Employers May Need to Consider Hands-Free Devices for Employee/Company Cell Phones

By Steve Fantetti

It may sound like common sense but not every company thinks it has certain connections to liability when employees are using company cell phones. For one matter, using a cell phone and multitasking is a way of life for most people – especially employees. 

Around the United States and Canada laws are being passed to penalize individuals for using their cell phone while driving.  In Ontario, Canada has abolished the use of cell phones while driving, and in 2014, New Mexico issued a statewide “distracted-driving” ban, which prohibits texting and talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. Nevertheless, we routinely see people in their own vehicles – including employees in company-identified vehicles - texting while driving and at stoplights or texting and talking on cell phones while driving.

Although the prohibition of “distracted driving” is clear, employers may not be clearly getting the message about what their own actions speak to about their liability. For instance, employers who issue company cell phones or who contact employees who are in transit may be sending mixed signals to their employees. An employer should not condone this conduct and engage in it with employees.

Accordingly, employers should implement a hands-free cell phone policy to clarify their expectations regarding the circumstances under which cell phones may be used. An employer may be responsible for actions of its employee if an accident or other liability matters arise from using a cell phone during work hours and speaking to company personal while an accident or legal issue arises.

It is possible to put procedures in place to avoid the problems that can be connected to using cell phones while driving during hours of business operation. Although each employer should tailor the policy to its own needs, basic criteria include:

  • Hand-held devices: If an employee must make or take a work-related call or send a work- related communication while driving, the employee must wait until he can pull over safely and stop the car before initiating or accepting a verbal or written communication.

  • Hands-free devices: The employer expects that safety will always be the first priority for all employees. If, because of weather, traffic conditions, or any other reason, an employee is unable to concentrate fully on the task of operating the motor vehicle even while using a hands-free device, the employee must either end the communication or pull over and safely park the vehicle before resuming the communication.

Be aware, as with any policy, merely having it is not enough. It must be a part of your human resources policy manual, employee personal conduct policy and on-the-job training. The employer must train its employees and enforce the policy. More importantly, the leaders of the organization must lead by example in order to be able to credibly enforce the company’s policy. Properly crafted and enforced, a policy regulating cell phone use by employees can limit an employer’s exposure to liability for traffic accidents involving employees.