Daunting Emergency COVID-19 Workplace Safety Rules on Tap

Workplace safety

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board is set to vote on new emergency regulations that will impose strict rules on employers to implement safeguards in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the workplace.

The board on Nov. 19 will vote on the sweeping proposal that extends the reach of protections to employer-provided housing and transportation, as well as imposing new reporting requirements on employers who have workers that contract the coronavirus.

The board is expected to approve the new regulations and they could take effect Nov. 30. Employers will therefore need to ramp up quickly to comply with the new rules.

Here are the highlights of the emergency regulations:

  • Physical distancing and mask-wearing are required unless it is not possible to wear masks on the job. If physical distancing is not possible in the workplace, the employer would have to explain why not.
  • Employers must provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees over the nose and mouth.
  • At fixed work locations where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing, the employer shall install cleanable partitions that effectively reduce aerosol transmission between employees.
  • Employers must implement cleaning and disinfecting procedures for frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, equipment, tools, handrails, handles, controls, bathroom surfaces, and steering wheels.
  • Employers will be required to have a written COVID-19 prevention program. Cal/OSHA will allow the program to be incorporated into an organization’s existing injury and illness prevention plan or be stand-alone.
  • Employers must identify and evaluate COVID-19 hazards with participation from employees, and then correct those hazards.
  • Employers must investigate coronavirus cases among their employees. If they discover one of their staff has contracted COVID-19, they will be required to notify all employees or their authorized representatives, independent contractors, or employees at a worksite who might have been exposed, within one day. Workers who may have been exposed must be offered COVID-19 testing at no cost.
  • Employers must report coronavirus cases in their workplaces to local health authorities.
  • Employers must maintain medical records related to COVID-19 and provide those records to the local health department, the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (upon request).
  • Employers must implement a system of record-keeping to track all COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
  • Employees with COVID-19 symptoms may not return to work until at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared, and not until after 24 hours have passed since the employee had a fever of 100.4 or higher and after all symptoms have passed.

There are even rules for disinfecting and cleaning employee housing and transportation if the company provides them.

The regs also include provisions that are beyond the scope of workplace safety regulations, such as requiring employers to maintain employees’ earnings, seniority and benefits when they are off work because of COVID-19.

Key takeaways

You can find the full proposed emergency regulation here.

With this regulation expected to be approved, California employers may only have until Nov. 30 until the new rules take effect. During that time, companies should:

  • Prepare for new record-keeping requirements,
  • Start writing their COVID-19 prevention programs,
  • Consider implementing testing protocols as per the regulations, and
  • Prepare policies and procedures for notifying affected staff and others of possible COVID-19 exposure.

Don’t Get Caught without a Business Succession Plan

business succession plan

Many business owners may be good at running their companies, but the majority of them are failing to address essential long-term planning that is critical to sustaining their businesses.

The one area that the majority of business owners often neglect is planning for business continuity if they die or become disabled, according to the “MassMutual Business Owner Perspectives Study.”

While the question of your death or disablement is not one that’s fun to ponder, it makes good sense for business owners to put plans in place in case the worst happens. This is especially important now amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has put the issue front and center for many business owners who want to ensure their company can survive should they become incapacitated or pass on.

One of the main ways to ensure your business’s survival is to have a buy-sell agreement, which would prompt the sale of your company in the event that you are unable to run it any longer.

Business owners in the survey identified these concerns:

  • The effect on the business of the death or disability of the owner or key employee.
  • Protecting the business from disability and death of an owner or key employee had the second and third highest levels of importance (44% versus 42%, respectively). However, these two pillars were not very top of respondents’ minds, with 55% saying they rarely or never think about the effect of disability and 59% saying they rarely or never think about the effect of death.
  • Of those with a buy-sell agreement in place, just over half said it was funded with life insurance, but only 5% said it was funded with disability buy-out insurance. The rest were either funded with cash flow from the business or not funded at all.

What’s a buy-sell agreement?

