Managing COVID-19 Employment Practice-Related Exposure

We found this article, made available by Insurance Journal, most informative. The original content can be accessed by clicking here.

This post is part of a series sponsored by The Hanover Insurance Group.

As the pandemic continues, we’re seeing new COVID-19-related regulations, restrictions and advisories issued and adjusted by federal, state, and local officials on a regular basis. Each jurisdiction can create and enforce its own laws, leaving many employers faced with varying—and at times conflicting—orders and guidance. This creates a decision point for employers. Which should they follow? And, how can that decision impact their business?

From decisions about workplace safety, such as personal protective equipment, visitor policies and vaccine requirements, to handling work-from-home, family, and medical leave requests, there are a lot of business issues to sort through and a great deal of exposure, which could leave them open to the threat of an employment-related lawsuit. As trusted advisers to these businesses, independent agents can help guide their clients through the maze of regulations and guidance, sharing thoughtful risk management practices and key coverages to evaluate.

Growing threat of litigation

More than 2,000 COVID-related employment lawsuits have been filed already, and the number is expected to grow as businesses respond to ever-evolving circumstances. Business leaders can prepare by educating themselves and seeking out resources and guidance to navigate health, safety, and economic issues. Whether it’s subsequent waves, a change of jurisdictional guidance and/or regulations, or the availability of a vaccine, forward -thinking leaders will be well prepared to understand the options and their impact and make informed, proactive decisions.

With the pandemic, employers should be especially mindful of the following types of employment practice claims:

  • Workplace safety: Allegations of failure to provide a safe working environment
  • Discrimination: Allegations of age and disability bias in employment termination
  • Wage and hour: Allegations of failure to pay non-exempt employees for remote work or time spent completing employer-mandated COVID-19-realted health and safety activities, such as daily screenings
  • Retaliation: Allegations of retribution for complaints about workplace safety or use of medical leave

Thoughtful risk management

With questions like ‘can employees be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine?’, ‘how do we manage continued work-from-home requests?’, ‘what accommodations should be made for employees with disabilities?’, and ‘how do we address employees’ workplace safety concerns?’, it can be difficult for businesses to know where to start. Independent agents can play an important role in helping their clients think critically about their risks and take proactive steps. Similarly, top insurance carriers understand this, and have acted to provide employers with guidance and services that can help them minimize the risk of litigation.

For example, The Hanover has negotiated agreements with leading labor and employment practices firms to offer a range of services to Hanover policyholders that can help reduce the risk of employment practice lawsuits related to COVID-19. These value-added services are offered to policyholders no cost, or at a significant discount, such as:

Holistic insurance solution

  • COVID-19 return-to-work guide, including a robust testing and screening guide, sample policy language and detailed guidance on workplace safety, disability accommodations, and more
  • Family First Coronavirus Response Act compliance assistance, including sample policies, template forms, a flowchart for managing requests and attorney consultation
  • COVID-19 online training module for employees on personal hygiene practices and more
  • A COVID-19 customer information center with key information from the CDC, EEOPC, and state-specific resources

Beyond risk management, agents can help their clients by partnering with insurance carriers that offer employment practices liability insurance that can be tailored to the needs of each business.

As businesses wonder if they have adequate insurance protection, agents can help them understand their coverage and identify possible risk areas by considering these three important factors:

  1. Definitions: As agents know, not all definitions are created equal. Carefully assess definitions of wrongful acts to ensure a business’s unique risks are covered.
  2. Who to cover: Ensure coverage applies to the acts of all individuals who work at the organization. For example, does the business use contractors?
  3. Key coverage provisions: These should include punitive damages where insurable, and coverage for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or state equivalent proceedings.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, employers face increasing risks from employment-related lawsuits. Fortunately, agents can play an important role in guiding their business clients to risk management practices and coverages that help best protect their operations, their interests, and their employees.

Employment Practices Liability Scorecard

As employees continue to be furloughed or laid off around the country and the risk of unemployment ever looms, employment practices liability (EPL) claims have increased measurably.  Even if an employee is terminated for legitimate reasons, every termination opens the door for potential lawsuits.  One of the best ways an employer can help protect themselves from sustaining EPL claims is to be educated and proactive. 

Here is an Employment Practices Liability Scorecard which any employer can use to determine how at risk they may be for sustaining an EPL claim. 

To learn about EPL insurance and how it can help protect your organization, speak to your insurance professional.  

