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The Impact on Employers of the New Mobile phone Ban

Published 01 Oct 2009

Many businesses rely on a mobile workforce that is able to work on the move. This usually includes the use of mobile phones and/or PDA's to keep in touch with colleagues and clients while out of the office.

From 1 November it will be unlawful to use a handheld mobile phone while driving. This includes talking, texting or emailing on any portable electronic device and will apply to all vehicles, commercial and private.

There will be several exceptions to this prohibition:
  • Mobile phones may be used with an appropriate hands-free arrangement, provided this does not require the pressing of more than one button to make, receive or terminate a call.
  • Using a mobile phone as a satellite navigation aid while driving will remain legal after Transport Minister Steven Joyce slapped down an officials' ban.
  • Many 'smart phones' now come with GPS chips and road maps installed that allow them to work as SatNavs. These may be used for navigating, provided they are mounted in the vehicle and are manipulated infrequently.
  • Two-way radios are allowed.
  • Mobile phones may be used by a driver when the vehicle has stopped - but not when it is stopped in traffic (including at traffic lights).
  • A 111 call in a genuine emergency is allowed.
  • The prohibition will not apply to enforcement officers.
  • The penalty for breach is an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.
Employer's Obligations to Employees.

Health and safety obligations:

Employers have always had to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of their employees while at work. This included maintaining a safe working environment and dealing appropriately with workplace hazards. A “place of work” includes any vehicle in which an employee performs their work.

As of 1 November 2009, the use of a mobile phone or equivalent while driving can be interpreted as a hazard. Employers will therefore have to take all practicable steps to ensure employees comply with the prohibition on mobile phone use while driving.

An employer should ensure all employees who are required to drive as part of their job are aware of the change to the law. Employees who are expected to use a mobile phone while driving should be provided with a compliant hands-free device or alternative arrangements made. At a practical level, employers should not encourage breaches of the law, for example, by ringing employees who are known to be driving and who do not have compliant hands-free arrangements.


If an employee uses a mobile device while driving, their employer may have grounds to commence disciplinary action.

This would depend on whether the employer had a motor vehicle use policy. This should include:
  • the amendments and include a specific prohibition on mobile phone use in breach of the law;
  • state that it is an employee's obligation to pay any fine incurred; and
  • an employee's obligation notify their employer of any instances of breach