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Monthly Archives

May 2014


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Approximately 58 million Americans — one in four adults – experience a mental health impairment in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2007). One in seventeen individuals lives with serious mental health impairment (National Institute of Mental Health, 2008). So the chances are that at some point you’ll be interviewing or hiring someone with a mental impairment. How should you handle it?

It takes the EEOC 56 pages to define a mental disability; and the list of potential disabilities is long: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, PSTD, schizophrenia, and dozens of others. The bottom line: Every one of the maladies has a limitation associated with it, such as an inability to concentrate, interact with others, remember things or handle stress.

Before making a job offer, an employer can ask if an applicant has the ability to meet the essential job functions of the position- with or without accommodation. If their disability is immediately noticeable, you may ask if you need to adjust any interview or testing formats to accommodate them.

Once an offer is made, you can dig deeper into any limitations to determine if the person is mentally “fit for duty.” Your best bet is to work with a certified occupational medicine physician when conducting this analysis. Also consider JAN for mental accommodation ideas.


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

Companies usually use some type of employee performance evaluation to assess successes and gaps in performance and convey these assessments to employees. Although this might be helpful, it’s not enough. If you want your employees to be more engaged and productive, you need to understand their intrinsic motivations.

To do this, consider adding these questions to the employee performance review conversation. (Notice that we use the word “feel” a lot because it’s the employee’s emotions that should concern you.):

  • How do you feel about your job?
  • How do you feel about the direction of the company?
  • Do you feel that you have improved your skills over the last year?
  • To what extent do you feel that you have grown as a person while working for us during the past year?
  • What do you feel is the most valuable thing you do at work?
  • Where do feel you can add more value to the company?
  • Out of curiosity, have you looked at other job opportunities or are you completely satisfied here? If not, what would it take to satisfy you?
  • Do you feel you’re being paid fairly? If not, what do you feel you should get paid and what do you base that on?
  • Do you feel we have exhibited a management style that’s caring and supportive? If not, how can we do a better job of this?
  • Is there anything that we haven’t spoken about that feels unfair to you and might get in the way of our working relationship or your success at this company?
  • Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven’t talked about?

These are brave questions to ask because most managers really don’t want to dive into the emotional landscape – which is a big mistake. As Daniel Goldman reminds us in Emotional Intelligence, it’s your E.Q., not your I.Q., that’s most important to becoming a great leader or manager.

Consider having this conversation outside of your office where it might feel safer for the employee. For example, “Now that we’ve discussed your performance I like to have a little deeper conversation about your work here and I don’t want to do it in the office. Where would you like to go talk about this? ”

You don’t have to buy this idea wholesale. Test it out. Play social scientist and begin with just one employee. Let him or her know that you’re opening up to a more meaningful conversation; and that because you’ve never tried this before it will be a learning experience for both of you!


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I recently came across a question which exposed a recurring problem in many organizations – management protecting top producers who bully other employees or push them around. The belief is maybe that’s what it takes to succeed in this competitive business world.

This approach is asking for disaster. Companies that are aware of such a situation and ignore, bury, or deny it, are exposing themselves to significant risks down the road. Hopefully they saved some of the dollars that their “breadwinner” generated to buy an EPLI policy for the inevitable lawsuit.

Consider this letter:

“I work in retail sales. My coworkers and I feel harassed every day by the senior salesperson, who is the top salesperson and feels she is untouchable. In fact, she almost is, because our manager won’t correct her even though we have complained about her misbehavior several times. This salesperson threatens and, harasses us, and jeopardizes and poaches our sales, leaving us miserable and stressed. She wants all the sales to herself and will retaliate when she can’t have her way. She has made the workplace hostile. Although we have complained about her in our annual self-assessments/reviews, we haven’t had a response from corporate. Now we all are planning to send a letter straight to corporate HR. Is this the right thing to do, or is there a better option? Of course, we’re a bit nervous that we could jeopardize our employment, because corporate might side with her as the top seller. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.”

What would you advise this person to do?


By Your Employee Matters | No Comments

I listened to an interesting Freakonomics podcast about gossip (http://www.wnyc.org/story/everybody-gossips-thats-good-thing/ )’ According to the podcast, often one person’s gossip is another person’s information. Much of this, of course, depends on one’s point of view. Companies don’t want gossip that’s distracting to productivity, but at the same time they need to identify blockages to productivity, and maybe even wrongdoing. As the saying goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Speaking of sayings, one of my favorites is “light is the best disinfectant.” Another metaphor I refer to is “problems are better solved when they’re on top of the table than when they remain underneath.” So, how can we put gossip that’s informational on the top of the table, where it’s in the light, and ignore gossip that’s nonproductive?

