Costly Conversations – Does Your Company Have a Cell Phone Use Policy?

Do your employees use cell phones to conduct business when they are driving? If the answer is yes, your company should adopt a policy that either prohibits cell phone use while driving or minimizes the risk associated with it. Cell phones have become a required travel accessory for many individuals and nearly 60 million Americans use them for business and personal calls. As with many technological advances, cell phone use by employees offers companies both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, they increase productivity and efficiency for employees on the move. On the other hand, employee use of cell phones while they are driving increases their risk of involvement in a vehicle accident as well as increasing their employer’s exposure to lawsuits as a result of those accidents.

Recent studies report a correlation between cell phone use and vehicle accidents. A 1997 New England Journal of Medicine study concluded that the risk of collision is four times higher during cell phone use. Having a valued employee injured in an accident that happened when they were talking on the phone while driving is bad enough. To make things worse, there is an emerging trend to also sue the employer as the result of accidents caused by employee work-related cell phone use. In fact, one lawsuit resulted in a $500,000 settlement that was paid by the employer of a driver who had an accident while engaged in a work-related telephone call.

Companies must weigh the benefits against the risks in deciding whether to institute a blanket prohibition against cell phone use versus less restrictive measures designed to protect the company. Regardless of which direction you take, you should adopt a written policy. The easiest way to avoid exposure is to prohibit employees from using cell phones while driving. A more restrictive policy might only allow use of a cell phone while the car is parked and the engine is off. However, this may not be a practical solution for many employers due to business concerns.

A less restrictive policy might allow use of a cell phone while driving but impose common sense rules. For example, employees should keep conversations brief, avoid unnecessary calls, and no calls should be made if driving is hazardous. Further, if the employee needs to read or write while taking the call, he/she should pull off the road. Employees should also take time to become familiar with the use of the various cell phone functions and the cell phone should be placed where it is easy to see and reach. In addition, since cell phone calls might be intercepted, you should advise your employees to be aware and take proper precautions when discussing confidential information on a cell phone.