Archive for November, 2015

How to Reduce Your Liability during Company Holiday Party

If you’re throwing your staff a Christmas party this year, don’t forget that holiday soirees also mean increased liability for workers’ comp, harassment and third-party injuries.

For example, did you know that if one of your staff is injured at your holiday party it could trigger a workers’ comp claim, since it could be considered “within the course and scope of employment”?

Workers’ comp and employment law attorneys have different opinions about this, but the overriding consensus is that some of it could become a workers’ comp claim if:

  • Attendance is mandatory, regardless of whether it’s expressed or implied.
  • The party is held during working hours.
  • The event is held on your premises.
  • Employees are recognized with rewards, or if you give out bonuses at the event.
  • The event includes vendors or customers.

 

The rules for this can vary depending on the state and how broadly the courts define “scope of employment.”

For example, in Minnesota three years ago, an employee had been out on medical leave for a non-work-related injury, and she went to the company’s annual dinner after she received an invitation and the promise of a turkey.

After she had collected her turkey, however, she slipped, fell and injured herself in the parking lot. The state supreme court found that the employer had directed the employee to come to the premises to obtain the turkey, which the court noted was a form of bonus compensation.

In California, all company-sponsored events fall within the course and scope of employment, because they benefit the employer by improving employee morale and furthering employer-employee relations.

But the biggest issue is liability, and a case in 2013 should make you think twice before serving alcohol – or even allowing your staff to bring their own booze.

In the case of Purton vs. Marriott International, Inc. the California Supreme Court found the employer, hotel chain Marriott, liable for the actions of an employee who took his own liquor to a company party, drove home drunk and killed another motorist.

The court found that as long as the proximate cause (intoxication) was within the course and scope of employment, the employer could be liable.

Here are 10 tips to help ensure that cheer does not turn into a legal nightmare:

 

  1. Attendance must be voluntary. To make sure that your employees understand this, clearly state it in the invitation and any announcements you may post about the party in your workplace.
  2. Hold your event after working hours and at a venue other than your office. This reduces the likelihood the party will be perceived as work related.
  3. Also, don’t try to coax employees to come by implying that attendance can help them advance their careers or standing in the office, or that not coming would be viewed by other staff as the employee not being a team player.
  4. Don’t give out awards, bonuses or any types of recognition that would indicate that they are there for business reasons.
  5. Strongly consider NOT inviting vendors, customers or others with whom your company conducts business.
  6. Tell your employees that they can bring their spouses and significant others.
  7. Remind employees that normal workplace standards of conduct are to be respected. Remember, when alcohol is served at parties, it may reduce inhibitions and can lead to sexual harassment or discrimination claims.
    If you do receive a complaint about discrimination or harassment, don’t shrug it off. Take it seriously and conduct a proper investigation and interview the employee complaining, the one who is accused and any witnesses.
  8. If you want to truly reduce your risk, you should limit or not serve alcohol. Whatever you do, don’t have an open bar. Close the bar at least one hour before the end of the party. Also, hire a professional bartender who knows when to cut people off.
    Arrange for no-cost transportation for any employee who should not drive home. If you do plan to have alcohol, also serve plenty of food.
  9. Tell employees not to post pictures from or comments about your company party on social media without a policy in place.
  10. Discuss your exposure with us to make sure that you are properly covered for any liabilities that may arise out of the function. Call us! We are always here to help.

 

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Think like a risk manager to reduce your insurance costs

All large corporations and national businesses have someone in charge of risk management, if not a whole department.

But hiring a risk specialist or dedicating a number of employees to that kind of work is typically too expensive for most small and mid-sized companies. So, this risk mitigation typically is left to the business owner or the duties are spread among senior managers.

One way that you can reduce the risk to your finances is to purchase appropriate insurance coverage, which can sometimes be expensive. However, if you focus on managing your company’s risks, you can do more than solely reducing the risk of accidents (and having to file claims).

Insurance companies like policyholders that try to manage their risks, and they reward them by reducing their premiums.

You too can reduce the cost of your insurance if you start thinking like a risk manager. In this article we provide you with some tips to do just that.

How far you want to go depends on how much time you want to spend honing your risk management skills. The more you learn, the better you will have a broad perspective of the various risks that your organization faces.

