Thursday, June 30, 2011

ARE YOU KEEPING YOUR REMOTE WORKERS SAFE?

Modern technology has made it easier than ever for employees to work from home and still remain connected to their place of employment. Using remote employment has actually become a popular trend over the last ten years, especially since selling to the global market has become such an important factor in a business being competitive. Many businesses have found that they can minimize their expenses and attract international customers with more attractive prices if they decrease their overhead by allowing workers to remotely commute.

Despite the many benefits of using remote employees, there are downsides. Many employers considering this trend wonder how they can ensure workplace safety when the employee's physical workplace is their own home. Another consideration is the degree of employer liability in remote employment.

Fortunately, OSHA has addressed some of the safety issues surrounding remote employment. According to OSHA guidelines, employers are required to maintain a safe workplace, even for employees working from their own home. OSHA will not require an employer to inspect a remote employee's home worksite, nor inspect it themselves. However, OSHA may inspect the worksite of an employee that's performing an at-home job on behalf of their employer if it possibly involves health or safety hazards and there's a complaint. A record of all occupational illnesses and injuries must be kept on all at-home workers if an employer is subject to OSHA record keeping requirements. Keeping in mind that OSHA compliance measures shouldn't involve controlling the home worksite of employees, employers might need to take some additional practical measures to ensure OSHA compliance.

As far as safety compliance goes, the absence of immediate supervision for remote workers is one of the main problems employers face. Experienced, highly-trained, long-term employers are generally the worst offenders when it comes to taking safety risks. This group of employees often become complacent due to the fact they're so accustomed and comfortable with their job, feel they're familiar with the job's hazards, and might have escaped disciplinary action when ignoring safety procedures or taking shortcuts in the past.

One of the best ways that employers can counteract the above dangerous attitude toward safety is by using a holistic approach to safety. Employers should focus and place great importance on each individual employee actively participating in the safety process and taking responsibility for their own safety. Whether at home, on the road, or at a remote jobsite, remote employees need to be ready, willing, and able to take the appropriate actions to protect themselves in any given situation.

Employers will need employee support to make any approach to safety successful, which means that employers must have total employee involvement in the safety process. Involve your remote employees in the process of determining what's needed to prevent injury to themselves and others during remote location work. Most employers find that the experience and firsthand knowledge of their employees is actually very advantageous in creating safe remote worksites.

Remember, employees that understand the value of safety are more likely to be motivated and willing participants. They're also more apt to embrace safety behaviors for the longevity of their employment. Employers can reinforce their employee's positive attitude about safety by having electronic or person-to-person safety counseling in place and ensuring safety managers are encouraging safety participation.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HOW SAFE ARE LEGAL DRUGS ON THE JOB?


With more prescription and OTC drugs than ever and more people taking them, there's an increased risk of employees coming to work impaired by medications.

Although we're all familiar with the dangers of alcohol and illegal drugs in the workplace, many businesses have paid little attention to the effects of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Yet, some of these drugs can cause serious impairments and could interact with other drugs or foods in ways that can jeopardize workplace safety. For example, a study the University of Iowa found that a dose of Benadryl – a common OTC antihistamine – can impair driving performance as much as alcohol. More potent prescription drugs can cause even stronger and more dangerous reactions, such as slowing brain activity and impairing thinking and judgment. Breakdown products from some prescription medications can stay in the body for days, affecting coordination, concentration, and judgment.

Be sure to educate your workers about possible impairments and how to use prescription and OTC drugs safely. Encourage them to inform themselves about the possible job safety risks taking medications. For OTC medications, workers can inform themselves about warnings and side effects simply by reading the label.
To find out about possible impairment caused by prescription drugs, employees should speak to the healthcare provider who issues their prescription. For example, they should tell the provider:

* If they drive to work and/or on the job
* If they have a hazardous job (for example, operating equipment or handling dangerous substances)
* About any other medications (prescription or OTC) they're taking; and
* Any reactions they've had in the past to drugs.

They should also ask about side affects that could affect job safety.

Require employees to inform their supervisor if they're taking any medication that could cause impairment – especially if their job involves any kind of safety hazard. Depending on the risks, the supervisor might decide to reassign the employee temporarily while he or she is taking the medication.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

THE LAWSUITS ARE COMING! THE LAWSUITS ARE COMING!


A recent article in Corporate Counsel Magazine discussed the reality that “employees are suing like never before.” For example, “skycaps, bank loan officers, bartenders, phone company engineers, financial research associates, exotic dancers, drug store assistant managers, computer technicians, janitors, paramedics, delivery truck drivers, exterminators, waiters, cable TV repair workers, and chicken processors all sued their employers over pay issues in 2010.” Defense counsel claims that the employment law arena is like “the new slip and fall cases for plaintiffs' attorneys.” Of course, the recession, layoffs, high unemployment, and an administration that encourages victimization have a lot to do with it.

Companies today face constant challenges from new regulatory requirements. Under the Obama Administration we've had updates to the FMLA and ADA, an expansion of the NLRB and EEOC agenda, more wage and hour and discrimination claims filed than ever, and a continuing class-action frenzy. Not surprisingly, many of these cases lack merit. Just as plaintiffs' counsel will file large class action claims, knowing that they will probably force a company to settle rather than litigate, many individual claims also lack merit. The EEOC settles approximately 80% of claims without any finding of discrimination.

Wage and hour class action claims remain the biggest concern for large companies, Most of the companies of the size that use HR That Works (with an average of 15 to 500 employees) are too small to create a class large enough for most plaintiffs' lawyers. However, companies remain subject to individual wage and hour claims, as well as allegations of discrimination.

Finally, there's a widespread fear of discrimination litigation. According to the EEOC, these cases involved: Race (35.9%), sex (29.1%), disability (25.2%), and age (23.3%). Interestingly, the largest category of claims filed involved retaliation (36.3%), most of them based on Title VII complaints. Other categories of claims involved national origin (11.3%), religion (3.8%), the Equal Pay Act (1%), and GINA (.02%). As far as I can see, there's no end in sight. We're only beginning to deal with an activist NLRB. The EEOC wants to extend its reach, especially in background checks and compliance concerns related to government contractors. The commission has been on a hunt after 1099 misclassification cases, and 22 states have introduced legislation to outlaw bullying in the workplace.

