Mobile tech raises safety, wage-and-hour compliance problems.

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Despite rising energy costs and flat wage growth, employee productivity continues to grow. Much of that productivity growth is due to businesses and employees utilizing modern technology--a trend that raises important liability issues affecting safety and overtime compliance.

On the road, on the phone

Before encouraging employees to take business calls on the road or handing out smartphones, tablets and other connected devices, employers should be aware of risks they must address.

Virtually all your employees own smartphones, and many of them use them to take and make workrelated calls. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of all workplace fatalities in 2016--the most recent year for which data are available--involved transportation incidents. Not surprisingly, many of those accidents involved employees' use of phone while driving. Some recent examples:

* International Paper Co. agreed to pay $5.2 million to settle a personal-injury lawsuit related to an employee's use of her company cell phone while driving.

* Dykes Industries, an Arkansas lumber company, was held liable when an employee who was on his phone during a sales call struck another car, injuring a 79-year-old woman. The company reportedly settled the case for $16 million.

* An attorney taking a business call while driving hit and killed a teenage girl. A $30 million lawsuit was filed against the law firm on behalf of the deceased. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Policy on phoning while driving

Given the potential liability risks, employers should carefully consider what message they send to their employees about business-related cell phone use. An outright ban on cell phone use by employees while driving is unlikely to be effective. However, all employers should implement clear, written policies and safety guidelines to keep employees safe and mitigate potential liability.

Consider including some or all of the following elements in your cell phone use policy:

* Require the use of hands-free cell phones while driving.

* Direct employees to comply with applicable state law governing cell phone use. Note that Pennsylvania does not have a law forbidding hand-held cell phone use while driving. Therefore, complying with state law alone may not be sufficient to avoid liability related to accidents involving employees working within the Commonwealth.

* Require employees to pull their cars over to take phone calls.

* Prohibit employees from picking up...

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