You Wear It Well: Dress Codes in the Workplace

As the manager of a business, you want to focus on those things that drive success – productivity, innovation, performance, and strategy. As you work to grow the business, you probably do not want to deal with more mundane office matters. Sometimes, however, these issues can have a major impact on employee morale, and they must be handled well. One such issue is the employee dress code. It would be nice if all employees used common sense every day and wore tasteful, professional clothing. Taste and professionalism, however, can be in the eye of the beholder. It is likely that your organization needs some kind of guidance on appropriate dress.

If the organization has an employee handbook, it probably has a section on acceptable dress for the workplace. Is the policy too vague to be useful or overly specific? Does it comply with legal requirements? Does it require dress that is more formal than necessary given the amount of customer contact employees have? Does it allow clothing that is too informal for regular customer contact? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, consider updating it. If not, make sure that you are enforcing it. Also, it may be wise to periodically remind employees of the dress code policy. This will inform new employees and reinforce the policy with veterans.

The organization should enforce the dress code without partiality. Individuals and groups of employees should be treated equally. Federal employment laws and regulations permit employers to set employee dress codes and to treat men and women differently within social norms. It is acceptable to require men to cut their hair while not making the same demand of women. It may not be acceptable to require women to wear skirts or men to wear uniforms while not making equivalent demands of the other sex.

Be aware that federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination on the basis of religion. Employers must make reasonable accommodations to employees who want to dress a certain way for religious observance reasons. Some men may cover their heads or wear beards for this reason; women may wear clothing that almost completely covers them up; employees of both sexes may wear certain pieces of jewelry. Unless complying with these requests would pose an undue hardship for the organization, the employees’ wishes must be honored. Employers may refuse such requests if the clothing or style creates a safety hazard; in most other cases, they must make the accommodation.

On the other hand, the law does not require employers to allow workers to display tattoos and body piercing. Rather, employers are free to make business decisions about the display of these styles. Some employers may permit it for employees who seldom or never interact with customers. Others may permit it for everyone, especially if their customers frequently have tattoos or piercings. Still others may decide that it is inappropriate for their businesses in all cases. The decision is entirely the employer’s, based on the balance between business needs and the need to attract and retain good employees.

This is really what dress codes are all about. Every business projects an image, and how its employees dress affects that image. Managers naturally want to put their best foot forward with customers. At the same time, a good workforce is not easy to build and retain. A too-strict dress code will repel good job candidates and may cause valuable employees to consider leaving. Inflexibility may violate anti-discrimination laws and inspire workers to file lawsuits. It is in an employer’s best interest to develop a dress code that reflects well on the business and keeps employees happy.

Think Twice Before Drinking and Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released data showing that from 2001-2005, an average of 36 fatalities occurred per day on America’s roadways as a result of crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. It’s this kind of statistic that has spurred all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass laws making it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.

Although you may not be a fatality if you drive while under the influence, don’t think that means you’re home free. If you’re ticketed for a DUI, you’ll face a financial toll that you probably never considered. The following list is an example of some of the expenses you can expect:

  • Bail – It can cost anywhere from $250 to $2500 for a first time DUI offender to be released from jail after an arrest depending on the jurisdiction.
  • Towing – When you’re arrested, your car is automatically towed. The cost starts at $100. In Chicago, for example, the typical charge is $1,200 for the first 24 hours and $50 for each additional day of storage. If you can’t afford to get your car after 30 days, the city auctions it. Other cities are beginning to follow Chicago’s lead.
  • Insurance premiums – If you are convicted, your insurance rates will increase substantially for the next three to five years. This could mean anywhere from two to four times more than you are currently paying. You could even face losing coverage all together. In that case, you would be forced to find a company specializing in higher risks that will insure you, or see whether your state has an assigned-risk pool for insurance. Either way, you’ll pay considerably more for coverage.
  • Legal fees – Expect anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 depending on how much time an attorney has to invest in your case to defend you. In addition to what you pay your lawyer, you may also find yourself paying for an investigator to examine the arrest scene, and expert witnesses who can testify about the inaccuracy of field sobriety tests.
  • Fines – The fines and court fees for breaking the law vary from state to state, However, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1200.
  • Alcohol Evaluation – This is required of anyone sentenced by the court for drunk driving. The cost for these evaluations starts at about $100 depending on the jurisdiction.
  • Treatment/Education Program – A conviction means you will be required to undergo treatment or education in order to get your driver’s license re-issued. The extent of these programs differs greatly, and the costs can range from $300 to $2000. 