The article concludes by noting that the U.S. Supreme Court will be ruling on three large class action cases, including Duke v. Walmart. How the court decides these cases will have a huge impact on large companies and a lesser effect on small to medium-sized firms.

Here's the lesson in all of this: Although you might be small enough to avoid the notice of the plaintiffs' employment bar for the moment, the odds will catch up with every employer eventually. Sound risk management requires you to have comprehensive Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), together with the necessary policies, procedures, and training. Once an employee lodges a complaint, investigate it promptly and thoroughly, usually with the help of counsel.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

INSURE YOUR BOAT IN AND OUT OF THE WATER


Millions of Americans take to the water each year during boating season, traveling the coastlines, rivers, lakes and canals. The watercraft range from simple rowboats to jet skis to small motorboats to luxury yachts. Boat owners spend significant amounts of money buying and maintaining their boats. The need for insurance protection when the boat is on the water is obvious, but many boat owners question the need for it during the off-season. However, insurance is just as important when the boat is in storage as when the owner is using it. A typical Boat insurance policy provides a package of coverages, including:

* Damage to the boat, motor, and trailer
* Damage to portable property used in the maintenance and operation of the boat, including things like anchors, life jackets, oars, tools, skis and surfboards, lights, and fire extinguishers
* Damage to other types of property, including sports equipment, clothing, and other personal effects
* Damage to equipment on shore, such as boat covers
* The cost of recovering a sunk or stranded boat
* The cost of emergency service and towing
* Damage to non-owned or substitute boats
* Loss of fishing tackle
* Liability coverage for injuries or damages for which the boat owner is legally responsible
* Coverage for injuries the boat owner or others on the boat suffer in an accident with an uninsured watercraft

A boat owner will need these coverages if their boat gets into a collision with another boat, or if thieves steal scuba gear from it, or if fire damages the motor. However, losses are still possible while the boat is out of the water. Progressive Insurance reports that nearly two out of every 10 boat claims it receives from northern states occur between Labor Day and Memorial Day, when most owners are not using their boats much. Some examples of losses that could occur:

* The building which houses the boat during the winter burns to the ground.
* Vandals damage the boat in the middle of the night while it's in the owner's driveway.
* A neighbor's child, playing in the owner's yard, runs into the boat stored there and injures his head.
* Someone steals the boat and its trailer from the yard at a repair shop.
* While the boat is stored in the yard, heavy snow melt causes a flash flood that damages the boat's interior, including the mechanical system and the radio.

Some insurance companies offer “disappearing deductibles,” where the deductibles for collision and damage losses from other causes decrease by a certain amount for every claim-free year. Those companies will grant this benefit only to boat owners who keep their insurance continuously in force with them.

One of our professional insurance agents can provide advice on the types and amounts of coverage a boat owner needs. We can also recommend insurance companies that have expertise in boating, good claims-paying practices, and reasonable prices. Insuring a boat all year round can be expensive, but compared to the cost of a large uninsured loss, it may well be worth the cost.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

HOW TO AVOID SOME OF THE MOST COMMON AND COSTLY LIFE INSURANCE BENEFICIARY MISTAKES

Life insurance is one of the best sources of financial security for loved ones left behind after a death. One of the most important details of any Life insurance policy is naming the beneficiary/beneficiaries for the policy. The beneficiary is the person(s) you wish to receive the proceeds from the policy upon your death. Believe it or not, there are some people that purchase their Life insurance policy and neglect to select a beneficiary or never revisit the policy as life changes.

You can save your loved ones a lot of time, money, and trouble by carefully selecting a beneficiary for your Life insurance policy and making sure that information is kept applicable to your present situation. Most people don't like to have conversations about anything involving death, but a possibly awkward conversation now can save your beneficiary the frustration and time of hunting down the information during what will already be a very difficult time for them.

Here are three things you can do to avoid some of the most common and costly beneficiary mistakes:

1. Do Revisit the Policy. Life is constantly in motion. Sometimes this motion doesn't affect the relationships a person has, but more often than not it does. If relationship changes have an impact on the beneficiary you've selected, then the Life insurance must be updated accordingly. And, we aren't just talking about obvious deaths, divorces, births, or marriages. For example, if your children were underage when you first obtained your Life insurance policy, then you might have established a guardian or trust. Once the children reach adulthood, it might make better sense to name them directly as beneficiaries. Another example would be if a beneficiary is now elderly or no longer mentally competent. In such cases, it might make better sense to name an alternative beneficiary and make the appropriate provisions in your will to care for the previous beneficiary.

2. Do Be Specific. Being vague in an attempt to avoid a hard decision, conflict, or the need to revisit the policy can result in confusion and legal challenges that can tie up the money or cause the omission of someone you wanted included. You want to be specific when naming a beneficiary. So, use the given name and not generic terms like child, parent, wife, or sibling.

3. Do Be Cautious. Some people name themselves or their estate as the beneficiary. This means that the Life insurance benefit will go directly to their estate. However, naming yourself or your estate can leave the benefit subject to taxation and enable creditors to seize it for unpaid bills. Remember, if you have any questions, concerns, or doubts about your beneficiary designation, then you can always consult your tax advisor or attorney.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NEW GUIDELINES FROM THE IRS ON W-2 REPORTING OF HEALTH CARE COSTS


On March 29, 2011, the IRS issued Notice 2011-28 to employers regarding the information reporting requirements on each employee's annual Form W-2 of Health insurance coverage. This new reporting to employees is for informational purposes only. It is to inform employees of the cost of their health care coverage. Furthermore, the IRS has stressed that employer-provided health care coverage continues to be excludable from an employee's income, and is therefore not taxable.

The PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), which was enacted in March of 2010, ensures that employers must report the cost of health care coverage on the Form W-2.

