Business viewpoint: Scooters, rental bikes create new risks for employers

Posted by Charles Middleton on 07/05/2019

If you have spent any time lately around downtown, Cherry Street or Brookside, you have probably seen numerous people riding electric scooters, or seen them parked on sidewalks.

And it is not just scooters; there are also This Machine rentable bikes all over downtown and in popular areas in Tulsa.

These scooters and bikes can be accessed through an app on your smartphone, and you pay small rental fees for use, usually only cents per minute. In barely six months, these new forms of transportation have seemingly appeared out of nowhere and now seem to be everywhere.

Even if you do not believe e-scooters and e-bikes are an urban menace, as some are not shy about proclaiming, it is easy to recognize that the rapid deployment of these new forms of transportation creates new risks for your company and your employees.

Hard evidence is in short supply, but anecdotal evidence from doctors and emergency rooms suggest there has been an increase in injuries related to e-scooters and e-bikes as their popularity and availability have increased.

The Public Health Department of Austin, Texas, recently analyzed injuries that were attributable to e-scooters. Among the findings were that injured scooter riders in Austin ranged in age from 9 to 79 and that one-third of those injured were riding a scooter for the first time. Not surprisingly, the majority of the injuries suffered were to the head and upper body, such as broken bones and abrasions. As the recent tragic fatal accident involving an e-scooter on Riverside Drive demonstrates, the risk of serious injury is real.

Generally, your company is not liable for workers’ compensation or other liability if an employee is injured or injures someone else when commuting to or from work.

Such liability can occur, however, when employees are engaged in work-related business. If one of your employees uses an e-scooter or e-bike to go to a meeting, travel between offices or run a work-related errand, your company could be exposed to a workers’ compensation claim if the employee is injured while doing so. Your company could also be liable if your employee injuries someone else during the course of a business activity.

Given these risks, some companies have adopted policies prohibiting all employees from using e-scooters or e-bikes for business use or even during regular business hours.

If your company does not want to fully prohibit their use, you should modify any existing policies on vehicle use to specifically include e-scooters and e-bikes.

You should also adopt policies unique to these new e-transportation forms. Some things to consider include: requiring employees to know and follow the terms of use agreements and all applicable laws and regulations, prohibiting passengers, requiring the use of helmets or other safety equipment, and prohibiting using cellphones or wearing headphones while operating.

It is exciting and a great addition to Tulsa’s increasing vitality to see people young and old riding e-scooters and e-bikes.

But some bad decision making by an employee could have serious financial consequences for your business. Plan ahead and you might just spare your employees and your company a lot of pain.

Published The Tulsa World, June 23, 2019