Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Don't Text and Drive!

The press has widely reported the perils of using a cell phone while driving. Certainly, every company whose employees travel by car in the scope of their employment should have a policy that prohibits the use of a cell phone while driving. There have been recent cases where employers have been held liable for injuries suffered by persons involved in accidents caused by the employee's cell phone use.

Some states prohibit cell phone use while driving unless a driver is using a hands free device. Unfortunately, Georgia has yet to regulate cell phone use. Studies have shown that it is a distraction and can cut down on reaction times while driving. Since employers have a duty to keep their employees safe, they should implement policies to prevent needless cell phone related accidents.

Of course, cell phone use goes beyond being on the phone. With the increase use of smart phones, persons are just as likely to be text messaging as they are to be on the phone with someone. Text messaging while driving can be more dangerous than talking on a cell phone because it usually requires both hands to type, as well as looking down at the smart phone (and not at the road). In response to "texting while driving", several states have completely banned the practice by drivers. These states are: Alaska, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington. Unlike many seat belt laws, most of the states that have banned text messaging while driving make it a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can stop a driver for the offense (as opposed to secondary, where the police can pull a driver over for something like a broken tail light and then can add an offense such as texting or not wearing a seat belt).

So, companies should amend their policies and procedures to address "texting while driving", particularly where state law addresses the subject.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Do you give notice when you layoff employees?

The obligation to give notice of a layoff depends upon whether the company is engaging in a mass or group layoff or a single layoff situation. If the WARN Act applies to the layoff in a group layoff situation (or more typically, where a plant or location completely closes down), that can require a 60-day notification to all effected employees.

State law may address this issue as well, but this typically falls into a question of an employer's comfort level with the employees and how they will react to the layoff. Assuming that it is one person effected by the layoff, would giving advance notice to that person result in possible sabotage? Would it cause the person to lack productivity until his/her last day of work? Does it create a security risk because that person has access to sensitive information?

In some case, an employer might consider some giving as a courtesy to the employee to allow him/her a jump on finding other employment (which could also cut down on the length of an unemployment claim).

Finally, an employer can offer a severance package which would typically be under the condition that the employee have at least 21 days to consider the offer (assuming it would be in compliance with the ADEA and the OWPBA). The last date of employment can be a future date or be in the past. In this sense, a severance package can be used to provide advance notice of a layoff.