Helpful to Small Employers

With the new guidelines, the IRS provided additional relief for small businesses (filing fewer than 250 W-2 forms) by making the requirement voluntary for them at least in tax year 2012. The optional treatment for smaller employers will remain in effect until further IRS guidelines are issued.

Opportunity for Benefits Communications

Employers can utilize health care reform as a chance to better communicate with employees regarding their health and wellness benefits. The new requirements will help employees gain a better understanding of the cost, and value, of their coverage. Many employees are going to be surprised at the cost of their health care benefits, and employers can use this opportunity to open a discussion about health care cost containment. They can also emphasize the investment the company makes in each employee in the form of benefits.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

PLAN AHEAD FOR THAT CONSTRUCTION CRISIS


Weather forecasters say a hurricane is coming that will threaten the half-completed multi-million dollar industrial building a contractor is erecting. After completion of a new 20-story hotel, the media reports that executives for the general contractor rigged bids so that subcontractors in which they had financial interests got the jobs. A scaffold collapses with five men on it, killing one and severely injuring the others. These are all examples of crises that could strike a construction business. If not managed properly, a crisis can cause a firm great damage and even put it out of business.

Good crisis management involves six stages:

1. Defining what a crisis is for the contractor. It could be a catastrophic injury, a loss of financing for a project, a major fire, the loss of a key employee, the failure of a vendor in the supply chain, or a strike. Whatever form it takes, it is an event that can cause significant harm for the contractor.
2. Assuming that a crisis will occur and anticipating it. Managers look at worst-case scenarios and predict how likely they are to occur. They can then take steps to prevent them from happening. These steps might include safety measures, arranging for backup suppliers, protecting the structure against the elements, and financial controls.
3. Recognizing a crisis as it is occurring. If managers have planned for the possibility of crises during the previous phase, they will be more apt to spot them when they happen. Since a number of people with different roles in the project might be able to identify things that are going wrong, managers should seek updates from a variety of participants.
4. Managing the crisis. The key to crisis management is advance planning. A sound plan will include: Who will participate in managing the crisis and what their responsibilities will be? How individuals will communicate with each other and how the contractor will communicate with others, such as customers, vendors, regulators and the media. The resources that will be available to confront the crisis. What the organization will do to get back to its normal operating state.
5. Resolving the crisis. This involves implementing the plan, gathering information about the situation, analyzing it, weighing options, choosing one or more options and putting them into effect. Managers and other leaders must effectively deal with the emotions involved, including confusion, fear, anxiety and frustration. Because crisis situations evolve rapidly, leaders will have to make quick decisions and be ready to change course if need be.
6. Learning from the crisis. After the situation has reached a resolution, the participants reflect on what they learned during the crisis, what worked and what the firm should do differently the next time it faces an emergency. Questions they should ask include:

How effective was the pre-crisis planning? Did it anticipate the problems actually faced or was the firm left unprepared? Were there sufficient financial, material and human resources to handle the crisis? How effective was the communications process? Did team members get the information they needed when they needed it? Did the firm keep other organizations and entities fully informed? How can the process be improved? Were the decisions made the right ones? If not, why not? What can the contractor do next time to improve decision-making?

Check with one of our insurance agents to see if your insurance companies have consultants available to help put together a crisis plan. Because a solid plan will help limit the size of an insured loss, companies are usually eager to help. With preparation, you can survive and even thrive after a crisis.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

GET YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER A PREMIUM AUDIT


It might be hard to fathom any type of audit being beneficial, but premium audits are actually just as important to you as they are to your insurance carrier. When you were first issued your policy, the carrier looked at the estimated sales figures or payroll data that you provided to them. They calculated your premiums based on this information. Now that you have real numbers under your belt and an actual experience, the information can be reassessed to determine the correct premium amount.

Depending on how your business operates and the size of your policy, there are several different methods your insurance carrier can use to conduct your premium audit, including:

1. Mail - your carrier will mail you an audit form and the instructions to complete the form. Once completed, you will return the form by mail to your carrier.
2. Phone - your carrier will hire an independent audit company to conduct your audit over the phone.
3. Physical - your carrier will usually conduct the audit at your business, but it could be conducted at an alternative location, such as your certified public accountant (CPA's) office.

Regardless of the method, the audit will typically include your disbursements and payroll journals, ledgers, tax and Social Security reports, state unemployment forms, and other accounting records being inspected. As you can see, an enormous amount of data will be inspected. You can use the following tips to help you prepare for your audit, help it run smoothly, and end positively.

Before the Audit

* You should try to get an idea of what the auditor will be reviewing by looking at the auditor's work sheets and past audit billing statements.
* Determine which of your employees would be best suited to work with the auditor. Look for someone that's both knowledgeable about the accounting records that will be used in the audit and about what work is done by various employees and departments.
* Assemble all the accounting records that will be used during the audit.
* Ensure that you have certificates of insurance on hand for all subcontractors you've used. Don't forget to make sure that your documentation shows all the contractors have their own general liability insurance and workers' compensation.
* Check that your payroll documents include a breakdown of wages according to class code, department, and employee.

The Day of the Audit

* To make sure you have all the applicable records easily available to the auditor, you might request the audit be conducted at your business.
* Don't be afraid to ask the auditor to explain any points that aren't perfectly clear to you.
* Request a hard copy of what the auditor finds.

After the Audit

* Carefully assess the audit billing statement, comparing it to your original policy.
* Don't agree to pay any additional premium dollars until after you've made a list of all changes and discussed any problematic areas with the auditor.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

THINK PAST THE PEEL AND GIVE YOUR HEALTH A CHANCE


It's nothing that your parents haven't told you a million times, and if you're a parent, that you haven't told your own kids: Eat your veggies. It might sound like a broken record at times, but the simple fact is that you decrease your susceptibility to almost every major disease when you incorporate veggies into your daily diet.

Of course, given that you don't load them down with dips, butter, and sauces, vegetables are low in both fat and calories. However, one of the most important benefits is from the antioxidant properties of vegetables. Antioxidants are substances that have been found to protect your cells against the damaging and disease-contributing effects of free radicals.

