Reducing Workplace Stress Is Vital for Safety, Retention, Production

Young secretary overwhelmed by work

During our economic recovery one element that has been persistent is that employers are trying to get more out of their workers than ever before.

And while most managers and owners try to ensure that their workers are provided a safe workplace and put a premium on reducing the chances of accidents, one often overlooked area is employee stress.

Heaping too much stress or too many responsibilities on a single employee can greatly increase their chances of not only burnout, but also making costly mistakes. A worse-case scenario is that if they are engaged in more labor-intensive occupations, too much stress can lead to accidents.

Think your employees aren’t stressed? A recent study by Mental Health America, “Mind the Workplace,” found that:

  • 81% of employees think that job stress affects their relationships with family and friends, at least sometimes.
  • 63% think that their workplace is unhelpful or hostile such that they want to work alone.
  • 66% don’t trust their co-workers or team to support their work activities.
  • 17% believe that their company appropriately deals with employees who don’t do their job.

There are a number of consequences for an overly stressful work environment:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Other medical issues
  • Depression
  • Worsened productivity
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Making mistakes
  • Causing accidents
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism.

What you can do

All of the above can have a detrimental effect on your workplace and worker health, as stress can lead to a myriad of health issues.

Employers have to wrestle with a fine balancing act of requiring employees to meet quotas and complete all of their tasks, and pushing them too hard. Here are a few tips to help reduce stress among your workforce:

  • Recognize your workers for a job well done.
  • Be supportive of workers experiencing hard times, like paid time off and assistance with their workload.
  • Make sure that management treats everyone fairly and does not show favoritism.
  • Set realistic, clear goals and expectations of your staff.
  • Management should lead by example, meaning that they should display the same work ethic that they expect of their staff.
  • Promote a safe work environment and have supervisors and management reinforce your commitment to safety.
  • Hold everyone accountable for their work.
  • Encourage mindfulness in your team.
  • Offer flexible work schedules.
  • Encourage your employees to get up and move regularly.
  • Provide an employee assistance plan as part of your benefits package.

Raft of Sexual Harassment Laws Puts Pressure on Employers

California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a number of bills that will drastically change the landscape for employers trying to resolve sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

Brown signed three bills that will make it easier for workers to bring claims of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and curtail the ability of employers to resolve the claims with motions for summary judgment.

They will also prohibit non-disclosure agreements, and will expand the number of employers that will be required to provide anti-sexual-harassment training to their staff.

Any organization with employees needs to be aware of the new laws to avoid any future legal quagmires, as failing to comply with some of these laws could drastically increase an employer’s liability.

Here’s a rundown of what you need to know:

SB 1343

Existing law requires that organizations with 50 or more employees provide two hours of sexual-harassment prevention training to supervisors every two years. This was mandated two years ago under another piece of legislation, AB 1825.

The new law expands this training requirement to all employers in California with five or more employees.

But SB 1343 goes beyond requiring only supervisors to be trained by also requiring that it must be provided to all employees every two years.

SB 820

This law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019 and will bar California employers from entering into settlement agreements that prevent the disclosure of information regarding:

  • Acts of sexual assault;
  • Acts of sexual harassment;
  • Acts of workplace sexual harassment;
  • Acts of workplace sex discrimination;
  • The failure to prevent acts of workplace sexual harassment or sex discrimination; and
  • Retaliation against a person for reporting sexual harassment or sex discrimination.

The big issue employers will need to watch out for, according to experts, is that the new law could actually keep the employer and employee from reaching resolutions for disputes.

SB 1300

This new law bars other nondisclosure agreements related to claims of sexual harassment, and also overturns prior court rulings that have limited harassment lawsuits.

SB 1300 bars employers from requiring an employee to sign a release of a Fair Employment and Housing Act claim or signing a non-disparagement or nondisclosure agreement related to unlawful acts in the workplace, including sexual harassment in exchange for a raise or bonus, or as a condition of employment or continued employment.

One good thing, the prohibition does not apply a “negotiated settlement agreement to resolve an underlying claim under [FEHA].”

The new law will also make it more difficult to collect attorneys’ fees and costs. Now they will only be granted if the court finds that the action was “frivolous, unreasonable, or totally without foundation when brought or the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.”