COVID-19 Vaccine Workplace Planning

Employers can play a key role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and should prepare for when vaccine access reaches the general public. Educating employees on ways to avoid COVID-19 vaccine scams and helping to build confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine are important elements to a successful plan.

While vaccination details are getting worked out, here are three ways to avoid COVID-19 vaccine scams:

1.) You can’t pay to put your name on a list to get the vaccine. That’s a scam.
2.) You can’t pay to get early access to the vaccine. That’s a scam.
3.) Nobody legit will call about the vaccine and ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. That’s a scam.

Ignore any vaccine offers that ask for personal or financial information.
Learn more at ftc.gov/coronavirus/scams consumerresources.org/beware-coronavirus-scams

Building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines is equally important to getting us back to enjoying safe and productive workplaces. Here are a few things any organization can do to help build employee confidence in the vaccine.

·      Start at the top; encourage leaders and managers within your organization to champion the vaccine.

·      Talk about it. Provide an environment where employees can ask questions and discuss concerns openly in a constructive manner.

·      Provide information about safety, side effects, benefits, development and herd immunity through multiple channels which are both trusted and familiar to employees.

·      Celebrate the act of receiving the vaccine. Make employees feel proud about getting vaccinated and doing their part.

Click below to download a thoughtful COVID-19 Vaccine Workplace Planning Checklist developed by Zywave.

Employees getting vaccinated across all sectors of industry and business can be a driving force for a safe return to work for all Americans.

Four Components of Effective Risk Management

Every business should invest thought into understanding how effective risk management impacts their bottom line. This conversation should be a continuous dialogue when considering how any business is conducted.

Risk Management is the identification, assessment and prioritization of risks and the subsequent coordinated and economical application of resources to minimize, monitor and control the probability and impact of losses. Effective risk management activities create value and should be an integral part of the decision-making process in every industry and business.

Strategies for addressing an identified risk typically include

  • Risk Avoidance
    • Eliminate activities that involve risk
    • Avoid creating activities that involve risk
  • Mitigation or Prevention
    • Manage liability by structuring activities and programs in ways that reduce or limit institutional risk
  • Risk Transfer
    • Insurance policies
    • Indemnification agreements
    • Releases and waivers
  • Risk Retention
    • Self-insurance
    • Deductibles
    • Deciding not to purchase an insurance policy for a specific exposure

We reached out to Lane Reinert, Loss Control Director of Non-Profit Insurance Services for some guidance on simple things every business should keep in mind when considering risk management.

Lane Reinert, has over 10 years of Loss Control/Prevention experience. He currently holds two Bachelor degrees from the University of Central Florida and is certified in OSHA 10, OSHA 30 AND OSHA 510.

  1. What are some of your favorite free online risk management or safety resources you like to share with clients?

If I had to pick, I would say the OSHA website or the website of the regulatory organization that governs your business type. With OSHA, they have not only the standards/statutes but they also have “standard interpretations” on the site that can help provide insight as to how OSHA is interpreting certain standards.

  1. What are some paid resources you deem worth the investment?

I believe having loss control assessments done (where and when appropriate) by an outside vendor (someone not in the organization) are a great investment as it allows a ‘different set of eyes” to review and offer input as to how organizations can overcome certain barriers they may be having difficulty with. Also, if your organization has “drivers” stay vigilant when it comes to completing your drivers record checks.

  1. Do you have any tips or tricks regarding OSHA reporting you like to share with clients.

When it comes to OSHA, there is never a “casual interview/discussion”. Keep your answers honest and short and don’t “volunteer” information.

  1. What are some small things most companies can do to help encourage employees to be risk aware?

Have meetings (safety briefs/ tool box talks) with your teams to discuss “hot button topics” or reoccurring ones. Maintain records of topics covered and the attendance sheets. Make the meetings short and interactive. Share your successes as a company and some of your failures and how you can/will be better. Create a safety council made up of several layers of the organization and insist those council meeting are “safe areas” to discuss topics freely.

For more great discussion on this topic, join the NAPEO Community Conversation this afternoon at 2PM EST. This session will be focused on risk management and the impacts of COVID-19. You can register for this evert by clicking here.

January 15th: Friday Roundup

The weekend is calling as another work week concludes.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for the country held steady at 6.7% in December.  The number of unemployed persons held stead at 10.7 million.  While these figures are considerably lower than the spike we saw in April, they are still double the pre-pandemic levels we enjoyed last February.    Attached is the Bureau’s new release on The Employment Situation – December 2020, which contains detailed statistics on our current state. 

