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Workplace Distractions Hurt Your Employees and Your Business

POSTED ON February 28th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
Workplace distractions are ever-present. They reduce workers’ productivity, increase their stress, cause injuries and lower morale. Some are the result of modern technology, but others have been around a lot longer. Following an interruption, it typically takes a couple of minutes to return concentration to work. These short interruptions and recovery periods add up to large amounts of lost productive time. There are a multitude of distractions that can affect employee safety and productivity that employers need to be aware of.  
  1. Smartphones– Smartphones and tablet computers are a major distraction, especially in office environments. Text messages, alerts and the urge to check Facebook and news – not to mention game apps like Candy Crush and Words With Friends – can pull employees’ attention away from the task at hand.
  2. E-mail– Misuse of e-mail can be another productivity sapper. This includes strings of e-mails sent to arrange a time for a meeting or conference call, when scheduling software could accomplish the same thing with one or two messages. It also includes clicking the “reply all” button, sending a thank-you intended for one person to a group of ten. Again, these small interruptions compound over time.
  3. Old-fashioned interruptions – A co-worker who stops by to ask a quick question and sticks around to chat for a few minutes. Meetings that are held because they’ve always been held, regardless of whether they accomplish anything. The colleague who sits three cubicles away and is incapable of having a quiet conversation.
  4. Personal issues– In some cases, a worker’s distractions may come from himself. His job may be boring, causing his mind to wander while he uses a tool or pours a hot drink. He may have problems at home – financial difficulties, family members who are ill, elderly parents, a child going through a rough time.
  5. Work pressures– This includes perceived pressure to finish a job quickly. Manufacturing or warehouse employees may feel pushed to fill an order in a hurry, or construction workers may face short deadlines.
  6. Complacency– Sometimes, employees have done a job for too long and have grown complacent in their knowledge. This can lead to their missing crucial steps in the process, resulting in faulty work – and worse.
  The fallout Distractions are not only annoying; they can also be dangerous. Tripping hazards, machines that use saws, punches, drills or lasers, and workplace chemicals can all cause serious injuries if workers are not paying attention. An employee driving a forklift in a warehouse can collide with furniture or goods. Kitchen workers plus knives and stoves, plus distractions, can easily produce injuries that are costly and upsetting for the rest of the staff. To an extent, distractions are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. One thing employers can do is to encourage frequent breaks. There is a limit to how long someone can focus intently on a task. Occasional stretch or walk breaks can help workers clear their minds, relax a little, and take care of personal phone calls and messages. If necessary, managers can block employees from accessing certain websites or limit use of smartphones to break times. They can also model and encourage proper use of e-mail. Meetings can be scheduled only when a group discussion is necessary to accomplish work results. To keep them on track, they should be time-limited and have stated agendas. If it doesn’t interfere with customer service, employees can wear earbuds or headphones to muffle loud conversations. Employees subject to frequent interruptions from gossipy co-workers should be permitted to hang up “do not disturb” signs when necessary. It is possible to reduce distractions without burdening the workplace with excessive rules. Employers who do so will raise morale, prevent injuries, improve quality and boost profits.                  

