Having Your Service Techs on the Phone While Driving is a Liability
We all know how dangerous, talking/texting while driving can be, however most of us don’t know of the hidden liability we as business owners incur if our employees do it while working.
Contractors especially ones in the service side of the business rely heavily on service technicians that are married to their cell phone. Well things are changing rapidly regarding the new federal regulations prohibiting commercial drivers from using any hand held phones while driving. Fines up to $2,750.00 are being issued for individual drivers with the potential to lose their CMV license, to add to that pain is the fact that fines up to $11,000.00 can be issued to employers who “require or allow” their drivers to use hand held phones while driving.
So you say you don’t have licensed truck drivers in your employ, well CMV drivers aren’t the only ones who need to take heed of these new laws. Any employee driving a company vehicle or personal vehicle doing company business can make you liable as well. That’s pretty scary stuff. Here are some things you as a business owner need to know regarding a term called Vicarious Liability:
- Business owners will generally be held liable for injuries to third parties caused by their workers within the scope of their employment. This applies whether the employee is driving a company owned or a personal vehicle.
- What is considered to be “within the scope of employment” will differ for each employee, but generally if it’s something a manager authorizes the employee to do, or it is necessary for the employee to carry out or his or her job function, it fits.
- The business owner does not even need to be aware of what the employee is doing when they are involved in an incident, as long as the activity is related to the employment. An exception to this rule is when an employee commits an intentional bad act, or when they deviate so far from work-related activities that they are no longer considered acting on behalf of the company.
As you can see the last bullet point is open for interpretation, but rest assured it will be a tough battle to fight. As a business owner these are very critical issues with a potential to alter our day to day operations. Think of it this way, if you as a company carry a 10 million dollar umbrella policy (which is a fairly large umbrella for a small mechanical/plumbing contracting business), how quickly do you think your insurance would be eclipsed with a severe accident involving multiple vehicles? Answer : Real quick, so you may be one accident away from losing your business and personal assets.
What can you do? Immediately change your company policy prohibiting use of all hand held phones. The next thing and it’s a cheap fix, outfit every one of your employees that drive to perform company functions with blue tooth enabled cell phones and purchase blue tooth earpieces for those employees. If you want to get fancy have all vehicles (even personal vehicles) outfitted with hands free speakers so when an employee gets a phone call they don’t even have to reach to pick up the call. This removes all variables from the hands free driving equation. Your employee can’t say they didn’t have the earpiece placed in their ear or they were reaching for the phone to answer a company call. It’s cheap insurance.
Thanks for reading and we hope we informed you a bit on some of the new liabilities we as business owner incur on a daily basis.
We would like to give a shout out to Karen Harned, Executive Director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center for the information used to write this article.