SB 1300 also expands current law under which an employer can be held responsible for sexual harassment committed by non-employees like clients, vendors and other third parties, if the employer knew or should have known of the conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

Now employers can be held responsible for all forms of unlawful harassment committed by non-employees, not just sexual harassment.

The law also includes an unusual section on “legislative intent,” which is language that was designed as guidance for the courts but is not legally binding. It includes:

  • Single incident grounds for a claim – The new law declares that a “single incident of harassing conduct is sufficient to create a triable issue regarding the existence of a hostile work environment.”
  • Stray remarks doctrine – Even a single discriminatory remark, even if not made directly in the context of an employment decision or uttered by a non-decision-maker, may be relevant and circumstantial evidence of discrimination.
  • Summary judgments – Harassment claims are “rarely appropriate for summary judgment.” According to the law, summary judgment is a motion usually filed by the defendant to have the case thrown out before trial.

The New Landscape of Risk That Every Business Should Prepare For

Businesses are facing larger and larger liability claims throughout the country, driven by a number of legal trends that are resulting in bigger lawsuit awards and new risks that many companies are unprepared for.

A recent study by Liberty Mutual Insurance found that the U.S. insurance industry’s liability-related payouts have been growing steadily due a number of factors, including:

  • Higher average claims costs
  • Increased number of claims
  • Higher legal costs and settlements
  • Higher medical costs for injured parties (in terms of hospital, rehab and pharmaceutical costs).

There are a number of trends that business managers and owners should be aware of so that they can take the necessary precautions to protect their organizations to the best extent possible. If you run a business, you should be aware of these trends, some of which could seriously financially damage your organization.

Legal trends

The report first looked at some trends that are not only increasing the amount of litigation businesses must contend with, but also higher awards.

Litigation funding – Outside investors are fronting legal fees to pursue lawsuits on behalf of aggrieved or damaged parties in exchange for a percentage of any ultimate settlements or judgments. In these scenarios, the claimants are more likely to want to take the case to trial and refuse settlement offers.

They may also push for unnecessary medical treatments. Attorneys may also present complex legal arguments that draw out the case and increase legal costs.

Traumatic brain injuries – More plaintiffs are claiming that they suffered traumatic brain injuries even for non-serious incidents. Claiming brain injuries requires additional medical treatment, more frequent doctor’s visits – and even settlements that would pay the person for a lifetime of care.

Higher jury awards – Juries seem more inclined to award higher and higher awards for breach of contract, intellectual property, product liability and wrongful death lawsuits. This is likely due to a growing sympathy from the public – and hence jurors – for injured parties (in their eyes, victims). In 2016 alone, four verdict awards amounted to $1 billion or more.

Medical costs increasing

In many liability lawsuits there is a claim of physical harm that necessitates medical treatment, and costs are on the rise for several reasons:

Medical inflation – Overall medical costs are on the rise. And general liability claims are costly because they can sometimes require years of treatment and rehabilitation for the injured party. Hospital services are increasing, as are drug costs.

Medical management challenges – Insurance carriers have little control over the medical treatment choices and costs of general liability claims. Because of this, it’s easier for the plaintiff’s lawyer to direct medical treatment to favored clinics or doctors. This has driven up medical costs for liability claims exponentially.

Other costly trends

More violence – As active-shooter incidents increase, you should know that more than 50% of them occur in places of business, government buildings or educational institutions.

Technology – Technology is advancing at a rapid clip and with an increasing number of data-driven companies, the use of the Internet of Things, 3D printing, social media and more, there is a whole new area of liability for companies.

Sharing economy – The sharing economy, while good in many ways, has created a lack of clarity about when coverages begin and end. This is forcing the insurance industry to devise customized insurance products.

The takeaway

Each industry has its own unique set of risks and you should work with us to tailor your insurance policies to meet your potential liabilities.

You should also discuss with us how to best put together a strong risk management policy for your organization, focusing on the largest risks that your company faces.

In terms of insurance, you may need specialized policies beyond your general liability policy.

And you may want to consider an umbrella or excess liability policy, so you have the additional protection you may need in case of one large claim.

New OSHA Deadline for Fall Protection

Slips, trips and falls are some of the leading causes of workplace injuries. They account for 20% of all workplace fatalities, disabling injuries and days away from work in general industry.

