What do your workplace policies say about using a cell phone while driving?  For companies with a sales staff, delivery drivers, and couriers for example, there may be a large number of employees on the road every day.

Who pays for traffic tickets when the employee is stopped by police?

Last month, the Ontario government passed Bill 118, a law amending the Highway Traffic Act, banning cell phones, blackberries and other hand-held wireless communication devises while driving.

Man using a hand held mobile phone while driving

Needless to say, bluetooth sales are on the rise.  You can still talk on your cellphone, but it must be handsfree.

While there has been a grace period before the police begin enforcing the new law, on February 1, 2010, police will begin issuing tickets.

If an employee is acting in the course of duty, an employer is vicariously liable for his or her actions.  If an employee is calling into the office on a hand-held cell phone while driving between client appointments, for example, would the employer be responsible for paying for the ticket?  Or worse, if the employee is at fault in a car accident because of talking on the hand-held cell phone, who is liable?

To avoid the disputes about liability and/or who pays for traffic tickets, employers may want to think about revising workplace policies to reflect the new law.  You should expressly forbid employees from using any hand-held devices and indicate directly in the policy that employees are expected to comply with the law.  That way, expectations are clarified between the parties, and should an employee get ticketed for chatting on the phone while driving – whether work related or not – an employer can then point to the workplace policy that prohibited the conduct in the first place.

Perhaps as importantly, you may want to refrain from speaking to your employees by telephone when they are driving, particularly if the company is choosing not to upgrade company cell phones to handsfree technology.  Besides the obvious contribution to unsafe driving, by expecting them to talk to you on the phone while driving, you are essentially condoning the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, making it more difficult to rely on the policy should you need to.

While employers in general remain vicariously liable for the conduct of employees during the course of work, illegal behaviour on the part of an employee that has been expressly addressed in a workplace policy may assist with mitigating the employer’s liability.

What steps have you already taken to deal with this?  Have many of you found that your existing policies already cover this new law?  Are companies simply upgrading company cell phones to make the devices handsfree?