Five Ways to Reduce Accidents among Your Driving Employees

POSTED ON February 20th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
We’ve often discussed the scourge of distracted driving in America, brought on in large part due to the use of smartphones and leading to a significant spike in vehicle accidents, injuries and deaths. That in turn has led to a jump in both commercial and personal auto insurance pricing. The risk for businesses is even greater as a careless driving employee can result in a substantial liability claim, particularly if a third party is injured. If one of your drivers is found to have been engaged in distracted driving, any judgment or settlement for a personal injury could easily cost more than $1 million. While you can hold meetings about the dangers of distracted driving and what your driving employees can do to reduce the chances of crashing, in the end it comes down to trusting that they will do the right thing. So what can you do? We suggest a holistic approach to the issue.
  1. Understand distracted driving
Just how bad is the distracted driving problem? In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. During daylight hours, an estimated 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. But smartphones are not the only source of distraction. Road safety experts say there are three types of distraction for drivers:
  • Manual – This can include looking around for a lost object in the car, reaching under the seat or behind to the back seat.
  • Cognitive – This can include a driver who is lost in thought and not paying full attention to driving.
  • Visual – Anything that makes a driver takes their eyes off the road, like looking at the GPS or searching for a song on an iPod.
  Some distractions actually are a combination of two or all the above, like texting or posting stuff on Facebook. All of your training for your driving employees must emphasize the need to address all types of distracted driving, and should include scenarios to help them make proper decisions when behind the wheel. 2. Hire good drivers When hiring personnel who drive, consider what their primary responsibility is. For example, if you own a plumbing operation, your drivers are not necessarily going to be professional drivers, since their primary duty is fixing plumbing issues. But if you are hiring any workers who will be driving as part of their job, even if it’s not their primary responsibility, you should still make sure they are good drivers by checking their driving records. Hiring safe drivers is one of the best ways for you to ensure you are putting safe drivers behind the wheel. After all, past driving behavior is the best indication of future performance. If you think any prospect will be driving as part of their job, you should pull their DMV records. Look for anything serious like DUIs or frequent citations for moving violations. You should decide what your level of tolerance is for driving histories. In addition, check their resumes to see whether they were driving as part of any of their prior jobs, and if they have experience driving the same type of vehicle they would be driving for you. Also ask about any medications the applicant may be taking, as some can affect their driving. Finally, consider requiring candidates that would be driving to take a road test as part of the recruitment process.     3. Coach current employees to be safe drivers You should hold regular training for all of your current employees that may drive as part of their job, even if they are only running to the office supply store or on an occasional errand. You should attack this in a three-pronged approach:
  • Pull their DMV driving records annually.
  • Subject them to road tests where they are graded on their safe driving.
  • Hold an annual meeting to go over safe driving policies; reinforce the dangers of distracted driving and stress the need to always focus on the task at hand.
  You should also have safe driving policies in writing that are enforceable. Your policies should list all the behaviors your workers are prohibited from engaging in while driving. Some rules you can include:
  • Never answer the phone while driving, even if you have a hands-free device.
  • Bar programming a GPS while on the move and require that they pull over when safe to do so.
  • Never hold your smartphone in your hand while driving.
  Your policy should also specify the consequences and any disciplinary action for breaking the rules. You should maintain records of these policies. This is of utmost importance if one of your employees is in an accident and accused of negligence. Your policy and proof of training can protect your organization.
  1. Take advantage of technology
Many companies are installing GPS tracking devices in their vehicles so they can receive real-time information about a vehicle’s location and rate of speed. This gives you valuable insight into any dangerous habits your drivers may be engaging in. You can also install technologies that will block cell phone signals while the vehicle is moving.
  1. Have procedures for dealing with accidents
Despite your best efforts, your driving employees may still have accidents. They should be trained in the procedures they should follow after an accident. Some companies include accident kits in their vehicles. They are typically a small bag or box that’s kept in the glove compartment. The kit should explain what they should do, including:
  • Taking photos from all angles after an accident.
  • Completing a form on which to record details of the accident, including where it took place, how it occurred, the damage to third parties, the other driver’s insurance information, road conditions, and more. Require your drivers to take down all the details at the scene of the accident.
  • Calling the police in the event of an accident.
Employees should not discuss who was at fault with the police, but they can work with them to document the accident. Plus, a police officer can provide a calm, outside perspective on a stressful situation.    