Playing with Fire: What Will the Tenant’s Liability Insurance Cover?

Insurance companies, agents and buyers tend to focus on the major coverages within the Commercial General Liability policy: Liability for injuries caused by a business’s premises, operations, products or finished projects, and liability for property damage. However, for businesses that do not own the buildings where they operate, there is an often-overlooked coverage that could be very important. The policy declarations refer to it as Damage To Premises Rented To You, although it has traditionally been known as Fire Damage Legal Liability Coverage. It provides limited coverage for tenants who cause fire damage to rented premises.

Fire Damage Legal Liability is a “give-back” coverage. Coverage A – Bodily Injury and Property Damage Liability contains 14 exclusions — clauses that describe types of losses to which the coverage does not apply. The final paragraph states that the last 12 exclusions do not apply to fire damage to premises while rented to or temporarily occupied by the insured with permission of the owner, so it gives the coverage back from the exclusions. This means that, if the insured is legally liable for fire damage to premises rented or temporarily occupied, the policy will provide coverage for fire damage to premises in the insured’s care, custody or control, and fire damage resulting from release of pollutants, among others.

This coverage has several limitations:

* It usually has a limit of only $50,000 or $100,000.

* It applies only to the premises, not to contents such as furniture or wall coverings.

* It covers fire damage only, not water damage or other types of losses.

* It provides coverage only if the insured is legally liable for the damage. It does not cover liability the insured assumed under a contract.

 

These limitations can leave a business at least partially unprotected in a variety of situations. Some examples:

* The business’s liability for damage to a rented space is $200,000.

* The business is an auto body shop. While a car is being spray painted, a spark ignites the fumes and causes an explosion.

* The business rents meeting space in a hotel. A projector overheats, starting a fire that damages tables, chairs, easels, and a cart holding refreshments.

* The business’s lease makes it responsible for damage to the premises, regardless of cause. A nearsighted driver crashes his car into the display window.

 

In all of these situations, the insured will either have no coverage or insufficient coverage.

If these limitations could cause a problem, the business may want to consider some options. It may want to look at buying a property Legal Liability Coverage Form. This policy covers the insured’s legal liability for damage to property described in the policy and in the insured’s care, custody or control. An advantage of this is that it provides coverage for a variety of perils, not just fire. However, it does not cover liability assumed under a contract, so it still would not cover damage caused by the nearsighted driver. A regular property insurance policy will provide broader coverage, but it probably duplicates the landlord’s coverage and is more expensive than other options. The tenant may want to ask the landlord to remove assumed liability from the lease.

To determine which coverage options are best for a particular situation, the business should work with an experienced insurance agent. The agent can explain alternatives, give an idea as to their costs, and provide information about various insurance companies’ claim handling practices. Get the facts early – the time to find out about your coverage is before a loss occurs.

Candle Fires Present a Burning Problem

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, candles caused 15,600 home fires, accounting for 4 percent of all reported home fires that year. These fires resulted in an estimated 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries and direct property losses totaling $539 million.

Most common causes of candle fires:

-50 percent were caused when combustible material was placed too close to a lit candle.

-18 percent were caused when a lit candle was left unattended.

-12 percent were caused when someone fell asleep while a candle was still burning.