December bore witness to a continued decline in jobs in leisure, hospitality, and private education sectors.  These losses were offset by some gains in professional and business services, retail trade and construction; sectors which are attempting to rebound. 

Continued high unemployment figures will impact the unemployment tax rates.  This is something we will continue to keep an eye on.  Hopefully, you caught our post earlier this week regarding the anticipated increases in unemployment tax rates in Florida.  

Unemployment Tax Rates in Florida are Increasing

Unemployment often leads to criminal activities.  As COVID-19 diagnosis continue to climb nationwide, so do predatory scams related to the pandemic.  Spreading awareness of these scams is one of the best ways we can help to limit the number of individuals who fall victim.  We hope you saw our post earlier this week sharing recommendations from Regions Bank Treasury Management and the FBI on how to avoid falling prey to these scams.

Regions Bank Treasury Management sends out information on Emerging COVID-19 Scams

Stay safe and have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Unemployment Tax Rates in Florida are Increasing

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) has recently published the attached forecast summary on Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for 2021 and beyond. Suzanne Hurst, Deputy Director of Florida Association of Professional Employer Organizations (FAPEO) offers the following review of these figures.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) is a research arm of the Legislature principally concerned with forecasting economic and social trends that affect policy making, revenues, and appropriations.

The figures below come from the attached summary provided by the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR). This document provides historic context, current figures and forecasted figures for benefit charges, collections and rates for Florida’s Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.  This important information is provided to you for your cash flow planning. 

Unemployment Tax Rates – Minimum Tax Rate

2020 – .10%

2021 – .29%

2022 – 1.15%  (forecasted)

2023 – 1.11% (forecasted)

2024 – .56% (forecasted)

2025 – .10% (forecasted)

Your Florida PEO Lobbyist, David Daniel, is presenting a detailed briefing at a meeting Friday of state-wide business interests about possible solutions to impact of social costs from benefit payments related to the pandemic.  Your FAPEO board has created multiple proposals that could lower rates as early as this year.  We will continue to advocate for common sense solutions that protect Florida’s small employers as everyone struggles during these economic times. 

We will keep you up to date on all developments as these proposals move through the lawmaking process. 

One Week In

The first week of 2021 comes to a close. So far this year is shaping up to be as lively and unusual as the last. We wish everyone a mindful and happy 2021. To that end, we hope you saw our post this week on how to Start the New Year with a Digital Declutter.

Implement a 30-Day plan for building a Digital Declutter.

Step 1: Define your core values (and how technology helps and hurts them)

Step 2: Drop all “optional” technologies for 30 days

Step 3: Track your “technology triggers” and explore other activities

Step 4: Create “operating procedures” for the tools you let back in

Step 5: Actively ignore the rest

5 BEST PRACTICES FOR MAINTAINING A DIGITAL MINIMALIST LIFESTYLE FOR THE LONG-TERM

  1. Spend time alone. Solitude—both physical and mental—is important for thinking clearly. Rather than feeling the FOMO of social media, try leaving your phone at home while you go for a walk.
  2. Don’t click like. Social media and digital communication have become digital versions of fast food–easy to consume yet with little nutritional value. To combat this, Cal suggests you specifically limit the performative aspect of these tools. Yes, you can stay in touch and connect with loved ones. But don’t click ‘like’ or allow yourself to be always available.
  3. Reclaim leisure. One of the reasons we lean so heavily on digital technologies is that we’ve lost our hobbies. It’s easier to scroll through your phone than read a book. Try reclaiming leisure time for analog tasks you enjoy.
  4. Join the Attention Resistance. You don’t have to use all the features on your phone or be constantly connected to social media. As Cal writes, digital minimalists give themselves less ‘entry points’ to distraction. Try deleting social media off your phone. Or treat it like a professional task—something you do as needed and not more.
  5. Imagine you have to pay for every click, swipe, or tap. If you can’t give your time and attention the value it deserves, then give it a monetary value. Ask how your behavior would change if every swipe on Instagram, click of a clickbait-y infographic, or scroll of your Twitter feed costs $1.

Friday Round-up

Happy Friday everyone, and Happy Hanukkah to those of you who celebrate the Festival of Lights!

Two of the MGU (Managing General Underwriter) partners we work with have announced new carrier partnerships for 2021. Be sure to check out our post on this news via the below link.

MGU Updates: New Carrier Partners for 2021

Also, as we head into the Open Enrollment season for most employer sponsored benefits programs, be sure to check out our post on 2021 Employee Benefit Trends.

Stay safe and healthy this weekend!