Businesses Pay Record Amounts for Lawsuits over Employee Treatment

POSTED ON January 23rd  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
Employers are paying out more for legal settlements and judgments for cases brought by employees over how they are being treated. According to the employment law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, settlements for the 10 biggest class-action suits brought by employees grew an astounding 55% to $2.72 billion in 2017 from $1.75 billion the year prior. The trend in employee class actions reflects a similar trend of individual actions, which should be a wake-up call for employers to review their human resources policies and practices. These cases include claims for:
  • Wage-and-hour violations (such as insufficient pay, failure to pay overtime, etc.)
  • Employee bias (such as discrimination against protected classes)
  • Underfunded pension plans
  • Harassment
  • Independent contractor vs. employee disagreements
It’s unlikely that the aggregate record settlement amount in 2017 – the highest Seyfarth Shaw has recorded since it started keeping track in 2003 – may constitute a trend as many of the actions were government enforcement lawsuits against employers brought by the Obama administration. The business-friendly Trump administration delivers on promises of less government intervention and reduced federal enforcement efforts. But the law firm predicted that 2018 could be still be significant in light of the #MeToo movement after numerous allegations of sexual harassment have sunk the careers of high-profile businessmen, actors and politicians. Lawyers expect more rank-and-file workers, emboldened by the news reports, to file lawsuits against their employers alleging sexual harassment by superiors. Also, in a bit of pushback against the Trump administration’s policies, a number of state attorneys general have been taking a more aggressive stance on workplace issues and they could pick up part of the slack. The fallout The stakes are high for employers. Employee-initiated lawsuits can drag on for years and can be expensive even if the employer wins the case. Legal fees can easily reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars and sympathetic juries can punish a company with large awards. Combined, legal fees and awards or settlements can sink a small business by crimping its cash flow and causing irreparable damage. As an employer, you should review your policies on harassment and discrimination, your pay practices and how you are classifying employees and independent contractors. You should consider:
  • Whether you have a strong anti-harassment and discrimination policy in place, and if you have a solid reporting mechanism for workers who feel they have been harassed or discriminated against. The process should be confidential and you should take all complaints seriously and investigate them. Whatever you do, don’t retaliate against an employee who has filed a complaint, as that could lead to a retaliation lawsuit being filed against your business.
  • Reviewing your pay policies to make sure that you are accurately accounting for overtime pay, holiday pay and that you are not paying one class of worker more than another for the same work if they have similar experience and position.
  • Reviewing how you are classifying independent contractors to make sure you are not running afoul of the law. The IRS is still taking a serious view of misclassification, and you also run the risk of being sued by someone who feels they should be classified and paid as an employee if you are classifying them as an independent contractor.
  • Taking out an employment practices liability insurance policy. These policies cover legal fees associated with the above actions, investigation costs, and judgments and settlements. An EPLI policy could be your company’s lifeline for protecting your assets should your firm be sued.

Top 10 Laws, Regulations and Trends for 2018

POSTED ON December 26th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
Last week we brought you the first five laws, trends and regulations that will affect businesses in 2018. This is part with the remaining five.  
  1. Silica rules
Cal/OSHA began enforcing its new silica rules on Sept. 23, 2017 for the construction industry, and now the rules are in full effect for contractors and general industry, for which the rules took effect in late 2016. Under the new silica standard, the permissible exposure limit is 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, compared to the old standard of 100. All construction employers covered by the standard are required to:
  • Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that identifies tasks that involve exposure and methods used to protect workers, including procedures to restrict access to work areas where high exposures may occur.
  • Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan.
  • Restrict housekeeping practices that expose workers to silica where feasible alternatives are available.
 
