By Steve Yahn, who has been a reporter and editor for national publications.
With the National Safety Council estimating that about 1.2 million auto accidents per year -- one quarter of all accidents -- involve cell phone usage, more and more companies are not waiting for lawmakers to pass legislation against using cell phones while driving, they're taking matters into their own hands.
A lot of companies struggle, however, because they're looking for a universal policy on cell phone use while driving, but technology doesn?t lend itself to that, said Jason C. Gavejian, attorney with Jackson Lewis in Morristown, N.J.
Gavejian and other experts who work with companies to develop cell phone and texting policies said that businesses need to first assess how technology is used in their workplace on a daily basis.
Michael McAuliffe Miller, partner at Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott LLC in Harrisburg, Pa., cited the example of cell phone usage in a manufacturing setting where mobile phones aren't mandated for use on the work floor but do come into play in the work day. Manufacturers in that case would want to create a policy banning their use in certain, danger-prone work areas.
Companies are increasingly concerned about traffic accidents caused by employees using corporate cell phones, an occurrence, that due to the degree of negligence involved, McAuliffe Miller called "the black eye to corporations."
"So many employers I deal with are limiting employees' access to cell phones," he said. "Clearly there is a potential liability to the company if they allow employees to have rampant use of mobile phones while they're driving."
One large corporation that has benefitted from a strict zero-tolerance policy when it comes to cell phone-while-driving usage is Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway Foods, which has the largest fleet of trucks west of the Mississippi and has had a ban on the use of cell phones while driving for years.
"It's extraordinarily important that all cell phones are not to be used under any circumstances by employees while driving," said William M. Zachry, vice president of risk management at the company, which has 180,000 employees.
"We're very strict about enforcing the policy," he added. "What we do is whenever there's an accident with one of our employees involved we check the cell phone to make sure the driver wasn't using it."
As a result of this tough enforcement policy, Safeway has what Zachry called an "extraordinary" safety regard with its trucking fleet, which numbers 170,000 vehicles. "Our Department of Transportation number of injuries per million miles traveled is extremely low and our frequency of accidents and number of fatalities likewise are very low."
Perhaps the most critical factor in drafting company texting and cell phone usage policies is to give reasonable guidance to their employees.
"I absolutely recommend having a published copy of the policies," said McAuliffe Miller. "It's critical not only to have a policy but to be able to prove you showed that policy to somebody."
A company that doesn't do that might as well not have a policy at all, he added.
Posting the policy on the company's Web site and e-mailing it to employees is a good way to supplement more traditional routes like including it in the company handbook.
Another way to spread the word about a corporate cell phone and texting policy is through training programs. "We recommend that a company conduct a brief training session for employees and that really has been a helpful piece of the communication program," said Gavejian.
Employers should also have employees sign the policy, said Alan Sklover, an employee rights attorney and founding partner of Sklover & Donath in New York.
With regard to cell phone and texting policies, by law an employee owes a "duty of care" to his employer, said Sklover, meaning the employee must protect the employer's interests.
Sklover said a violation of that duty would be grounds for termination, noting that employees may also lose severance or be unable to collect unemployment after being fired for violating the cell phone policy.
As a large employer and a large cell phone service carrier, AT&T has an expansive corporate cell phone and texting policy.
The company engaged nearly 250,000 employees and revised company policies to include its "Texting & Driving?It Can Wait" campaign. It includes:
* Creating a Youth Advisory Council made up of AT&T employees' teen children. Over the past two years, the teens tested tactics to promote the campaign in their own schools, and helped build a downloadable toolkit.
* In 2,200 company-owned AT&T retail stores, the company has incorporated a don't-text-and-drive message on the protective clings for new devices and in-store video and overhead announcements.
* Branding 2,000-plus company vans and trucks across 50 top markets with the "It Can Wait" message.
* Developing an anti-texting-while-driving pledge as a call-to-action for the public and employees to show their commitment to ending the behavior. Across AT&T's Facebook, Family and Friends and employee pages, 111,000-plus individuals have committed to the cause to date.
* Donating $1.25 million to third-party safety organizations such as the National Organizations for Youth Safety.
* Created a resource center offering a wide variety of downloadable educational resources.
In terms of internal anti-texting policy, AT&T revised its motor vehicle policies to expressly forbid texting while driving, said Andrea Brands, the company's director of consumer safety and education.
When there is a violation of company policy, each case is reviewed individually. However, AT&T employees who violate the company motor vehicle policy are subject to having their use of a company vehicles revoked.
"Our employees are required to review our policies periodically," Brands added. "Employees who drive as part of their job are also required to take refresher defensive driving classes."
In those classes the company specifically incorporates a section on the dangers of texting while driving.
Management employees are required to be familiar with, and comply with, all local laws and ordinances prior to using a wireless device while operating a motor vehicle for company business, Brands added.
June 4, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications