Home Worker Injuries – Are You Safe From Lawsuits?

As the housekeeper is vacuuming your living room, she trips over one of your daughter’s toys and seriously injures her back. While your neighbor’s teenage son is mowing your front lawn, he steps in a large hole and sprains his ankle. Will your Homeowners insurance cover you if one of these workers decides to file a lawsuit? Many homeowners do not realize that they could be held financially liable if a maid, landscaper, nanny, or another house worker were to suffer from an injury on their property. Here are some things you should keep in mind before you hire a home worker.

Is that worker an employee or a contractor? When you hire someone to help out around the house, you should figure out whether he or she is an employee or a contractor. This is one of the factors that determines whether or not you are liable for a worker’s injury. So, how do you know if the worker is considered your employee or a contractor? It all comes down to how much control you have over the worker.

Let’s say you hire a nanny named Lisa to take care of your children and do some light cleaning in your home. Lisa follows your instructions about how to care for your kids and how to complete certain household tasks. You provide Lisa with the supplies and tools she needs to do her job. Because you have control over how Lisa works, she is most likely considered your employee.

On the other hand, let’s say you hire a professional landscaper named Bob to fertilize and mow your grass, trim the hedges, and plant flowers in your yard. Bob uses his own lawn mower and yard tools and he does yard work for other homeowners, as well. Bob also has a team of workers who help him with his business, and he pays these workers. In this case, Bob probably would be considered an independent contractor.

Of course, these are two fairly simple examples. If you are uncertain about whether a worker in your home is considered a contractor or an employee, consult a lawyer or tax professional.

Understanding Workers Comp insurance. Some states require homeowners who have house worker “employees” to carry Workers Compensation insurance coverage for them. However, even if your state does not require this, you should still consider purchasing this insurance for your employees. Why? Because if one of your employees is injured on your property, you might have to pay for their medical bills and other expenses out of your own pocket. However, with Workers Compensation coverage, the insurance company will cover the costs.

Alternatively, if you hire a house contractor, such as a landscaper, carpenter or plumber, they should be covered by their own Workers Compensation insurance.  It’s important to ensure they are covered for worker injuries, property damage, and uninstalled materials. Don’t just take their word for it. Ask for written proof that they have a contractor’s license, Workers Compensation insurance for themselves and any subcontractors, and General Liability coverage. If the contractor doesn’t have enough coverage, you might be held financially liable. However, depending on the circumstances, you might be able to file a lawsuit against the contractor, as they are required by law to have sufficient Workers Compensation coverage.

Know what your Homeowners insurance covers. When it comes to coverage for home workers, every Homeowners insurance policy is different. Depending on your home state, your policy might include a provision that provides limited coverage for minor workers performing lawn mowing or other tasks that require the use of power tools on your property. On the other hand, your policy might specifically exclude domestic workers such as nannies or maids. Your policy might cover the injuries of household employees, but only after a lawsuit is filed against you. Because Homeowners policies vary widely, it’s important to read through your contract and talk to one of our insurance agents before you hire a home worker.

Consider an Umbrella policy. If you discover that your Homeowners policy offers limited or no liability coverage for workers, you might consider purchasing additional Liability insurance. Although you might have some personal liability coverage through your Homeowners policy, it’s probably not nearly enough to cover a major lawsuit from a home worker. If someone were to file a lawsuit against you, you could end up losing hundreds of thousands of dollars or more-even if you win.

Check with the Better Business Bureau. Before you hire a home worker, you should contact the Better Business Bureau for more information. They can tell you if any consumers have filed complaints against the worker. Visit the bureau’s Web site at www.bbb.org.

If our total protection team can help you make the right decision, give us a call at 877-994-6787 , 877-99insure.

Teen Employees-Rights & Responsibilities In The Workplace

Every year, millions of teenagers join the workplace for the first time. A first job can be a positive experience for many, teaching them discipline and responsibility in addition to giving them some extra money. However, some teens find themselves working in hostile environments. Their supervisors might treat them unfairly because of their sex or race, harass them, hassle them about reasonable work accommodations, and retaliate against them if they complain to upper management about these conditions. Employers who tolerate mistreatment of employees, including teens, could find themselves in trouble with the law.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission described several examples of harassment of teens on its www.YouthAtWork.com Web site:

** In Pennsylvania, a 19 year-old shift supervisor at a Mexican restaurant sexually assaulted a 16 year-old female employee. His manager accused the girl of making it up, but after the supervisor confessed to the police, the EEOC sued the restaurant, which paid $150,000 in restitution to the employee and a fine to the EEOC.

