Avoid Unnecessary Legal Involvement in Workers’ Compensation Claims

The workers’ compensation system was designed to provide a method for efficiently returning injured workers to their jobs as soon as possible. Getting lawyers involved in this process when it isn’t necessary slows it down, makes it far more inefficient, and adds costs.

The best way to avoid the need for legal involvement is for the employer to take an active role in the workers’ compensation process. Here are a few ways to do that:

·   Tie managers’ performance evaluations to their concern for safety. The total quality management approach is to tie safety to a manager’s raise, bonus or promotion. In that way, it become financially advantageous for managers to be safety-conscious and reduce the possibility of workers’ compensation claims.

·   Designate an employee to call injured workers once a week. This helps you troubleshoot problems before they escalate. For example, this call might detect that an injured worker has been receiving collection notices for unpaid medical bills, indicating that the compensation claim may not have been processed properly, and alert you to the need to call your workers’ compensation insurance carrier.

·   Report all injuries. Even if an employee insists that he or she isn’t seriously injured, report the incident to your insurer anyway. There may not be any ramifications from the injury now, but there could be in the coming months. If you don’t report an injury when it happens, the claim could be rejected as fraudulent later on when you do report it. This could cause the employee to hire legal counsel.

·   Monitor the progress of claims. There are many points at which a claim can become bogged down-the employee delays the first doctor’s visit, there’s a lag time in getting a report from doctor, the employee has to wait to see a specialist, etc. These all have negative effects on the progress of the claim. An employer can improve the efficiency of the process by examining injury records, writing down dates and identifying excessive delays. Reducing delays and maintaining continuity in care will keep the process flowing and eliminate the need for the employee to find an attorney to intervene.

·   Don’t alienate employees. Many disgruntled employees file workers’ compensation claims because they feel the company owes them something, or to get even for poor treatment in the workplace. Most of these revenge claims result from conflicts that could have been avoided if a supervisor had spent more time empathizing with employees.

Some workers’ compensation claims will require the involvement of legal professionals, but if you can keep these occurrences to a minimum, you’ll help keep your workers’ compensation costs in check.

Safe Driving Tips that Can Help You Avoid Vehicle Accidents

Few drivers consider themselves bad drivers. In fact, most people would probably give themselves an A+ on their driving skills. While some may indeed be excellent drivers, there wouldn’t be over 6 million vehicle accidents each year in the United States if everyone was an excellent driver.

Even though what other drivers do can’t be controlled and there will never be a way to completely eliminate the risk of being in a vehicle accident, you can practice safe driving to reduce your liklihood of being in a vehicle accident. It’s up to each and every driver to do their part to make the roadways a safer place for themselves and other drivers. You can do this by first remembering the basics you were taught on safe driving – both hands on the wheel, signaling before turning, and so forth. Here are ten more safety tips to remember:

1. Get rid of distractions like food, newspapers, books, makeup, and phones. Only change CDs or the radio station when stationary.

2. Properly maintain your vehicle on a regular basis, including tires and all fluids. Refer to your owner’s manual or accompanying maintenance log book for the recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle.

3. Routinely inspect your brake and signal lights. If one is non-operational, then replace the bulb or have it repaired immediately.

4. Enroll in a defensive driving class.

5. Practice defensive, but not aggressive, driving. When an aggressive driver is encountered, simply ignore them and either allow them to move away from you or move away from them yourself. If extremely aggressive, then you can report the driver to the local authorities.

6. Keep a safe following distance; have at least one car length between you and the vehicle in front of you for each ten mph on your speedometer.

7. Since many unintentional and intentional insurance scam vehicle accidents occur at intersections, you should depart from intersections with extreme caution. Even after the light turns green, try to count to three before accelerating.

8. Be especially vigilant during poor road conditions, such as those caused by weather or construction work.

Make sure your headlights are on not just at dusk and dark, but also during hazardous weather conditions like fog and rain.

9. Set your mirrors and seat positions according to your view, not your passengers. Remember to check that they haven’t been moved from your settings before hitting the road, since making such adjustments while driving takes your eyes off the road and distracts you.

