Preparing for the 2020 Flu Season – Debbie Downer Alert

Knowing the difference in symptoms. Check out this great visual from WFMTV news.
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Preparing for Flu Season During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Each year, the seasonal flu has a marked impact on businesses and employers, causing increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and higher health care costs. The past few flu seasons have seen high hospitalization and mortality rates, which has public health experts fearing another deadly flu season.

Unfortunately, the 2020-21 flu season isn’t the only health crisis employers and employees have to address this year. The COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting the workforce, and the combination of another potentially bad flu season and the pandemic has public health experts worried.

As an employer, are you well-positioned to help keep your employees healthy and minimize the impact that influenza has on your business? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends strategies to help employers fight the flu and talk to employees about what a flu season during the pandemic looks like.

Educate Employees on the Flu vs. COVID-19

Unfortunately, because the flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, some of the symptoms are similar. For example, as we now know, common flu symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, congestion, cough and sore throat. All of those are currently considered symptoms of COVID-19.

One of the difficult aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the symptoms are wide-ranging and vary in severity. Some with COVID-19 may experience little to no symptoms, while others may be severely ill and require hospitalization.

Due to the similarity in symptoms between COVID-19 and the flu, it may be difficult to determine whether an employee has the flu or COVID-19 without being tested. As such, it’s important to encourage employees to stay home if they are sick and suggest a COVID-19 test.

Consider allowing employees to work from home, if they’re healthy enough to complete their work or while they wait for test results, and encouraging employees to take paid time off if they need to. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and needs to take time off to recover, they may be eligible for leave under a multitude of federal and state laws.

Preparing Your Workplace for Flu Season During the Pandemic

There are a variety of steps employers can take to protect employees and prepare for flu season—which may include steps you’ve taken in response to COVID-19—regardless of whether employees are in the office or working remotely.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  • Host an on-site, socially distanced vaccination clinic—One of the most important steps for preventing the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination. The CDC recommends that all people over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine each year. Hosting an on-site flu vaccination clinic can help educate employees about the importance of vaccination and make it easier for them to get vaccinated.
  • Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine—If you choose not to or are unable to provide an on-site flu vaccination clinic, you can still emphasize the importance of vaccination to your employees and educate them about local opportunities to get vaccinated.
  • Disinfect and clean the office—Because the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 can remain on surfaces long after they’ve been touched, it’s important that your business frequently cleans and disinfects the facility. Some best practices include:
    • Cleaning and disinfecting all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails and doorknobs. Check with your cleaning company, they may not be performing these extra steps to ensure the viability of your employees and ultimately your company.
    • Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other tools and equipment, when possible. If necessary, clean and disinfect them before and after use.
    • Providing disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Implement and enforce social distancing protocols—Social distancing is the practice of deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Social distancing best practices for businesses can include:
    • Avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people
    • Instructing workers to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people
    • Hosting meetings virtually when possible
    • Limiting the number of people on the job site to essential personnel only
    • Leveraging work-from-home arrangements and staggered shifts when possible
    • Discouraging people from shaking hands
  • Employee safety training—Ensure that all employees understand how they can prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the flu, taking into account:
    • Respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene—Businesses should encourage good hygiene to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19. This can involve:
      • Providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles
      • Providing soap and water in the workplace
      • Placing hand sanitizers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene
      • Reminding employees to not touch their eyes, nose or mouth
      • Asking employees to wear a mask or face covering when social distancing is not possible
    • Staying home when sick—Encourage employees to err on the side of caution if they’re not feeling well, and stay home when they’re sick or are exhibiting common symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu.

These strategies may not be right for every organization. Depending on the nature of your business, you may need to implement additional prevention strategies.

The key is having a strategy and making sure everyone is informed and on board. Reach out to Libertate Insurance for additional resources on preparing your workplace for flu season.

Where Does My PPP Funding Leave Me?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has useful guidance in regard to the Paycheck Protection Loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).  Weighing on most of us is how these loans are going to impact our businesses long term, as the guidance from the Small Business Administration (SBA) keeps changing.

