Question:

I know there is a new cell phone law in California, and I keep hearing that employers need to be aware of the changes. I am already pretty strict about letting my employees use cell phones while they’re working, but could you please clarify just what the new law requires, and what changes businesses need to make in order to make sure that they’re in compliance with the law?

Answer:

You’re right that there is new legislation in California regarding the use of cellular telephones while driving. The new law, which was signed by the Governor earlier this year and which goes into effect on July 1, 2008, makes it illegal to use a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle unless the driver is using a hands-free device. Drivers who violate the law will face an initial $20 fine, and a $50 fine for every subsequent offense. In enacting this new law, California will join Connecticut, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and New York in prohibiting the use of handheld mobile phones while driving.

This change in the law is important for everyone in California to be aware of, but is especially relevant for employers with a mobile workforce. If the nature of your business requires that your employees drive while working, you should ensure that your company has a cell phone policy which clearly states that employees may not use cell phones without a hands-free device while driving on company business. Your policy should also make clear that your company is not responsible for any fines that your employees may incur for violating the law, should they choose not to follow the new rules regarding cell phone use while driving.

Many businesses these days provide their employees with cell phones and other items (PDA’s, laptops, etc.) as employment perks. If you are in the habit of providing your employees with company cell phones, you will need to ensure that employees who may be called upon to use their phones while driving are equipped with the necessary hands-free equipment and technology. Your cell phone policy should also state that employees are at all times required to comply with the law when using company-issued cell phones and related equipment.

Employers should also be aware of another piece of legislation that was recently signed into law by the Governor. This law, which also takes effect on July 1 st of next year, prohibits anyone in California under the age of 18 from using cellular phones, text messaging devices, and laptop computers while driving. The under-18 cell phone ban applies regardless of whether the phone is equipped for hands-free use. While this new law probably has limited applicability to most employers, those who do employ young people under the age of 18 should be aware of these restrictions. If your business regularly employs individuals under the age of 18, your cell phone policy should include a statement that any use of cell phones, text messaging devices, or laptops by those under the age of 18 while driving on company time is strictly prohibited.

Regardless of whether your cell phone policy is intended to address just the hands-free issue, or both the hands-free and under-18 rules, your policy should state once again that your business is not responsible for any fines incurred as a result of the employee’s own misconduct. The policy should also inform your employees that they may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination, for not following the policy.
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