10. Never drive while intoxicated.

D&O Coverage Belongs in Your Company’s Insurance Portfolio

Does your current insurance portfolio adequately protect your company and its most key people against significant financial losses? All companies understand the importance of a general liability policy, for example, to cover customer injuries that occur on the business premises. And every business knows it’s important to protect the business premises and its contents against the risks of fire, flooding, vandalism, etc., through a comprehensive property and casualty policy. But many overlook an entire area of potential liability and loss that can result when claims are made that are based on the actions of its directors and officers.

Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance protects against financial losses resulting from claims based on allegations of wrongdoing by these individuals when acting in their corporate capacities. Both publicly traded and privately held companies should consider the coverage.

What kinds of claims fall under the scope of such policies? Consider these-

• Claims by shareholders/investors alleging misrepresentations, inadequate disclosures, conflicts of interest, misdealing and mismanagement.

• Claims by competitors alleging bad faith in business dealings, appropriation of trade secrets, and unfair or deceptive trade practices.

• Claims by customers based on dishonesty, sales disputes, and the like.

• Employment practices liability claims, including failure to hire, termination, discrimination and sexual harassment.

• Suits by government agencies, including those involving tax laws, securities laws, labor laws, violation of applicable business regulations, etc.

When claims such as these include allegations of a company’s directors’ or officers’ wrongdoing, that can bring them within the coverage of a D&O policy. For publicly traded companies, in 2006, 49% of claims covered under D&O policies were brought by shareholders, according to a survey by professional services firm Towers Perrin. Think of the well-publicized cases involving corporate giants like Enron and Worldcom, which alleged financial misdealing and cover-ups by corporate officers.

Private companies can also be hit by shareholder lawsuits. These companies do have investors, who can become disgruntled with management decision-making when their investment in the company does not turn out to be as good as expected. Also, the definition of a “security” can be a very broad term. But a key reason these firms need D&O coverage is the increasing number of employment practices lawsuits, brought by employees, alleging claims such as sexual harassment, discrimination, or wrongful discharge. A policy that couples D&O and employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) works well for these firms.

A claim against a company’s CEO, chief financial officer, vice president, etc.-whether based on allegations of misrepresentation, negligence, employment discrimination, or the like-has the potential to cripple an organization financially. Even if a claim does not result in a legal judgment or settlement, it will need to be defended, resulting in substantial legal costs to the organization.

A properly written policy will provide protection both to the company, and to the individual insured directors and officers. The personal assets of individual directors and officers-and thus those of their spouses and estates-can be at risk if the company is not in a position to indemnify them for any losses. Such a situation could occur if corporate bylaws or public policy would not permit indemnification based on the particular allegations, or if the company is in a bad financial condition, or even bankrupt.

Today’s insurance market offers D&O coverage at surprisingly affordable rates. Given the financial loss potential, it’s a coverage that any company should consider adding to its insurance portfolio.

How to Prevent Emergency Generators from Becoming a Danger

Having a reliable backup generator can be invaluable during a power outage. From powering a refrigerator, the lights, or heating or cooling during an emergency power outage, an emergency generator can be a real asset and provide many of the essentials that your family would otherwise be without during an outage. That said, generators shouldn’t be used haphazardly. If safety regulations aren’t followed, a generator can become more of a danger than an asset.

Determine what size generator you’ll need. The size of a generator will be based on the items you’d like to power during a power outage. For example, those in colder climates will want to power the furnace to keep the home warm and help prevent pipes from freezing and breaking. A well pump, refrigerator, freezer, and electrical in-home medical equipment should also be considerations. Keep in mind that the generator’s size and cost will increase with the more you need the generator to support.

Once you’ve figured out what size generator you need, you will have two main types of generators to choose from – portable or permanent standby. Understanding the workings and what’s required for each can help you determine which type best suits your need.