**A store manager at a fast food place in Kansas harassed and sexually assaulted a 14 year-old girl. He eventually went to prison, but because the company had permitted him to harass at least four female employees, it paid restitution, wrote letters of apology, and was required to implement mandatory sexual harassment training for employees.

**Several women, both teen-aged and older, were sexually harassed by a store manager at a California bagel shop. Their complaints to management did not improve the situation, and eventually some of them quit. The EEOC sued the shop, the offending manager lost his job, and the owners of the shop paid a steep penalty.

The EEOC’s Web site lists several rights and responsibilities of teen-aged workers, including:1. The right to work free of discrimination.
2. The responsibility to treat other employees without discrimination.
3. The right to work free of harassment.
4.  The right to complain about job discrimination without punishment, and the responsibility to inform management of discrimination.
5.  The right and responsibility to request workplace changes for the worker’s religion or disability.
6. The right to keep medical information private.

To avoid harassment claims from any employees, young or old, employers should:* Adopt, promote, and enforce a formal policy against sexual harassment.
* Take reports of harassment seriously. Investigate all reports and take appropriate action, if required.
* Emphasize to supervisors and managers that they are not to retaliate against employees who complain of harassment.
* Provide training for managers on how to recognize sexual harassment and how to receive complaints.
* Train new employees on how to recognize harassment and how to make complaints.

Employers should also carry Employment Practices Liability insurance (EPLI) to protect themselves against the financial consequences of claims that do occur. EPLI policies cover the employer’s liability for discrimination, wrongful termination of employment, sexual harassment, rights violations, and other harmful acts committed by company managers. One of our professional insurance agents can give advice on the different policies available and their cost.

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for all employees, but that responsibility is magnified when it comes to teenage employees. Keeping your workplace harassment-free will ensure a happy, productive workforce and keep your attention where it should be — on growing your business.  If you have any questions or need assistance with your protection coverages, please contact any of our Total Protection Team at 877-994-6787 or email us – insure@SIAonline.com.

What are you doing to manage risk is some of the areas described above?

Independent Contractors – Evaluate Your Business Contracts Closely

In the U.S. today, one result of corporate downsizing, is that there are many independent contractors in the marketplace. After picking themselves up off the ground and dusting off their overcoats, many former members of “Corporate America” have struck out on their own. With that shift comes freedom, but also new anxieties, and, perhaps, new found insurance issues. One such issue is that of the business contract.

Detailed business contracts with explicit and often confusing legalese have become a common document for independent contractors to evaluate. The contractor must often either acquiesce to unfavorable terms dictated by corporate legal departments, or forego the contract. Below are some suggestions on how to resolve the contractual dilemma of whether or not to sign on the dotted line.

1. Speak with your attorney. Although it might not be practical to have a lawyer review every contract offered to you prior to signing, it is usually better than the alternative. It is probably better to limit the legal review to advice rather than negotiations, though there are some contract negotiations for which it would be appropriate to have a lawyer or a representative agent present. However, for a typical small contract where you are being asked to sign boilerplate language, it might send the wrong signal to your client.

2. Consult with our insurance agents. Contracts generally contain clauses that might impact your insurance coverage. They might require either indemnification, certificates of insurance, and/or additional insured status for the client (on your Professional Liability, General Liability, and/or Workers Compensation policies to name a few). Each of these provisions could impact your insurance as follows

  • Indemnifications – a typical indemnification provision looks something like this: “Consultant (or contractor or subcontractor)” shall indemnify, defend, and hold harmless Client against any and all claims, liabilities, losses and expenses arising out of or in connection with Consultant’s performance of the Services hereunder … ” This is considered a unilateral indemnification. It is the least favorable to the contractor and you would do well to request a mutual indemnification provision where both parties agree to indemnify the other for liability arising out of their respective negligence. The worst that can happen is your suggestion being rejected.
  • Certificates of Insurance – it is quite common for certificates of insurance to be requested by your client. This documentation of your insured status serves as a confirmation to the existence of your coverage. With the request often comes a provision for notice to the client if coverage lapses. Check with your insurer to see if he will agree to this provision. Many insurers don’t have a mechanism for notifying certificate holders of the imminent lapse of a policy and will not agree to, though some will compromise with less onerous “endeavor to” wording, such as, “we will endeavor to notify you within 30 days of the termination of the policy … ”
  • Additional Insured – additional insured status for your client can provide an acknowledgement of the liability that you have taken on in the contract and effectively transfers the liability to the insurer, subject to all the terms and conditions of the policy. Check with our agents to see if there is any cost for adding on additional insureds. If there is any charge at all, it is usually nominal.

