With the ever-growing driver shortage looming, many motor carriers are lowering their hiring standards to fill their empty trucks. No company wants to turn down a job because they don’t have drivers to service the account. But while companies to some extent are at the mercy of supply and demand, carriers have to keep the potential for negligent hiring lawsuits top of mind.

Negligent hiring is based on the principle that companies have a responsibility to protect their clients and the public from injury at the hands of their own employees. Companies can be held liable for property damages, deaths and physical injuries, and other errors caused by their employees within the scope of their employment. If you don’t establish driver hiring standards you can stick to rain or shine, you will have a hard time defending your recruiting processes in court if they were ever challenged in a negligent hiring suit.

Negligence can be alleged in all aspects of managing your employees: in hiring, retention, and when changing job responsibilities. In cases where a truck killed or injured people on the highway, the jury's sympathies will generally lie with the victim, not the motor carrier. This makes it even more important to shore up your processes to ensure they are thorough and legally defensible.

1. Do Your Homework Before Hiring Drivers

To prove that they did their due diligence in screening their drivers, motor carriers should perform background checks on all new hires. Pull a driver's PSP and MVR reports and verify the previous employment and experience listed on an applicant's resume. This demonstrates that the company made a good faith effort to ensure their employees don’t pose a risk to others.

2. Put Driver Hiring Policies in Writing

Establish consistent policies that can be applied across the board. Policies should name specific (not subjective) disqualifiers, and they should never fluctuate with the supply of applicants. Make your policies are public and share them with all employees and applicants. In addition to providing a basis for your defense in a lawsuit, putting these policies out in the open helps you hold recruiters and hiring managers accountable for the quality of people they're bringing on.

3. Train Drivers for Success

If a driver receives violations, require them to take training that addresses the issue behind it rather than just issuing a “warning letter” or other form of corrective action. When hiring owner/operators, many carriers assume the driver is competent and educated about how to perform their job properly.  Most of the time this is true, but as there is no formal training for owner/operators, this is a big assumption to make. 

4. Keep Your Ear to the Ground

If another employee reports concerns about the conduct of a co-worker, you have to address the concern. If an incident were to occur and the prosecution found out you ignored a red flag, you could be looking at hundreds of thousands in punitive damages for negligent retention. In 66% of negligent hiring cases that go to trial, the plaintiff is awarded damages of more than $600,000.

5. Re-evaluate If You Change the Job Duties

Companies can be held liable for extending an employee’s responsibilities beyond his or her skill level. Training for new job duties is essential, and an employee’s past should be considered when revising job responsibilities. If the duties assigned conflict with past behaviors, find someone else to do the job. For example, if you decide to go ahead and hire an employee with a history of theft and you give them oversight over client funds, you’re a flashing target for a negligence case.

This article originally appeared on the HNI blog. Used with permission. HNI is a non-traditional insurance and business advisory firm.