My Gifts To You This Holiday Season

As the end of the year draws near, I thought it would be a good idea to update some of my earlier posts with new information that may bring joy, or at least some measure of happiness to my readers.

First, for those employers who are concerned about the new overtime rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor this past summer (click here for my blog post), which would mandate a minimum salary of $921 a week or $47,892 a year for an employee to qualify as exempt from overtime pay, it looks like that rule will not take effect, if at all, until sometime in the summer of 2016, instead of January as originally predicted.  As you might expect, there were a lot of comments filed about that new rule, over 300,000.  The Department of Labor is required to consider all of them before it can finalize its proposed rule.  Also, as you might expect, many of those comments were critical of the substantial increase in the required minimum salary for exempt status, to the point that some commentators are predicting that the minimum salary in the final rule will be lower than what was originally proposed.   For now, employers can take a break over the Holiday Season from worrying about how they will be able to afford to pay a higher minimum salary to their exempt employees.

Although the next item on my gift list may not bring joy or happiness to any employers, it will put them on notice of a little known change made by the 2015 Georgia General Assembly to the statute that prohibits texting while driving a motor vehicle.  In a post over three years ago, I explained the parameters of that prohibition, which did not include the use of a mobile telephone to have a conversation while driving.  In a change to that statute that became effective on May 12, 2015, holding a “wireless telecommunications device” by the driver of a “commercial motor vehicle” to conduct a voice communication was prohibited.  With some exceptions, a “commercial motor vehicle” is any motor vehicle used to transport persons or property that (i) has a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds, (ii) is designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or (iii)  is transporting hazardous materials and is required to be placarded by federal law.  As noted in an article I wrote that is referenced in my earlier blog post, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a regulation in January 2012 banning the use of “hand held mobile telephones” by drivers of commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate commerce or transporting hazardous materials.

O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.2(b)(2) extends that prohibition to the drivers of commercial motor vehicles within the State of Georgia who are not otherwise engaged in interstate commerce.  For those drivers who have a hands free way to use their wireless telecommunication device, that statute goes on to prohibit the use of more than one button to initiate or terminate a voice communication.  The new statute also prohibits a driver from reaching for such a device in a manner that results in the driver no longer being “in a seated driving position properly restrained by a safety belt.”

Violation of the above statute is a misdemeanor, but the penalty is only a $150 fine.  However, in the same bill that made the above changes to that statute, a new section was added to O.C.G.A. 40-5-159 that imposes a civil fine of up to $2,750.00 on any driver convicted of violating the prohibition on the use of a mobile telephone.  More importantly for employers, that new code section imposes a civil penalty of up to $11,000 on them if they knowingly allow, require, or authorize a driver to violate that prohibition.

Finally, for those employers, or anyone else for that matter, who are looking for technology to make their life easier that doesn’t cost a lot of money, click here for an article on 25 free ways to use Google services.  It’s hard to beat free, especially when the provider is as well known and respected as Google.


Ride Sharing Coverage Gaps

Last Spring, I wrote a couple of articles that dealt with the insurance requirements imposed by the Georgia legislature for all Transportation Network Companies (think Uber and Lyft) and their drivers and the new endorsements issued by the Insurance Services Office for personal auto policies that addressed the use of personal autos to provide ridesharing services.  The effective date for the new insurance requirements is January 1, 2016.  Reminding your personal auto insurance customers of those requirements and their options to satisfy them would be a good way to give added value to your customers and could be a nice Christmas present for them (and you) if your markets have developed products that offer the required coverages.

However, a recent article in the IA Newsletter pointed out that, even if your customers who participate in ride share services get the insurance coverage required by Georgia law, either on their own or through the ride share service they work with, there will still be a significant gap in coverage.  This gap arises from the fact that the law’s required insurance coverages are all liability coverages.  Providing coverage for comprehensive and collision risks, as well as medical payments and uninsured/underinsured motorists, is left up to the discretion of the driver or his or her ride share company.

The new endorsement issued by ISO for its basic personal auto policy specifically exempts the time period during which the insured is logged into a Transportation Network’s Company’s system from medical payments and comprehensive and collision damage coverage, as well as liability coverage.  While two other endorsements permit such coverages to be added to the policy while the insured is logged into a Transportation Network Company’s system, neither of those endorsements covers the time period that a passenger is actually in the insured’s motor vehicle.   Thus, while a passenger is in the insured’s motor vehicle, there is no medical payments, comprehensive or collision damage, or uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.  This is a significant gap in coverage that could be very costly to the insured if he or she were to be involved in an accident during that time period.

Now would be a good time to let your personal auto insurance customers know about the upcoming insurance requirements imposed on them if they are working with a Transportation Network Company and the gaps in coverage that will result if they do only what the law requires.