  1. Sexual harassment trends and EPLI
With the wave of sexual harassment allegations sweeping the country – taking down public figures in politics, entertainment, business and the media – you can expect the trend to filter down from the spotlight to employers in all industries. Employers have been in the cross hairs for sexual harassment and discrimination for years, but with more stories and the #metoo movement, there is likely to be an uptick in allegations against supervisors, managers and owners in businesses. Now is the time to double down on anti-sexual harassment training, putting in place a robust reporting mechanism that shields the accused. If you don’t already have it, now is also the time to seriously consider an employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) policy.  
  1. Worksite immigration enforcement and protections
The Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) provides workers with protection from immigration enforcement while on the job and imposes varying fines from $2,000 to $10,000 on employers that violate the law’s provisions. This bill also makes it unlawful for employers to re-verify the employment eligibility of current employees in a time or manner not allowed by federal employment eligibility verification laws.  
  1. Heat safety for indoor workers
Start preparing in 2018 for indoor heat illness regulations that are slated to come on Cal/OSHA’s books starting Jan. 1, 2019. A bill passed in 2016 requires that, by that date, the Division propose to the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board for review and adoption, a heat illness and injury prevention standard applicable to people working in indoor places of employment. California has had an active outdoor workplace heat illness standard since 2006. Moreover, in the past several years Cal/OSHA and other agencies have initiated either training or enforcement to protect workers against indoor heat illness. If you have vulnerable workers, you can use 2018 as the year to put safeguards in place for employees that work in high-heat indoor conditions. The regulations will apply to:
  • Indoor workplaces where the dry bulb temperature exceeds 90 degrees, or
  • Where employees perform moderate, heavy or very heavy work and the dry bulb temperature exceeds 80 degrees.
 
  1. Criminal background checks
Starting in 2018, employers with five or more workers may not conduct a criminal background check prior to the offer of employment to an applicant. If an employer does conduct a criminal check after an offer, it must make an individualized assessment whether a particular conviction has a direct and adverse relationship to the specific duties of the job that justify denying the applicant the position. Also, if an employer decides not to hire someone based on information from a criminal check, the employer must notify the applicant of the decision in writing, and provide at least five business days to respond. The employer must then consider the applicant’s response before making a final decision.      

Top 10 Laws, Regulations and Trends for 2018

POSTED ON December 19th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
In this article, we focus on the top 10 laws, regulations and trends going into 2018 that employers need to be aware of.  
  1. New Parent Leave Act
Effective Jan. 1, 2018, employers in California with 20 or more workers will be required to provide eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a new child. This builds on a 20-year-old law that required only employers with 50 or more staff to provide employees with time off for child bonding. Like the current law, the New Parent Leave Act applies to newborns or a child placed with the employee for adoption for foster care. To be eligible for parental leave, an employee must:
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months;
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave; and
  • Work at a worksite that has at least 20 employees within a 75-mile radius.
While the leave is unpaid, employees are allowed to use accrued vacation pay, paid sick time off or other accrued paid time off.  
  1. Wage increases
With the economy humming along at a decent pace of growth and unemployment at record lows, employers should expect competition for talent to increase. With quality personnel scarce, it’s expected that wages will rise, even though many economists had expected a faster rate of growth given the low unemployment rate and steady economic expansion. The Society for Human Resources Management predicts that companies should expect to pay about 3% more in wages across all sectors. In high-demand fields, employers should expect to have to pay more than that to retain and attract talent. Those fields include health care, elderly care, engineering, hi-tech and construction.  
  1. Expanded Anti-Harassment Training Requirements
As you probably know, current law requires employers with 50 or more workers to hold two hours of anti-sexual harassment training for supervisors every two years. The law and subsequent regulations by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing outline the training requirements. A new law, SB 396, expands the subjects of that training to also include harassment based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. The training must include specific examples of such harassment. This portion of the training must be presented by trainers with knowledge and expertise in these areas.  
  1. Complying with ACA rules
The IRS has stepped up enforcement of Affordable Care Act compliance for not only the part that requires applicable large employers to provide coverage for their staff, but also the filing of IRS forms that verify compliance. Besides being able to fine your organization for not complying with the law, it will also be fining employers that fail to file the forms or make mistakes in filing them. Under the ACA, an employer can be fined $250 for each form that it fails to file or files late, as well as for forms with missing or incorrect information like names, birthdates or Social Security numbers. The maximum fine for these filing errors is $3 million per organization.  
  1. No more salary history questions
Starting in 2018, AB 168 restricts the types of salary questions that employers in California can ask job applicants. In particular, employers may not ask prospective employees about their prior salaries at other employers. The new law also bars employers from relying on prior salary history when deciding whether to hire someone and how much to pay them.   This is the first part of a two-part series. The five other developments for 2018 will follow in our next blog.