The injuries and risks are so common that four of the top 10 most cited standards by OSHA are related to fall prevention.

With that in mind, you should be aware of changes to OSHA regulations that take effect Nov. 19, 2018. The changes are part of a larger rewriting of the general industry walking-working surfaces standards that took effect in 2017.

Specifically, those rewritten standards:

  • Clarified definitions
  • Eliminated overly specific application conditions
  • Better organized the requirements
  • Simplified general requirements
  • Aligned more closely with the construction standard, and
  • Gave flexibility to use personal fall protection systems in lieu of guardrail systems.

The fixed ladders provision

That said, one area that was left for later implementation was standards for fixed ladders.

Under the revised standard, cages or wells for fall protection on fixed ladders higher than 24 feet are no longer acceptable. However, there are grandfather provisions and a phase-in period for the new provisions:

  • Fixed ladder systems installed before November 19, 2018 must have a cage, well, ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system
  • Fixed ladder systems installed on or after November 19, 2018 must be equipped with a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system (cages or wells for fall protection are no longer acceptable).
  • When any portion of a fixed ladder is replaced, the replacement must be equipped with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system.

What’s happening on the ground

OSHA continues to take the risks of slips, trips and falls seriously and continues to focus on some of the most overlooked areas that can contribute to these incidents. The most cited citations in OSHA’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2017, were for general requirements violations, including housekeeping violations (291 citations), followed by 122 citations for clean and dry floors and 53 citations for walkways free from hazards.

The second-most common citation was for failure to protect against fall hazards along unprotected sides or edges that are at least four feet above a lower level, including:

  • 205 citations for unprotected sides and edges
  • 55 citations for fall protection stairways
  • 49 citations for falls – holes
  • 26 citations for falls around dangerous equipment

The takeaway

OSHA continues to police slip, trip and fall violations with gusto. Based on the statistics, you should make sure to keep work areas and floors clear of obstructions and slip and fall risks.

You should also make sure you have protections in place to avoid any unprotected sides and edges.

Why Your Firm May Need Professional Liability Coverage

A majority of companies are leaving themselves exposed in one crucial area as they take on high-end professional services work.

As more companies’ work is intangible, many firms are missing a critical element of protection for their professional services.

Professional liability insurance in the past was mainly purchased by architects, accountants and lawyers, but with more work like coding, programing and other ventures spawned by technology, the need for this type of protection has grown.

In fact, a recent report by Forbes Insights and The Hanover found that 40% of small business owners believe they face professional risks, yet they have not purchased professional liability coverage as part of their overall insurance package.

Many more firms are in the business of consulting or providing hi-tech services. In addition, the rampant growth of social media has also fueled the need for this type of coverage.

Professional liability insurance, also called errors and omissions insurance (E & O insurance), protects your business if you are sued for negligently performing your services, even if you haven’t made a mistake.

Businesses that need professional services coverage include:

  • Technology and software firms
  • Health, beauty and well-being services
  • Therapists
  • Architects and engineers
  • Real estate agencies
  • Consultants
  • Marketing and advertising firms
  • Medical professionals
  • Wedding and event planners.

Coverage gaps

If you are relying solely on a general liability policy, it may not cover you in the event of a lawsuit over an issue with the services that you have rendered.

Professional liability coverage can be especially important if you have customers who sue you for non-performance of your products or services, or withhold payment due to a contract dispute.

This is especially true if you are:

  • Performing consulting work, training or other services for customers.
  • Involved in work requiring special licenses.
  • Designing, recommending, installing or testing products.
  • Designing software or apps to a client’s specifications.

What it covers

Negligence – Professional liability insurance coverage can protect you and your business against actual or alleged errors and omissions that may occur while providing your professional services.
These claims can include anything from giving incorrect advice or omitting a piece of information, to failing to deliver your service within a desired timeframe.

Legal costs – The policy includes covering your legal costs in defending against a claim. Some insurers will even appoint an attorney to represent you.

Examples

  • A marketing consultant develops a drip e-mail campaign for a retailer that doesn’t generate the number of leads expected.
  • A management consultant develops an organizational strategy to improve communications in a company, but problems persist at the client and communications don’t improve.
  • A software developer fails to develop an app to the client’s specifications.

In all of these examples, a client may sue for damages. And in every instance, a professional liability insurance policy should help protect you and your firm.