Best practices for business enforcement of mobile device use policy
Creating a Company Policy
Creation of a company policy regarding wireless device use by those operating vehicles while working is crucial in protecting the company from claims arising out of accidents involving mobile device use. As technology continues to develop, the policy should clearly indicate that it is meant to cover not just wireless phones (including smart phones), but all portable electronic devices, including music players, tablets, and GPS units. The language of the policy should clearly indicate under what conditions these devices can or cannot be used by employees while they are driving. Consider whether you want the policy to apply to both hands-free and hand-held devices, and indicate this within the policy language itself.
At a minimum, any policy enacted by your company must at least require compliance with the applicable federal, state, or municipal laws regarding wireless device use in any location your employee will be driving. To ensure that your policy meets these requirements of the law in your jurisdiction, you should meet with your legal counsel to review all fleet policies and procedures prior to implementation. This review should include a discussion of the real-world job duties of your employees who operate motor vehicles on the job, including where those employees drive, why they must drive, and what your understanding is with respect to their current wireless device usage.
It is important to make the language of the wireless device policy as clear as possible. This will help your employees understand the directives of the policy, which will likely increase your ability to enforce it.
Accessibility and Enforcement
While it may seem obvious, it is important that all drivers are provided and have easy access to a copy of the full policy. The policy is most likely to be followed when it is accessible both through the language used within it, and the methods in which it is provided to your employees.
It is not just the employees who drive that will need to be aware of the conditions and directives of the policy. It is important that managers have a thorough understanding of the policy and considerations that went into making it. Managers should take the time to supervise the drivers to ensure that they both understand and are following the policy.
Further, managers will need to understand that there may be situations in which they cannot reach the employees by phone or text message immediately, due to restrictions in wireless phone use contained in the policy. Managers must be instructed to remain flexible in those situations and to prioritize and reinforce the importance of employees following the policy as directed. Under no circumstances should managers suggest that employees should violate the policy in order to be more accessible.
Communication of the policy can be enhanced and strengthened through a variety of methods. Ideas you may consider include:
- Posting bulletin boards containing information relating to the policy prominently in areas where drivers can easily view them.
- Making copies of the policy readily available should an employee request one.
- Reviewing the document with your employees on a yearly basis.
- Having your employees acknowledge receipt and review of the document with a signature.
- Emphasizing these responsibilities in performance evaluations, salary administration, and promotion.
Each company will be different in the ways they are best able to communicate and provide information to their employees. Find the method that works for you, and continue to work to ensure that your drivers are able to understand and have access to your policy regarding mobile find use.
You should take affirmative action, whether it be the suggestions above or other steps, to confirm your employees are complying with the policy. Companies may not be legally protected if they adopt a wireless device policy but take no steps to enforce it. Shielding yourself from liability involves both having a policy and doing your best to make sure your employees who drive actually obey it. A policy that exists on paper alone likely will not be enough.
All drivers should be trained on the mobile phone use policy. Consider providing the policy to a new employee on their first day. This will emphasize the importance of the policy and your company’s desire to follow through with it. Experienced employees should also have remedial training. Document the training to provide a record that the employees have received such information. It is also important to educate the drivers on the purpose behind the policy, specifically the safety concerns for themselves and others on the road.
Training should also be reinforced through evaluations. Performance reviews should be ongoing, with managers engaging in discussions with their employees as to their understanding of the policy and following of protocol. Notwithstanding an ongoing review system, drivers should be subject to a periodic formal review.
It will be important to recognize that for some employees, this policy will force them to change deeply ingrained habits. This change could be stressful for some employees, as they try to shift their approach to driving without the use of communication devices. Prior to enforcement of the policy, give your employees an opportunity to discuss potential barriers with management. This might relieve some stress employees may have, and reinforce the importance of their understanding and follow-through.
Journey Management Planning
An important consideration to be made is in adjusting the timing and planning of business trips to reflect the policy. Try to factor allow for rest stops during business trips so that employees have time to check their email and voice messages. The company could avoid scheduling conference calls during peak travel times, like early mornings and late afternoons, so that employees won’t feel pressured to call in while en route. You could even include signs in conference rooms reminding the employees to ask when calling participants if they are in a location where they can talk safely.
Enforcement of your company’s mobile device policy can be aided by the devices themselves. Companies have begun developing software applications that can be installed on wireless devices that monitor and restrict an employee’s use of the device while driving.
Recently, companies have begun developing software applications that can be installed on smart phones that seek to monitor and restrict an employee’s use of the handset while driving. Certain of these programs can monitor the speed of drivers, log any violations of applicable traffic violations, and alert drivers of traffic regulations. Further, software applications can block incoming messages, responding with a customizable message to the sender that the driver is driving, and therefore unavailable. Software solutions have also been developed that can prevent drivers from texting, emailing, and web browsing while driving. These programs can also restrict phone use while driving to hands-free use, if the employer so elects. Further, some software solutions can automatically detect when an employee is driving, so that any functions of the device the employer wants to block from operating do not require the employee to use the “honor system” to engage those blocks.
We expect software solutions such as those described above will become increasingly popular in fleets around the country and that many more software solutions will become available. The software presents the opportunity for the employer to demonstrate that not only have they adopted a policy on wireless phone use, but they also have taken affirmative steps to ensure the policy is obeyed. As such, these software programs may become a critical component in managing the risk associated with distracted driving by company employees.
The foregoing is not legal advice. Employers are advised to consult counsel with respect to developing and enforcing policies regarding wireless device use.
*Markel Specialty is a business division of Markel Service, Incorporated, the underwriting manager for the Markel affiliated insurance companies.