Commercial Rates Climb in Wake of Higher Claims Costs, Catastrophes

POSTED ON December 12th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
There is a confluence of factors affecting insurance rates going into 2018 that are pushing premiums higher in a number of commercial lines policies, including auto, liability and property. Increasing claims costs in commercial auto are at the top of the list, largely due to a spike in distracted driving accidents, injuries, deaths and higher costs to repair modern vehicles. Now, after the most expensive natural disaster season on record – hurricanes, floods and wildfires – premiums for commercial property are also on the rise. Workers’ compensation seems to be the outlier, as rates in most states have remained steady or have been falling. Average renewal rate increases in November:
  • Business owner’s: 4%
  • Commercial auto: 3.2%
  • Commercial property: 2.8
  • General liability: 1.7%
  • Commercial umbrella: 1.2%
  These rate increases come after years of soft pricing in insurance, but thanks to an uptick in both claims and claims costs, many insurers have seen their commercial and auto insurance business lose money. The most notable example was State Farm Insurance Cos., which booked a $7 billion loss on auto insurance in 2016. As a result of the rate increases, commercial auto premiums have been on the climb since about 2015. And there could be more ahead in 2018 and beyond. U.S. property-casualty insurers posted a preliminary underwriting loss of $20 billion for the first nine months of 2017. The losses were largely driven by one of the costliest hurricane seasons on record, severe wildfires in California, flooding in many parts of the country, and more. Also, in terms of liability, medical care costs in particular have been on the rise, which has driven up costs of many lines of insurance, including liability, umbrella and business owner’s policies.   What to expect in 2018 Willis Towers Watson, a global risk management firm, predicts in its report,  , that the largest increases going into 2018 will be felt in:
  • Commercial properties in catastrophe-exposed areas, and particularly properties that have had prior catastrophe-related claims
  • Construction auto
  • Casualty auto
  • Environmental
  • Employment practices
  “The marketplace is going to react, and buyers need to be ready,” Willis writes in its report. “By 1/1 renewals, insurers will have a clearer sense of the losses they face.” Now is the time to catalog the positive differentiators of your risk so you can set yourself apart from the pack. It is also the time to benefit from long-term relationships where perhaps you didn’t always seek the rock-bottom price. Anyone going to market should have a Plan B in place – and a Plan C. Buyers should also know their risk tolerances, so that if rates and retentions are spiking, you know where your ceiling is. Use the analytics now widely available to make these assessments rationally. The last thing you want is to be caught off guard.  

