Scams and Fraud Alerts issued by SBA

The SBA has published information relating to scams and fraud identified surrounding the CARES Act. Read through the article below for tips and links to better protect yourself and your business.

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SBA Programs – Scams and Fraud Alerts

Effective Jul 14, 2020

By Office of Inspector General


DOWNLOAD .PDFhttps://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/SA2001-1.pdf

Beware of Scams and Fraud Schemes

The Office of Inspector General recognizes that we are facing unprecedented times and is alerting the public about potential fraud schemes related to economic stimulus programs offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration in response to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19).  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the largest financial assistance bill to date, includes provisions to help small businesses. Fraudsters have already begun targeting small business owners during these economically difficult times.  Be on the lookout for grant fraud, loan fraud, and phishing.

Scams and Fraud Schemes

Grants

  • SBA does not initiate contact on either 7a or Disaster loans or grants.  If you are proactively contacted by someone claiming to be from the SBA, suspect fraud.

Loans

  • If you are contacted by someone promising to get approval of an SBA loan, but requires any payment up front or offers a high interest bridge loan in the interim, suspect fraud.
  • SBA limits the fees a broker can charge a borrower to 3% for loans $50,000 or less and 2% for loans $50,000 to $1,000,000 with an additional ¼% on amounts over $1,000,000.  Any attempt to charge more than these fees is inappropriate.
  • If you have a question about getting a SBA disaster loan, call 800-659-2955 or send an email to disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.
  • If you have questions about other SBA lending products, call SBA’s Answer Desk at 800-827-5722 or send an email to answerdesk@sba.gov.

Phishing

  • If you are in the process of applying for an SBA loan and receive email correspondence asking for PII, ensure that the referenced application number is consistent with the actual application number.
  • Look out for phishing attacks/scams utilizing the SBA logo.  These may be attempts to obtain your personally identifiable information (PII),to obtain personal banking access, or to install ransomware/malware on your computer.
  • Any email communication from SBA will come from accounts ending with sba.gov.
  • The presence of an SBA logo on a webpage does not guaranty the information is accurate or endorsed by SBA.  Please cross-reference any information you receive with information available at www.sba.gov.

Report Fraud

Report any suspected fraud to OIG’s Hotline at 800-767-0385 or online at, https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/oversight-advocacy/office-inspector-general/office-inspector-general-hotline.

PPP Loan Forgiveness Update

On October 1st, FUBA (Florida United Business Association) issued a status update on PPP loan forgiveness. Check out their article below for helpful links and information.

As a reminder, the forgiveness application process is handled through your lender. The necessary forms for loan forgiveness are included in this article, however your lender may have a separate set of forms (hopefully electronic and online) for application filing. Use the forms provided below to prepare your business for what is needed when filing.

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PPP Loan Forgiveness Update – Still No Automatic Forgiveness

For the past few months, a bill has been pending in Congress that would automatically forgive PPP loans under $150,000. If this law is approved, small businesses who received a PPP loan of less than $150,000 can have their loan automatically forgiven without having to file a forgiveness application with their bank.

As of today, Congress still has not approved automatic forgiveness of PPP loans for small businesses.

Because the loan forgiveness application is lengthy, many small businesses are waiting to file their application in the hopes that Congress will approve automatic forgiveness. As of now, there is still plenty of time for you to wait and see if Congress acts.

The current deadline to apply for PPP forgiveness is 10 months after the end of your loan’s “covered period.” The covered period for your loan started the day you received the PPP loan and either lasts 8 weeks or 24 weeks, depending on the date you received your loan.

If you received your PPP loan before June 5, 2020, your loan’s covered period is either 8 weeks or 24 weeks, whichever you choose. If you received your PPP loan after June 5, 2020, your loan’s covered period is 24 weeks after the date you received your loan.

Your 10-month period to apply your loan forgiveness application starts after your loan’s covered period ends. For example, if you received your PPP loan on May 1st, you could choose either 8 weeks or 24 weeks to spend your loan. If you chose an 8-week covered period, you must have spent your entire PPP loan by June 26th and you have 10 months after that to apply for forgiveness. If you choose the 24-week covered period, you have until October 16th to spend your PPP loan, and then you have 10 months from that date to apply for forgiveness.