NFPA data shows that 38 percent of all reported candle fires started in the bedroom. However, the living room, family room, and den were most often the scene of deaths caused by candle-related fires.

Why is the number of candle-related fires so high? It has grown in direct proportion to the increase in candle usage in this country. The National Candle Association (NCA) estimates U.S. retail sales of candles at approximately $2 billion annually, excluding sales of candle accessories.

To help keep consumers safe while enjoying their candles, the NCA offers the following tips:

  • Keep a burning candle within sight. Extinguish all candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
  • Move burning candles away from furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, books, paper, flammable decorations, etc.
  • Do not place lighted candles where they can be knocked over by children, pets or anyone else.
  • Trim candlewicks to ¼ inch each time before burning.
  • Use a candleholder that is heat resistant, sturdy and large enough to contain any drips or melted wax.
  • Place the candleholder on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
  • Keep the wax pool free of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times.
  • Don’t burn a candle longer than the manufacturer recommends.
  • Keep burning candles away from drafts, vents, ceiling fans and air currents to prevent rapid, uneven burning, and avoid flame flare-ups.
  • Burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
  • Stop burning a candle when 2 inches of wax remains or ½ inch if in a container.
  • Never touch a burning candle or move a votive or container candle when the wax is liquid.
  • Never use a knife or sharp object to remove wax drippings from a glass holder because it might scratch, weaken, or cause the glass to break upon subsequent use.
  • Use a candlesnuffer to extinguish a candle so hot wax doesn’t splatter.
  • Never extinguish candles with water because it may cause the hot wax to splatter.
  • Use flashlights and other battery-powered lights during a power failure.
  • Make sure a candle is completely extinguished and the wick ember is no longer glowing before leaving the room.
  • Extinguish a candle if it smokes, flickers repeatedly, or the flame becomes too high.
  • Never use a candle as a night-light.

When Your Employees Date, Make Sure You Don’t Get a Courtroom Date

In the modern workplace, men and women work together for eight or ten hours a day; sometimes even longer. When people spend that much time together, it’s not surprising that occasional romances will bloom. Many people have met their spouses at work. Unfortunately, workplace romances don’t always have happy endings. When a couple in an office breaks up, the atmosphere can become, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, hostile. Productivity can suffer as the ex-partners feud with each other. More serious, in some cases the firm may have a significant financial exposure when love goes wrong.

Relationships between two people of equal position in the company may not be cause for concern, but romances involving supervisors and their subordinates can expose the company to legal liability. Workers outside the relationship may detect favoritism toward the subordinate when he or she receives pay raises, promotions, or other desired rewards. Conversely, if the couple breaks up, the subordinate may be sensitive to any actions that smack of retaliation. In the worst cases, the subordinate may decide he or she is a victim of sexual harassment and take legal action against the company. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received almost 14,000 complaints of sexual harassment in 2008. Almost 30 percent of these settled in the injured employee’s favor, costing the employers $47 million, not including damage awards won through litigation.

Employers who wish to avoid close relationships with government investigators may consider several options, including:

* Not having an office romance policy. Firms who choose this option may emphasize anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies instead.

* At the other extreme, some companies have outright bans on employee romances. While this may have some appeal, it can be difficult to implement because the forbidden behavior may be hard to define. Also, courts may not uphold such a ban.

* Some companies require employees who date each other to notify a company representative, such as the human resources manager, when the relationship begins and if it ends. This may protect the company from ensuing sexual harassment claims.

* Many companies have policies against spouses working for the same company or against employees supervising significant others, spouses, or other relatives. This can make it less likely that other employees will perceive favoritism, but the company must apply the policy equal to members of both sexes to avoid discrimination claims.