 

3. Review your Liability insurance contracts for exclusions. Many liability contracts exclude contractual liability, with the exception of liability that would attach to you in the absence of the contract. An example of a contractual liability that might be excluded would be a penalty for failing to meet a deadline. On the other hand, indemnifications are often considered a liability you would incur regardless of the contractual provision. For instance, if a suit is brought against you and your client, and it is clear that it was your work that was being questioned, your insurer might offer to defend your client to avoid the potential for a hostile witness.

4. Create your own engagement letter. It is always a good idea to spell out your thoughts regarding payment terms, work expectations, limitations of liability, and other aspects of the work you will perform. In lieu of or in addition to a client’s contract, this letter could help to prevent future misunderstandings.

I hope this article is of help to you, leave any question or comments you may have below.  If you are in need further assist you in any way please contact us – here are 4 easy ways to reach us:

  1. Free Call 877-994-6787
  2. Fax 951-677-6265
  3. Visit www.SIAonline.com – 24/7
  4. Email us – insure@SIAonline.com

 

Please let us know about your experiences and how we can help you!

An Employee’s Online Activities May Be Risky For Your Business

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your business is liable for how your employees use the Internet while they’re on the job? Many business owners protect themselves by monitoring their employees’ e-mail and Internet usage, including instant messaging.

Some employers are reluctant to implement an e-mail and Internet oversight policy. But monitoring e-mail communication and Web surfing has become an important part of protecting your business.

Suppose an employee at your business has been e-mailing inappropriate images or messages around the office, and these images make their way to a co-worker who finds them offensive. If that co-worker chooses to sue for harassment, your company could easily be held liable. Why? Because businesses can be held responsible for their employees’ activities while using company computers.

If your business had a monitoring policy in place that enabled you to review the e-mails going around the office (as well as your employees’ Web surfing), you would have been able to take measures to stop the offensive e-mail before it was sent.

Creating a monitoring program

Here are some useful tips to consider as you formulate your Internet monitoring and usage policy:

  • 1.  Implement policies about what employees are allowed to send: Tell your employees never to write — or even forward — any material that could be considered obscene, hateful, defamatory, offensive, harassing or otherwise inappropriate. This includes racist or sexist language and/or jokes.
  • 2.  Gain control over what can be accessed at your business: You have a right to ban questionable Web sites at your business. Forbid employees from viewing any sites containing sexually explicit messages or imagery, sites that are violent, or sites containing other content that might be considered inappropriate. Consider installing blocking software to stop access to these sites in the first place.
  • 3.  Disallow non-work-related Web use while employees are on the job: It’s becoming increasingly common for employees to use the Internet at work for non-work-related purposes. This trend is only getting worse with the rise of social-networking sites, such as Facebook. Therefore, unless employees are on a break, it’s a good idea to insist that e-mails are being sent and Web pages are being viewed for business purposes only.
  • 4.  Provide separate computers for off-the-clock purposes: Consider setting a few computers aside specifically for employee non-business use. Put them in a common area and allow employees to surf while on their lunch hour. Coupled with an Internet monitoring program, this is an effective practice for many companies (remind employees that your monitoring policy also applies to this non-business use).
  • 5.  Communicate your monitoring policy to employees: A common pitfall of implementing an Internet and e-mail usage program is that many companies don’t tell employees about their policy. By not telling your employees, you’re actually increasing your exposure to employee lawsuits. Telling them you’ll monitor their e-mail and Internet use will help deter improper use.
  • 6.  Keep reminding your people about your Internet policies: Once your policy has been communicated to employees, remind them about it regularly. It should be included in your company’s employee handbook. You might also want to consider having a reminder on your employees’ log in screen.

 

When you put effective Internet and e-mail policies in place, you’re taking a positive step toward protecting your company. It takes some time and effort, and communication must be ongoing, but it’s worth it to reduce liability exposures for your business.  If there is anything in this article that interests you or you need assistance of any kind, please give us a call 877-994-6787. Let us know how your productivity programs are evolving.