If you do not apply for forgiveness within 10 months of the end of your loan’s covered period, your PPP loan will become an actual loan that you will have to pay back with a 1% interest rate for a term of 2 years (if your loan was approved prior to June 5, 2020) or 5 years (if your loan was approved after June 5, 2020).

To apply for loan forgiveness, you will need to file the Small Business Administration’s application (Form 3508) with the bank that issued the loan to you. If your business did not reduce the number of its employees or their wages, you can use the more streamlined Form 3508EZ. Both forgiveness applications as well as their instructions are available from our Coronavirus Resources for small businesses. FUBA members with questions about PPP loan forgiveness can ask our experts by calling us at 800-262-4483.

Lifting Travel Restrictions

As the country slowly starts to reopen and travel restrictions begin to be lifted, it reminds me of how hard the travel industry has been impacted by COVID-19. Finding workers compensation coverage for this industry can be difficult due to the exposures associated with these risks. Libertate Insurance Services works closely with Beacon Aviation in placing coverage for this industry.  Beacon Aviation Insurance Services knows the ins-and-outs and provides workers compensation coverage for general aviation businesses.

Beacon’s Program offers the following:

Payment Options

  • Pay As You Owe
  • Carrier Direct Bill
  • Carrier Direct Debit
  • Credit Card

Endorsement Options

  • Foreign Voluntary Compensation
  • Voluntary Compensation
  • Waiver of Subrogation
  • Defense Base Act (DBA) Coverage
  • Employer Liability Coverage “Stop GAP”

If you need help placing your workers compensation with your travel or aviation risk, contact Jenny Bush, at jbush@libertateins.com. Click the link below for more details on Beacon’s Program.

Beacon Aviation Program Appetite

 

Expect Open Enrollment to be Virtual! How to Prepare.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Open Enrollment Employers can expect major disruptions to open enrollment this year due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As such, employers should stay apprised of current trends and begin preparing sooner rather than later.  Contact your PEO for additional insight or Contact Libertate Insurance if you are considering a PEO.

Trends to Watch

Many organizations are expected to hold entirely virtual open enrollment due to the coronavirus. Virtual enrollment has been trending for several years, and the COVID-19 pandemic is helping to solidify its prominence. A virtual enrollment process typically includes an online enrollment platform for selecting benefits, hosting remote meetings between employees and HR, and downloading benefits resources.

Also, many employers are meeting current employee needs through supplemental health plans with an emphasis on overall well-being. Adding optional health benefits can be a way to limit additional employer spending and provide assistance to employees who need it.

Ways Employers Can Prepare

Open enrollment isn’t always a clear-cut process. Employers can review the following strategies and consider how similar initiatives might improve their own open enrollment efforts:

  • Reach out to employees to determine what kind of enrollment process will work best for them.
  • Confer with management about any operational restrictions that may influence open enrollment.
  • Meet with stakeholders to solidify what the enrollment process will look like.
  • Inform all stakeholders about the enrollment process and where to find benefits resources.
  • Communicate to employees about open enrollment using multiple channels.
  • Understand what additional, supplemental plans are available:
    • Critical illness insurance
    • Cancer insurance
    • Hospital indemnity insurance
    • Accident insurance

Speak with Libertate Insurance today for additional open enrollment resources.

Hurricane Laura: Tips for our Friends and Clients

Hurricane Season is always a time of anxiety and concern.  Now that the impacts of the season are being felt we have compiled a summary of useful contacts/information to help our friends.  Be Safe and let us know if we can help!

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) – for those with an NFIP policy, here is a direct link to their site fema.gov/flood-insurance. Here you can find Claim Forms, Disaster Relief Fund: Monthly Reports, by State, for the progress of Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance being offered. You can also apply for Emergency Assistance.