A buy-sell agreement, also known as a buyout agreement, is a legally binding agreement between co-owners of a business that governs the situation if a co-owner dies or is otherwise forced to leave the business, or chooses to leave the business. If the business has just one owner, then the agreement should specify who would be buying the company and continue its operation.

A buy-sell agreement should be designed to protect the business from the five D’s – death, disability, divorce, departure, and disqualification.

When properly executed, a buy-sell agreement can help ensure the continuity of the business when ownership needs to change hands for any reason. It is a legally binding agreement that requires one party to sell and another party to buy ownership interest in a business when a triggering event occurs, such as the death, disability, or retirement of an owner.

This agreement structures the method and manner in which the business will continue in the event of the owner’s death.

In a 2003 article for Franchising World magazine, Patrick Olearcek explains: “The proprietor and one or more key employees [or partners] enter into an agreement which provides that the proprietor’s estate will sell the business to the employee at death.

By agreeing to buy the company, the key partner, employee, or associate relieves the owner’s family of the responsibility and instead provides them with a lump-sum payment. A key employee, as opposed to the owner’s family, is in a much better position to continue the business operations properly.

Funding the agreement

The majority of buy-sell agreements are funded with life insurance. In the case of a sole proprietorship, a policy covering the life of the owner is typically bought and paid for by the key employee who has agreed to purchase the business.

The employee is also the beneficiary of the policy, which has a death benefit equal to the pre-determined purchase price of the business. Upon the death of the owner, the employee would receive the proceeds of the life insurance policy, then transfer that money to the owner’s heirs in exchange for all interest in and assets of the business.

Injury and Illness Prevention Plans Save You Money, Period!

IIPP

Employees are your most valuable asset, but many businesses overlook the importance of having a workplace safety program in place to protect them.

Loss control is about employers caring for their workers’ safety. Successful loss control programs are means of reducing injuries and the severity of a potential accident.

If you want to reduce the costs and risks associated with workplace injuries and illnesses, you need to address safety and health right along with production. You should start by writing a plan and see that it is put into practice. Specifically, that means creating and implementing an Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP).

The IIPP will identify what has to be done to promote the safety and health of your employees, and the safety of your worksite. Elements of your IIPP should include:

  • Assignment of responsibility
  • Communications
  • Compliance
  • Inspections
  • Investigations
  • Correcting unsafe conditions
  • Training
  • Recordkeeping.

Taking this approach to loss control will make the workplace safer, decrease workers’ compensation and overtime costs, reduce turnover rates, and minimize the risk of Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines — all of which in turn will increase productivity and profits.

Loss control starts with an authentic commitment from management. You should also ensure that supervisors, managers and employees are all on board and, together, the collaborative teams will achieve success.

Hazard assessment, evaluation, action-planning, problem-solving, implementation, record-keeping and documentation are the steps for a successful loss control plan.

Open communication is vital

Open communication with employees is important to facilitate a successful loss control program. Employee cooperation is connected to everyone understanding what the program is all about, why it is important to them and how it personally affects them.

Consider different channels via which your workforce can be informed, including meetings, e-mails, newsletters or text messages. Training is an important aspect of your program to ensure everyone has a good understanding of workplace safety.

Records are an important part of your safety plans. Records that should be maintained include:

  • Training
  • Employee injuries
  • Accident/injury investigations
  • Inspection records/corrective actions
  • OSHA 300 logs (where required)
  • Job analysis
  • Safety meetings
  • Equipment and vehicle inspections
  • CPR/first aid training
  • DMV driving records.

The takeaway

Remember to update and maintain all your programs at least once a year and/or if there are any changes.

If you are ready to make the commitment of reducing injuries and illnesses and managing claims, you can expect your costs to go down and your profits to go up.

New Workers’ Compensation Rate Filing Expands COVID-19 Surcharge Tiers

workers' compensation

The California Workers Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau has amended its 2021 rate filing to make its earlier recommended COVID-19 surcharge more equitable.

The Rating Bureau is leaving unchanged its overall recommendation that benchmark rates be increased an average of 2.6% for policies incepting on or after Jan. 1, 2021.