If you think veggies are boring, that you don't like them, or just don't know what to do with them, then try these tips:

* Start gradually - you might set a goal for how many servings of veggies you'll eat each day. One or two servings per day is a good place to start.
* One new veggie each week - incorporate a variety of veggies into your diet. Don't be afraid to branch out. It can be a fun project to discover the best way to cook new veggies. You might even find some unique substitutions to make, such as spaghetti squash for pasta.
* Liquid veggies - drinking your freshly juiced or stocked veggies is one of the easiest ways to squeeze in your veggies. You can always mix and match fruits and veggies, such as carrot and mango juice, for a little added natural sweetness.
* Do a green lunch - the greener the leaf, the more antioxidants. Try a kale, mixed lettuces, and spinach lunch salad.
* Have a rainbow in your plate - colorful red, yellow, orange, and purple veggies fight heart disease.
* Starchy veggies aren't the enemy - healthy carbohydrates, such as russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, corn and peas, are healthy inclusions.
* Bad breath, good health - freshly chopped garlic and onion make great seasonings for your veggies. Plus, they're full of phytochemicals.
* Go raw - with the exception of a few veggies, such as cooked carrots, raw veggies that haven't had their nutrients destroyed with heat, water, and air exposure are the most healthy. Grilling, steaming, stir frying, and even short periods of microwaving are better cooking methods than boiling and baking.
* Be creative - if you just don't like the taste of some veggies, you can always sneak them into the foods you do like; veggie pizza or veggie stew, for example.

Like a car, your body needs fuel to keep going. Think of veggies like the premium grade of fuel, and your body will certainly love you for it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

WHAT'S INVOLVED IN GETTING DISABILITY COVERAGE?


Although some insurance companies have a few company-specific guidelines for underwriting Disability insurance policies, all insurers will use the same key factors in determining your eligibility, rate, and amount and type of coverage. Understanding what an insurer looks at during the underwriting process can help you get the disability coverage you need.

1. Gender and Age. Male applicants usually pay less for their policy than females because males tend to file fewer claims than females. Older applicants typically pay more for their policy than their younger counterparts.

2. Occupation. Since certain occupations present a greater risk of injury or death than others, insurers will examine both your job duties and title as they decide the type and cost of the coverage they offer. Insurers group different occupations into rating classes that are represented by a number or letter. The rating is based on the level of risk the occupations typically hold, the amount and types of claims common to the occupations, and the income level of those employed in the occupations.

3. Lifestyle. Your lifestyle, in particular any activity that you participate in that could increase your probability of suffering a disabling accident, will be questioned. The insurer will directly ask you about your activities, but be careful to be honest since they may also collect information about your lifestyle from credit bureaus, internet databases, and even your family or friends.

4. Income. Your income will be instrumental in determining what type of coverage you're eligible to receive, the rate, and the monthly benefit amount. The insurer will ask you to provide proof of income, such as a W2 or income tax form. The insurer will put your salary information into a table and decide the amount of monthly benefit you'll be eligible to receive. The amount is usually between 50% and 70% of your pretax income, with higher percentages accompanying lower incomes and lower percentages accompanying higher incomes. Additionally, your income amount will affect what type of coverage the insurer offers you. Those with higher income levels are usually offered a policy with more comprehensive coverage and a much broader definition of disability.

5. Medical. Insurers not only look at your current state of health, but also at your past health history. The insurer may even look at your familial medical history to see if you have a predisposition for developing costly medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease as they determine your eligibility. Again, it's important to be honest on the questionnaire since you will be asked to undergo either a full physical examination or a paramedical examination by a medical professional.

Once the insurer has collected all the above information, a home office underwriter will review it and either issue you immediate coverage or ask you to submit some additional information to assess if you're an acceptable risk for them. The insurer will assign you to one of the following risk categories:

* Substandard/special risk - if you're assigned into this category, then the insurer has determined that there's a high probability of you making a future claim. If the insurer extends you coverage, then you'll be charged higher rates and your policy will have a shorter benefit period, a longer elimination period, and contain an amendment to either exclude certain medical conditions for a set period of time or fully exclude them indefinitely.
* Standard risk - most disability coverage applicants fall into the standard risk category, meaning they are no less or more likely to file a claim than any other insured individual.
* Preferred risk - the insurer has determined that you're less likely to file a claim than other insured individuals. You will pay the least amount for preferred risk coverage.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

PROTECTING YOUR HANDS AGAINST OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS


Our hands are used in almost all daily activities, work or leisure. But, for some reason, we often overlook just how frequently our hands are used until they are injured.

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), the hands are involved in one of every five occupational injuries. This statistic really isn't all that surprising once a worker stops to consider the array occupational hazards, such as tools, solvents, and chemicals, that are capable of causing burns, contusions, and lacerations to the hands. That said, workers can protect their hands and avoid a lot of unnecessary injuries by taking a few precautions.

Material Safety Data Sheet. Some chemicals can burn your hands immediately following contact. Before handling any chemical, it's of vital importance that you're familiar with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), as these forms will instruct you on the safe handling and use of certain potentially harmful chemicals.

Hand Washing/Cleaning Procedures

* Apply lotion if your job requires frequent hand washing.
* Use mild soap and water to wash hands; dry them thoroughly.
* Avoid harsh and abrasive cleaners.
* When removing tar, grease, or paint, use a waterless cleaner.
* Never wash hands with benzene, paint thinner, gasoline, or other harsh solvents.
* Flush hands under running water for 20 minutes or longer after your hands come into contact with any corrosive chemical.
* If a minor skin laceration occurs, wash it immediately and seek medical treatment.

Using Gloves

* The MSDS can alert you to what type of glove should be donned when handling potentially harmful chemicals.
* Throw any frayed, tattered, or worn gloves away.
* Never share gloves with co-workers.
* Never immerse your hand in chemical agents, even if gloved.
* Asbestos or leather gloves are used to protect against heat.
* Neoprene or rubber gloves are used to protect against corrosive chemicals.
* Cotton, leather, or PVC gloves are used to protect against abrasives.
* Synthetic knit or cotton gloves with gripping dots are used when hand-grip is needed.
* Kevlara, heavy leather, or metal-mesh gloves are used to help prevent cuts to the hand.
* Never wear gloves with any metal features when working near electrical hazards.
* Avoid wearing gloves around moving equipment.