Tips from Ready.gov.  Ready.gov is a great place to go in preparing for hurricanes but also has tips to support the aftermath.

Returning Home After a Hurricane

  • Listen to local officials for information and special instructions.
  • Be careful during clean-up. Wear protective clothing and work with someone else.
  • Do not touch electrical equipment if it is wet or if you are standing in water. If it is safe to do so, turn off electricity at the main breaker or fuse box to prevent electric shock.
  • Avoid wading in flood water, which can contain dangerous debris. Underground or downed power lines can also electrically charge the water.
  • Save phone calls for emergencies. Phone systems are often down or busy after a disaster. Use text messages or social media to communicate with family and friends.
  • Document any property damage with photographs. Contact your insurance company for assistance.

Tips for filing an insurance claim after the storm

  1. Contact your insurer as soon as possible, have a copy of your insurance policy handy and in a safe place.
  2. Start documenting loss (property and contents), as soon as it is safe to.  Pictures are a great way to document damage, hopefully you already have pictures of your property from before the storm.
  3. Locate information of emergency services and where they are available in your immediate area. Houston Emergency Operations Center , Louisiana Office of the Governor 
  4. Begin mitigating the damage to your property (temporary repairs), safely, to prevent further damage.  Maintain all receipts related to temporary repairs. Using reputable and licensed/insured contractors for temporary repairs is a good choice for those larger issues that you are unable to address yourself.
  5. Confirm with your insurer before you start discarding of damaged items
  6. Start a claim file, to keep track of calls, damage, and overall progress.  Log contractors that you have spoken with.  You will likely start getting visits from a lot of different service providers; take notes!

Hopefully you have prepared your businesses with a Hurricane Preparedness Plan and are rolling out the phases of such, but if not here is a link for some additional pointers OSHA.gov.

Ready.gov has also prepared an Emergency Financial First Aid kit.

If you have successfully come through this unscathed and want to help here are a few links:

American Red Cross you can make financial donations or sign up to volunteer

Global Giving has set up a Hurricane Laura Relief Fund and also offers a Corporate Giving platform

Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center It’s easy to forget during times of Hurricanes that the simple task of donating blood also helps restock the shelves, so to speak. Those injured from the storm may need blood and this a great way to prevent shortages.  Gulf Coast Regional Blood Centers have information on mobile sites, by day. Locations are already available today.

** As always, with donations, a little due diligence goes a long way.  Make sure you understand the organization that you are contributing to and where your contribution goes.

Be Well, Stay Safe

How much time is an Employer required to give Employees under the FFCRA?

The Florida United Businesses Association (FUBA) released a great Q&A for Employers.  The quick answer is 2 weeks/80 hours, but with everything COVID, we realize that there is generally more behind the scenes.   Here is FUBA’s look into the small print. Great 2 minute read!

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FUBA COVID-19 Update: Can An Employee Get More Than 2 Weeks Of Paid Leave?

Here are the 3 most common questions we get from our small business members about paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA):

1) One of my employees has already used their 2 weeks/80 hours of paid FFCRA leave but now they can’t work because they have COVID-19. Do I have to give them another 2 weeks of paid leave?

No. The FFCRA requires employers give employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid leave only if the employee cannot work because of one of these reasons:

  1. The employee has been told to quarantine by a health care provider or by a government order.
  2. The employee has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a diagnosis (i.e., they are getting a COVID-19 test and are waiting on the results).
  3. The employee must stay home to care for someone who has been quarantined by a health care provider or by a government order.
  4. The employee must stay home to care for a child under 18 whose school or childcare is unavailable due to COVID-19. These employees are also eligible for an additional 10 weeks of paid leave, for a total of 12 weeks’ paid leave.

Employers are only required to give the 2 weeks paid leave one time. Once an employee has used their 2 weeks of paid leave, they don’t get another two weeks even if they meet one of the reasons above.

If one of your employees has used their 2 weeks of paid leave and then gets sick with COVID-19 or has to quarantine because they were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you can decide whether to allow the employee to take unpaid leave or to use any vacation/sick time the employee has. But you do not have to provide another 2 weeks of paid leave under the FFCRA.