When Injuries at Work Don’t Equal Workers’ Comp

POSTED ON November 21st  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
While injuries and deaths that occur while someone is carrying out their work on behalf of their employer are compensated by workers’ comp coverage, not all workplace injuries or deaths are compensable, as a recent court case shows. In the case, a heating and air conditioning technician died of a heart attack while working in an attic. But his wife was denied workers’ comp death benefits by the insurance company and a workers’ comp judge on the basis that the heart attack was not related to work. The decision by the judge was appealed and a state court recently ruled that this was not a case for workers’ comp benefits despite the wife’s argument that the employer knew the technician was feeling bad when he arrived at work and should not have sent him to work in an attic space. But the case could have gone the other way had the technician’s supervisor acted differently. In the case of Lisa Kelly vs. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in Pennsylvania, the technician, upon arriving at work, told his supervisor that he was feeling weak, tired and had a kink in his neck from sleeping poorly the night before. His supervisor told him that he could take the day off if he was feeling poorly, but Kelly said he would continue working. Still, the supervisor gave him a light duty assignment in consideration of how he was feeling. While the technician was laying a thermostat wire in the attic of the building, other workers heard moans and climbed the 15-foot ladder to investigate. They found the technician lying incoherent on the floor thrashing around on the drywall between the trusses, and making babbling sounds while bleeding from his head, face and leg. An ambulance transported Kelly to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The autopsy findings revealed the presence of coronary artery disease, coronary heart disease, atherosclerotic heart disease, and ischemic heart disease. Kelly’s widow filed a workers’ comp claim for survivors’ benefits, claiming his heart attack had occurred as a result of his employment. She backed up this claim by stating that he didn’t have any health problems, didn’t complain about chest pain, never saw a heart doctor and wasn’t on any medication. But she did acknowledge that her husband had smoked a pack a day for the last 30 years. The company denied the claim and she took the case before a workers’ comp judge, and later to appeal at the state court level. Why the employer is not on the hook The court noted that the plaintiff had failed to show the two underpinnings of a workers’ comp claim:
  • That the death arose in the course of employment, and
  • That the death was related to employment.
  While it’s indisputable that the heart attack happened at work, the court said the evidence showed that the heart attack was not related to his work.   Kelly’s supervisor and other workers all said that the work the technician had been assigned was not strenuous work, like much of the other work they engage in. The doctor said that the autopsy indicated that the technician had been suffering from insufficient blood flow to the heart eight to 12 hours before coming to work, and that he was at risk for a heart attack regardless of what he had done that day. The takeaway Workers’ comp attorneys say this case could have gone the other way had the supervisor not acted appropriately. In this case, he did the right thing by offering to send Kelly home for the day and, when the worker refused, he was instead assigned light duty.   While employers are responsible for keeping their workers’ safe, they cannot do much about their underlying health problems.

After the Grenfell Tower Fire: What Building Owners Can Do to Improve Fire Safety

POSTED ON November 14th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
A massive London apartment fire that killed at least 80 people last June is causing landlords to reassess fire risk and potential liability. Officials trace the likely genesis of the Grenfell Tower fire to a faulty refrigerator. But the use of Reynobond PE, an exterior building cladding made by Pittsburgh-based Arconic, Inc., may have contributed to the rapid spread of the fire from floor to floor around the building’s exterior. The cladding consists of thin sheets of aluminum on either side of a core of polyethylene, a flammable plastic. Despite being illegal for use on high-rise projects in the United States, it’s estimated that thousands of buildings in the US also have the cladding. It’s already been implicated in another fire at the Lacrosse tower in Melbourne, Australia, in 2014, and possibly in other apartment building fires in France and the United Arab Emirates. “We have this issue all over Europe, we have this issue in the US, and in Asia and the Middle East,” said Didier Schutz, an engineer with SCOR, a global reinsurance company, who presented a session on combustible exterior wall assemblies at the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) annual conference in 2016. “It’s a worldwide problem,” he added. While Arconic has discontinued the sale of the particular building cladding in question for high-rise projects, landlords should take care to ensure that their buildings don’t have hazardous, flammable siding materials installed from years ago. Specifically, all cladding should comply with the provisions of NFPA 285 – a rule from the NFPA adopted under the International Building Code that regulates the use of combustible materials in non-load-bearing siding. Flammable materials in houses, small apartments Smaller landlords, too, should take care to ensure their buildings are constructed with fire-resistant materials. While vinyl siding is generally considered to be flame-resistant itself, it can melt if there is a fuel source such as shrubbery very near to the building – leaving the wall exposed. Landlords can take steps to ensure the entire building is constructed with tenant safety in mind. For example:
  • Ensure any vinyl or aluminum siding is sealed at the base, to keep flames out of the gap between the siding and the wall.
  • Cover vents and openings with 1/8” metal mesh to keep burning embers out of the home.
  • Separate wooden fences from the home with brick or stone barriers.
  • Use composite material to build decks.
  • Install tempered dual-pane windows.
  • Avoid wooden shake and shingle roofs. Use non-flammable roofing materials:
    • Metal shingles
    • Clay or cement tiles
    • Asphalt
    • Cementitious composite.
  • Ensure gutters and roofs are clear of debris.
  • Use plaster, stucco, stone or brick exterior walls.
  • Conduct maintenance on furnaces.
  • Check all fire and smoke alarms. Replace batteries in accordance with manufacturer recommendations.
  • Consider rewiring old homes. Prioritize electrical upgrades in your renovation plans.
  • Don’t use high-wattage bulbs in recessed fixtures.
  • Replace old or untreated cellulose insulation with fiberglass or mineral wool.
  • Check chimneys and caps for birds’ nests and other debris.
  • Keep vegetation well away from the home.
  • Don’t run extension cords under carpets.
  • Use solid lumber, fire-resistant fiberglass or composite materials. Particle board is more flammable.
  • Ensure secondary escape routes are not blocked by clutter or debris.
For more information on fire safety in home construction and renovation, visit NFPA.org.      

