Cell phones and multitasking is a way of life for most employees. 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 – including employees in company identified vehicles - texting at stoplights or talking on cell phones while driving. Although the prohibition of “distracted driving” is clear, employers who issue company cell phones or who contact employees who are in transit may be sending mixed signals to their 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.
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.
As with any policy, merely having it is not enough. 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 organization’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.