The only time employees may get additional paid leave is for reason #4 above: if an employee has to stay home to care for a minor child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19, they may be entitled to an additional 10 weeks of paid leave.

2) One of my employees took 4 days of paid FFCRA leave last month because he had a COVID-19 test and was waiting on the test results. He returned to work when the test was negative, and we paid him for the 4 days he was out. Now we need him to quarantine because his wife has COVID-19 and we do not want him coming to work for 14 days. Can he now use the 6 remaining days of paid leave?

Yes. The employee is entitled to take the remaining hours of paid leave (6 work days in this example). The rest of the leave can either be unpaid or vacation/sick leave at the employer’s discretion.

3) One of my employees took their 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid FFCRA leave and then was furloughed. We’ve now rehired her and she’s back at work. Does she get another two weeks of paid leave?

No. Employees are only entitled to 80 total hours of paid sick leave under the FFCRA.

If you are a FUBA member and have questions about paid leave in your business, call FUBA’s team of experts at 800-262-4483 or email us with your questions.

For more information about paid leave under the FFCRA, including documentation you should get from your employees who take this leave as well as tax credits for businesses who provide this paid leave, please visit FUBA’s Coronavirus Resources for small businesses:

Should You Partner with A PEO? Can a PEO help your small business?

Understand the Importance of What PEOs are Doing for Their Clients; Consider what a PEO can offer your small business; Having a business relationship that benefits you!

Check out the article below to see how PEOs work to protect small business clients

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THE EXPANDING PEO WHEELHOUSE: HELPING SMALL BUSINESSES SURVIVE

COVID-19: STORIES OF ADAPTATION: HOW SERVICE & DELIVERY CHANGED

BY KATHRINA SALADRIGAS

Eighteen weeks have passed since we sent our first COVID-19 newsletter to Regis HR Group clients. Looking back, we could not have anticipated the scope of support our clients would need. In addition to inquiries about traditional human resources matters, we received an unprecedented number of questions about general business operations from employers, to the point of, “What can we do to survive?”

PEOs are uniquely positioned to help our local economies (and the country as a whole) recover from the pandemic, so here are some of things we hope all PEOs will implement to help their worksite employers overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

EMPLOYERS DESERVE A BETTER ANSWER THAN ‘THAT’S NOT WHAT WE DO’

Laws such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act(FFCRA) are being passed and subsequently changed at an extraordinary rate, so employers are reasonably overwhelmed:

  • What government-sponsored financial relief is available to our business?
  • How do layoffs and furloughs affect health benefits?
  • Is our business an “essential” business?
  • Who is eligible for sick leave under the FFCRA?
  • Do we have to close our facility if an employee tests positive? If yes, for how long?

This is a very small sample of the questions creating uncertainty and anxiety for business owners. While some of these questions are business-specific and can only be addressed by the employer’s legal counsel and/or tax professional, there are practical steps PEOs can take to support these employers without defaulting to “that’s not what we do:”

  • We’ve learned that monitoring regulatory changes and providing brief descriptions (one to three sentences) with links to the governing body in a timely fashion reassures clients that they have a trusted partner to lean on and reduces worries about missing something.
  • Similarly, sharing a finite list of well-researched government resources that consolidate information from multiple regulatory bodies (such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Resuming Business Toolkit​) saves employers time and reduces the incidence of misinformation.
  • We’ve learned that employers appreciate live interactive webinars where they can connect with employment lawyers and tax professionals. To this end, Regis HR Group has sponsored eight webinars (at no charge to PEO clients) with topics ranging from FFCRA requirements to Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness, with additional webinars scheduled in the upcoming weeks.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we’ve witnessed the significance of the human connection (albeit socially distanced). Our entire team, from our payroll specialists to our president, has proactively worked to check in with our clients and ask, “How can we help?” Often, the answer is not something in our traditional scope of services, but we’re committed to do what we can.

