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Should You Allow Bowser in the Office?

More employers than ever are allowing dogs into the workplace. Big companies like Google and Amazon allow employees to bring their dogs to work – as do 8% of American workplaces, according to a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management survey.

Because this decision brings risk into the workplace, it’s a good time to revisit the issues employers face when making this choice. Every year, National Dog Bite Prevention Week is “celebrated” to educate and remind us about how our furry friends conduct themselves around humans. The Insurance Information Institute also published recent dog-bite statistics. Any employer making a decision on pets in the workplace should consult both of these resources.

My Experience With Dogs in the Workplace

The publication of this data reminds me of an event that is permanently etched in my memory. A while ago, I was introduced to business owners by their CPA. The owners were dissatisfied with their current insurance broker relationship and were considering a change. We set an appointment so I could learn more about their business and their needs.

When I walked through their office door, I was immediately met by two medium-sized pit bulls. Both were showing their teeth, growling and barking at me in a very aggressive manner.

See also: A Proposed Code of Conduct on Wellness  

I have always been a dog lover. I’ve had two pet dogs who became loving members of our family. When meeting dogs for the first time, I’m usually successful in establishing a rapport with them, but this meeting required the owner’s immediate intervention.

The employees in the office reacted with smiles and remained seated at their desks. My guess is that this type of greeting was common.

Why Employers Allow Dogs in the Workplace

In my discussions with employers, they cite the following as reasons why they or their staff bring pets to the workplace:

  • The pet experiences anxiety by being left at home alone
  • Dogs provide additional protection for the employer and employees
  • The pet is a “service animal” to assist the employee with mental or physical disabilities
  • They just like having the dog around them

The dog-bite statistics tracked by the Insurance Information Institute show the total number and cost of dog bites, but they don’t include dog-bite incidents or injuries in the workplace.

This lack of business-specific data certainly doesn’t detract from the potential legal and financial issues employers can create for their businesses if they allow dogs on their premises.

What Can Go Wrong?

A look at the statistics shows how dog bites continue to be an expensive problem. At least 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs annually, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. Those numbers increase each year.

The problem also affects employers who send their employees out into neighborhoods or homes with unrestrained dogs. For example, the employees of the U.S. Postal Service who deliver mail continue to have problems with dog bites, and they are usually armed with a spray to protect them from aggressive dogs.

Commercial insurance carriers typically don’t ask whether dogs will be present at a business, unlike the personal insurance companies that provide homeowners insurance. However, if you’re an employer considering allowing dogs in your workplace, it’s a good idea to consult a list of some “unacceptable” dogs that personal insurance companies frequently refuse to insure. You’ll notice some familiar breeds here, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, huskies and malamutes.

Considerations for Employers

Before you allow dogs into your workplace, take the following into consideration:

  • If it isn’t necessary, why create more potential liabilities for your business? There are many workplace hazards that can cause injury to your employees. Why bring in another opportunity for injury if that can be avoided?
  • Be aware of those dog breeds that have a history of aggressive behavior.
  • If an employee requires a “service animal,” and you have confirmed the animal is truly a “certified service animal,” you will most likely need to accommodate your employee. To confirm certification, have the employee provide a letter from a doctor. Work with your HR professional so the process of consideration and accommodation is performed in accord with employment laws.
  • Dogs can be a distraction and slow efficiencies in your company’s workflow.
  • Some people have a fear of dogs. How are you going to deal with this issue?
  • Some people have allergies that can be aggravated by the presence of animals in the workplace before, during or after the employee’s work hours.
  • When the dog bites an employee, in addition to reporting this to your workers’ compensation company and getting medical treatment for the employee, you must decide what to do with the dog and how to manage employees’ perceptions of this event and possible future incidents?
  • Do you want customers and other guests to potentially experience what I did when they come to your business?

If you do decide to allow dogs in the workplace, your HR professional will need to update your employee manual. Set guidelines as to how and where the pet may be located. Set guidelines for acceptable animal behavior. Create clear guidelines about the owner’s productivity and responsibilities. Establish how other employees may interact with the pet.

These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to answer before implementing any new policies.

See also: States of Confusion: Workers Comp Extraterritorial Issues

With the potential risks involved in workers’ compensation, HR and general liability, should dogs really be in the workplace?

Are You About to Hire Your Next Workers’ Comp Claim?

In many workers’ compensation claims’ situations, we learn that the employer has made a bad hiring decision and not matched the right employee to the right job. Of course, once the injury occurs, it is too late to change the decision. Strictly from a monetary prospective, once you take on an employee you are presenting him a debit card that has an unlimited credit line.

