Employee Cell Phone Use: Adopt a Policy on Talking, Texting, and E-mailing while Driving

February 25, 2008

We have all witnessed dangerous driving maneuvers by individuals talking on cell phones. What if this driver is one of your employees? What if the employee causes an accident while conducting company business on a cell phone?

Employers may be liable for accidents where an employee’s job-related cell phone use contributed to the accident. Whether the cell phone use is within the scope of employment depends upon many factors including such things as the employee’s job duties, who provided the phone, when the accident occurred, whether it was a business call, and whether the employee was complying with the employer’s policy on cell phone use.

Don Heyrich at the Washington Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits Law Blog notes a $5.2 million settlement by an employer whose employee caused a serious traffic accident while talking on her company-supplied cell phone. Details of the case appearing in a newspaper account describe a very typical scenario for employees who multi-task while driving. There is no mention as to whether the employer had a policy prohibiting or limiting employee cell phone use while driving, so the impact of such a policy on the employer’s liability is unclear.

  • Company’s can try to manage their liability by adopting a policy on cell phone use and then enforcing it. A policy should consider the following:
  • Directing employees to comply with all applicable state and local laws governing cell phone use. Banning cell phone use while driving.
  • Requiring employees to use hands-free devices while driving.
  • Providing company cell phones with hands free features.
  • Prohibiting the use of text message and e-mail features while driving.
  • Requiring employees to pull over to take phone calls.
  • Instructing employees to avoid or to terminate phone calls involving stressful or emotional conversations.
  • Limiting the scope of job descriptions for some positions exclude using cell phones while driving.
  • Prohibiting cell phone use in adverse weather or difficult traffic conditions.
  • Restricting driver cell phone use to brief conversations.
  • Emphasizing safety while taking phone calls on the road.