But it modified an earlier recommendation that a COVID-19 surcharge of $.06 per $100 of payroll be applied to all policies in favor of a six-tiered surcharge ranging from one cent per $100 of payroll for the least-risky sectors to a high of 24 cents for the riskiest. All sectors will be placed in one of six tiers depending on their relative share of COVID-19 claims that had been filed through the end of August.

The Insurance Department just wrapped up hearings on the rate filing in early October and will announce whether it approves the rate filing or makes changes.

Had the pandemic not hit, the Rating Bureau would not be asking for a rate increase, but a reduction of 1.5%. The Rating Bureau estimates that estimate that the cost of COVID-19 claims on Jan. 1, 2021 to Aug. 31, 2021 policies is 4.1%, or $0.06 per $100 of payroll to an average of $1.56 per $100 of payroll.

The benchmark rates (or pure premium rates) are published as guideposts for insurers to price their policies and insurers are not required to follow them, although most do to some degree.

While the Bureau earlier said it would not apply COVID-19 claims towards employers’ individual experience modifiers (X-Mods), the surcharge will apply to all employers, even those who have not seen any coronavirus-related illness claims.

Below is a list of the six different surcharge tiers and some of the NAIC industry class codes that would fit into each of them. (Please note that the two digits are the first two numbers of four-digit class codes and all class codes that start with those two digits will see the surcharge applied, unless otherwise noted with a four-digit code).

1 cent

  • Management of Companies and Enterprises (55)
  • Information technology (51)
  • Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (54)

3 cents

  • Outside Sales (8742)
  • Finance and Insurance (52)
  • Clerical (8810)
  • Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction (21)
  • Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (71)
  • Real Estate and Rental and Leasing (53)

6 cents

  • Administrative Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services (56)
  • Wholesale Trade (42)
  • Construction (23)
  • Educational Services (61)
  • Manufacturing (31)
  • Other Services (except Public Administration) (81)

12 cents

  • Public Administration (92)
  • Retail Trade (44)
  • Transportation and Warehousing (48)

18 cents

  • Accommodation and Food Services (72)
  • Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting (11)

24 cents

  • Healthcare and Social Assistance (excluding Physicians, Dentists, and Daycare) (62)

The surcharge in many cases amounts to a roughly 30% increase over the indicated rate without a specific surcharge.

The Big Question: Can Employers Require Workers to Vaccinate?

COVID-19 vaccine

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and more employers bring staff back to the workplace, many businesses are considering implementing mandatory vaccination policies for seasonal flus as well as the coronavirus.

A safe and widely accessible vaccine would allow businesses to open their workplaces again and start returning to a semblance of normalcy. But employers are caught in the difficult position of having to protect their workers and customers from infection in their facilities as well as respecting the wishes of individual employees who may object to being required to be vaccinated. 

The issue spans Equal Opportunity Employment Commission regulations and guidance, as well as OSHA workplace safety rules and guidance. With that in mind, employers mulling mandatory vaccination policies need to consider:

  • How to decide if such a policy right for the company,
  • How they will enforce the policy,
  • The legal risks of enforcing the policy, and
  • Employer responsibilities in administering the policy.

Proceed with caution

A number of law firms have written blogs and alerts on the subject of mandatory vaccinations, and the overriding consensus recommendation is to proceed with caution.

In 2009 pandemic guidance issued during the H1N1 influenza outbreak, the EEOC stated that both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII bar an employer from compelling its workers to be vaccinated for influenza regardless of their medical condition or religious beliefs — even during a pandemic.

The guidance stated that under the ADA, an employee with underlying medical conditions should be entitled to an exemption from mandatory vaccination (if one was requested) for medical reasons. And Title VII would protect an employee who objects due to religious beliefs against undergoing vaccination.

In these cases, the employer could be required to provide accommodation for these individuals (such as working from home).

Additionally, the employer would have to enter into an interactive process with the worker to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would enable them to perform essential job functions without compromising workplace safety. This could include:

  • The use of personal protective equipment,
  • Moving their workstation to a more secluded area,
  • Temporary reassignment,
  • Working from home, or
  • Taking a leave of absence.

