Employees Hang-up: Cell Phone Use While Driving A Risk to Employers

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A new study, recently released by the British Medical Journal and supported by additional evidence from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, showed that drivers using phones are four times as likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. Many drivers are well aware of the associated risks with this activity, but what many employers do not know is that they can be held responsible for any injuries or damages caused by an employee while making business-related calls.

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Top Master Inc., a wholesale fabricator of countertop materials for commercial and home use located in the Kansas City Metro area, took key steps to address the issue of cell phone use for business purposes while driving. With Top Master Inc. having issued more than 70 cell phone/walkie-talkies to employees and with more than half on the road each day, the need was there to respond quickly and thoroughly to protect their own risk and the risks of their clients as well.

Founded by Tim Hovey, Top Master has grown from a one-person operation to an organization with more than 200 employees, two Kansas City manufacturing facilities and a second location in Wichita, KS. With this growth came an obvious need to update personnel policy and procedure to address key issues such as cell phone usage. They turned to Power Group Benefits for assistance.

Power Group Benefits, a full service insurance agency serving the greater Kansas City area, offers area employers access to Compliance Check™, a series of audits, recommendations, and implementation strategies designed to protect their clients from potential lawsuits that can be mitigated with appropriate personnel policies and procedures. By using Compliance Check, Power Group Benefits can audit their client's employee manual – or help draft one – to ensure their policies and procedures give employees the information they need, and minimize their risk exposure. For Top Masters Inc., Power Group Benefits drafted a completely new employee manual, making sure that the clause on cell phone usage was included and brought to their attention.

Like Colleen Martin, human resources manager at Top Master, many companies and their employees simply are unaware of this particular issue. "I had heard the rumblings, that cell phone use might be banned, but until we had our employee manual audited, I had no idea we could be liable," says Martin.

"The whole idea of Compliance Check is to protect the employer from potential trouble they might not even be aware of. You don't want your wakeup call coming in the form of a lawsuit," says Chip Power of Power Group Benefits.

And the lawsuits are out there. In 2001, an Arkansas lumber company, Dykes Industries, lost a $21 million lawsuit after a 78-year-old woman was struck and disabled by a Dykes salesman who was using his phone for a sales call at the exact time of the accident. The case was later settled for $16.2 million. In another known case, the investment firm Smith Barney paid a $500,000 settlement to the family of a motorcyclist killed in Pennsylvania by one of its brokers. The employee had been making a sales call at the time of the accident. Although Smith Barney had not provided the cell phone, the plaintiffs argued that the company encouraged its brokers to make calls outside normal business hours to reach potential customers. With lawsuits such as these springing up, companies are beginning to take a closer look at their employee manuals.

"When I heard the dollar amounts of the lawsuits, I was stunned. It's nice to know we're protected," says Dale Brehm, controller at Top Master.

Power Group Benefits' goal with Compliance Check is to help companies prevent the risks associated with these and other issues before it's too late. "We have a dozen sales people who spend quite a bit of time on the road. Cell phone safety is an issue for us, and it's an issue for our clients," says Power. "We added the clause to our own employee manual and then we took the message to our clients."

Power Group Benefits is a full service insurance agency specializing in employee benefits. They have been serving the Greater Kansas City Area for more than 30 years. Power Group Benefits is the only agency in the Greater Kansas City area to offer Compliance Check. Other covered areas include FMLA, EEOC, sexual harassment, and many, many more.

For more information, contact:

Peter Hendrixson

Director of Marketing

Power Group Benefits

10800 Farley, Suite 165

Overland Park, KS 66210

Phone: 800-847-0038

Fax: 913-491-6379


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Peter Hendrixson