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

Beazley Speaks on EPL Changes for Businesses Affected by COVID-19

There has been a lot of discussion as of late regarding the impact of COVID-19 on Workers’ Compensation, Business Interruption, Health Benefits, etc., but what about Employment Practices Liability?  Below is a great overview of the ever changing landscape of EPL due to COVID from our friends at Beazley.

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Around the world, governments responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 by implementing various restrictions on the movement of people through quarantines, lock-downs, stay at home orders, and other similar measures.  Businesses, particularly those in the service and retail industries, were most affected by these measures.  People were staying home, which meant no customers:  No diners at restaurants.  No shoppers in the malls.  Nobody getting haircuts, manicures, pedicures, or massages.  Many of the affected businesses have either announced permanent or indefinite closures or reduced service, and consequently, have had to furlough, layoff, or permanently terminate the employment of hundreds of thousands of employees.

 

Many businesses with financial difficulties are Client Companies of PEOs.  As a result, with both new and old Claims, Beazley has noticed an increase in Client Companies unwilling or unable to pay amounts for defense or indemnity within their SIR.  For Client Companies facing an uncertain financial future, they are unwilling to engage in settlement negotiations or mediation.  Rather than committing their limited resources to settlement, Client Companies want to preserve or use those funds to keep their businesses running by paying employees and other overhead expenses that remain despite reduced business income.  Unfortunately, there are also some Client Companies whose businesses will not survive; and they are simply unable to fund amounts of settlements within their SIRs.  There is no one size fits all solution.  All Insureds have differing limitations; and Beazley has been working collaboratively with its PEOs and Client Companies Insureds to strategize the best approach to resolving each claim in this COVID-19 environment.

 

Moving forward, Beazley anticipates more COVID-19 related claims including:

 

  • Claims for violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, or failure to rehire for voicing concerns or making requests regarding COVID-19, missing work to recover from (or care for another with) COVID-19, etc.
  • General notices of mass layoffs or reductions in force.  (Note:  Typically, coverage is unavailable, but in certain circumstances, an Employment Event sublimit coverage may be available.)
  • Third Party Discrimination against persons of Asian descent.

 

As part of the renewal process, Beazley is considering PEOs and Staffing Firms’ strategies to addressing COVID-19 and the COVID-19 induced recession.  Some of Beazley’s questions are:

 

  1. Does the PEO work with their Client Companies to ensure they have an effective Business Continuity Plan for COVID-19?
  2. What protocols do the PEO and their Client Companies have if worksite employees are or were infected with COVID-19?
  3. Are Client Companies required to consult with the PEO before any terminations, and layoffs, reductions in force, or downsizing?
  4. What support does the PEO provide their Client Companies with to comply with employment laws, including the FMLA and FFCRA?
  5. Does the PEO offer advice to their Client Companies regarding worksite employees working from home?

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To hear more about the impact on Employment Practices Liability due to COVID-19, please join NAPEO’s EPLI Webinar, this Thursday July 16th, 12pm ET. Libertate’s own President, Paul Hughes, will be moderating.

https://www.napeo.org/events/events-calendar/town-hall-series

Does your EPLI policy cover against employee harassment to a Third Party?

Most employers understand their Employment Practices Liability Insurance policy to cover against employee to employee or employer to employee harassment and discrimination.  But many of these employers could be liable for claims that they do not have coverage for under their current EPLI policy without the proper endorsements.  The most reoccurring of these claims have been third party claims against the behavior of your employee to the third party.  The language in a Lexington policy of an event resulting in a claim is: “allegation(s) of intentional or unintentional Discrimination, Harassment or any civil rights violations committed by an Insured and brought by a Third Party, whether such event against the Third Party occurs directly or through the Virtual Environment.”.  Their terminology for this coverage is Wrongful Business Environment.

So, we have coverage for your employee harassing or discriminating against a third party.  But what happens when the scenario is flipped and a third party discriminates or harasses your employee?  The employee would go to the employer or manager, and one of two things will happen: The employer will address the issue or the employer will ignore the issue.  In the first scenario, the employer and employee can work together on behalf of the employee to file a claim against third party’s employer.  Let’s hope they have third party coverage on their EPLI policy.  In the second scenario, where an employer fails to do anything, the employee can file a claim against the employer.  This would actually be looked at as a “hostile work environment claim” (your typical EPLI claim) and would be covered.  In this scenario, as well, the employee would also be able to go after the third party’s employer as well.

 

For more examples and details on this coverage, please visit: : http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2006/11/01/third-party-coverage-can-be-an-important-part-of-epli-policies

“Suppose a document messenger makes daily stops at a real-estate agency, where he greets the receptionist. After a number of visits, the messenger begins making suggestive sexual remarks. The receptionist complains to the owner of the business, who does nothing other than advise the receptionist to just tell the messenger to stop bothering her.

One day the messenger appears and makes suggestive remarks to the receptionist and even touches her inappropriately. Visibly shaken, the receptionist complains again to her boss, who takes no action. Not being able to endure the continuing harassment, the receptionist quits and sues her boss for emotional distress and failing to prevent an assault.

This is a clear example of an employer tolerating a hostile work environment, a typical EPL claim. The mere inaction of the employer makes him responsible. This also could be pursued as a third-party claim against the messenger’s employer.”

 

If you have any questions regarding your EPLI policy or would like a free audit of your current policy and coverage, feel free to reach out to David Campbell at dcampbell@libertateins.com or 407-613-5483.