The SBA was very quick in issuing the note agreements, payment terms and interest rates on the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), also noting that if an advance was given under these loans the advance amount would be deducted from the potential forgiveness of the PPP loan. Yes, an advance under one loan would be an offset to the portion of allowable forgiveness under another!  The EIDLs are not forgivable but they have been set up on 30 year terms; seemingly manageable.

One important thing I’ve taken away from this experience is that the PPP loans were issued and managed through the SBA approved private lenders and then backed by the SBA. This meant, after digging around on the internet, calls to our lender and calls to the SBA that the forgiveness application would be handled by the lender.  Oddly enough, it didn’t seem like our lender knew that.  After much persistence, I found that forgiveness applications were being accepted and processed for those applicants that received funding in excess of $2M.  That meant the “small-business” funding recipients, the originally intended recipients of the CARES Act would have to wait for any clarity or solace on how these funds would ultimately be of impact.

I think it’s safe to assume that we all understand the rules as they currently stand and we are admittedly thankful for the CARES Act.  The end game goal with the PPP loan is that you needed to keep staff on payroll, if you laid anyone off you needed to rehire them and overall you needed 60% of the funding to go towards payroll with the remaining funding allowed towards mortgage interest, rent and utilities.

Again, that leaves me with the question of what the overall impact to the business will be. This is where it counts!  Let’s for a moment consider that we have utilized the funding properly and within the terms of forgiveness at 100% with the EIDL advance that was received also having an impact.  We essentially received a pass for a period of time related to our payroll costs, rent, and utilities.  The expenses are still sitting on our P&L,  we have a note that will be forgiven which will ultimately end up as income, but the IRS will be limiting the deduction of these expenses from our business’ taxable income.

What does this mean?  Now is the time to pull your General Ledger and scour through your P&L line items.  Understand your normal deductible business expenses and make sure that you have items classified properly for your tax reporting.  Don’t leave this for your tax preparer to question; nobody knows your business like you do. Who in your company is responsible for credit card allocations? How many times do you use your corporate credit card and the accounting team inadvertently books those charges to meals & entertainment or distributions, when in actuality it was a corporate team building lunch related to a client account or a client meeting, i.e. business meal, marketing or travel related expenses.? Meals & entertainment are limited at 50%, be cautious as to what is classified here.  Marketing, travel and mileage are 100% deductible.

In summation, if the PPP funding was utilized within the forgivable guidelines you should be able to apply for forgiveness at 100% less the EIDL advance you’ve received. These forgiven expenditures will be unallowed deductions on your tax filing for the year so make sure your other business related expenses are classified properly to capture as many deductible expenses as possible to reduce your tax liability. Connect with your lender and identify their protocol for the forgiveness application. A Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can be immensely helpful in providing canned reporting for both the PPP application process and the allowable payroll costs under the 8 week or 24 week option under the PPP loan needed for the forgiveness application.  

If you are unsure as to whether or not a PEO makes sense for your small business, we can help you decide! Libertate Insurance Services has a client first motto and works hard to help transfer risk in your business. So whether you’re looking for a PEO or you are a PEO seeking hard-to-place markets, connect with us today. Visit our website here for more info or check out the rest of the PEO Compass blogs here.

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Research credits: IRS.gov, uschamber.com, sba.gov

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

8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Reopening

Article was originally posted on HBR. To get all of HBR’s content delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Daily Alert newsletter.

In early March, when we published our HBR article “8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Coronavirus,” there were fewer than 100,000 cases and 4,000 deaths globally. Now, not quite three months later, infections exceed 5.5 million and employers face a whole new set of questions as they consider how to reopen the workplace after weeks or months of restrictions. As always, employers must remain nimble, and play close attention to local conditions and changing guidelines and practices. Here are eight questions they must now address.

  1. When is the right time for employees to return?

According to a survey of 854 U.S. employers we completed in early April, 42% reported that the majority of their workforce could work remotely — compared to just 14% before the pandemic. Employers now want to know when and how to bring many of their remote employees back.

The World Health Organization recommends that nonessential workers return when there is a sustained decrease in community transmission, a decreased rate of positive tests, sufficient testing available to detect new outbreaks, and adequate local hospital capacity to accommodate a surge of new cases should that occur.

Companies should be prepared to adopt different timetables for different geographies depending on local circumstances. They will do well to prioritize opening workplaces where work cannot be sustainably performed remotely, where there is high demand for the workplaces’ output, and where redesigning the space to allow for physical (social) distancing requires few changes.

