Are Your Employees Putting You At Risk When They Drive While Gabbing?

August 18, 2005
Potential liability continues to grow for employers. Some have recently been found liable for car accidents caused, at least in part, by an employee's use of a cell phone to conduct business while driving. Generally, employers are liable for the negligence of their employees, but only if the employees are acting within the scope of employment at the time of the negligent act. If an employee is participating in a work-related phone call (for example, checking in with the office, or setting up an appointment with a customer), that conduct may qualify as acting within the scope of employment.

The sky is the limit in these cases, and your insurance coverage may be inadequate or inapplicable. One employer settled a recent case with a woman who was struck and disabled by an employee making a sales call at the time of the accident for $16,000,000. A jury in Virginia recently assessed $2,000,000 in damages against an employee who was talking to a client when she struck and killed a 15-year old girl. The employer in that case settled with the victim's family for an undisclosed amount prior to trial.

Studies indicate that as many as 73% of people with cell phones use them while driving. The risk of a collision when using a cell phone is four times higher than the risk when a cell phone is not being used. In an attempt to minimize liability, many employers are beginning to address the use of cell phones in their written policies. You may (and probably should) have a policy that prohibits the use of cell phones to conduct business while driving. The policy must be appropriately distributed and employees should acknowledge they received and understood the policy. But, you can't simply rest easy once a policy is in place. As is true of all employment policies, enforcement is critical. Employers must monitor the policy's effectiveness and have penalties in place for workers that violate it. These steps may help prevent cell phone-related accidents, not to mention reduce the liability risk for employers.