Avoiding Contusions and Lacerations

* All tools should be properly maintained on a regular basis.
* Safety guards should never be removed and a tool without the appropriate guard shouldn't be used until it's in proper working order.
* Lockout equipment when making repairs or cleaning it.
* Wear metal-mesh, leather, or Kevlara gloves when handling or operating sharp and bladed tools.
* Don't do a job if you don't have the appropriate tool.

These simple safety precautions can help you keep one of your most important assets, your hands, intact.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WHEN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ENTERS THE WORKPLACE


Chances are you employ someone who's a victim of domestic violence. Is this any of your business? It is when domestic violence enters your workplace!

According to government statistics, there are as many as 40,000 incidents of on-the-job violence in which the victims knew their attackers intimately. More than 70% of human resources and security personnel surveyed by the American Bar Association' Commission on Domestic Violence reported an incident of domestic violence in their workplace. These events cost businesses millions of dollars a year by endangering co-workers, disrupting workflow, and leading to vandalism and property damage – not to mention lowering the productivity of female victims (due to higher rates of depression, absenteeism, and substance abuse problems).

Consider the legal implications: Federal and state laws require employers to provide a safe workplace If you're aware of a domestic violence threat in the workplace and fail to, act you could face costly liability if there's an incident in the workplace.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, supervisors are frequently among the first people in the workplace to become aware that an employee is the victim of domestic violence. Train supervisors to look for
employees who:

* Have unexplained bruises or bruises that don't seem to fit professed injuries
* Wear inappropriate clothing that might be covering up injuries
* Seem distracted, upset, or depressed, at work
* Have a high rate of absenteeism
* Receive repeated upsetting phone calls at work

Supervisors who notice any of these signs should tell the employee – privately – what they've noticed, refer the employee to available company or community support, and report the situation to management and security personnel.

To help safeguard employees against domestic violence incidents on the job, we'd recommend taking these basic security steps:

* Encourage employees to notify r supervisors about abuse, stalking, restraining orders, etc., and to provide photos of batterers to security personnel.
* Create a buddy or escort system to walk at-risk employees to and from the parking lot or public transportation.
* Provide a portable alarm that the employee can activate if confronted by an attacker at work.
* Offer counseling services or inform the employee about services available in the community.
* Create and enforce effective procedures limiting access to the workplace (IDs, visitor sign in and escort, etc.)
* Transfer threatened employees from front-line customer service areas to back offices or even to other worksites, until the problem is resolved.
* If possible, adjust the employee's work schedule and/or grant leave if the employee needs to take time off for medical assistance, legal assistance, court appearances, counseling, relocation, taking other steps organization's workplace violence policy and discipline or even discharge the attacker needed to enhance personal safety.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

DEALING WITH BODY ODOR AND OTHER HYGIENE PROBLEMS


HR folks have to deal with some unpleasant subjects, and this is certainly one of them. Body odor can present a real workplace challenge. Just ask any space shuttle astronaut or submarine officer. People can have offensive odors for a number of reasons:

* Soiled clothing or shoes
* Lack of bathing
* Bad breath
* Incontinence
* Menstruation
* Liver and other organ problems
* Diet
* Bad perfume
* Too much perfume
* Smoking
* A problem with sweating
* Disability

Employers can try to prevent this problem in general by providing effective air circulation systems, odor eaters, employee uniforms, employee flexibility – and, if necessary, a human resource policy.

To deal with body odor, follow these steps:

* First, verify all complaints personally to make sure there's no teasing, bullying, etc. Then verify the complaint personally.
* If the employee has body odor, have a direct conversation – don't beat around the bush. Often, employees won't realize they have a problem until you tell them. Say, “We've had complaints from a number of co-workers about offensive body odor and I have had those complaints verified. (If appropriate: I can understand their concern). Are you aware that you have this problem?
* At this point, an employee can deny knowing about the problem (honestly or otherwise) or, they can admit knowing about it. They can say either that they'll try to take care of the problem or that they don't care what other people think about it. They might also claim that they've tried to do all they can, but they have a physical disability that prevents them from doing any better.
* If an employee does not claim to have a medical problem and won't do anything to improve their condition, you have the right to terminate them, or perhaps even better, give them unpaid time off to think about whether they want to come back to work a “fresher” person. If they claim there's a medical basis, you need to have an accommodation discussion (more on that later). Either way, ask the employee to take care of the problem and ask if there's any way you can help them. This is a matter of common decency, whether required by the ADA or not.
* Watch out for any potential discrimination or national origin claims that the employee might make based on what you say or by what managers or co-workers have said. Go back to these employees and let them know you're taking care of the problem and that they should not tease or discuss it with the employee.
* Consider holding accommodation discussions. If the employee claims the problem arises from a disability and you're subject to the ADA (15 or more employees) or FEHA (five or more in California), you're required to have an accommodation dialogue. Begin by starting a paper trail and have the employee get their physician to identify the nature of their disability, the limitations, and ways to mitigate its effects. Use the forms on HR That Works. Accommodations might include working from home, allowing the employee to obtain the appropriate treatment, moving their working location, or perhaps reassigning them to another job.

Ultimately, if there's no “reasonable” accommodation because anything you can do would cause an undue burden on the company, you do not have to accommodate that employee. For further accommodation information, check out the HR That Works ADA Training Module. Also, consider looking at the Job Accommodation Network's Web site at www.askjan.org.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST THE RISKS OF YARD SALES


With the arrival of warm, balmy weather, yard sales begin to pop up everywhere. Although a yard sale might transform your spring cleaning chores into a profitable day of getting rid of unwanted items, it can also create a setting for a legal nightmare. For example, you're legally liable if someone at the yard sale slips, trips, or falls and injures themselves. Such scenarios are exactly why you must know what your homeowner's insurance covers before you take on the responsibility of inviting yard sale-goers onto your property.

