By Vanessa Orr
As businesses begin to open back up, employers are facing a myriad of issues pertaining to employee and patient safety. Some employees are ready to work but are afraid of contracting the virus; others may refuse to follow CDC guidelines, despite these rules being in place to ensure a safe reopening. Still others might be planning to sue their places of employment for not protecting them from the virus in the first place.
According to Matt Gracey, medical malpractice insurance specialist at Danna-Gracey, the largest independent medical malpractice insurance agency in Florida, it is important that employers check the status of their employment practices liability insurance, or EPLI.
“A good EPLI policy will cover a myriad of complaints and lawsuits that result from employees filing suit against employers for doing things that they think are not right,” he explained. “In this era, EPLI coverage is becoming more and more important as employers are being challenged in knowing how to best bring employees back to work, and how to deal with employee concerns and fears around COVID-19.”
While many employers are following CDC guidelines, sometimes their own employees refuse to comply, making it extremely difficult to balance the guidelines with running their companies, Gracey added.
“That’s across the board for employers in every industry, but when you drill down into the healthcare sector, it becomes a matter of life and death,” he said. “We believe that there will be even more lawsuits coming out of the medical world than out of most other industries because a lot of its employees are on the front lines. For these employees to be fully in compliance with CDC guidelines is extremely difficult if not impossible in some settings, but that most likely will not let employers off the hook for lawsuits.”
Insurance agents are counseling employers to set up protocols for employees as well as patients.
“Once you set up protocols, including guidelines and restrictions, you need to follow them,” Gracey warned. “Many businesses are saying that employees must wear masks, but half of the employees aren’t wearing masks and no one is enforcing the rule. While CDC guidelines say that in certain conditions employees must have full PPE protection, in numerous cases it is not being provided because it is not available, or the employees are not wearing it—creating fertile ground for lawsuits.”
As more is learned about the virus and how it spreads, employers must keep up with changes in the guidelines and communicate these to employees, patients and vendors, as well as anyone who can endanger employees’ health.
“The fact that things are constantly changing won’t let employers off the hook for this responsibility,” said Gracey. “Of course, it’s confusing, and a lot of people just don’t want to follow the guidelines, but this can have serious consequences, including death. There will be numerous lawsuits stemming not just from people dying, but from getting sick and the consequences that follow.”
Employers should contact their insurance agents or review their own policies to make sure they contain no COVID exclusions, particularly on new policies.
“We’re seeing policies with new supplemental agreements attached where the employers have to swear that they are following CDC guidelines, and that if they don’t, the policy won’t cover them,” said Gracey, adding that larger organizations should have someone keep track of their in-house communications—including updates and enforcement—with employees about the guidelines.
While many employers do not carry EPLI coverage, or confuse it with employee benefits coverage, it’s important to talk to an agent who is an expert on the coverage and can shop it widely, as the EPLI insurance marketplace is tightening up and policies are becoming more expensive.