  1. Who should return to the workplace?

Not everyone, and not all at once.

It’s best to have workers return gradually, which allows for lower density, making physical distancing less of a challenge. Maintaining a partially remote workforce also facilitates stress-testing physical or workflow changes to minimize disruption as more employees return to the workplace over subsequent weeks and months.

We suggest that workers at highest risk for complications of Covid-19 — those over 60 and those who are obese, have chronic lung or heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease — remain remote where possible until the amount of community transmission is very low. We also suggest that employees with children at home and who lack alternative child care, and employees for whom transport could pose a significant risk of exposure, should be encouraged to continue to work remotely if possible.

One option which can help avoid discrimination is for employers to simply allow employees to state they are uncomfortable returning to the workplace, without asking whether this is due to age, chronic disease, transportation concerns or child care.

  1. How can we protect employees who come to work?

The most important protection in the workplace is to effectively exclude those at highest risk of transmitting the disease. Forty-five percent of employers in our survey reported using thermal scanning to identify employees with fevers and exclude them. In the U.S., the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has determined that during the pandemic employers may require employee temperature checks or testing without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since most people do not have a fever when they first get sick with Covid-19, it is essential to couple scanning with questioning of returning employees, e.g., asking them whether they have a known exposure, a sick family member at home, or other symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, or new loss of taste and smell. Many companies will restrict visitor access to the workplace to reduce the potential for exposure.

Some employers are using a mobile app or web form to ask these questions; others use signage in the workplace. Employers can exclude employees who answer affirmatively at their discretion, and we recommend opting for more rather than less exclusion in the early days of reopening. Bear in mind that that employees with paid sick leave are less likely than those without it to come to work when they are ill. While sick-leave policies may be expensive, the cost of inadvertently allowing infected employees into the workplace may well be higher.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth masks for those who will come within six feet of others, and we recommend that employers require and provide masks for returning workers. Masks can be uncomfortable and must be removed for eating or drinking, but they provide some protection against spread of respiratory disease. Employers should explain that the mask is not to protect the wearer, but rather to protect co-workers. Handshakes are not coming back any time soon, and even elbow bumps don’t allow for the recommended physical distancing.

The workplace — whether it’s cubicles, an open workspace or an assembly line — should be arranged so that employees can remain at least six feet apart. Standing in lines should be abolished where possible; if a line is required such as at a cafeteria cash register, mark out 6-foot intervals to avoid crowding. (In the cafeteria, salad bars and finger food could promote spread of the virus; individually wrapped foods are safer.) More employees will eat at their desks, and companies can use sign-up sheets to decrease congestion in shared kitchens. Companies should continue to encourage hand-washing.

Companies should set capacity limits on conference rooms to allow six-foot spacing; if a meeting is too large for the available room, some participants should call in even if they are in the building. Plexiglass dividers can help prevent coronavirus spread in manufacturing, lobby, and retail settings.

Ninety-seven percent of companies in our survey reported enhancing their cleaning and disinfection, as well as increasing access to hand and surface sanitizers. While there is new evidence that the risk of virus transmission from surfaces is low, employees or cleaning staff should use disinfectant wipes regularly on shared surfaces such as vending machines or drink dispensers or shared printers, and employees should not share office equipment such as keyboards or phone headsets. Water fountains and ice machines can spread virus and should be turned off. Companies should also disable jet driers in bathrooms, which may disperse virus particles, and supply paper towels instead.

Finally, if an employee in the workplace is found to have Covid-19, companies must inform those who might have been exposed to him or her at work during the two days prior to symptoms. Those coworkers will need to be excluded from the workplace and self-quarantine. Employers must also maintain the infected employee’s confidentiality by not sharing their name.

  1. What role can testing play in making workplaces safer?

Testing can currently play only a small role in ensuring a safe return to the workplace. Right now, tests are expensive, in short supply and not accurate enough. Tests for current infection have low sensitivity rates (that is, they yield false negatives), so a negative test alone isn’t adequate to ensure that a worker is not contagious. However, testing can be useful in helping to identify asymptomatic coworkers at workplaces where there has been a known exposure. Point of care machines that yield “rapid” results can only process a handful of tests an hour, and nasal swabbing in the workplace could itself cause disease spread. Antibody tests, which require a blood sample, have a high rate of false negatives for current infection, and false positives for past infection. Further, after a person recovers from infection, it’s not clear that a positive antibody test indicates that they will be immune from future infection.

