Colsa Insurance Agency, Inc. Blog
As more Americans work from home than ever before, many employers are wondering about their obligations under OSHA as well as how to reduce the chances that workers may be injured while telecommuting.
Obviously, the chances of an injury when working from home are small. The most common issue that is likely to arise is long-term injuries from poor workstation design, which can result in carpal tunnel syndrome and other stress and ergonomic injuries that develop over time.
For the most part, employers should approach workplace safety for telecommuting workers as they would safety for office workers, particularly workstation design and arrangement (ergonomics) as well as work scheduling and distribution.
Duties under OSHA
OSHA's General Duty Clause applies to any place an employer has staff working, be that at the company's facilities or worksites, at a customer's worksite, or even if they work from home.
Under the clause, employers have a general duty to "furnish to each of his employee's employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
Fortunately, most workplace safety specialists say that employers have little responsibility in ensuring a safe workplace. In fact, OSHA has issued guidance stating that it:
Workers' comp still in play
While that is good news, employers are still responsible for any injuries an employee suffers while working from home under workers' compensation laws.
For an injury to be considered work-related it must:
With that in mind, employers do have an obligation to ensure that a home worksite is safe in order to prevent injuries, even if OSHA does not require it.
The international law firm of Foley & Lardner, LLP recommends that employers:
While you as an employer are not required under OSHA regulations to inspect your workers' home's for compliance, it is a good idea to give them guidelines for how to set up their home office and also work with them to supply any needed furniture or accessories they would need to safely carry out their work tasks.
You may also want to consider asking them to install a smoke alarm in their home and that they have a plan to evacuate in case of fire or other emergency. Also if they have a lot of electrical equipment, there should be sufficient ventilation.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make if you incur damage to your business premises is to wait too long before filing the claim with your insurer.
The owners of a hotel in Dallas learned this the hard way when a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the business had waited too long to file a claim with its insurer after suffering hail damage.
The court ruled that because the hotel had waited more than 19 months to file the claim, it was impossible for the insurer to ascertain exactly when the damage had occurred.
The hotel's property policy required that the insured make "prompt notice" of any claims.
But the insurer rejected the claim when it received it for a hailstorm that had happened more than a year and a half earlier, on the grounds that it could not determine what had caused the damage or when the damage occurred. This was crucial since the policy had expired 17 months earlier - two months after the storm had allegedly damaged the hotel.
Believe it or not, filing late is a common problem and it is one of many mistakes business owners make when filing claims. The following are surefire ways to risk having your claim denied or disputed by your insurance company:
Not contacting your insurer immediately
While most insurance policies state that you must notify the company promptly of a loss, what counts as "prompt" may be a little vague. However, you can wreck your claim by reporting a loss so late that it "prejudices" the insurance company.
For the most part, you should take steps to notify your insurer as soon as possible after you become aware of a loss.
Failing to document the damage
Take pictures and itemize everything that was damaged. Often, you will have to make repairs immediately to prevent additional damage, or move machinery to a new location. If so, be sure to photograph the original scene to document how it was before you started your clean-up effort. Also take photos of any repairs you make.
Disposing of damaged goods
If your business clean-up includes removal of items such as water-damaged merchandise, flooring or insulation, keep it all, even if it has to pile up in the parking lot. The damaged materials are all evidence of the impact of the disaster on your business.
Not appealing an insurer's low estimate
After the claims adjuster inspects the damage, the insurance company will give you a damage estimate. If you think it's too low, you can appeal. We can help if you feel the estimate is too low.
But some businesses will hire an outside adjuster to make a second estimate, and then the claim will go to mediation for a final resolution.
Not reading your policy
You should understand exactly what your policy covers. For the most part, commercial property policies will not cover flooding or earthquake damage. That kind of coverage will often require a separate policy or rider.
Not being prepared
If your business suffers damage, you'll be better off if you know what to do in advance. Some advance steps you can take are:
A final word…
Filing a claim is usually not a difficult process, but you should be prepared in advance, like making sure you keep good records of all your assets, including receipts, payment schedules and more.
Finally, if you are unsure whether you should file a claim on any of your commercial policies, you can always give us a call to discuss the event and we can assist you.
One of the keys to managing risks when you first start a business is getting the right insurance to cover your operations, property and potential liabilities.
Unfortunately, many business owners fail to update their policies and just renew them year after year even if the company has grown, expanded operations and facilities, and added new equipment and property. If this is the case, the old coverage would be insufficient.