To start thinking like a risk manager, it helps to organize your risks into categories:

 

  • Human resources – Employees are your biggest asset, but they can also be one of your biggest liabilities. Businesses are regularly sued by their employees and job applicants for a number of alleged transgressions, such as discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environments. Some people are serial lawsuit filers.
    To reduce the chances of this, you need to screen job applicants and document everything, including candidate searches, interviews, hires, reviews, complaints and behavior or performance issues of your employees, especially if you have to terminate someone.
    Also, promote a culture safety with regular training, and strive to keep your workers happy, motivated and feeling like they have are vested in your enterprise.
  • Property and assets – Fire and theft devastate thousands of American businesses every year. Protect your property with fire and burglar alarms, and take precautions against damage from severe weather.
    Make sure that you keep your company’s data safe (especially any personally identifiable information on your staff and customers, and credit card information).
    Erect firewalls, install virus and malware protection and store vital company data on- and offsite. Develop an emergency response plan in case your data is compromised or if your network fails.
  • Income – This includes any risks that affect your company’s finances and income stream. Keep thorough records and meticulously quantify your costs of goods sold, gross and net income.
    Monitor your accounting and ensure that a chosen few of your staff have access to your accounts and check books.
    Protect your business income by having a solid supply-chain management plan in place, with connections made with backup suppliers should one of your current suppliers suddenly be unable to provide you with product.
    Have a contingency management plan in place to keep your business operating if disruptions occur due to equipment failure, a breakdown in transportation networks or natural disaster.
  • Liability – Every year there seems to be a new and novel lawsuit threat that companies never knew existed. Make sure that you do all you can to reduce the potential of liabilities to third parties, including vendors and customers and the public at large.
    Identify any hazards on your premises, and train your employees to drive carefully and not endanger your customers or the public.
    Keep your workplace safe, as well. Engage in proactive safety training and a program to identify potential hazards to your staff. Keeping your staff safe and reducing the risk of injuries keeps your workers healthy and safe – and your workers’ comp premium low.
    Have a social media policy with clear do’s and don’ts.

 

While there is much more that you can do, these tips are a good place to start in thinking like a risk manager and reducing the chances of your firm having to pay more than it should, or being sued.
Finally, consult with us as we can help you identify the biggest risks that your organization faces and what you can do to reduce those risks to a comfortable level.

Remember, insurance is there to pay for many of these issues, but to keep your rates as low as they can be and reduce the potential of fallout, put on your risk manager cap and get to work.

 

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New Legislation Aims to Cut Workers’ Comp Drug Costs

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign recently passed legislation that could further reduce workers’ comp claims costs in California.

The Legislature in September passed AB 1124, which would establish a new drug formulary that would limit the types of medications that can be used to treat injured workers.

The law is seen as vital to controlling costs as the cost of some medications – particularly off-label, compound medications and specialty drugs – continues to rise at a quickening pace.

Also, because California’s workers’ comp system lacks a drug formulary, payers have often complained of price-gouging for certain pharmaceuticals, like compound medications.

California insurance experts are optimistic that a new workers’ compensation prescription drug formulary will help injured workers and reduce claims costs.

Both insurers and employers have expressed optimism about the effects of the legislation if signed into law.

Over the past decade, the workers’ comp spend on prescription drugs has increased more than 250% through the first two years of treatment and accounts for some 13% of a claim’s overall medical costs, according to the California Workers’ Compensation Institute, which has studied the issue. The share goes higher as claims age, and often accounts for 20% of the medical costs in a claim.

The institute’s research suggests that a formulary could save California employers anywhere from $124 million to $420 million a year, depending on how restrictive the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) makes the formulary.

The estimate is based on the experience of Texas and Washington states when they adopted a workers’ comp formulary to stem double-digit increases in spending on prescription drugs.

Not only that, but the increasing prevalence of doctors prescribing highly addictive opioid medications is also a concern for employers and insurers. While the drugs are not particularly expensive, overuse and abuse can lead to worse workers’ comp outcomes, such as longer times away from work.

Mark Pew, senior vice president for Prium, told the news website workcompcentral.comthat potential savings will follow from the most important role of a formulary, that is, “to make sure injured workers are only taking drugs that are appropriate for their conditions. Cost savings are a side effect of doing the right thing for the patient from a clinical standpoint.”

Pew said that for many providers and patients, prescribing or taking drugs is the easiest way to try to address pain.