  1. What should we do if we discover an infected employee in the workplace?

Many have few or no symptoms early in a Covid-19 infection, and it’s likely that many workplaces will have an exposure despite the employer’s best efforts. As discussed, an employee or visitor with suspected Covid-19 should immediately leave the workplace and be advised to seek testing or medical attention. Areas used by the ill person for prolonged periods in the last week should be cordoned off and disinfected after allowing 24 hours for respiratory droplets to settle. Increasing air exchanges or opening windows can also reduce risk.

Employers should identify any employee who spent more than 10 minutes within six feet of the infected person during the two days before symptoms began, and those employees should also leave the workplace, self-quarantine, and monitor for symptoms until 14 days after their last exposure. Employees who have had passing contact, such as in a hall or an elevator, need not self-quarantine. Some exposed critical infrastructure workers such as transportation and health workers can return to work after exposure using masks and physical distancing along with heightened disinfection of their workspaces.

  1. When can employees return to business travel?

International business travel is unlikely to rebound until after this pandemic has receded. Many countries, if they allow international arrivals, require 14 days of quarantine, and business travelers might be quarantined again on return home. International business will continue to use teleconferences and videoconferences for many months to come, and travel will only resume substantially when there is a vaccine, effective treatment, or herd immunity.

Domestic travel will also remain limited in the coming months. Local areas that have new outbreaks will likely restrict movement, and a business traveler to such a region could be stranded there for weeks or months. Travel by personal car will come back first as this does not involve risk of exposure to others. Travel by train, bus, and airplane will take longer to return, and when it does business travelers are likely to encounter limited schedules that could increase travel time. When necessary, travelers can stay in hotels as most have ramped up their cleaning and disinfection; however, it’s still wise to use disinfectants on surfaces. Business leaders must clearly communicate and enforce company travel guidelines as they evolve.

  1. How can we meet employees’ growing mental and emotional health needs?

Many have suffered profound losses during the pandemic and have not had sufficient opportunity to grieve. Almost all of us have experienced loneliness. There will be more cases of anxiety and depression, and some survivors and their families will have post-traumatic stress syndrome. Access to mental health services was often poor before the pandemic, and needs will be greater now. Employers must step up to this challenge.

Most employers in our survey (58%) report increasing access to tele-behavioral health such as audio or video therapy sessions, while 83% report increasing communication about Employee Assistance Programs. Some types of cognitive behavioral therapy can be effectively delivered via mobile app, and we anticipate increased used of digital solutions to address some mental health needs. Some employees benefit from mindfulness and mediation programs, and the value of online programs has increased.

Employers can also establish virtual social networks to address isolation, and train supervisors to identify employee mental health needs in the remote workforce and make appropriate referrals. Consideration of family and child care responsibilities and encouraging exercise and time away from work also helps support employees’ emotional health.

  1. How should we communicate around return to the workplace?

False and unfounded rumors can spread as fast as a virus, and companies need to earn the trust of their employees through frequent and accurate communications. Companies should address employee concerns about the safety of returning by focusing communications on the actions being taken to protect them, including workplace cleaning, screening policies, and changes being made to allow social distancing. This information should be shared in regular pushed communications such as email, as well as through the company intranet and human resources sites.

Visual communication about appropriate behavior is also important. Companies should retire stock photos of employees who are clustered tightly together. They should also avoid images of people wearing medical-grade protective gear such as face-shields or N95 masks in non-clinical workplace surroundings as these remain in short supply and are not recommended.

Finally, because pandemics can incite xenophobia, bias and stigma, leaders should be alert to the potential for some groups or individuals to be stigmatized, and speak out against it. Hate crimes against Asians, for example, have increased with the current pandemic, much as African Americans were wrongly blamed for spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Our survey showed that 47% of companies are currently taking actions to reduce stigma during this pandemic, and 21% are planning to take such actions; still, almost a third of respondents have no such plans. Unconscious bias and anti-discrimination communication and training are key elements of diversity and inclusion strategies, and their importance is even greater now.