One issue that employment law attorneys say may not have any legal standing is if an employee objects to inoculation based on being an “anti-vaxxer,” or someone who objects to vaccines believing that they are dangerous. In this case, depending on which state your business is located, you may or may not be able to compel an anti-vaxxer to get a vaccine shot.

Protecting your firm

To mount a successful defense of a vaccination policy if sued, you would need to be able to show that the policy is job-related and consistent with business necessity. And that the rationale is based on facts, tied to each employee’s job description and that you enforce the policy consistently without prejudice or favoritism.

Also, you must ensure that any employee who requests accommodation due to their health status or religious beliefs does not suffer any adverse consequences. In other words, you cannot punish someone that is covered by the ADA or Title VII for refusing a vaccine.

Also, you will need to project and safeguard your employees’ medical information, under the law.

The takeaway

A number of employment law experts say that once a vaccine is widely available, most employers will likely have the right to require that workers get it, as long as they heed the advice above about the ADA and Title VII. Until then, you may want to consider following the 2009 guidance.

If you do implement a policy requiring vaccination, consider:

  • Fully covering vaccine costs if they are not fully covered by your employees’ health insurance.
  • Allowing employees to opt out entirely if they have medical or religious objections.
  • In the event of a medical or religious objection, you must engage in an interactive process to determine whether the individual’s objections can be accommodated.
  • Including safeguards for keeping your employees’ medical information confidential.
  • Not abandoning your other efforts to keep your workplace safe, such as the use of social distancing, regular cleaning and disinfecting, and the use of personal protective equipment.

Alert: New Law Creates COVID-19 Workers’ Comp Framework

outdoor workers

Governor Newsom has signed legislation that creates a new framework for COVID-19-related workers’ compensation claims.

SB 1159, which takes effect immediately, partly replaces an executive order that Newsom made on March 18 and which expired on July 5. That order required all employees working outside the home who contracted COVID-19 be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.

The new law also creates a rebuttable presumption that all cases of COVID-19 among front-line workers be considered work-related for workers’ compensation purposes. Finally, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that a workers’ COVID-19 diagnosis is work-related when there was an outbreak in their workplace during the prior 14 days.

The new law is retroactive to July 6, the day after Newsom’s executive order expired, and is set to expire Jan. 1, 2023.

SB 1159’s presumption that an illness or death resulting from COVID-19 has arisen out of and in the course and scope of employment, can be disputed by the employer if they have:

  • Proof of measures they put in place to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,
  • Evidence of the employee’s non-occupational risks of contracting COVID-19,
  • Proof of statements made by the employee, or
  • Any other evidence normally used to dispute a work-related injury.

Employers with fewer than five employees are exempt under the statute.

The law also requires new reporting provisions to allow workers’ compensation claims adjusters to track cases to know when the presumption applies and requires a faster review of claims to accept or deny compensability than is typical.

SB 1159’s three parts

The first part codifies Newsom’s prior executive order that provided a rebuttable presumption of work-relatedness to all employees working outside of the home that contracted COVID-19.

The second provides a rebuttable presumption that front-line workers (like firefighters, law enforcement officers, health care workers, home care workers, and IHSS workers) who contract COVID-19, contracted it in the workplace.

The third creates a rebuttable presumption that worker’s COVID-19 diagnosis is work-related within 14 days of a company outbreak. Under SB 1159, an outbreak is defined as when four employees test positive at a specific place of employment with 100 or fewer employees and, for larger places of employment, when 4% of the employees test positive.

It’s also deemed a workplace outbreak if the employer had to shut down due to a coronavirus outbreak.

Reporting requirements

Under the new law, when an employer “knows or reasonably should know that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19,” they must report to the insurer the following information within three business days, via e-mail or fax:

  • The date the employee tested positive.
  • The address or addresses of the employee’s specific place(s) of employment during the 14-day period preceding the date of their positive test.
  • The highest number of employees who reported to work at the employee’s specific place of employment in the 45-day period preceding the last day the employee worked at each specific place of employment.