* Some companies actually require employees in a relationship to sign contracts. These agreements state that the employees have entered into a voluntary relationship, affirm that they understand the company harassment policy, describe how to report complaints, and describe acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

 

In addition to adopting one of these options, employers can take some steps to reduce their chances of having to fend off sexual harassment claims. First, they should communicate to supervisors that relationships with subordinates should be avoided. They should create an environment where supervisors and other employees feel safe to report improper behavior. They should have policies against harassment and implement procedures for making complaints. They should take steps to end direct reporting relationships between romantic partners by transferring one of them, if possible.

Human nature being what it is, there will probably always be workplace romances. Thoughtful consideration and implementation of policy alternatives will help protect a company from potential resulting lawsuits. However, all the best precautions may still fail to prevent litigation, so all employers should carry employment practices liability insurance. An experienced insurance agent can provide advise on the available coverage options and companies. With preventive measures in place and risk financing in the form of a good insurance policy, employers can focus on their top priorities: Growing their businesses.

Don’t Be Left Hanging By an Uninsured or Underinsured Driver

Despite mandatory liability insurance laws in 47 out of 50 states, the Insurance Research Council estimates the uninsured motorist rate at about 14 percent nationally and possibly as high as 30 percent in some states. The Property/Casualty Insurers Association of America reports that uninsured motorists are involved in more than 20 percent of fatal crashes in the United States.

But, uninsured drivers aren’t the only problem. Many drivers who have insurance carry only the minimum limits, which may be insufficient to cover all damages in an accident for which they’re at fault.

So what happens if you find yourself involved in a car accident caused by one of these uninsured or underinsured motorists? It could be a financially devastating experience unless you have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.

While UM/UIM coverage is not required in most states, you need this coverage because if you are involved in an accident caused by someone else, and they don’t have the insurance to cover the damage, you can file a claim with your insurer. This is an important safeguard because a motorist who is uninsured or underinsured probably doesn’t have the financial means to pay for any damages resulting from an accident.

Before you purchase Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, it is important to understand what is covered. Uninsured Motorist insurance (UM) pays for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering that result from an accident caused by an uninsured driver. UM insurance also protects you and your passengers if a hit-and-run driver strikes you. In addition, policyholders are covered for medical expenses and lost wages if they are hit as a pedestrian, cyclist or commuter.

Underinsured Motorist insurance (UIM) pays for these same expenses that result from an accident caused by a driver who lacks sufficient insurance to cover all of the costs. In some states, Underinsured Motorist coverage is included in your Uninsured Motorist insurance.

Insurers operating in most states also offer Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Property Damage insurance (UMPD). Whereas, UM/UIM coverage pays for bodily injuries, this coverage pays for damage an uninsured or underinsured driver causes to your vehicle. Covered property may also include personal property inside the vehicle, depending on the state.

Three Ways to Transfer Legal Liability for Your Products

Whether you are a business bringing a new, exciting product to market or a 20 year-old firm selling the latest version of a successful product line, certain risks face you. Users of the product may suffer injuries or damage to their property. These accidents may stem from inappropriate use of the product, such as using a lawn mower to trim hedges. However, some products may be dangerous under normal use by untrained or inexperienced operators. Furthermore, vendors or contractors who sell or install a product may modify it or otherwise affect its performance. These changes can increase the chances that the product will cause injury or damage, and that can land the manufacturer in a courtroom. However, there are steps the firm can take to transfer the risks of financial loss from these incidents.

First, the manufacturer should require, as part of its contracts with contractors, that those parties name it as an additional insured on their liability insurance policies. If the contractor is at least one percent liable for the accident, the endorsement gives the manufacturer rights to coverage under the policy for amounts necessary to settle a lawsuit. Perhaps more importantly, it covers the cost of defending the firm against the suit. These costs are often substantially higher than the cost of the settlement. The contracts should require the other party to give the manufacturer certificates of insurance showing that the liability policies include this coverage.