Covid-19 is a fast-moving virus and its impact on organizations and the world has been strong and swift. The practices outlined above will not only help protect employees, the community and company reputation, but also position companies for a smoother transition as they arrange return to the workplace.

If our free content helps you to contend with these challenges, please consider subscribing to HBR. A subscription purchase is the best way to support the creation of these resources.

Jeff Levin-Scherz, MD, MBA, is a managing director and co-leader of the North American Health Management practice at Willis Towers Watson. Jeff trained as primary care physician, and has played leadership roles in provider organizations and a health plan. He is an Assistant Professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Deana Allen RN, MBA, is a senior vice president of the North America Healthcare Industry practice and serves as the Intellectual Capital and Operations Excellence leader at Willis Towers Watson. In addition to work as a clinician she has served as a health system corporate director of risk and insurance and healthcare consultant.

Functioning in the capacity of an employer of others has always held its challenges.  Excelling in this roll during a global pandemic brings a whole new layer of complexity.  During this time, your Employment Practices can define you.

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. To register, click here.

Legislative Activity Update – FL Senate Bill 292

The state of Florida has passed Senate Bill 292.  This bill is responsible for defining the terms “loss run statement” and “provide”; requiring surplus lines and authorized insurers, respectively, to provide insureds either a loss run statement or certain information within a certain time frame after receipt of the insured’s written request.  This also requires insurers to provide notice to the agent of record after providing a loss run statement and prohibits insurers from charging a fee to prepare and provide one loss run statement annually.

Effective Date: 1/1/2021
Last Action: 6/22/2020 – Chapter No. 2020-51
Bill Text: Web Page | PDF

See the source image

Florida – Effective January 1, 2021, FL law changes for providing Loss Runs to the insured as well as notification to the Agent of Record.

  • An insurer shall provide loss runs to an insured within 15 calendar days after receipt of the insured’s written request.
  • Loss runs provided must contain the claims history with the insurer for the preceding 5 years or if history is less than 5 years then all years must be provided to the insured.
  • They can be electronically provided, allowing access through a secure website login or generate documents and mail.
  • The insurer must notify the Agent of Record that loss runs were provided to the insured at the time they are provided.
  • An insurer is not required to provide loss reserve information.

 

Fears of unsafe conditions raise worker rights concerns

 

As the numbers of COVID-19 infections continue to climb, employment attorneys say fearful workers have limited rights in refusing to work, while employers have legal obligations to provide a safe place to work.

It’s an intersection legal experts say calls for enhanced communication between companies and their workers and a constant adherence to evolving state and federal laws guiding work during the pandemic.

“Companies need to assure employees they are on top of this; it goes a long way,” said Matt Hinton, New York-based partner for risk consulting firm Control Risks Ltd. He says the issue is one to watch as more states lift restrictions.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both issued guidelines on workplace safely. As of Wednesday, at least one state — Oregon — is gearing up to create permanent workplace safety guidelines for infectious diseases.

A majority of employers say they have plans in place. And safety professionals are telling employers to encourage employee engagement in safety protocols. Yet concerns are growing over whether employers are doing enough. On Monday, unions representing some 60,000 Nevada hospitality workers sued three casino properties over alleged unsafe working conditions related to the coronavirus.

Worker fear is a genuine concern, but it’s not enough to refuse work, said Courtney Malveaux, Richmond, Virginia-based principal and attorney with Jackson Lewis P.C.

The rule is a worker must have a “specific” concern, he said. An example would be if the workplace is not clean, or the worksite is not following local regulations such as requiring individuals to wear masks.

“A generalized fear of COVID does not provide a basis for refusing to work; it has to be a specific fear of a circumstance at that employee’s workplace,” Mr. Malveaux said. “It also has to be a fear that is made in good faith and is reasonable to others.”

An employee with a compromised immune system or other health issue that puts him or her at risk for COVID-19 complications could be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would require the employer to work to find the employee an accommodation, such as an alternative work environment, he said. Any concern with work “must be specific to the workplace or the employee” with a health condition, he said.

Maurice Emsellem, Berkeley, California-based program director of the National Employment Law Project, said worker rights advocates are calling on the federal government to outline more specific guidelines for those who refuse work under certain conditions. He said that what is in place among OSHA, CDC and ADA may not be enough.