Depending on the specific size, a portable generator will allow you to have television, radio, lights, furnace, water well, and refrigerator and freezer powered. Generators can range from 1000-watt to 10,000 watt, with the average home needing at least a 5,000-watt generator. You may switch out the appliances, such as by momentarily disconnecting the refrigerator to operate the microwave, but make sure not to overload the equipment. You’ll plug your desired appliances directly into the portable generator using several heavy-duty grounded extension cords. This type of generator doesn’t need to be installed professionally, but it’s of vital importance that users follow strict safety practices. Never operate the generator inside the home, garage, or otherwise confined space; it must be used in a thoroughly ventilated area. Make sure to keep gas-powered portable generators away from open flames.

On the other hand, a licensed professional electrician should be used to install a permanent standby generator since it’s connected to the home’s wiring system, the installation should meet local building codes, and must be installed with several key safety features. Special equipment must be installed to prevent the generator from backfeeding into the electrical system within the home. Backfeed can result in a fire or equipment damage. It must have a transfer switch installed so that power crews won’t be in danger from live electrical currents if they need to make repairs to lines. You’ll also need to notify the power company when you install a permanent standby generator.

A generator will only be an asset to help you safely and comfortably make it through a crisis when it’s used appropriately. Otherwise, it can create more problems than it solves.

Here’s Why Your Private Company Needs D&O Liability Insurance

If you run a small, privately held company, you may not think that you need the kind of insurance protection that larger, publicly traded companies have for their directors and officers. You would be mistaken. Directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance has a place in the insurance portfolio of just about any company.

D&O insurance is designed to cover claims based on the actions of a company’s directors and officers in their corporate capacity. Claims can be filed by shareholders/investors, competitors, customers, employees or government agencies. The cost of defending such claims can run high, and if a claim proceeds to judgment or settlement, the outcome can be financially crippling to a company.

Consider these “Top Ten” reasons for adding D&O liability coverage to the insurance protections you already have in place for your business:

1.   While private businesses may not trade company shares on a public exchange, they do have investors, who expect to turn a profit on the money they have invested. Today’s credit market makes it more difficult for deals to succeed, meaning that new business enterprises have a harder time getting off the ground. If investors lose their seed money, they may seek recourse against the fledgling firm’s top executives.

2.   Many private companies are established with the hope that someday, down the road, the business can go public. If and when that deal does happen, D&O can protect the founding entrepreneurs against claims by shareholders/investors that the sales price wasn’t good enough.

3.   Г‚ In private companies, directors and officers often are active, hands-on business executives. Because they are very involved in their company’s business operations, their actions are more likely to be called into question.

4.   Employment practices liability litigation claims of sexual harassment, discrimination, wrongful termination are growing in number. These types of lawsuits can result in staggering judgments and settlements. Hands-on management by a private firm’s key executives makes them easy targets for these types of claims. Combination D&O/EPLI (employment practices liability insurance) policies make sense for these firms.

5.   Private companies, especially in their early years, may not have the resources to hire specialized support staff or outside advisors for complex legal filings and other requirements. This makes them more susceptible to legal compliance claims brought by governmental agencies, on matters such as tax law, labor law, etc.

6.   Even when claims of wrongdoing, negligence or mismanagement are unfounded, they still need to be defended. Legal defense costs can quickly add up, straining the resources of a private firm.

7.   Directors and officers of private companies often have a great deal of their own wealth tied up in the firm. Therefore, the cost of defending, settling, or being held liable on a claim can have financial repercussions for that executive’s spouse, family and estate.

8.   D&O policies are best designed when they insure both the company, and individual directors and officers. That’s because there may be situations where the company cannot, or will not, indemnify the individually named directors/officers in a lawsuit. A company may not have the financial resources to back up the executive’s loss, or the corporate bylaws or public policy may prohibit it.

9.   The current insurance market has made D&O coverage more affordable than it has been in the past.

10.   Individuals may be reluctant to take on director/officer roles without the protection D&O insurance can provide. This may make it more difficult for a company to find the right people to serve in key corporate positions.