The Rossi Law Group has the following recommendations for employers in California:

  • Keep track of all locations each employee works at, the number of employees on each day at each location, as well as a log of those that test positive (including the date the specimen was collected).
  • If you are aware of any staff who have tested positive between July 6 and Sept. 17, you have 30 days after Sept. 17 to report the positive test to the administrator and include the same information as in the bullet points above.
  • You must also report to the administrator positive COVID-19 results for employees that are not filing claims. In that case, you must omit personal identifying information of the employee.
  • Provide any factual information to the administrator that could help rebut any claim of work-relatedness.

The law also has some teeth: Anyone who submits false or misleading information shall be subjected to a civil fine up to $10,000.

One last thing…

The governor also signed into law AB 685, which requires employers to report an outbreak to local public health officials. Employers must also report known cases to employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19 within one business day.

Cal/OSHA Requires Employers to Protect Workers from Wildfire Smoke

wildfire smoke

As wildfires continue raging throughout California, Cal/OSHA has issued a reminder to employers that they are required to protect their outdoor workers from smoke if the air quality index exceeds 151.

Cal/OSHA has extended an emergency regulation it put in place in August 2019 through January 2021 as it works on a permanent regulation on wildfire smoke protection for outdoor workers in California.

For the safety of your workers and to comply with the regulation, it’s important that you follow the regulations and know when you will need to take action to protect them from outdoor smoke.

The regulation applies when the Air Quality Index (AQI) for airborne Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 microns (PM2.5) or smaller is 151 or greater in an area where employees are working outdoors. Here are the details of the regulation: 

Identification – When wildfire smoke affects a worksite, employers must monitor the air quality index (AQI) for PM2.5. Employers can monitor the AQI using the following websites:

Communication – Employers must implement a system for communicating wildfire smoke hazards in a form readily understandable by all affected employees, including provisions designed to encourage employees to inform the employer of wildfire smoke hazards without fear of reprisal.

Training and instruction – Employers with outdoor workers need to provide training that covers at least:

  • The health effects of wildfire smoke.
  • The right to obtain medical treatment without fear of reprisal.
  • How employees can obtain the current Air Quality Index (AQI) for PM2.5.
  • Possible actions they must take if the AQI exceeds 150 PM 2.5

Options for protecting workers – The regulation provides three ways employers can protect their workers:

  1. Modifications – If possible, employers should implement modifications to the workplace, to reduce exposure. Examples include providing enclosed structures or vehicles for employees to work in, where the air is filtered.
  2. Changes to procedures and schedules – Another option is to change work procedures or schedules. Examples include changing the location where employees work or reducing the amount of time they work outdoors or exposed to unfiltered outdoor air.
  3. Respiratory protection – Employers also have the option to provide proper respiratory protection equipment, such as disposable respirators, for voluntary use without fit-testing.

To filter out fine particles, respirators must be labeled N-95, N-99, N-100, R-95, P-95, P-99, or P-100, and must be labeled as approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

If the AQI is above 300, fit-testing and a medical examination prior to use would be mandatory.

The takeaway

If you do have outside workers who are confronted with working in smoky conditions, you should start stockpiling two-week supply of N95 masks for all of your workers if you are unable to implement other controls to reduce their exposure.

Cal/OSHA is in the rule making process to make the emergency regulations permanent and has sent out public comment notices on the proposed regulation. We will continue monitoring the agency’s progress on the rules and update you when they have been completed.

COVID-19 Claims Growing Among California Workers

workers' compensation claims

The number of COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims in California has seen a steady climb, reaching a total of 31,612 from when the pandemic started until the end of July, according to the latest figures from the Division of Workers’ Compensation.

In July, 9,515 California workers filed COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims, as well as 74 coronavirus-related worker deaths ― bringing the total to 140 fatalities. The total claims account for 10% of all claims filed between January and July, despite the first claims being filed only in March.

These numbers are fluid and are certain to grow as more claims are filed after the fact, as there are often time lags in claims filings.

For example:

May claims ― As of July 6, there were 3,889 claims, but as of Aug. 10 the number had risen to 4,606.