There is also concern that state unemployment agencies are not keeping up with the changing landscape. “(Workers) are vulnerable because they lose their unemployment benefits if the state agencies don’t do the right thing,” he said. “In general, workers have to know they can refuse unsafe work.” In most states, a worker who quits a job cannot collect unemployment benefits.

Expect litigation, said Maxfield Marquardt, Los Angeles-based counsel and associate director for regulatory affairs at Trusaic Inc., a compliance technology company. Many state laws create parameters for employees to work “at will,” he said.

“An employee has the right to not show up for work,” he said. “But will they keep their jobs? … An employer can say, ‘You want to work? Come in.’”

Disagreements over whether conditions are safe, or whether an employer is following safe guidelines, are “part of the reason you are going to see a lot of litigation,” Mr. Marquardt said. “Litigation and regulatory guidance are evolving at a fast pace. OSHA could change its guidelines Friday; the CDC may change its guidelines again.” How can companies avoid the potential legal mess? Pay attention and consider the federal, state and local workplace mandates as “the bare minimum” in ensuring safe working conditions, Mr. Hinton said. “The employee sentiment is the important piece,” he said. “Have a path for your employees to raise their hand and say, ‘This isn’t working.’”

Listening to employees will be key, said Kim Brunell, Washington-based associate director at Control Risks. “You have to have a collaborative approach to safety,” she said. “Employers that do that best consider the context of a particular work environment.”

 

Originally posted on July 1st, 2020 by Louise Esola for Business Insurance

As COVID-19 Spreads, Beware of EPL Risks

As businesses of all sizes strive to protect their employees and preserve cash flow during the coronavirus pandemic, likely the last thing on most of their minds is employment practices liability (EPL) exposures. But EPL risks are higher during pandemics and other periods when employers are more likely to furlough, lay off or ask employees to work from home.

Despite federal legislation aimed at relieving financial burdens on workers and their employers, many businesses face difficult choices – and more complicated record keeping.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which takes effect April 1, permits workers to take paid public health emergency leave to care for themselves or their children through the end of 2020. The law requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees who cannot work due to the closure of their children’s school or child-care provider during the public health emergency. The law generally requires employers to restore the employee to his or her former job after leave, unless the employer has 25 or fewer workers, or the position no longer exists due to economic conditions resulting from the public health emergency (source 12).

Several EPL risks for businesses can arise from the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These include:

Wage-and-hour issues. Employers should carefully track employees’ working time, especially in work-from- home arrangements, as well as during a furlough. Work hours are common tipping points for eligibility under an employer’s employee benefits plan.

“A lot of employment issues arise from COVID-19. Frequent questions I get from employers concern furloughs, layoffs, and working from home,” said Kunal Shah, Of Counsel at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP in Dallas. “If a business temporarily closes its doors, or significantly reduces its staff and hours, how do we navigate employee compensation and benefits? Insureds need to be mindful that furloughs, if not handled properly, can lead to significant wage-and-hour claims.”

If an employer requires employees to take unpaid leave through furlough, problems can arise if employees are asked to spend even a little bit of that time working, Shah cautioned. “An employer can furlough an exempt employee, but if the employee does one second of work, he or she is entitled to full pay for the entire pay period under the Fair Labor Standards Act,” he said.

“Employers need to be mindful of local and state ordinances, too. Employees of businesses that are deemed non- essential should not be working if they are under a shelter-in-place order,” Shah said.

Hours spent working matter, to workers and their employers. “Benefit plans may no longer provide benefits if hours fall below a certain threshold,” Shah explained. “For example, if a full-time employee goes below a certain hours minimum required for benefits under their group health plan, he or she may trigger coverage under COBRA,” or the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a federal law that allows workers to obtain group health insurance temporarily, usually for up to 18 months.

“The reverse can also happen, where an employee works more hours than agreed upon, thus making him or her eligible for certain benefits otherwise not agreed to. For these reasons, timekeeping and logging hours are important steps for every employer, especially in a working-from-home arrangement,” Shah advised. Relying on employees to track their own time can be risky. “Asking employees to report their hours daily, even in an e-mail, is a good way to document work time if an employer lacks a logging system for remote workers,” Shah suggested.