Business owners should review their policies every year to catch any omissions and make sure they are not underinsured. It is common for smaller businesses to secure a basic business owner's policy (BOP) and workers' comp when they first get started. A BOP includes:
Outgrowing BOP coverage
As your business expands, you may outgrow the BOP and need additional coverage to manage your risks. Some examples include the following:
Depending on the business, some or most of these insurance options may be required for adequate protection. Annual reviews with us are ideal for discussing your options. Make sure these elements are considered:
As the economy continues expanding, companies need to be careful about properly managing their risk, according to a report by Advisen Inc., an insurance research and data firm.
Increased activity typically means proportionally additional losses. For example, more trucks driving more miles will inevitably result in more accidents. However, there are other kinds of risk that can actually increase more than the jump in business activity. We look at three such areas here.
Workplace injuries can increase as firms hire workers that have less experience. Typically, when employers expand their workforce to meet the growing demand for their products and services, the number of workers' compensation claims tended to rise disproportionately.
New employees with less experience typically are more likely to sustain a workplace injury. At the same time, experienced staff may look for new job opportunities as compensation begins to take priority over job security.
What you can do: One option is to hire a temporary-staffing firm to fill positions. In these relationships, the client company is not responsible for covering temporary workers.
But you should be aware that OSHA requires what is known as the "dual employer doctrine", under which temps are considered employees of both the agency and the company using them. And you are also not off the hook for providing them with a safe work environment and safety training specific to their job.
And remember: Check to make sure the temp agency has workers' comp insurance.
The risk of being sued rises as employees make mistakes due to pressure on existing staff to increase production, and again when less experienced workers are added to the payroll.
Your workers may be putting in extra hours. But fatigued workers make mistakes. For example, some of the worst industrial disasters have been in part the result of tired workers. Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Exxon Valdez oil spill all involved decisions made late at night or extremely early in the morning by people working long hours.
In addition, inexperienced employees are more like contribute to incidents where outsiders are hurt.
What you can do: Conduct thorough interviews, check references and carry out background investigations when appropriate to avoid hiring people with known problems. You are responsible for the actions of your employees.
Also, make sure that you are not overworking your staff. Provide proper breaks so they can rest, especially in jobs that require attention and strength.
Labor law violations
Trends in litigation and regulation make it more likely that companies will be charged with labor law violations. Employees are braver now about filing complaints, thinking they have a good chance of landing a new job if they are fired.
In addition, the federal and many state governments have cracked down on wage and hour law violations.
As well, some companies may try to add to their worker pool by using more independent contractors, in order to avoid hiring new workers. But the federal government has mounted a serious crackdown on companies that inappropriately classify employees as independent contractors.
What you can do: Pay close attention to your payment systems and audit your systems to make sure you comply with wage and hour laws as well as meal and rest break laws.
The lesson is to increase your vigilance in managing your risk and review your existing risk management strategies for gaps due to business growth.
You can take the following steps to reduce your chances of increased claims:
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Linda is a junior partner in a law firm and drives a car that the firm owns and insures. The firm's auto insurance covers her as a partner and she doesn't own another car, so she sees no need to have her own policy.
Most of the time, this is not a problem. However, spring break comes and she takes her kids to DisneyWorld. She rents a car at the Orlando airport and never gives a thought to whether her firm's insurance will cover her if she has an accident with the rental. In this case, a phone conversation with the firm's insurance agent would have been a great idea.
While driving to her hotel one night, Linda rear-ends a new Lexus. The damage to the other car is extensive; Linda looks to her firm's auto liability coverage for the cost of repairing it.
The ISO Business Auto Policy covers the person or organization shown in the policy declarations (the information page at the beginning.) In this case, the name shown in the policy Declarations is the name of Linda's firm.
The policy goes on to say that, for liability insurance, the firm is an insured and so is anyone else using, with the firm's permission, a covered auto the firm owns, hires or borrows, with some exceptions.
Unfortunately for Linda, the firm didn't rent the car; she did … in her own name. Consequently, the firm's insurance will not cover her liability for this accident. She will be forced to pay for it out of her own funds.
However, there are a couple of policy endorsements that her firm could have purchased that would have solved Linda's problem.
Drive Other Car Coverage - Broadened Coverage for Named Individuals
The insurance company will require the insured to list the names of one or more individuals on the endorsement.
The change extends several of the policy's coverages so that they apply to the listed individuals and their resident spouses. This endorsement comes with some significant limitations:
Individual Named Insured
An alternative to this endorsement is to list individuals' names in the policy declarations along with the firm's name and attach an endorsement called Individual Named Insured.
The endorsement covers the individual listed in the declarations and automatically covers the person's resident spouse and family members. It also covers these individuals should they injure another of the firm's employees.
These policy changes affect several coverages, including liability, uninsured motorist, medical payments, and physical damage.
If you are considering doing this, you should consult with us to discuss the endorsements' details and identify the one that will best insure the concerned individuals. With the right coverage in place, Linda can enjoy her vacation without having to worry about who will pay for the fender-bender.