There are three basic ways to get at informational gossip:

  1. Be a good listener. If you show you care, then your employees will be more likely to share.
  2. Have one-on-one conversations that give employees the emotional space to express themselves. One of my favorite questions is “does anything feel unfair to you about your work experience?” Group conversations (focus groups) work, too. Just make sure to have them in an environment that feels safe.
  3. Survey employees. I recommend the Employee Compliance Survey that HRThatWorks created because it lets you know if there’s any smoke or fire in the environment. When it comes to surveys in general, those that are anonymous or that have “1 to 5” responses don’t provide much useful information. Instead, ask what’s going well and what could go better. (PS: If you want this form, email me dphin@thinkhr.com)

Here are three ways to prevent nonproductive gossip:

  1. Let the workforce know that this stuff wastes time. Whether the gossip is online or face-to-face, limit it to rest and meal periods
  2. Keep people busy. When employees have a sense of urgency, there’s little time for gossip
  3. Give them something positive to focus on: Positive gossip. Positive drama.

Gossip will never go away – but the energy behind it can and should be channeled into more productive pursuits.

What’s the difference between Commercial Automobile and Business Automobile Coverage?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

The difference between personal automobiles and business automobiles is the name under which it is titled. If you use your personal automobile in business, the business should have hired and non-owned automobile coverage to cover the business’ liability of your driving.

If the business owns the car, you should either have a personal automobile policy or a “drive other cars” endorsement on the business policy to cover your liability for driving a company car. The car owner and driver are often both sued.

So, what’s the difference between Commercial Automobile and Business Automobile?

Commercial automobile coverage includes several policy forms. Garage, business auto, and motor carrier are each forms of commercial auto.

Business automobiles are cars, pick-ups, small trucks, large trucks, dump trucks, even ambulances can be on the fleet list. Business automobile is for standard usage owned vehicles for businesses.

Garage forms are used for public repair shops, dealerships, attended parking lots, any other situation where the general public might drive the business vehicle or you have care, custody or control over other people’s vehicles. The risk is different from business auto because either the cars or drivers do not belong to the same organization. Garage liability also covers towing other vehicles.

The garage form, simply stated, anticipates the owner of the vehicle and the operator will be different people on a regular basis, as part of the business.

Motor carrier forms anticipate different ownership of either the power unit or the trailer it hauls. The nature of long haul trucking is independent contractors “owner operators” hook to other business’ trailers and move them from one spot to another.

Motor carrier coverage is designed to cover the nuances of the independent operator system. Long-haul trucking has different exposures than the average salesman’s vehicle, and needs different coverage.

Of course, these commercial forms can confuse. Please call us today to assure you are covered properly. We appreciate your business.

What’s the best way to cover your business equipment?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Business equipment covers a variety of assets. Word processing, production machinery, air conditioners, boilers, even bulldozers and excavators describe business equipment. So let’s answer this question by going through the different property policies.

    1. Contents policy. This coverage, generally found in the property section of your package policy (general liability and property combined), protects you from losses due to covered perils (fire, lightning, smoke, hail, windstorms, civil commotion, and others). Generally, office equipment, laboratory equipment, production equipment or any other device or machinery that stays on location is best covered under contents. The policy is designed for exactly this purpose.


    1. Inland Marine. This policy form covers the property value of equipment that moves. For example, construction equipment like backhoes or bulldozers travel to and remain on jobsites. Contents policies limit the value of some types of property off premises; inland marine allows transportation and off-premises usage.
    1. Boiler and Machinery. This property coverage has elements of liability as well. Basically, boiler and machinery policies provide an inspection service for equipment to assure it is in good working order. Then, if a boiler breaks down or explodes, the policy covers damage caused to others and mechanical breakage of the boiler.


  1. Cargo. This policy covers your property while in transit. For example, if your shipping machinery across the country or an ocean. Contents policies have exclusions and low limits on in-transit goods. The policy does not anticipate this type of risk. Cargo policies do, and they are designed around freight carrier responsibilities in the event of a loss.

Property coverage seems like it’s simple, but many subtle clauses create niche coverage issues. Call us today!

What Is Boiler and Machinery Coverage, and What Are the Advantages?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Boiler and Machinery policies provide two major services. Insurance in the form of property coverage for damage to buildings, boilers, machinery and additional liability coverage in the event of an explosion. Second, a valuable inspection service for the covered property, which enables mechanical breakdown coverage to be provided.

This coverage is not available under other insurance policies. In many insurance companies, boiler and machinery has been re-titled equipment breakdown to reflect the more modern application.

Mechanical breakdown insurance provides loss of refrigeration coverage for food spoilage, loss of revenue due to emergency generator malfunction, and extra expenses to keep the operation temperature controlled during machinery outages. Good loss control in these matters begins with avoidance – well running machines.

The inspection service meets requirements of local and state authorities. More importantly, the inspector gives solid loss control advice to avoid the breakdown of machines and boilers at inconvenient times. The inspectors review the system as a redundant check on the owner’s own maintenance program. Losing power, heat, cooling, or ventilation creates production problems for any business.

Boiler and Machinery coverage applies to almost any business. The image of huge steam boilers may come to mind, but refrigeration, modern HVAC systems, or emergency power generators should instead. Think turbines, engines, fans, all the gears and shafts which make them work, and any other mission critical machinery. Think about heat pumps, air conditioners, even elevator equipment.