Keeping it Safe, and Limiting Liability During Holidays

POSTED ON November 8th  - POSTED IN Uncategorized
With year-end festivities about to begin, you should include safety into your holiday plans, be that if you are simply decorating the office or throwing a holiday/year-end party for your staff. Since the holiday season or your party is only once a year, it’s easy to overlook safety even though you already incorporate it into the other aspects of your operations. While you obviously want your staff to relax and have fun at your holiday party, you also want to make sure they get home safely and that nobody gets hurt or sick at your party. This takes planning and consideration. Some of your safety priorities should be
  • Liquor consumption,
  • Safety on the premises of your party, and
  • Food-borne illnesses.
Due to their infrequent nature, the liability risks of company-sponsored holiday events are often overlooked. To ensure the health and well-being of all who attend, it is important to be aware of any potential liability concerns that your company may face if the event doesn’t go exactly as planned. Safety While you want your staff to enjoy themselves, safety should still be your top priority during the holidays. Keep in mind that if someone trips and injures themselves on an extension cord for your holiday lighting or other holiday decorations, it would be considered work-related and could possibly be subject to workers compensation. The same may hold true for injuries sustained at work parties as well. Consider the following:
  • If you are holding a party at outside your office, you need to inspect the venue first to make sure it meets your safety standards. Some things to keep an eye out for include: exits emergency lighting, and flooring that might prevent slips and falls, particularly if there is a chance of bad weather.
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if storms are looming on the date of your party. Consider the effects that weather may have on safe travel to and from the party. You may need to make special plans to keep sidewalks and parking lots clear if the event is outside of normal business hours.
  • If you are in an unfamiliar area, do you need security? It’s something to consider.
  • Keep an eye on party-goers to ensure that no one wanders off or goes to his or her car alone after dark.
  • Prepare an emergency plan in case someone is injured or needs medical assistance. Know where the closest hospital is and if anyone knows how to use a defibrillator or can perform CPR.
  • Do you have employees with disabilities who have special needs? Wheelchair bound employees should be able to get in and out of any venue you choose.
Other liability issues Other issues to consider:
  • Applying your workplace policies on behavior including those on violence, harassment, discrimination and the general code of conduct, even if you’ve chosen a venue other than your workplace. Prior to the event, let employees know the standards to which they will be held.
  • Making sure your staff knows that the event is optional and it won’t reflect poorly on their performance evaluation, advancement potential or job security if they don’t’ attend. Emphasize this in all invitations and announcements should emphasize this point.
  • Making sure that the party is not tied to any specific religious tradition and is referred to as a “holiday party.”
  • Monitoring employee’s behavior to ensure that it conforms to company policies. Take prompt action if any activity or behavior exceeds acceptable bounds. For instance, if someone is getting too friendly, carrying a mistletoe and asking for kisses from others, you should pull the person assign and discreetly to manage the incident before it becomes a bigger issue.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption, which can help avoid impaired decision making and lowering inhibitions which can lead to poor behaviors.
  • Avoiding activities or items such as mistletoe, a game of Twister, or inappropriate music that could lead to physical contact, unwanted social pressure or inappropriate conversation.
  • Taking complaints that stem from the party seriously. As you would with any other incident, document, investigate and take appropriate action.
Alcohol Some companies have recognized the liability exposure that alcohol represents and have chosen to hold holiday events free of beer, wine, or liquor. If it will be served, there are some important considerations that can help to limit potential problems:
  • Hold the event at an off-site location and hire professional bartenders who have their own insurance and are certified for alcohol service. Speak with the vendor to determine what protocols it uses to keep from serving minors and others who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Make sure an array of choices of non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Don’t have an open bar. Instead hand out drink tickets to control consumption.
  • Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before the event ends.
  • Keep lots of starchy and high-protein snacks for the partyers to munch on to slow absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream.
  • Give a supervisor or manager the authority to cut off anyone who is intoxicated.
  • Provide alternative transportation that may include free cab rides.
A word about insurance Make sure you that any vendors you use, carry insurance. Insist on seeing the certificates of insurance with sufficient coverage and liability limits for:
  • Catering firms,
  • Bartending firms,
  • Facilities, or
  • Entertainers should be required to produce
When reviewing rental contracts, be sure to note any hold harmless or indemnity agreements that could release the vendor from liability and instead hold your company responsible for losses from situations over which you have no control. Also, talk to us to make sure that your own insurance policies cover any mishaps that may occur at your company event.

