphone, may be enough to avoid a problem. However, engaging in conversation about a stressful topic can be distracting even if the driver has both hands on the steering wheel. In traffic, eyes, hands and mind all should be focused on driving. Ideally, you should discourage or prohibit all business calls on the road.

Even a good policy is only valuable if employees are aware of its terms and expected to abide by them. To maximize the company’s protection, employees should be required to sign an acknowledgement that they have read the rules, understand them, and commit to follow them. To assure that employees appreciate how seriously the company considers these issues, the hand held device policy should specify that violations will lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.

If you have questions about these decision