The right D&O coverage like any insurance protection you purchase for your company gives managing executives peace of mind, and the time to attend to running the core operations of their company which is, after all, why they went into business in the first place.

Know the Facts to Help Avoid Being a Victim of Auto Theft

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, one vehicle is stolen about every 25.5 seconds in the U.S., which amounts to a total of 1,235,226 stolen U.S. vehicles and upwards of 7.6 billion dollars in vehicle losses.

Despite the tremendous expense involved when a car is stolen, many consumers still aren’t preparing in advance to handle the possibility of a vehicle theft. A number of common misconceptions have contributed to consumers adopting a defeatist attitude about vehicle theft. There are a number of vehicle owners that feel it’s all but impossible to prevent becoming a victim of vehicle theft, even when protective methods like anti-theft devices are used. This type of defeatist attitude can have serious and unnecessary consequences for vehicle owners.

The Wiser Drivers Wise Up project was started by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Insurance Information Institute, and The National Insurance Crime Bureau to dispel the defeatist attitude and teach drivers how to handle their vehicle being stolen. The program includes five auto theft myths that can actually leave a vehicle owner more vulnerable to having their vehicle stolen:

1. Older vehicles aren’t targeted by thieves. Statistics clearly show this myth isn’t true. For example, The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that the five top stolen model years for 2009 were: 1994 Honda Accord, 1995 Honda Civic, 1991 Toyota Camry, 1997 Ford F-150 Pickup, and 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup.

2. The majority of vehicle thefts occur in unprotected areas. Again, statistics clearly disprove this myth. According to one FBI report on the subject, more than a third of all vehicle thefts take place from a home. The same report showed that only two in ten vehicle thefts take place in a parking lot and that only a very small number of vehicles are stolen or carjacked along roadways, highways, and alleys. So, parking in a an area felt to be secure doesn’t decrease the likelihood of your vehicle being stolen.

3. Anti-theft devices aren’t hard to install. Unless, you’re trained on the complexities of a vehicle’s electronic workings, then it’s best to pay for a professional to install, wire, and test the anti-theft device for you. It might be tempting to go with the cheapest price, but keep in mind that a cheap price doesn’t always equate to a bargain. Check with the Better Business Bureau to help you determine if the installer is running a reputable business, especially if a business is offering a substantial price difference from their competitors. If the technician that will be installing your alarm system hasn’t been certified by the Mobile Electronics Certification Program (MECP), then you might want to consider a different installer. Make sure that the installer provides instruction on how the alarm system works and is operated. You will also want a written warranty from the installer.

4. The police usually find stolen vehicles. Only half of all stolen vehicles are ever recovered. The first few days following the theft will be critical, as the chance of recovery diminishes with each day the thief possesses it. The highest number of vehicle thefts occur on Saturdays and Fridays. The highest number of recoveries are from vehicle thefts occurring on a Monday or Tuesday.

5. Insurance companies always provide victims of vehicle theft with a rental car. Check your policy; while theft coverage is part of a comprehensive auto insurance policy, it may or may not include a rental replacement car following a theft.

In closing, vehicle owners shouldn’t make the costly mistake of assuming vehicle theft is an inevitable occurrence. It’s also advisable to do an annual review of your auto policy for mandatory coverages, needed coverages, and coverage features like rentals and roadside assistance.

EEOC Issues Guidance on Discrimination Against Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities

The chances that an employee’s responsibilities to work and to family will collide have increased in the past few decades. Mothers are more likely to be employed than not, for example, and more individuals with aging parents have taken on caregiving roles.

Employees with caregiving responsibilities are not a protected group under federal workplace discrimination laws. Yet, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has released Enforcement Guidance under the title “Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities.” According to the EEOC, the guidance is not intended to create a new protected category, but to illustrate circumstances in which stereotyping of caregivers, or other types of disparate treatment against caregivers, might violate Title VII discrimination laws or run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s prohibition of discrimination based on a worker’s association with a disabled individual.