“Also, employees who are on unpaid leave or working less hours due to furlough can still apply for unemployment benefits. An employer must be mindful of these sorts of situations to avoid wage-and-hour claims,” Shah advised.

Wrongful termination. Reductions in force (RIFs) are an unfortunate fact during economic downturns, such as the one that is occurring due to COVID-19. RIFs often lead to wrongful termination claims, and potentially even class-action lawsuits.

Because the coronavirus so far poses greater health risks to people over age 65, people with obesity and underlying uncontrolled health conditions such as diabetes or liver disease, and pregnant women, employers must proceed carefully with terminations. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention offers information resources to help business and employers slow the spread of COVID-19 (source).

It might seem logical to some employers to lay off workers at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, but that is problematic and could invite lawsuits alleging discrimination and wrongful termination.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) issues. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces anti- discrimination laws, including the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. With the stress and anxiety over COVID-19, employees with disabilities might make more requests for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. Employers should consider any accommodation requests during the pandemic in the same manner in which they otherwise would. The EEOC also has published guidance for employers on COVID-19 (source).

The ADA allows employers to seek certain information about employees’ health and disabilities, insofar as such information is job-related and consistent with “business necessity,” but employers must remain aware of their obligations to apply it consistently and keep information confidential.

“Because we are dealing with a pandemic, it is now OK for employers to take employees’ temperatures or send an employee home if he or she is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, but any information an employer collects about an employee’s health must be treated as a confidential medical record,” Shah said. “During a pandemic like COVID-19, employees exhibiting symptoms consistent with the virus post a direct threat under the ADA, warranting an employer’s questions out of business necessity. Employers should remember that all other aspects of the ADA remain in effect. There is still the potential for retaliation claims under the ADA and other laws.”

Third-party discrimination. Another form of EPL exposure is third-party discrimination. Such claims may come from customers or others. For example, refusal of service or preferential treatment could be construed as third-party discrimination.

“Businesses all over the United States have been mandated to practice social distancing and not put their employees or customers in jeopardy. Businesses can’t prevent claims, but they may have lots of meritorious defenses,” Shah said.

Original article posted by CRC Group Wholesale & Specialty

Pandemic Roiling D&O Marketplace

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, the directors and officers of public and private organizations are facing risks on two fronts: the economic impacts of COVID-19 and litigation. Adding to the challenge is a hardening insurance marketplace.

D&O liability insurance was already undergoing a market correction before the pandemic, after years of poor results and growth in claims. The uncertainties that COVID-19 is bringing to all sectors of the economy will undoubtedly lead to further changes – not only in the form of higher rates, but also tighter terms and conditions, as well as additional exclusions.

These trends will make navigating a complex line of coverage even more challenging, but they are not unprecedented. D&O insurers similarly tightened their underwriting during the financial crisis in 2008, then eased coverage restrictions after the global recession ended.

Times of crisis historically make directors and officers more frequent targets of litigation, as plaintiffs scrutinize organizations’ decisions. Generally, D&O allegations tend to fall into three categories: disclosures, particularly for public companies; mismanagement, especially when companies post results or their share prices drop precipitously; and insolvency. Even when a lawsuit is found to have no merit, organizations still must defend it, and those expenses can quickly mount.

D&O LAWSUITS OVER COVID-19

The Securities and Exchange Commission has encouraged public companies to disclose the impact of the coronavirus on their operations and financial condition, even as the SEC notes the future impact is uncertain. But public statements can get companies into hot water, as recent litigation shows.

Several lawsuits naming organizations and their directors and officers have already been filed with allegations relating directly to the coronavirus pandemic.1 A sampling of lawsuits include class actions against:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. In March, plaintiffs filed a federal securities lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the cruise line made false and misleading statements about the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s operations and business prospects. The lawsuit also cited media reports of leaked internal memos directing the cruise line’s sales staff to lie about the coronavirus.2
  • Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. Also in March, plaintiffs filed a securities lawsuit alleging the biotechnology company made false and misleading statements that it had designed a vaccine for COVID-19 in three hours. A research firm called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Inovio’s statement, suggesting it was “ludicrous and dangerous.”3

Article originally posted on CRC Group Wholesale & Specialty Group