June claims ― As of July 6, there were 4,438 COVID-19 workers’ comp claims. But as of Aug. 10, that figure for June claims had more than doubled to 10,528. 

Based on these claims development stats, the California Workers’ Compensation Institute projects there could ultimately be 29,354 COVID-19 claims with July injury dates and 56,082 COVID-19 claims with January through July injury dates.

Who is filing claims?

The top five sectors reporting COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims during the first seven months of the year are:

  • Health care workers (40% of all claims)
  • Public safety/government workers (6%)
  • Retail workers (8%)
  • Manufacturing (7%)
  • Transportation (5%).

Handling workers’ comp claims

In early May, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order extending workers’ compensation benefits to California employees who contract COVID-19 while working outside of their homes during the state’s stay-at-home order.

To qualify for the presumption, all of the following conditions must be met:

  • The worker must test positive for or be diagnosed with COVID-19 within 14 days after a day they worked at your jobsite at your direction.
  • The day they worked at your jobsite was on or after March 19.
  • Your jobsite is not their home or residence.
  • If your worker is diagnosed with COVID-19, the diagnosis was done by a medical doctor and confirmed by a positive test for COVID-19 within 30 days of the date of the diagnosis.

Even when an employee is presumed to have become ill from COVID-19 at work, the employer may dispute that conclusion. In such a case, however, you bear the burden of proving that the injury or illness did not occur at work.

The executive order does not apply to COVID-19-related claims, regardless of date of injury, that were accepted by the claims administrator as compensable prior to May 6.

All of the typical workers’ compensation benefits apply:

Medical care ― Reasonable and necessary medical treatment paid for by your employer to help you recover from an injury or illness caused by work.

Temporary disability benefits ― Payments if you lose wages because your injury prevents you from doing your usual job while recovering.

Permanent disability benefits ― Payments if you don’t recover completely.

Supplemental job displacement benefits ― Vouchers to help pay for retraining or skill enhancement if you don’t recover completely and don’t return to work for your employer.

Death benefits – Payments to your spouse, children or other dependents if you die from a job injury or illness.

The takeaway

If you have an employee who is working on site and who tests positive for COVID-19, you should let them know about their rights to file for workers’ compensation if they miss work and/or need treatment.

The state’s insurance commissioner has approved new rules that bar insurers from using any COVID-19 claims against your experience modifier (X-Mod), so it won’t hurt your workers’ compensation experience if a worker files a claim.

Dealing with Violent Customers Who Refuse to Wear Masks

wearing a mask at work

As many states and municipalities have issued mandatory mask orders for businesses that are open to the public, operators like retailers and restaurants have been thrust into the front lines of reducing the spread of the virus by requiring customers to wear masks when on their premises.

This has led to confrontations that sometimes result in violence — and even in the deaths of some workers.

Due to the volatility of some of these confrontations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a guide for limiting workplace violence associated with COVID-19. The guidance recommends:

  • Offering customers options to minimize their contact with others and promote social distancing. These can include curbside pick-up; personal shoppers; home delivery for groceries, food and other services; and alternative shopping hours.
  • Posting signs that let customers know about policies for wearing masks, social distancing, and the maximum number of people allowed in a business facility.
  • Advertising COVID-19-related policies on your website.
  • Providing employee training on threat recognition, conflict resolution, non-violent response, and on any other relevant topics related to workplace violence response.
  • Putting in place steps to assess and respond to workplace violence. Response will depend on the severity of the violence and on the size and structure of the business. Possible responses may include reporting to a manager or supervisor on-duty, calling security or calling 911.
  • Remaining aware of and supporting employees and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.
  • Assigning two workers to work as a team to encourage COVID-19 prevention policies to be followed, if staffing permits.
  • Installing security systems (e.g., panic buttons, cameras, alarms) and training employees on how to use them.
  • Identifying a safe area for employees to go to if they feel they are in danger (e.g., a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm).

Training on warning signs and response

Employee training on workplace violence typically covers definitions and types of violence, risk factors and warning signs for violence, prevention strategies, and ways to respond to threatening, potentially violent, or violent situations.

