Over the past two years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) has sought to expand significantly the reach of the General Duty Clause by issuing citations to employers for workplace violence and ergonomics issues. This expansion will soon reach another area: distracted driving. The agency plans to issue General Duty Clause citations to companies whose employees text while driving. This promise comes directly from the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels: "When OSHA receives a credible complaint that an employer requires texting while driving or who organizes work so that texting is a practical necessity, we will investigate and where necessary issue citations and penalties to end this practice." If you have employees who respond to hundreds of e-mails a day, with rapid response times required, and who frequently or occasionally travel during work time as part of their duties, you may receive a visit or an inquiry from OSHA. The impact on employers could be significant. According to a recent Pew Research Poll, 27% percent of all adults admit to texting while driving. Most troubling is the assertion that the agency will cite employers that "create incentives that encourage or condone" texting while driving. Employers that do not "condone" the practice may still receive citations if the agency concludes that an employer that expects fast responses to calls or e-mails thereby "encourages" employees who are driving to respond to texts or e-mails, instead of using a hands-free device or pulling off the road.
Employers can most effectively protect themselves from this enforcement effort by implementing and enforcing strong policies against the practice of texting while driving. Employees should be required to sign a policy explicitly stating they agree not to text while driving during work time, either as part of an employee handbook or when they receive any company-issued cell phone or texting device. Further, any employees found to be texting while driving during work time should be disciplined, up to and including termination.