Assume, however, that either the other party neglected to have the manufacturer added as an additional insured or for some reason the insurance company denied coverage under the endorsement. If the company pays for the settlement on behalf of its insured (the contractor), it has a legal right to try to recover its payment (subrogate) from the manufacturer or its insurance company. To prevent that from happening, the contract between the manufacturer and the other party should require the contractor to waive subrogation rights. The waiver of subrogation will bind the insurance company, preventing it from going after the manufacturer. The ISO liability insurance policy implies that the insured can waive subrogation rights at any time before a loss occurs. However, if the manufacturer wants no doubt as to whether a waiver applies, it should require the other party to add a specific endorsement to its policy, waiving the insurance company’s subrogation rights.

One commonly used technique for transferring liability is requiring a contract to include an indemnity agreement, also known as a hold harmless agreement. Such an agreement will require the contractor to indemnify the manufacturer for the costs of any suits resulting from that party’s work for the manufacturer. For example, assume Contractor A installs a turbine made by Manufacturer B in a power plant and the turbine malfunctions, injuring several employees. Under this agreement, A would indemnify B for the costs of the ensuing lawsuits. Contractor A’s liability insurance should provide coverage for this if it does not contain an absolute contractual liability exclusion. An experienced contract attorney can help develop the appropriate language for this agreement.

Because some of these techniques involve modification of insurance coverage, the manufacturer should consult with an insurance agent. Some insurance companies may require the manufacturer to have these techniques in place before they will offer coverage, while others may accept the account without them but may offer reduced premiums if they are in place.

Contractual arrangements are no substitute for providing a safe, quality product. However, since accidents are possible no matter how many precautions are taken, manufacturers are well advised to use these techniques to lower the chance of financial loss.

Make a Contract to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported that 3,490 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 years old died in motor vehicle crashes in 2006 and an additional 272,000 were injured. Drivers in this age group accounted for 12.9 percent of the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 16 percent of the drivers involved in police-reported crashes.

Drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 years old have the highest rate of fatal crashes among all age groups including the elderly. The risk of being involved in a fatal crash is three times greater for teens than for people between the ages of 65 to 69.

Lack of driving experience and taking unnecessary risks are the two main reasons for the high crash rate among teens. However, both of these issues can be addressed, and their impact on a teenage driver’s safety significantly reduced when parents assume a proactive role in their teenagers’ driver education.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is by drawing up a driving contract between you and your teen driver. Teendriving.com offers the following advice about what to include in your contract:

·   Specify which car(s) the teen is allowed to drive – The car should have a driver’s side airbag, a good safety rating, and be easy to maneuver

·   Make the teen responsible for gas, oil changes, tire pressure checks, regular maintenance requirements, and keeping the car clean inside and out.

·   Have the teen agree to pay for insurance – Paying insurance costs with a part-time job provides some incentive for avoiding reckless behavior.

·   Specify that the teen must follow these rules or be subject to some agreed upon, pre-determined penalty:

1.      Always obeying the speed limit and traffic laws.

2.      Always wearing seat belts and making sure that all passengers are buckled up before driving.

3.      Never driving after drinking or using drugs – The contract should state that teens are not allowed to drink and drive, have alcohol in the car, or even be a passenger in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs. Assure your teen that they can always call you to come get them if they are stranded at a gathering.

4.      Not driving with friends in the car – Teens should not be allowed to drive with friends or even younger siblings in the car for the first six to twelve months of having their license unless an adult is also in the car.

5.      Not using cell phones or texting while driving.

6.      Letting you know where they are going and when they plan to return.

7.      Maintaining curfews – Set realistic curfews, but also tell teens that if they are running late, it’s always better to drive safely than speed to make up the minutes. They should call you if possible to let you know they are on the way home. 

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate: Improving the Claims Process

Occasional severe injuries are an unfortunate part of the construction business. When they happen, a contractor may be looking at a very large lawsuit and will seek coverage under its liability insurance policy. Undesirable side effects of liability insurance claims include disputes between the contractor and the insurance company. Bad feelings can begin with the claim notice from the contractor, build with a letter from the claim adjuster listing every policy condition that might mean no coverage for the claim, exacerbate when the adjuster balks at the defense attorney’s bills, and erupt during negotiations over a settlement.