HELPING EMPLOYERS ADJUST TO THE ‘NEW WORKPLACE’

The pandemic has created a seismic shift in our traditional workspace. Whether or not this shift is temporary remains to be seen. In the meantime, however, employers are finding it difficult to adjust to the new workplace.

To help mitigate the stress that accompanies these significant changes, we have provided several tools to educate employers and their managers about how to get the most out of their employees in remote work environments, how to maintain employee morale, and how to continue to communicate effectively as a team.

Some employers find themselves in a position to reopen, but their pre-pandemic staff is refusing to return. We are helping these employers find qualified staff, often by connecting them with employees who have been laid off by other clients.

For clients that are hiring during this ordeal, we are sharing resources on interviewing best practices and, in particular, educating them about the importance of behavioral interview questions.

While it has long been commonplace to ask behavioral interview questions to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills, resiliency, and adaptability in demanding/high-stress work environments (such as healthcare, investment banking, and hospitality), the pandemic has demonstrated that these skills are central to the success of every business.

To that end, PEOs should be encouraging employers to ask behavioral interview questions, in addition to assessing candidates on previous experience—because past behaviors can help predict future performance. Examples of behavioral questions include:

  • “Tell me about a chaotic situation you experienced in a professional setting.”
  • “Describe a time that, despite your best efforts, things did not work out as you had envisioned.”

FACILITATING REPORTS FOR PPP FINANCING & MEANINGFUL BUSINESS CONNECTIONS

Lenders participating in the Payroll Protection Program, which helped businesses across the United States maintain their workforces during the COVID-19 crisis, required employers to submit payroll reports quickly and accurately.

In addition to producing detailed payroll reports that included employee salaries, wages, commissions, cash tips, group health benefits payments, retirement benefits payments, state or local taxes, etc., Regis HR Group was able to help small businesses connect with local, community banks participating in the Small Business Administration’s PPP loan program.

Our clients thanked us for these introductions because community bankers were often more helpful with questions about PPP loans and more responsive than their counterparts working for national banks. Similarly, the community banks were thankful for the introductions because, prior to the pandemic, many of these employers had not considered partnering with a local bank for their routine banking and financing needs.

WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER

COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger, but we are confident that working together, our country will overcome this crisis. We are motived by the dedication of our team and inspired to work harder each day to earn the gratitude of our clients.

Moving forward with the support of PEOs across the nation, we can serve our clients in new ways and emerge stronger from this pandemic.

KATHRINA SALADRIGAS

Marketing & Talent Acquisition Director

Regis HR Group

Miami, Florida

How Are Employers Protected From Covid-19? Now Is The Time To Understand Your EPLI Coverage!

What can we learn from the first COVID-19 related suit filed against Walmart in March 2020? What the claim identified as Negligence.

See article below to ensure these considerations are built into your COVID-19 Returning to Work Strategy and Your Company’s Action Plan on handling everything COVID.

What does your EPLI policy cover? Important policy line items and questions ask to understand your coverage.  When does my PEO EPLI kick in, what is the WARN Act Exclusion specific to my policy, etc

Read the below to know the right questions to ask about your EPLI coverage.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced employers across the country to rapidly make numerous and significant decisions about how to manage their business in this unprecedented time. Employers have had to quickly develop and implement policies and procedures addressing remote work, layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts, workplace conditions, and a host of other issues. Not surprisingly, we’re already starting to see COVID-19-related lawsuits being filed against employers.

The first suit was filed against Walmart by the estate of an employee who passed away due to complications of COVID-19 on March 25, 2020. The complaint alleged that store management knew that several employees and individuals at the store were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Nevertheless, the estate alleged, Walmart was negligent in the following respects:

  • Failing to cleanse and sterilize the store in order to prevent infection of COVID-19;
  • Failing to implement, promote, and enforce federal and state social distancing guidelines;
  • Failing to provide the decedent and other employees with personal protective equipment such as masks, latex gloves, and other protective devices;
  • Failing to warn the decedent and other employees that various individuals were experiencing symptoms at the store and may have been infected by COVID-19, which was present and active within the store;
  • Failing to adequately address or otherwise ignoring other employees who had communicated that they were experiencing signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Failing to follow Department of Labor and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) recommendations;
  • Failing to follow CDC guidelines to keep the workplace in a safe and healthy condition and to prevent employees and others within the store from contracting COVID-19;
  • Failing to develop an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to prepare or implement basic infection prevention measures as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to conduct periodic inspections of the condition and cleanliness of the store as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to provide employees with antibacterial soaps, antibacterial wipes, and other cleaning agents as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to develop, implement, and communicate to its employees about workplace flexibilities and protections as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to implement engineering controls designed to prevent COVID-19 infection including, such as installing high-efficiency air filters, increasing ventilation rates in the work environment, and installing physical barriers such as clear plastic sneeze guards, as recommended by the CDC;
  • Failing to cease operations of the store and to otherwise close the store when it knew, or should have known, that various employees and others present at the store were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Failing to properly train personnel to implement and follow procedures designed to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19;
  • Failing to periodically interview and/or evaluate employees for signs and symptoms of COVID-19;
  • Failing to prohibit employees who were exhibiting signs and symptoms of COVID-19 from working at the store or otherwise entering the premises; and,
  • Hiring employees via telephone and other remote means in an expedited process without personally interviewing or evaluating whether prospective employees had been exhibiting signs and symptoms of the COVID-19 prior to the commencement of their employment.

A second wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Texas state court against a meat packing company following the death of a forklift driver at the defendant’s plant. Plaintiffs alleged that the decedent was told he would be laid off if he didn’t report to work—despite exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19—and that the defendant “refused to take the pandemic seriously, and kept its functions as normal, taking no precautions and implementing no protocols for the safety of its workers.” The plaintiffs further alleged that, “[a]round April 8, 2020 it had become very clear that people in the factory were sick, and that Covid-19 was among them – factory owners and managers played the fiddle. [The decedent] contracted the disease at work, was forced to separate from his partner and children, in order to protect them, and then – became part of the statistic of over 60,000 people who have died in the USA since the pandemic took hold.” The plaintiffs asserted claims for negligence and wrongful death asserting the defendant failed to:

  • Supervise the environment, placing protocols, providing and requiring masks, gloves, and enforcing six feet social distancing as per CDC and local orders;
  • Provide safety tools and equipment that is the basis of this lawsuit;
  • Ensure company premises were maintained in a way to prevent illness and injuries to its employees;
  • Supervise the employee’s activities as per CDC and Dallas County protocols;
  • Warn employees as to the hazards of their employment post COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Install, adopt, or employ adequate safety measures to prevent COVID-19 incidents.

Undoubtedly, these lawsuits are just the tip of the iceberg. See, e.g., “2 Utah County businesses told staff to ignore COVID-19 guidelines, resulting in 68 positive cases,”Daily Herald, May 5, 2020 and “A Detroit Nurse Was Fired After Speaking Out About Her Hospital’s Handling Of The Coronavirus Outbreak. Now She’s Fighting Back,” Buzzfeed News, April 21, 2020. As more organizations attempt to reopen in the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, we will likely see a substantial wave of employment-related COVID-19 lawsuits, leading to claims under Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) policies.

We consider some of the likely EPLI coverage issues below.

COVID-19 EPLI Coverage Issues

We note at the outset that there is no standard EPLI policy, and coverage terms, conditions, and exclusions vary considerably. Accordingly, review of the precise language of the particular policy will be required. When considering COVID-19 EPLI claims, insurers should pay special attention to the following issues:

Notice

Although timely notice of a claim is a critical threshold issue under virtually every insurance policy, it can be particularly challenging in the EPLI context where verbal communications with employees could constitute notice under certain policy forms. Policy requirements for notice of claim and notice of circumstances, if applicable, should be closely considered in the context of the information provided by the insured. Since EPLI policies are typically written on a claims-made basis, it’s important to make sure the claim was reported within the timeframe specified in the policy. Prior notice issues also should be considered. Decisions concerning the disposition of notifications under EPLI policies should be consistently made, timely, and well documented.