Most standard Homeowners policies will provide $100,000 dollars worth of liability coverage for property damage or bodily injury that is caused to others by those living in the home. The coverage amount can be used to cover your legal defense and any resulting monetary judgments against you.

No-fault medical coverage is another feature of your Homeowners insurance liability protection. It usually provides between $1,000 to $5,000 dollars worth of coverage. This feature can help you avoid lawsuits from a person injured on your property since it will allow them to directly submit their medical-related bills to your insurer for payment.

The above might seem adequate enough for a yard sale, but given today's litigious mentality, it might be prudent for you to add to your liability protection. You might consider raising your Homeowners policy's liability coverage to at least $300,000 to $500,000, depending on your specific needs and property. An Excess Liability or Umbrella policy can provide additional protection and won't typically cost more than $350 a year for $1 million worth of coverage.

The Insurance Information Institute has an excellent guide on the insurance needs for various types of yard sale events:

* Charity or fundraiser event - your Homeowners insurance policy will most likely be adequate coverage during an event to raise money for a charity or non-profit. However, you might also consider contacting the entity to ask if they have any insurance protection to extend to you for the event.
* Occasional or one-time events - the occasional yard sale that's designed to sell personal items that you no longer want is also typically covered under your Homeowners policy, but do consult your insurance agent to ensure you're adequately covered.
* Multiple, frequent yard sales - a separate Business Liability or In-Home Business policy should be considered if you're planning to have multiple yard sales.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

JUST BECAUSE YOU'RE A RENTER DOESN'T MEAN YOU DON'T HAVE INSURANCE NEEDS

Many renters mistakenly believe that they don't need Renter's insurance or view it as an expensive luxury. However, insurance needs aren't negated just because one happens to be renting their home.

For those not familiar with Renter's insurance, it's an insurance coverage that protects the renter from property losses from damages like water and fire. It also provides protection for liability risks, such as lawsuits brought by the landlord of the property, pet attacks, falls and slips, and guest accidents. This type of coverage is available in most areas and has an average $20 monthly premium rate for around $500,000 dollars worth of liability coverage and $20,000 dollars worth of property coverage.

Trusted Choice, a network of financial and insurance service firms, recently found in a survey that almost 25 million American home renters didn't have any insurance coverage to protect themselves from losses and that most renters have limited, if any, knowledge of Renter's insurance.

Eight percent of the respondents without Renter's insurance had never heard about Renter's insurance before. Meanwhile, 17% said they weren't aware that they needed Renter's insurance and 26% percent felt that Renter's insurance was too costly.

According to the study, some renters also mistakenly believed that their insurance needs were covered under the insurance policy held by their landlord. In reality, landlords don't typically insure anything other than the building and infrastructural elements like HVAC systems and elevators. Other losses incurred will be directly on the renter's shoulders. Even negligent actions caused by one tenant, such as a fire, that affects other innocent tenants in the building aren't typically covered by the landlord's insurance.

Other key findings of the study included:

* Fifty percent of the surveyed renters owned pets. Thirty-two percent of the non-pet owners had Renter's insurance. Although renters that own pets have a higher liability exposure than renters without pets, a mere 26% of the pet owners had Renter's insurance.
* Eighty-nine percent of the surveyed renters owned at least one expensive electronic device, such as a computer, camera, digital recorder, or home theater system. This group was more likely to have a Renter's insurance policy than those that didn't own such devices.
* Fifty-three percent of the surveyed renters owned at least one form of exercise or sports equipment, such as a skis, bicycles, or a home gym system. This group was more likely to own Renter's insurance than those that didn't own such equipment.
* Only thirty-one percent of the renters operating a home business from their apartment, condo, or other type of rental unit had Renter's insurance.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

BOOST EMPLOYEE SATISFACTION, LOYALTY, AND RETENTION WITH THE BENEFITS YOU OFFER


Whether employers are listening or not, alarms are sounding that the American workforce is increasingly growing more dissatisfied and disloyal. If businesses continue failing to recognize and respond to such trends as the job market improves, then they could potentially lose key workers to more astute competitors and suffer the consequences of decreased employee productivity.

The above warning stems from the results of MetLife's 9th Annual Survey of Employee Benefits Trends, which was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2010. The study wasn't all doom and gloom. It also found some promising data for employers, such as the fact that employers can help restore lost loyalty, encourage their workers to stay with them, and drive engagement by having a well-designed employee benefits package. Some other key findings of the MetLife study included:

* Of all the employees surveyed, 36% hoped to be working for a different employer within the year.
* Increased workload and decreased job security were factors that drove down job satisfaction and loyalty and were the main reasons cited by workers considering a job change.
* Fifty-one percent of workers reported that they were satisfied with their current job. This was an 8% drop from 2008 numbers.
* At only 47%, the number of workers feeling a strong loyalty to their employers hit a three year low.
* Down eight points from 2008, only 33% of workers felt a strong loyalty from their employers.

Despite the change in how employees view loyalty and job satisfaction, the 51% percent of employers that believe their employees have a very strong sense of loyalty to them hasn't wavered. Considering that a large percentage of workers are now seriously contemplating a job change in the near future, loyalty and retention should be priorities for employers. It was only a few years ago that employers were actually highly focused on retention as they were prepping for the massive amount of Baby Boomers nearing retirement. However, due to low voluntary turnover rates during the recent recession, many employers have put retention efforts on the back burner.

Rebuild Loyalty. The MetLife study found that 71% of employees satisfied with their benefits also reported that they felt very loyal to their employer. Employers can focus on benefits to rebuild loyalty and boost employee engagement and satisfaction. Benefits have long been an important element to attract and retain new and existing employees of all ages. Most employers usually understand how important health benefits and salaries are to creating employee loyalty, but many overlook other benefits like retirement benefits and Life, Dental, and Disability insurance as loyalty drivers. In fact, the MetLife study showed that only 37% of employers recognized these non-medical benefits as loyalty drivers.