Ask your professional agent to help compile a list of equipment that may be exposed to mechanical breakdown to the detriment of your operations. It is likely that your company has an exposure that is not being properly addressed. With this coverage, the loss to the equipment is secondary to the consequential loss of income or the extra expense brought on by the mechanical breakdown. Your professional agent can help you design the correct coverage.

What Actions Create Employment Practices Liability Claims?

By Business Protection Bulletin | No Comments

Since new legislation is passed affecting employment practices liability yearly, we can only broadly describe areas of concern:

  1. Discrimination Claims come in three forms: overt discrimination, disparate treatment, and disparate impact. Overt discrimination is purposeful and observable behavior, like firing all employees of one sex, age limit, or race. Disparate treatment concerns disciplinary actions for the same behavior. Perhaps women are written up if they’re late to work but men are not. The treatment is unequal and prevents moving upwards in the organization. Disparate impacts involves creating rules or conditions that affect one group more than others. For example, the men’s locker room is located within the confines of the plant while the women’s is a quarter mile away; then allowing only five minutes for bathroom breaks, or not allowing people in to change until fifteen minutes before the shift. The more subtle forms of disparate impacts include height and weight limits. For example only hiring people above six-feet tall or below five feet five inches. Certainly the pool of candidates would show sexual preference. Unless there is an excellent reason why height is a factor, this is discrimination. What’s the cost? About $500,000 per settlement.
  2. Wrongful Terminations. For cause terminations and strategic layoffs aside, firing employees has become a difficult process for employers. Even in at will states, employers cannot be arbitrary or capricious in firing individuals. Courts have upheld the doctrine that an implied contract of employment exists and must have cause for termination. Document and write-up employee behavior.
  3. Sexual Harassment. Unwelcome sexual advances, explicit or implicit, is unlawful discrimination. Disparate treatment and impact cover this form of discrimination too. Interesting in these cases, discomfort, not dismissal is all that is required for sexual harassment to occur. And, neither party involved directly needs to bring the action, just a bystander who objects to the behavior can make a claim. Keep sex out of the workplace.
  4. Retaliation Claims. Legitimate actions by an employee are punished with dismissal, wage freeze, or some other retaliatory act.

Other disagreements over such things as overtime wages, improper distribution of email content (if you wouldn’t want to see it on the evening news, don’t send it), or even mass layoffs can start discrimination suits.

Employment Practices Liability is fast becoming a leading cause of claims. Get the right coverage. Contact us today!


By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

Building information modeling (BIM) software provides a digital three-dimensional, real-time tool that contractors, building owners, architects, and engineers can use to develop an overall view of a building throughout the design and construction process, allowing them to make informed decisions more rapidly. These programs can lead to significant gains in efficiency, together with major savings in time and money – as long as all parties involved work together in implementing them.

These guidelines can help reduce potential errors and risks of using BIM so that you can get the full benefits of this powerful resource:

  • Once the BIM has been developed and distributed to project members, make sure that everyone is on the same page by taking precautions to prevent later changes or alterations by unauthorized parties without notifying the entire group. This can be a serious problem on larger projects with a number of consultants and contractors.
  • Bear in mind that, although BIM can provide an estimate of total construction costs, it cannot factor in variations in the price of metals, petroleum –derived products, and transportation.
  • Make sure that the project team leader is tech-savvy.
  • Stress the need for every project member to communicate every idea they have, so that it can be implemented.
  • Assign responsibilities clearly. BIM is a collaborative effort that requires everyone involved understand their roles, rights, and risks.
  • Use specific contracts that identify all possible hazards and liabilities associated with BIM.
  • Always bear in mind that communication among team project team members is the key to success with this technology.

To learn more, feel free to get in touch with our agency’s construction insurance experts at any time.


By Construction Insurance Bulletin | No Comments

As a construction professional, you sign a contract for every job – essentially a warranty that your firm will receive a specific amount of compensation from the project owner for the completed project. The contractual agreement defines the terms and method of compensation and states other conditions, such as the duration and quality of the work, job specifications, and so forth.

Construction contracts come in three basic varieties. Here’s a quick rundown:

Lump Sum or Fixed Price Contracts set a total amount for all construction-related activities. These agreements often include incentives or benefits for finishing the job early and penalties (“liquidated damages”) for missing this deadline. Lump Sum contracts are preferred when the parties have set a clear scope and a defined schedule for the job.

Cost Plus Contracts involve payment of costs, purchases, and other expenses of construction They set a pre-negotiated amount (such as a percentage of material and labor costs), factoring in the contractor’s overhead and profit. Costs must be detailed and defined as direct or indirect There are a number of sub-types for these contracts, including: 1) Cost Plus Fixed Percentage; 2) Cost Plus Fixed Fee; 3) Cost Plus with Guaranteed Maximum Price; and 4) Cost Plus with Guaranteed Maximum Price and Bonus.

Time and Material Contracts. These agreements are usually preferable if the scope of the project is unclear. The owner and the contractor agreed on an hourly or daily rate, including additional expenses that might arise. The contract classifies costs as direct, indirect, mark-up, and overhead. Sometimes the owner minimizes its risk by setting a cap or a specific project duration that the contractor must meet.

Our construction insurance specialists would be happy to provide more information – just give us a call.