Many prospective employees have mastered the interview process and can paint themselves as being ready, willing and able to do whatever the employer wants. How can employers get past the facade and make sure they have the right person for the right job?

The place to begin is with one of the many tools that provide what is known as an employee assessment process. The tool should, first, help determine the unique needs of the business and what the job position entails. This includes necessary skills, the attitudes the employee needs to possess and the personality characteristics that are most suited for the job. 

For example, an operating engineer needs not only the experience and skills to properly operate the equipment, but also:   

— The ability to make good judgments for the safety of the equipment, as well as, himself and those around him.
— A personality that allows little tolerance for risk. 

With the full list of requirements developed, employers can use the process to probe the personality of the prospective hire and see whether it is a match both for the job and for the personalities of those who will supervise him — let’s face it, having personalities that can get along and communicate well are key to success, but that need is often overlooked by those doing the hiring.

Depending on what industry you're in and what type of job you wish to fill, we recommend that you obtain an opinion from a human resources professional. You should also use the other, more common verification approaches, such as reference checks, background and drug checks and post-offer medical examinations.

When you don't go through an employee assessment process, you can wind up with the sort of problem I saw an employer have recently when it hired a well-paid technician who had a good work history and positive references from prior employers. He interviewed well; seemed to have excellent knowledge of the employer’s industry; seemed smart; and seemed to understand how the relationships within the industry made a business successful. But, early in his tenure, problems surfaced because of: 

— Poor communication with fellow technicians and a lack of a sense of the need to be a team player; projects took longer than necessary.
— Constant complaints about the tasks he was assigned and about the employer’s process.
— Difficulty consistently following his supervisor’s instructions.
— A tendency to cut corners that endangered others and led him to injure himself.

The last injury he had at work started at his wrist and “grew” to other body parts. He decided he could no longer work. A sub rosa investigation found that “the growth” of the injury was exaggerated. The investigation found that he could carry and play with his children and perform other physical tasks at his home. By the time all the issues were sorted out, the direct and indirect costs for the employer exceeded $100,000.

Had an assessment process been in place, it is my view that this engineer could have been identified as a bad fit before he was hired, and the problems avoided. 

Why are many employers not taking advantage of an assessment process to help them improve their hiring batting average? After probing, we find that most employers do not have a realistic idea of the real costs of hiring and replacing employees. If they really knew how costly the hiring process could be, they would stop using their gut feelings.

HR consultants who work in a variety of industries tell us that hiring the wrong person can cost employers tens of thousands of dollars. Depending on the skill level and how high up the position is in an organization, the costs of turnover can be more than twice an employee’s annual salary, according to the Center for American Progress. And this does not include the costs of any work-related injuries.

An employee can be a valuable asset or can be a big liability. So let’s use the best approaches available to make sure your employee selection process is as good as it can be.

What are you waiting for?  Let’s get started!

Why Workers’ Comp Claims Stay So High

In meetings with employers who have a history of high workers’ compensation claims costs and related expenses, we hear a common story: “The insurance adviser does not to take an active role on the problem. The adviser provides little or no supervision of the claims process. Nor are the true costs of each claim incident evident to the employer.”

These employers tell us that they rely solely on the insurance company claims adjuster’s process and the recommended insurance carrier medical clinic treatment protocol. There seems to be no one enhancing communications with the injured employee.

This communication void can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of trust and cause injured employees to seek legal representation. The result can be higher claims costs and delays in closing claims.

In most of these situations, the insurance adviser goes through an annual exercise to obtain rate quotations in an attempt to “control employer costs.”  But the quoting process fails to help the employer understand the costs of each claim. Nor does the process inform employers how to lower costs.

Some time ago, Dave Smith, a safety consultant in Lafayette, Calif., shared a comprehensive list of items and costs that affect employers when a work-related injury or illness occurs. I've attached a copy of Dave’s creation that I share with employers.   

In our experience, this guide helps employers rethink the claims management process and their experience with their insurance adviser. The guide helps employers come to the conclusion that they must make some changes to achieve better financial outcomes.

Cost transparency helps an employer to understand where the costs are coming from. Employers will also be better able to see if they truly have a valuable insurance adviser or if the adviser's process is just too costly.

Many employers seem to forget that it is their money at work in workers' comp claims and that they must be involved in all aspects of their workers’ comp insurance and risk management program.

Remember that the expenses listed in this chart are all in addition to the increase in future workers' comp premiums that come because of the change in the employer’s experience modification factor.

Why A Homeowner Should Know About Complying With Workers' Compensation Laws

Workers' compensation laws protect people who are injured on the job. They are designed to make sure that employees who are injured or disabled on the job are provided with fixed monetary awards, removing the need for litigation.

