Remote workforces are slowly becoming more mainstream, and people are communicating in more unique ways. Some work from home with a local phone number, and others complete tasks at a nearby Starbucks with a virtual phone number. What if an employee is on-the-clock, engaged in a sales call, and he or she gets into an accident on the road? Companies are beginning to wonder if they can be held liable for such damages. That’s why it’s important to make sure your team has a policy for when and where work is acceptable.
The Importance of Creating a Call Policy
When it comes to law, employers (not the employees) are liable for behavior and damages when an employee is on the clock. This is true even when the employer neither intends any harm nor plays any physical role in it. Why does it work this way?
In the eyes of the law, employers direct and influence employee behavior. Just as an employer can benefit from an employee’s work ethic by the way of profit, they can also be afflicted with negative consequences. Additionally, a lawyer will more likely pursue damages from an employer than from an employee because an employer has deeper pockets. That’s why having a clear policy for on-the-go employees and telecommuters is essential.
Set Clear Boundaries for Use
An essential tenet of any policy is making sure employees are clear on the expectations regarding work devices. While it may seem like common sense to use work devices only for work purposes, you’ll want an explicitly written policy for legal reasons. Consider this as an example: an employee is driving home from work and uses his work device to call his mother. While he’s on the phone, he gets into a serious car accident, injuring himself and another driver. If you don’t have a clear company policy, a jury may still find you liable for damages because you didn’t establish clear guidelines for misuse.
Put together a Team
When you sit down to formulate a call policy, assemble a team from different departments. Having a member from human resources is essential, but so is having IT staff present; cell phones become more technologically advanced with each passing year, and these individuals can lend invaluable advice on the daily interactions workers will have with a company’s equipment. It’s equally important to have your company’s legal counsel on hand to create and sign any documentation. When it comes to liability, you don’t want to leave any stone unturned, and an attorney can help you identify any holes in your policy.
Let Calls Go to Voicemail
When you’re dealing with employees on-the-go, emphasize that it’s okay to let calls go to voicemail when they’re on the road. A recent Pew study found that 24% of people feel obligated to take a call, even if it interrupts something. Emphasize that voicemail can be a safe and effective alternative to taking calls anywhere, anytime. Employee safety is your top priority, especially if you want to avoid any liability issues in the future.
Know What Information to Divulge in Public
When you have company employees that like to work in public places, make sure you have an explicit policy about what you can and cannot share in public. If you’re in health care, for example, you won’t want your employees to divulge any patient information that could be in violation of HIPPA laws. Similarly, if you’re in a financial field, you’ll need to be careful that employees aren’t having conversations about sensitive data like credit scores or social security numbers. Include in your policy what kind of information is allowed in public and which conversations you should continue privately from home or the office.
Talking, Texting, and Driving
There are currently a number of states that specifically forbid cell phone use while driving. Even if you don’t live in one of these states, it’s best to forbid cell phone use on the road while on the clock, especially if your employees use company vehicles. If you’re in an industry like construction, this should also include supervising the use of or using heavy machinery.
By following a few simple guidelines, you can save your company the hassle of fighting any lawsuits down the road. With an explicitly outlined policy drafted and approved by legal counsel, your company can be assured your employees will be safe, and your company won’t be liable for any damages. Don’t take this step for granted – it can cause undue stress down the road.