Employment Wrongful Act

Another threshold issue to be examined is whether the claim falls within the policy’s definition of an “employment wrongful act.” Keep in mind that many EPLI policies contain manuscripted provisions, so it will be important to carefully review the entire policy and endorsements. The impact of COVID-19-related governmental orders may also need to be evaluated in connection with any claim. When considering claims brought against the insured by non-employees—such as customers, clients, and vendors—it will be important to ascertain whether the policy extends coverage to third-party employment practices.

Bodily Injury Exclusion

Bodily injury claims are typically excluded under EPLI policies, although such exclusions often contain an exception for emotional distress or mental anguish claims. Distinctions between exclusions for claims “for bodily injury” versus claims “arising out of bodily injury” could be important in some instances.

OSHA and FMLA Violations

COVID-19 claims for actual or alleged OSHA and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) violations may be subject to OSHA and FMLA exclusions. Those exclusions typically will have a carve-out for related retaliation claims, such as an allegation that an employee was impermissibly laid off after exercising OSHA or FMLA rights, so careful review of the claim is imperative.

Wage and Hour and FLSA Claims

Most employers have instituted new work routines for their employees as result of COVID-19 and related government orders, including work from home, self-quarantine requests, procedures concerning time capture, and new work schedules. This could lead to compensation disputes giving rise to Wage and Hour and Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) claims. Depending on the terms of the policy, such claims may be excluded entirely, covered only for defense costs, or fully covered.

WARN Act Exclusion

In light of widespread COVID-19 layoffs and furloughs, employers are likely to face wrongful termination lawsuits. While EPLI policies generally cover claims for wrongful termination, retaliation, and discrimination, claims for Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act violations typically are excluded. The policy, however, may contain “employment events” coverage, which is triggered by terminations affecting a specified percentage of the workforce, i.e. 10-15% of employees.

Criminal and Fraudulent Acts Exclusion

Depending on the particular facts giving rise to a claim, a policy exclusion for malicious, fraudulent, and criminal acts or omissions may apply. The exclusion should be carefully reviewed with regard to the timing of its application; many exclusions are not be triggered until there is an adjudication of the deliberate act or omission. The exclusion may also have a carve-out for defense costs. An insurer’s reservation of rights concerning these issues should be carefully considered in light of the allegations at issue, the precise policy language, and the applicable law. Insurers should also check for potentially relevant exclusions for punitive and exemplary damages.

Issues Arising from PEOs

A growing number of today’s companies utilize the services of professional employer organizations (PEOs) to manage certain human resources functions and related administrative functions. Depending on the services provided by the PEO (for example, whether the PEO is the employer of record or a co-employer) and the legal relationship between the insured company and the PEO, a variety of issues impacting coverage under an EPLI policy may arise. Coverage for any given claim may also implicate the PEO’s EPLI policy, so insurers should review their policy’s “other insurance” provision, which may need to be addressed when considering its defense obligation and reserving rights.

Injunctive and Equitable Relief

Employers should anticipate lawsuits demanding they implement certain actions and/or make accommodations to remedy alleged unsafe employment practices and workplace conditions, including for employees who are members of a protected status. Typically, EPLI policies do not cover costs to comply with injunctive relief, costs of accommodations associated with disabilities, or other protected status, benefits due, or salary obligations. Front pay and back pay, however, are often covered in the policy’s definition of “loss.” These issues should be kept in mind when evaluating coverage and reserving rights.

Final Thoughts

EPL insurers should anticipate an increasing number of COVID-19-related claims , particularly as many companies are taking steps to reopen their businesses. In this regard, it’s worth noting that as an added benefit to policyholders, some EPLI policies provide access to pre-claim legal advice services from qualified employment counsel. Given the wide range and high stakes of COVID-19 risks confronting employers, some insurers have reminded their policyholders about taking advantage of this service.

credit to original article: https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/early-covid-19-liability-suits-raise-31472

written by: Hinshaw & Culbertson – Insights for Insurers