The California Labor Code essentially tells us that anyone working for a homeowner will be an employee unless you can prove otherwise. Further, California Law tells employers — the homeowner in this case — that they must purchase workers' compensation insurance when any employee works for them.

The standard home policy, with liability insurance, includes coverage for “occasional workers' comp risks.” By “occasional,” the policy would be intended to provide insurance for your gardener that swings by once a week or your housekeeper that comes in twice a month, or other folks who perform small tasks at your home. The “occasional worker” is defined as someone who performs less than 10 hours outside of the house work or 20 hours inside of the house work.

When the homeowner is going to reach these thresholds, they should contact their insurance agent to change their Homeowner's policy to cover these new events. The costs for this change can vary quite considerably between companies, but it has been my experience that the additional charges are a fraction of the cost of worker's comp for a business operation.

How do you avoid all of these potential risks and threats, plus involvement in the insurance industry? Here is a short list of steps to simplify your life and avoid becoming an employer. First, hire licensed and insured contractors who have their own workers' compensation insurance. Next, hire other service providers who are licensed, if appropriate, and insured.

Any company or contractor that you hire should have liability and workers' compensation insurance. How to know if they are insured? This is the crucial point to understand. Before any organization, business or contractor begins work for you, ask them to provide you with a Certificate of Insurance which will list all of their insurance policies. This certificate will show that, on that date, there is a list of the insurance policies this business has in place listing their insurance companies, the amounts and types of insurance, and the dates the policy started and are to end.

The homeowner, to further protect themselves, should be listed as a Certificate Holder on this certificate. The Liability insurance listed on the certificate should list the homeowner as an Additional Insured, and the page of their insurance policy that confirms this is to be attached to the certificate.

The workers' compensation insurance should show that the business has provided a Waiver of Subrogation Endorsement on their policy. A waiver of subrogation endorsement requires one party on the contract to waive their right to sue for and recover damages from the other party.

In short, what do these worker's compensation terms mean to the homeowner?

First, the Additional Insured means the insurance for the hired business will provide you with some protection on their policy before your insurance policy may be involved in a claim.

Next, the Waiver of Subrogation means that when the businesses' employee is injured at the homeowner's home, the workers' comp insurance company paying for the employee's treatment can't come back to the homeowner to recover what they have paid injured workers.

When in doubt, call your insurance agent to guide you through this process. There are many talented and knowledgeable insurance agents who can help you. So, ask!

California homeowners have a duty to be aware of the workers' compensation rules to avoid fines and penalties. This knowledge can help them avoid legal problems in case a worker gets injured on their property.

Does a Safe Workplace Create Large Profits?

Or do high profits create the opportunity for a safe workplace?

The success of Paul O'Neill as CEO of Alcoa Corporation has resurfaced in the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhiggs.

Prior to becoming US Treasury Secretary in the Bush Administration, O'Neill took on the task of turning a “tired” and “floundering” company into a highly profitable and efficient organization. To simplify his formula for success, he created and led a new mindset of safety in the workplace no matter the cost. Employee safety became the main goal of Alcoa.

Critics emerged from everywhere questioning O'Neill's belief that a goal of zero workplace injuries would result in high corporate earnings. The facts proved the critics were wrong, and history continues to show continuous financial growth after O'Neill retired from the company.

From 1987 to 1991, the employee injury rate decreased 50%. Because of the culture O'Neill created, the injury rates continued to decrease even after he retired from Alcoa and continue to do so today.

During his leadership, company sales increased 15% each year, and the earnings per share increased seven times the level when he joined Alcoa.

Obviously, most employers are not the size and financial stature of Alcoa. But, what can all organizations gain from the “O'Neill Formula for Financial Success?”

No one can argue that making sure employees leave work for home as healthy as they arrive at work is a bad idea. Let's face it — creating a safe work environment should always be the top priority for any organization. Most employers believe safety is important, but they feel they don't have the time or resources to adequately address all issues. The solution to the employer's dilemma is to align themselves with a risk insurance advisor who can help an employer plan, implement and lead their organization through a consistent process to achieve measurable results of improvement.

If an employer's risk insurance advisor relationship does not have the interest, resources, knowledge and experience to be a coach and leader for a program like this, it should be time to find a new relationship. Keeping valuable assets safe, like employees, and helping to keep an organization financially sound are of the utmost importance.

Financial success can be achieved at different levels — the O'Neill approach will rally all stakeholders and result in outcomes that you could not have imagined. Certainly, O'Neill's detractors felt that way until they saw the results.

What has your risk insurance advisor done for you lately to help you achieve your financial goals?