However, a lot of patients receiving powerful narcotic painkillers don’t report any improvement in function or quality of life, and they are still reporting pain at a six, seven or eight on a 10-point scale, he added. The medications are not doing anything to address the root causes of the pain, the injured worker doesn’t return to work, dosages increase and new drugs are required to deal with side effects.

Pew said there might be some situations in which a strong opioid is appropriate for non-malignant cancer pain, and a formulary would still allow injured workers access to these drugs in such situations.

The legislation does address this issue by requiring the DWC to include in the formulary guidance how an injured worker can access drugs for off-label use “when evidence-based and medically necessary.”

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Remind Your Employees to Get Their Flu Shots

As we enter December, the one thing that can put a damper on this festive time of year is the seasonal flu.

This year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is urging everyone aged six months and older to get their yearly flu shot. It is the best way to protect against the flu and its serious complications.

If you are an employer you should remind your staff to get a flu shot to reduce their chances of getting sick and reduce absenteeism in the workplace. If you are an individual, you should get a shot as it’s easy, convenient and cheap.

The flu is a serious illness, and each year new strains surface and you never know which one might affect you worse than others. Most people who get the flu feel very ill for a time, including nausea, vomiting, headache and fever. While most people fully recover, doctors cannot predict who will get really sick.

Those who are likely to get very ill and run the risk of complications, including hospitalization and death, are: people 65 and older; very young children; people with chronic health problems, such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes; and those with weakened immune systems.

That said, even younger, healthy people can get seriously ill.

There are lots of reasons to get a flu vaccine each year.

  • Vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also protects the people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
  • Flu vaccination can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than six months who are too young to get vaccinated).
  • Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
  • Vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes

 

Recent studies by CDC researchers and other experts indicate that flu vaccine reduces the risk of doctor visits due to flu by about 60% among the overall population when the vaccine viruses are like the ones spreading in the community.

A flu vaccination does not guarantee protection against the flu. Some people who get vaccinated might still get sick.

In a typical flu season, flu complications – including pneumonia – send more than 200,000 people to hospital in the U.S. Death rates linked to flu vary from year to year, but have gone as high as 49,000 deaths in a year, the CDC says.

How effective the vaccine is in preventing the flu depends on how good a match it is to the strains of flu virus circulating that year. Most years, the vaccine is between 40 and 60% effective, according to the CDC.

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

Last year, the vaccine offered little protection against the most common flu strain that circulated, an H3N2 virus. That happened because the virus that experts predicted to be the predominant one changed, and the new H3N2 virus was not included in the vaccine.

As a result of this, the 2014-2015 flu season was more severe than usual, especially for the very old and very young. As a result, there was a record amount of hospitalizations for flu in the elderly population.

This year’s vaccine contains the new H3N2 strain. But the vaccine also includes two other strains that are expected to be around, as well.

It’s expected that there should be an ample supply of vaccines since drug companies are expected to produce up to 179 million doses.

The vaccine is available in a variety of forms:

  • A typical injection.
  • A nasal spray.
  • An ultra-thin needle, called an intradermal flu vaccine.
  • People allergic to eggs can get an egg-free vaccine.
  • A high-dose vaccine that is reserved for the elderly.

 

Myth buster

One myth that we need to bust here: You cannot get flu from a flu vaccine. That said, some people do experience some side effects, such as a mild fever and body aches that may mimic flu symptoms.

Also, after vaccination, it usually takes about two weeks for the body to develop protection against the flu.

 

flu-shot

 

Hands-free Technology a Significant Danger: Study

If you think your employees who drive while on the job are completely safe using hands-free mobile phone technology while driving your car, a new study says otherwise.

Mental distractions can persist for nearly 30 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The researchers discovered the residual effects of mental distraction while comparing new hands-free technologies in 10 vehicles and three types of smart phones (Google Now, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana). The analysis found that all systems studied increased mental distraction to potentially unsafe levels.

Researchers found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task in the worst-performing systems studied. That amount of time is the equivalent of driving three footballs fields at 25 miles per hour. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the further it would go during this time.

When using the least-distracting systems, drivers remained impaired for more than 15 seconds after completing a task.

The dangers are obvious: Drivers using phones and vehicle information systems while driving may miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while their minds are readjusting to the task of driving.