A contractor cannot control a claim adjuster’s actions, but there are things that can be done to influence the adjuster’s behavior for the better, minimize areas of disagreement, and make the whole process a little smoother.

Claim adjusters find it frustrating when they receive initial claim notices that provide limited information. When giving the initial notice of a liability claim to its insurance company, the contractor should provide at minimum the following information:

* Basic information, such as the date and location of the loss, names of injured persons, nature of injuries, and so on.

* If the contractor has already hired defense attorneys, an explanation of its reasons for selecting that firm. For example, a particular firm may have significant experience defending contractors of the same type; the notice to the insurance company should state that.

* A statement of what the contractor expects from the company during the claim process. This should present several questions for the company to answer, such as whether the attorneys will act as the conduit for information between the contractor and the company, whether the company will hold an early meeting with the contractor to discuss the case, and the confidentiality of certain communications.

It is a good idea for the contractor to seek an in-person meeting with the claim adjuster within the first few months after making the initial notice. This meeting will separate the contractor’s claim from the dozens of other cases on the adjuster’s desk. It will facilitate exchange of information, introduce the adjuster to the attorneys, educate the adjuster about the case, and allow both sides to discuss their expectations for the claim process, such as frequency of updates and the payment schedule for the attorneys.

Even with a detailed initial notice and an early meeting, disputes between the contractor and the company may still arise. If the two parties can specifically define the issues, they can limit the disagreements and focus on producing a successful claim resolution. Even if they disagree on whether the policy will cover the claim, a specific description of each side’s concerns can help narrow the areas of disagreement and reduce uncertainty. Therefore, it is in the contractor’s interest to be specific about its questions and concerns in all communications with the company. This should give the company an incentive to be clear about why it might not cover the claim. Armed with this information, the contractor can more easily decide how to proceed next, whether that will be to mediation, appeals to the company’s management, litigation, or other alternatives.

During this process, the contractor should not overlook his insurance agent as a resource and advocate. Agents deal with claim situations on a daily basis and can provide valuable information on what to expect and ways to make the process easier. Workplace injuries are upsetting and disruptive; ensuing lawsuits are stressful and take a contractor away from his real business. Following these steps can reduce the amount of stress and help bring the claim to a conclusion that all parties can live with.

Are You Guilty of DWT – Driving While Texting?

Are you guilty of sending text messages from behind the wheel? If you are, you’re not alone.  Although hard statistics on the practice are scarce, it’s clearly a growing problem. More than 150 billion text messages are sent annually, and a substantial percentage of those are sent from the driver’s seat.

Anything that takes a driver’s attention off the road increases the likelihood of an accident, including talking on a cell phone, eating, applying make-up or shaving. But text messaging may be especially dangerous since composing and sending a message requires a driver to look at the phone or device rather than at the highway and surrounding traffic for an extended period of time.

Texting while driving has been identified as a factor in several accidents, with police linking the time phone text messages were sent with the occurrence of fatal automobile crashes. It seems an especially prevalent practice among the young: One insurance company survey found that 19% of drivers admit to sending text messages while driving, and an alarming 37% of drivers between the ages of 18 and 27 engage in the practice.

The problem has become widespread enough for some states, including Washington and Oregon, to take notice and consider legislation that makes driving while texting a crime. Activists are lobbying to include specific texting-while-driving provisions in existing laws that prohibit hand-held electronic devices to be use on the road.

In fact, a recent Harris Interactive poll revealed that 89% of Americans support legislation to ban texting while behind the wheel. And 91% of respondents believed that people who text and drive are just as dangerous as drunks on the road.

What can you do about this problem?  Stay safe by resisting the temptation and encouraging others to do the same.