The guidance discusses seven broad categories of possible unlawful discrimination against caregivers. The bulk of the guidance is about gender-based disparate treatment of female caregivers. The guidance explains that employment decisions that discriminate against workers with caregiving responsibilities are prohibited if they are based on gender or another protected characteristic, regardless of how other workers in the same protected class, but without the caregiving responsibilities, are treated. For example, if women with children are routinely passed over for an executive training program while men with children are selected for the program, the fact that women without children also are selected for the program would be no defense against a sex discrimination charge.

Similarly, gender-based assumptions about a future caregiving role-such as asking young female applicants, but not young men, their plans for marriage and children-would be unlawful. Other examples in this category include assigning lower-level projects to a new mother, not making an offer which requires a relocation to a qualified woman with a family based on the assumption that she wouldn’t want to move, or assigning more weight to absences or tardiness due to caregiving responsibilities than to those due to other reasons.

The guidance recognizes discrimination against male caregivers, stating that stereotyping about men as caregivers can result in them being denied certain opportunities that female co-workers have, or in harassment. So, for example, refusing to grant a male employee’s request for leave for childcare purposes while granting female employees’ requests would be discriminatory.

The EEOC notes that because the law does not prohibit discrimination based solely on parental or other caregiving status, there generally would not be a violation if working mothers and working fathers were both treated in a similar unfavorable (or favorable) manner, as compared to workers without children.

Assumptions about the job commitment of pregnant women, or about their ability to perform certain physical tasks, can amount to pregnancy discrimination. The guidance warns against pregnancy-related inquiries and treating a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to perform some of the duties of her job differently than workers who are temporarily restricted for other reasons.

The guidance also addresses discrimination against women of color, unlawful caregiver stereotyping under the Americans with Disabilities Act and subjecting employees with caregiving responsibilities to hostile work environments.

The EEOC guidance should put employers on notice to review their workplace policies to ensure that hiring, promotion and other practices do not, inadvertently, treat employees with caregiving responsibilities in ways that violate federal discrimination laws for protected classes of workers. Also, state, city and county laws should be reviewed, as these may impose additional requirements.

Simple Keys to Understanding Homeowner’s Insurance

To make sure you have the right type, and right amount of homeowner’s insurance, you need to understand what it does, and doesn’t, cover. Regular homeowner’s insurance will cover damage from tornadoes, fires, and burglary; but it will not cover the calamity of hurricanes, floods, terrorism, or nuclear meltdowns.

Basic Principles

*Make sure to get enough coverage to re-build your home from bottom to top.

*Choose “replacement cost” instead of “actual cash value.”

*Regularly inventory your possessions and their replacement costs. Consider a special rider for valuables such as jewelry, furs, and family heirlooms.

*Understand “loss of use” provisions. These provisions will dictate how long your insurer will pay rent while your home is rebuilt or repaired.

Best Offerings

*Look at on-line quotes and shop around, in general. Do some research to make sure the company is financially sound.

*Consider the possibility of raising your deductible to keep rates low.

*Get discounts by purchasing homeowner’s and auto insurance from the same company.

*Consider an umbrella policy to protect against lawsuits.

*Ask if special discounts are available. Some companies offer discounts to longtime customers, seniors, and non-smokers.

*Monitor and maintain a good credit score

*Unless you plan to file a claim, don’t report damages.

What Isn’t Covered

*Home office equipment

* Damage from neglect and poor maintenance practices

*Losses caused by pests such as insects, rodents, and pets

*Sewer backups and mold

In Case of Disaster

*Get in touch with your insurance company as soon as possible.

*Begin checking for damage and take photos to document calamity. Make quick fixes and temporary repairs to mitigate further damage.

*Be cautious of repairmen charging exorbitant rates and con artists impersonating insurance adjusters.

*Read the fine print before signing anything! Be careful not to sign away future compensation upon receipt of the first check.

*If a settlement offer is clearly unfair, don’t accept it.

Learning a few simple principles in advance can save you a bundle, should disaster strike.  Speak with your insurance agent to gain a better understanding of your homeowner’s insurance needs.