The research indicates that the use of voice-activated systems can be a distraction even at seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is stopped at an intersection. Mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green.

Researchers rated the distraction level of the cars and smart phone technologies on a scale of 1-5, with anything above 2 deemed distracting enough to be a danger.

The best-performing system was the Chevy Equinox with a cognitive distraction rating of 2.4, while the worst-performing system was the Mazda 6 with a cognitive distraction rating of 4.6.

Among phone systems, Google Now performed best as the least distracting with a distraction rating of 3, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana earned ratings of 3.4 and 3.8.

Using the phones to send texts significantly increased the level of mental distraction. While sending voice-activated texts, Google Now rated as a category 3.3 distraction, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana rated as category 3.7 and category 4.1 distractions.

AAA Foundation researchers liken the categories as follows:

  • Category 1 – About as distracting as listening to the radio or an audio book.
  • Category 2 – About as distracting as talking on the phone.
  • Category 3 – About as distracting as sending voice-activated texts on a perfect, error-free system.
  • Category 4 – About as distracting updating social media while driving.
  • Category 5 – About as distracting as a highly challenging, scientific test designed to overload a driver’s attention.

 

HandsfreeDriving

Report All Workplace Injuries Promptly, Including First Aid

IF ONE OF your staff suffers an injury at work, it’s your duty to report that injury to your workers’ comp carrier.

Many employers think they can skip making a report if someone is hurt at work yet doesn’t need to go see a doctor immediately. But the problem is that even what seems like a minor injury can turn into a major problem down the road.

Take the case of a man who was working for Louis Truth Dairy, when a crate with milk containers down a shoot and hit him in the shin.

The force of the impact knocked him to the ground and left a welt. Despite the bruise, he did not see think the injury was serious, so he didn’t report it to his employer.

But the welt became a boil that eventually opened up and became infected. The man then sought care from his doctor, but did not mention the wound to his employer until three months after the workplace injury was incurred.

Although, in this instance, the employer had no control over the delay, it’s common for workers not to report a minor injury, such as a small cut on the hand.

But you never know when an injury can become infected or otherwise develop into something more complicated.

 

Consequences of Late Reporting

  • A delay in seeking treatment may cause a deterioration in the employee’s condition.
  • Hindering your ability to investigate the claim, as witnesses may no longer be available or key evidence may not be preserved.
  • The ability to deny uncompensable claims can be affected. Many states have regulations that prohibit denial of claims after a specified time period.
  • The ability to deny a claim due to a worker being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • The opportunity to direct the initial treatment to an occupational health clinic that specializes in treating workers’ comp injuries and coordinates with the employer’s return-to-work program may be lost.

 

First-aid claims

In California, employers are permitted (under specific guidelines) to directly pay for their first-aid claims. This practice may have a positive effect in minimizing the impact on future experience modifications, and reduce the future cost of premiums. But you need to carefully make a decision on first aid.

 

Definition

First aid, as defined by the California Labor Code and Regulations, is any one-time treatment, and any follow-up visit, for the purpose of observation of minor scratches, cuts, burns, splinters or other minor occupational injuries, which do not ordinarily require medical care.

Such one-time treatment, and follow-up visit for the purpose of observation, is considered first aid, even though provided by a physician or by other registered professional personnel.

 

Reporting:

All first-aid claims should be reported to your workers’ compensation carrier as a precautionary measure.

We can assist you if you have any claims questions. We can work with your carrier to help you be certain that such claims are classified as first-aid only.

 

Examples of first-aid treatment

  • Application of antiseptics
  • Treatment for first-degree burns
  • Application of bandage(s) during any visit to medical personnel
  • Use of elastic bandage(s) during first visit to medical personnel
  • Removal of foreign bodies not embedded in an eye if only irrigation is required
  • Removal of foreign bodies from wound if removed using tweezers or another simple technique
  • Use of non-prescription medications and administration of a single dose of prescription medication on first visit for minor injury or discomfort
  • Soaking therapy on initial visit to medical personnel or removal of bandages by soaking
  • Application of hot or cold compress(es) during first visit to medical personnel
  • Application of ointment to abrasions to prevent drying or cracking
  • Application of heat therapy during first visit to medical personnel
  • Use of whirlpool-bath therapy during first visit to medical personnel
  • Negative x-ray diagnosis
  • Observation of injury during visit to medical personnel

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