Employees Driving Their Own Vehicles on the Job Are Your Liability

POSTED ON October 11th  - POSTED IN Coverage for Business, Services
Many business owners don’t think twice when asking a worker to run to the office supply store, to the bank or run another errand for the company while on the clock. But as soon as that employee enters their personal vehicle on a trip for your business, you automatically become vicariously liable for their actions. Think it’s not a big deal? There have been cases when employers have been found liable and ordered to pay up to $25 million for crashes involving employees using their cell phones while driving, according to the National Safety Council. That means if your employee is in an accident and injures a third party, damages another car or injures themselves, your firm could be held liable. For injuries to only your employee, your workers’ compensation insurance would handle the costs, but for injuries to others and third party property, you are liable since they were carrying out duties for your firm. The employee’s auto insurance will be primary, but the problem arises when the coverage is insufficient. The employer can then be sued by the third party. With that in mind, you should do all you can to reduce your exposure by writing a policy for your driving employees. Some things you might want to consider in your policy include:
  • A list of expectations you have of your driving workers.
  • No talking on a cell phone or using any functions like apps and texting.
  • Barring other activities while driving, like eating and drinking, in order to avoid other distractions.
  • Training workers in the safe operations of vehicles.
  • Making sure that any employees who drive for you are properly licensed.
  • Requiring that they take breaks on longer trips.
  • Requiring that their driving record be monitored periodically.
  • Spelling out that they must buy personal auto insurance with certain minimum limits. The insurance policy should not include a business exclusion.
  Beside having a driving policy in place, you can also make sure to hire employees who are safe drivers by checking their driving records during the hiring process. Also, make sure that your management is on board with the policy. That means that managers should avoid texting or calling employees while they are driving on company duty. That would clash with your policy on barring cell-phone use while driving. Insurance Finally, you should make sure that you have proper insurance in place in case calamity strikes. And unfortunately, some employees will inevitably be slack in following even the best laid out policies. Commercial auto will cover all of your workers who drive company vehicles for collisions, but it won’t cover employees if they are driving their own vehicles while on the job. Such vehicles are considered non-owned autos because they are not owned by the named insured. Employees are not insureds while driving non-owned autos, even if they are using the vehicles on company business. But if you do have workers who use their personal vehicles for work, like sales reps, you can purchase an endorsement for your commercial auto policy: Entitled Employees as Insureds. This endorsement covers workers who drive their personal vehicles on behalf of their employer. But it provides excess coverage only, meaning that the employee’s personal auto policy will apply first if the worker is sued after an accident involving their personal auto. The endorsement would apply only if the employee’s personal policy limits are breached.

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