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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



April 29
12:18 2020

Many companies will survive and will transform themselves into leaner, different-looking animals from an operational standpoint. They’ll also face new exposures. How can you help them manage their emerging risks?


Possible exposures that may lead to an uptick in workers comp claims

By Michael Wayne

Recently, I jokingly told some friends—via social distancing, of course—that for the remainder of 2020, I would refer to myself as having been born in 45 B.C. That would be “Before COVID-19.”

For those of you whose lives have been forever changed due to the loss of a loved one because of this pandemic, I offer you my most heartfelt condolences. For you who are or who have a relative or friend on the front lines battling this outbreak, I share my gratitude.

Living in a state where a “Stay at Home” order is in effect, I’m amazed at the amount of traffic still on the road and the individuals who in some way consider themselves to be essential. The firm I work for has nearly 700 employees; roughly 80% of us now work remotely from home and receive video updates weekly from various executive team members.

Many companies will survive (COVID-19) and will transform themselves into leaner, different-looking animals from an operational standpoint. They also will face new exposures.

In some ways, I believe COVID-19 will speed up a transitional wave we had already started to ride. At the moment, it feels like many are yearning for human interaction and longing for in-person connections that are deemed forbidden fruit. Yet, we previously appeared to be on a course with more clamoring for work-from-home flexibility. The largely mandated quarantines we are experiencing now, in my opinion, will be the impetus (hammer) that beats it into organizations’ heads that they can allow more flexibility and even reduce the need for office space, equipment, and other amenities over time.

A recent Blank Rome LLP survey revealed that 71% of clients did not have a pre-existing pandemic management plan or emergency management plan that they activated in response to COVID-19. Countless firms are flying by the seat of their pants.

Many businesses will fail. We’re already seeing insurance-related litigation to mitigate that, and it could be years after this passes that we’ll see total resolution. Many companies will survive and will transform themselves into leaner, different-looking animals from an operational standpoint.

They also will face new exposures.

Here are the possible “Top 5” exposures that will lead to an uptick in workers compensation claims.

  1. Ergonomics

Many office employees are going from stand-up desks and high-end ergonomic chairs to sitting on sofas, hunched over in big comfy recliners, or laying in bed to telecommute. The carefully worked out arm-to-keyboard angles many have in their offices are now being exchanged for horrible posture, workspaces that do not offer the same support for arms and lower backs, and the potential for repetitive motion injuries of all sorts.

  1. In-home accidents

Most office employees tend to keep their workspaces clean, tidy, and free from potential accident-inducing obstacles. Cords are properly bundled and hidden away, food and drink are largely reserved for the breakroom or lunchroom, and children’s toys and pets aren’t underfoot. That is not necessarily the case in home offices, especially where the kitchen or living room may be the home office. It is indeed a good idea for organizations to provide employees with a checklist so that they are mindful of their surroundings, and that work computers or other equipment are as safe as possible from being ruined.

  1. Unconventional coworkers

For the time being, kids are out of school and spouses are home, too. In addition to having to account for a workspace of their own, many employees are conscious about those of their partners and children. Especially in tight quarters, people have to share available space. That could mean everything from multiple laptops and smart devices sharing a confined space to a desk being positioned way too close to a fifth-grader’s active science fair volcano. In a way, “unconventional coworkers” could be a subset of “in-home accidents.” The major distinction, however, is that unconventional coworkers have a mind of their own and won’t always necessarily conform to the self-imposed rules and regulations of a single individual.

  1. Unwitnessed accidents

One insurance-related plus of being in a traditional work environment is that, generally, there are coworkers around when accidents occur. With employees working at home, having someone else around who can corroborate what happened is less likely. Unwitnessed accidents also may not be immediately reported. That has the potential to make defense litigation more costly. The largest factor to determine is if an employee was actually “employed” when the accident happened.

  1. Mental stress

Mental stress is not compensable in all states, but that is not likely to stop an increase in the number of claims. Employees who are not used to working remotely may have a difficult time drawing a definitive line between time on the clock and time off. Additionally, others may find their new workspace to be lonesome and, devoid of daily interaction with others, a draining environment where they struggle to be effective each day.

Just as we’re working to shorten the length of time COVID-19 will affect us, long-lasting effects are coming into play. As agency leaders, producers, account managers, and loss control team members, now is the time to educate insureds about exposures they may not know that they are dealing with in this new working environment.

Stay safe and vigilant, everyone.

The author

Michael Wayne is an insurance freelance writer.

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