Focus On Benefits. As with most things in life, employees of different age groups will have very different perspectives on their benefits package. One-size-fits-all packages simply aren't sufficient for the modern diverse workforce. Employers should think about flexibility, choice, and customization to best engage their entire workforce. Some of the study's generational findings may be helpful for the design or redesign of benefits:

* Workers between the ages of 21 and 29, or Generation Y, are the most anxious to leave their current job.
* Workers between the ages of 30 and 45, or Generation X, are the least satisfied with the benefits offered by their employer.
* Workers between the ages of 45 and 54, or younger Baby Boomers, are most frustrated with their retirement prospects and could threaten workplace productivity.
* Workers between the ages of 55 and 65, or older Baby Boomers, are financially unprepared for retirement.

Employers also need to be careful that they aren't dismissing or overlooking the value in voluntary benefits. The MetLife study showed that it's extremely important to workers, especially Generation X and Y workers, that they have a choice of benefits that meets their specific needs.

One last point to consider is communication. After all, employees are much more likely to value and appreciate their benefits when they realize just how much you've invested to provide them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

DON'T LET TERMINATING AN EMPLOYEE GET YOU IN HOT WATER

All too many employers find themselves enmeshed in complex and costly litigation

because they've made simple, avoidable errors while terminating one of their employees. Even if you've done everything by the book, there will never be a guaranteed way to avoid such lawsuits.

That said, making sure that you do everything properly and avoid some simple mistakes can drastically increase your chances of winning any resulting lawsuit. Don't let these common termination mistakes get you in hot water:

1. Not Documenting Sufficiently. The basis you use to terminate an employee could appear superficial or groundless if you don't have adequate documentation along the road to their termination. All problems with an employee's performance, attendance, and so forth should be documented, including any details and supportive evidence. Regarding misconduct issues, the documentation process on the alleged incident should be accompanied by an unbiased, comprehensive investigation.

When disciplinary actions are necessary, the enforcer should compose a description of the incident, including what disciplinary actions are being taken. With a witness present, the employee should be asked to sign the paperwork. Should he/she refuse to sign it, this refusal should be noted on the paperwork.

Place your documentation in chronological order to show a clear pattern and solid foundation for terminating an employee.

2. Not Ensuring Performance Evaluations Are Accurate. Supervisors must be taught and encouraged to be fair, honest, and accurate during performance evaluations. Many wrongful termination lawsuits have been based around performance evaluations. Performance evaluations that aren't congruent with all the other indicators of an employee's performance are often the result of superiors giving unmerited positive appraisals to avoid confrontation. When an employee has appraisals stating their performance was adequate, but are then terminated by their employer for alleged poor performance, it can spur them to consider litigation.

3. Not Spelling Out Human Resource Procedures and Policies. All terminations should be in accordance with state and federal laws. It's vital that your termination procedures and polices give those with the power to terminate adequate guidance and direction on complying with such laws.

Having an employee handbook that concisely and adequately describes performance and misconduct issues and consequences will also add to your credibility during litigation.

4. Not Giving an Employee Notice of Termination. Not all states require an employer to give notice of termination to an employee. However, most legal experts advise it anyway for a number of reasons. For example, giving notice can help keep an incensed employee from redirecting the reason for their termination to other non-related issues, such as discrimination.

Remember that the burden of proving an employee should have known that their actions would cause their termination is on you, the employer, if you opt not to provide employees with notice of termination. Such a situation can easily be avoided by providing an employee with a notice that clearly states a repeat of the infraction, or even an alike infraction, will result in their termination.

5. Not Providing Just Cause. An at-will employee can be terminated at any time. However, don't assume that you can terminate any employee you wish for any reason you wish and be protected by your state's at-will employment. The majority of your employees will likely fall under one of the protected classes, such as sex, age, race, disability, or religion. Therefore, it's best to base all terminations on a just cause, meaning the reasoning behind the decision to terminate was based on legitimate proof or fact.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CONTRACTORS POLLUTION LIABILITY INSURANCE AND RISK MANAGEMENT ARE VITAL TO PROTECT AGAINST ENVIRONMENTAL EXPOSURE


Pollution and environmental exposure risks on site and during transfer and disposal, such as toxic mold, the disposal of contaminated soil, and broken pipelines releasing toxic materials, are major construction concerns. When such incidents happen, a contractor's reputation and livelihood can be irreversibly impacted.

Contractors Pollution Liability (CPL) is a type of insurance designed to protect contractors against the liability issues and financial losses that result from such environmental incidents. This insurance covers an array of environmental and pollution risks that are common to construction projects and is considered an appropriate coverage whether a firm is a trade contractor, such as those specializing in paving or HVAC; a general contractor; remediation contractor; or a contractor doing specialized work, such as tank installation or drilling. Contractors Pollution Liability insurance is available to cover areas like pollution incidences that result in bodily injury, third-party property damage, or remediation costs. Comprehensive policies can even be customized to provide pollution risk coverage to an entire project, which would include off-site transportation and all contractors involved in the project. Most Contractors Pollution Liability policies are written on a claims-made basis. This basis limits the insurer's risk for unknown future liabilities since it means the policy only pays claims occurring and being filed during the period covered by the policy.

Clearly, Contractors Pollution Liability insurance can provide invaluable protection against environmental-related financial losses. That said, such a policy doesn't prevent environmental incidents from occurring in the first place. To help revent environmental incidences and protect hard-earned reputations, contractors should additionally adopt effective environmental risk management practices.