Warning signs — As part of training, employees often learn verbal and non-verbal cues that may be warning signs of possible violence. Verbal cues can include speaking loudly or swearing.

Non-verbal cues can include clenched fists, heavy breathing, a fixed stare and pacing. The more cues shown, the greater the risk of violence.

Response — During training, employees also learn how to appropriately respond to potentially violent or violent situations.

Responses range from paying attention to a person and maintaining non-threatening eye contact, to using supportive body language and avoiding threatening gestures, such as finger-pointing or crossed arms.

Consider implementing a “tap-out” system that allows an employee to make a signal for a supervisor or other employee to step in and the at-risk staff member to walk away.

Employee responsibilities guidelines

  1. Attend all employer-provided training on how to recognize, avoid and respond to potentially violent situations.
  2. Report perceived threats or acts of violence to your manager or supervisor, following any existing policies that may be in place.
  3. Remain aware of and support co-workers and customers if a threatening or violent situation occurs.
  4. Do not argue with a customer if they make threats or become violent. If needed, go to a safe area, (ideally, a room that locks from the inside, has a second exit route, and has a phone or silent alarm).
  5. Do not attempt to force anyone who appears upset or violent to follow COVID-19 prevention policies or other polices or practices related to COVID-19 (such as limits on the number of household or food products that can be bought).

Courts Rule COVID-19 Business Interruption Claims Invalid

business interruption

As second court has ruled that an insurer does not have to pay business interruption claims by businesses that saw their revenues run dry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will further make it difficult for business to successfully file such claims.

In the most recent case, a Superior Court judge in the District of Colombia in August ruled that an insurer is not obligated to pay business interruption claims of the owner of several restaurants after the mayor ordered all restaurants to close in response to the coronavirus. The judge ruled that in order for the business interruption claims to be valid there must have been physical loss or damage and that the plaintiffs failed to prove any they suffered any such losses.

The ruling comes on the heels of a Michigan state court decision in July that also sided with Michigan Insurance Company in a case brought by the owner of two restaurants whose $650,000 business interruption claim the insurer had denied.

These two cases are closely following the wording of typical business property policies that also include business interruption coverage caused by physical damage.

In the D.C. case, there were several plaintiffs: Lead plaintiff Rose 1 LLC, which is owned by chef Aaron Silverman, and which operates a number of upscale restaurants including Rose’s Luxury, Elaine’s One, Pineapple and Pearl’s and Little Pearl. Other plaintiffs included Buttercream Bakeshop, Karma Modern Indian, El Cucho, Bar Charley, La Vie and Beuchert’s Saloon.

Mayor Muriel Bowser had issued orders on banning indoor dining, for residents to shelter at home and for all non-essential businesses to close. The restaurants filed claims on their commercial property policy with Eire Insurance Company, which included coverage for loss of income and/or rental income from a partial or total interruption of business that results directly from loss or damage to the insured property.

The restaurants after the claim was rejected, arguing that the loss of use of their restaurants was a direct physical loss because the closures were the direct result of the mayor’s orders.

The plaintiffs argued that the losses were physical because the coronavirus is “material” and “tangible.” But, the judge pointed out that the plaintiffs failed to show that the virus was present in their properties and that the mayor’s orders did not materially or tangibly affect the restaurants.

Business interruption cover

Business law attorneys say business around the country have filed hundreds of coronavirus-related business interruption lawsuits after seeing their claims rejected. The issue mainly comes down to policy wording.

Most business property policies also cover business interruption claims, but policies usually specify that there must be physical damage to property. The policies are typically tapped to losses resulting from damage to a business caused by a natural catastrophe. Additionally, most business interruption portions of policies explicitly exclude pandemic.

Most policies require there to be some type of direct physical loss or damage to either your premises or some part of your supply chain in order to trigger business interruption coverage. Without that trigger, insurers would likely argue that a virus in your facility is not physical loss or damage.

But these are early days in the litigation front as more cases are decided and appealed, we should have a clearer picture of COVID-19 business interruption coverage.