Safety and OSHA News

Cell phones: What is a company’s liability?

Scenario: A company requires employees to sign an agreement to not use cell phones while driving for business. Despite that, the company dispatcher regularly calls drivers on their cell phones. What’s the company’s liability if there’s a crash?

This question was posted on Boston.com. The website consulted Rachelle Green, an attorney specializing in employment law at a Providence, RI, law firm.

In a nutshell, Green says in this case, the company would probably be liable.

“It doesn’t matter how good written policies are if they are not consistently enforced,” Green said. “Courts will generally give little weight to such policies when offered in the company’s defense.”

This isn’t just Green’s opinion. She points out several courts across the country have refused to dismiss cases arising from crashes allegedly caused by employees’ work-related cell phone use. This even includes employees handling calls on the ride to and from work and not actually on the clock.

So here’s the question: What happens when you have to communicate with drivers while they’re in vehicles? Long before cell phones, truck drivers regularly communicated via CB radios. Are we just more conscious today of crashes caused when drivers are occupied with something other than driving? Have we become less willing to allow employees to take that risk? Are hands-free headsets the answer?

Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.

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Comments

  1. This is definately a problem. They don’t want you to talk on the phone while driving, but if you don’t answer right when they call you, they go straight into labor and have the cow. Go figure.

  2. Ed Montijo says:

    First of all both parties should use their heads, dispatcher knows where driver is
    going too, leave a message for him or her to call in when the driver arrives at pick
    place. No pick up is that important, that both drivers be put in danger.
    Eduardo Montijo

  3. Because of modern technology, there are phones that can be programmed for specific ring tones to identify the caller. Businesses can have a special ring tone to their employees, letting the employee know they are receiving a call from the dispatcher or even a second ring tone for the owner/supervisor. Then they can pull off the road or if near to their next stop, call upon arrival at destination. That way the company can feel confident that the employee knows there is a call for them, and the employee can feel safe and confident that if they return the call as promptly as possible they won’t be getting “called” on the carpet for not answering their phone.

  4. Sharon,

    Once you have a Nextel or other phone with direct connect, those options are off the table. People get used to the immediate response these devices usually give them. I have worked for several large businesses and all have abused the direct connect alert on these phones to a point that you cannot help but answer the call. What happens is that if you place them in queue to silence the alert, they will immediately re-alert you. This process will repeat over and over until ultimately you answer the call. Once you do actually answer the call, then you get grilled and chastised about why you did not immediately answer their call, because of course their immediate needs always outweigh your need for safety. These electronic leashes are both a blessing and a curse, hopefully more blessings than curses.

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