Creating an environmental risk profile will be one of the most important factors when taking steps toward risk management. This allows the firm to identify possible loss exposures and risk areas by thoroughly reviewing their administrative control documents. While some firms opt to conduct the profile in-house, many prefer the expertise and outsider's perspective offered by a professional environmental consultant. In any event, documents related to the following areas should be reviewed during the development of an environmental risk profile:

* Contractors Pollution Liability policies
* Standard client agreements
* All mold prevention programs
* All environmental management programs
* Subcontractor's environmental/mold management/prevention systems
* Language of subcontractor agreements
* Environmental data searches of job sites
* Hazard communication programs
* Quality assurance programs
* Internal health and safety programs, incident response protocols, and training protocols
* Trends, history, corrective measures, and employee communications related to environmental losses
* Environmental assessments for all leased and owned properties

Once the above documentation is assessed, the firm can identify strategies to reduce, if not eliminate, their exposures to environmental risks. Combining risk management with a Contractors Pollution Liability policy can help contractors reduce their risk, but still be covered in case the unexpected happens.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

FIVE TIPS TO KEEP YOUR MOST PRECIOUS CARGO SAFE ON A SUMMER ROAD TRIP


As the warmer summer months arrive, many families blow the dust off their suitcases and hit the road for a much-needed vacation. Of course, you should go through the normal checklist for your vehicle, such as checking your oil levels and air in your tires. But, for those traveling with babies and children, there might be some additional precautions to take before heading out on vacation.

Most parents are accustomed to the usual disturbances and distractions caused by children crying, spilling snacks, and fighting with their siblings in the backseat. Such incidents might be unavoidable, especially during lengthy road trips that test a child's ability to sit still. However, there are a few tips to help you keep your focus on the road and ensure your family safely arrives at the destination. Add the following to your pre-takeoff checklist:

1. Check all child seats in the vehicle. Even if you feel certain that your child's safety or booster seat has been properly installed, double check it. You might have unknowingly made a mistake during the installation or after quickly moving it from one vehicle to another. According to the National Safety Belt Coalition, incorrectly installed car seats and misuse are responsible for the serious injuries and deaths of children in car accidents every day. You might even consider taking your vehicle to an expert that can show you the correct way to use and install a booster or child safety seat. You can find a listing of certified child passenger safety technicians in your area at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) website.

2. Invest in a child safety mirror. Such mirrors have become popular with parents who find themselves frequently traveling with their children. Most of these special mirrors are inexpensive. They are also easy to install; you just attach it to your rear view mirror. Now, you can occasionally see what your children are doing in the backseat without actually turning around and taking your eyes off the road. Your children will be less likely to get into mischief when they see that your mirror is essentially like having eyes in the back of your head.
For smaller children and infants in rear-facing car seats, you can use an infant mirror that attaches to the back seat's headrest or rear window. It will be positioned so that you can see the baby when you look into your rear view mirror. Plus, your baby might be less fussy along the trip if he's preoccupied with the entertainment of his/her own reflection.

3. Get some road trip entertainment for the kids. Any parent knows that a bored child is typically much more likely to act up and get into trouble. This is a distraction that can be alleviated by packing your kids some new, fun activities to keep them entertained and out of trouble. Think about what your child might enjoy - books, games, puzzles, coloring books, a travel diary, movies, video games, and so forth. If your vehicle doesn't have a DVD player, you might consider purchasing a portable one.

4. Give the kids frequent breaks. Whether it's a restaurant, rest stop, park, or even a local attraction, try to stop every two or three hours for a break. Pit stops might extend your overall travel time, but letting your kids burn off some energy and stretch their legs will be well worth it during long road trips.

5. Reassess your insurance needs and coverage. About two weeks before your travel date, assess your auto insurance policy to make sure it's congruent with your needs and offers sufficient financial protection. Most parents, especially new ones, don't think about reviewing their auto insurance plan before they head out on vacation with a child in the backseat. However, raising a child is a huge financial responsibility that could prompt an increase to property damage or liability coverage.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

WHAT'S INVOLVED IN GETTING DISABILITY COVERAGE?


Although some insurance companies have a few company-specific guidelines for underwriting Disability insurance policies, all insurers will use the same key factors in determining your eligibility, rate, and amount and type of coverage. Understanding what an insurer looks at during the underwriting process can help you get the disability coverage you need.

1. Gender and Age. Male applicants usually pay less for their policy than females because males tend to file fewer claims than females. Older applicants typically pay more for their policy than their younger counterparts.

2. Occupation. Since certain occupations present a greater risk of injury or death than others, insurers will examine both your job duties and title as they decide the type and cost of the coverage they offer. Insurers group different occupations into rating classes that are represented by a number or letter. The rating is based on the level of risk the occupations typically hold, the amount and types of claims common to the occupations, and the income level of those employed in the occupations.

3. Lifestyle. Your lifestyle, in particular any activity that you participate in that could increase your probability of suffering a disabling accident, will be questioned. The insurer will directly ask you about your activities, but be careful to be honest since they may also collect information about your lifestyle from credit bureaus, internet databases, and even your family or friends.

4. Income. Your income will be instrumental in determining what type of coverage you're eligible to receive, the rate, and the monthly benefit amount. The insurer will ask you to provide proof of income, such as a W2 or income tax form. The insurer will put your salary information into a table and decide the amount of monthly benefit you'll be eligible to receive. The amount is usually between 50% and 70% of your pretax income, with higher percentages accompanying lower incomes and lower percentages accompanying higher incomes. Additionally, your income amount will affect what type of coverage the insurer offers you. Those with higher income levels are usually offered a policy with more comprehensive coverage and a much broader definition of disability.

5. Medical. Insurers not only look at your current state of health, but also at your past health history. The insurer may even look at your familial medical history to see if you have a predisposition for developing costly medical conditions like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease as they determine your eligibility. Again, it's important to be honest on the questionnaire since you will be asked to undergo either a full physical examination or a paramedical examination by a medical professional.

Once the insurer has collected all the above information, a home office underwriter will review it and either issue you immediate coverage or ask you to submit some additional information to assess if you're an acceptable risk for them. The insurer will assign you to one of the following risk categories:

* Substandard/special risk - if you're assigned into this category, then the insurer has determined that there's a high probability of you making a future claim. If the insurer extends you coverage, then you'll be charged higher rates and your policy will have a shorter benefit period, a longer elimination period, and contain an amendment to either exclude certain medical conditions for a set period of time or fully exclude them indefinitely.
* Standard risk - most disability coverage applicants fall into the standard risk category, meaning they are no less or more likely to file a claim than any other insured individual.
* Preferred risk - the insurer has determined that you're less likely to file a claim than other insured individuals. You will pay the least amount for preferred risk coverage.

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