Number of Employers Offering Coverage Grows

The number of companies offering health insurance to their employees has risen for the first time in a decade, according to new research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

In 2017, almost 47% of private-sector employers offered health insurance, up from 45.3% in 2016. The percentage had previously been dropping steadily since 2008, when more than half (56.4%) were providing coverage.

The trend continues that the larger the company, the more likely it is to offer coverage, with 99% of firms with 1,000 or more employees offering health benefits.

Interestingly, the pre-Affordable Care Act numbers are higher than the post-ACA numbers, despite the fact that the law required employers with 50 or more full-time workers to provide most of their staffers with health coverage.

And the fact that numbers started ticking higher in 2017 points not so much to the results of the ACA, but that the labor market is tightening and as competition for talent increases, more employers are adding health coverage to their benefit packages, according the EBRI’s analysis.

The increases have been across all business sizes.

The percentage of employers offering health benefits in 2017, compared to 2015, is:

  • Employers with fewer than 10 employees: 23.5% in 2017, up from 22.7% in 2015.
  • Employers with 10-24 employees: 49.2%, up from 48.9%.
  • Employers with 25-99 employees: 74.6%, up from 73.5%.
  • Employers with 100‒999 employees 96.3%, up from 95.1%.

 

Another interesting development is the percentage of workers who are eligible to receive health coverage at their employer also ticked up to the highest level since 2014, the year the ACA took effect. But the number was still not as high as in 2013.

The percentage of employees eligible for health insurance is as follows:

  • 2013: 77.8%
  • 2014: 75.4%
  • 2017: 76.8%

 

The takeaway: Coverage matters

The EBRI attributes the increases in both the above metrics on the fact that workers have been migrating to jobs that offer health coverage. It also puts the changes down to the strong economy, the tighter job market and the fact that group health insurance rates have been increasing at a moderate clip of about 5% a year.

It also indicates that more employers are offering coverage to recruit and retain talent.

There has been a significant drop-off among small employers offering coverage since the recession hit in 2008 (when 35.6% of firms with fewer than 10 employees offered it, a percentage that dropped to its nadir in 2016 of 21.7%).

EBRI analysts cite many factors for the larger decline in coverage offering among the smallest employers, including the effects of the recession on their businesses and the fact that their employees could get coverage on exchanges at relatively low rates thanks to government subsidies.

The overall uptick in 2017 was largely driven by small employers, meaning that they are likely having to step up to compete for talent. As competition for talent will likely continue to grow, it’s likely that more employers will continue adding health benefits, in addition to other voluntary benefits, to sweeten the pot.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Directors of Small, Mid-sized Firms Increasingly Targeted in Lawsuits

Jury awards and settlements against directors and officers of companies in the U.S. have increased dramatically, largely due to federal securities class-action lawsuits.

But while small and mid-sized business owners often safely believe they won’t be targeted by those kinds of lawsuits, directors and officers of privately held companies can also be sued, leaving their personal assets at risk. While it may be hard to fathom any action that could imperil your assets, it can happen with the right kind of lawsuit.

Unfortunately, many small and mid-sized business owners, while insuring their businesses, often overlook their own liability. This protection gap can be covered with directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance, which protects company leaders from litigious employees, competitors, investors, vendors – and even customers.

Directors and officers can be held personally liable for civil, criminal or regulatory proceedings should they fall short of their obligations, and their personal assets – such as cash, property and pensions – could all be at risk.

Some small-business executives believe that their general liability or umbrella business insurance policies will cover claims involving directors and officers. But typically, those policies don’t respond to management liability lawsuits.

And often, owners of small businesses may not have the same level of understanding of what their responsibilities are in terms of complying with legislation and regulations, as perhaps large employers would.

For smaller firms, who typically have fewer resources to defend allegations or fund potential fines, penalties or awards for damages, D&O is becoming an increasingly important coverage.

One in eight owners of small businesses surveyed Chubb Group reported having been sued in the previous five years. The average damage from the lawsuits was $225,682 in losses. Some suits cost much more, with losses approaching $5 million.

The typical action that would trigger a D&O policy would allege that management committed some wrongful acts. Some common D&O claims for small and mid-sized entities include:

  • Allowing misleading information in a company prospectus.
  • Not complying with regulations and laws.
  • Employee-driven lawsuits alleging management allowed harassment or discrimination despite knowing about it.
  • Suits by investors about decisions concerning mergers and acquisitions.

 

What D&O covers

One of the most important aspects of a D&O policy is that it’s a protection against the costs of frivolous lawsuits.

D&O covers court costs and lawyers’ fees if a business becomes the target of regulators, or even a criminal investigation. But the policy will not shield managers if they commit fraud or participate in crime.

That said, if one board member is convicted of fraud while the other board members are innocent, a policy could still cover the legal costs of those who did no wrong.

D&O policies come with different deductibles for the different “sides” of the policy.

Side A – Known as the “personal protection” part of the policy, this indemnifies directors and officers if the company is unable to do so.

Side B – This part reimburses a company if it pays the legal bills of its directors and officers due to an action against them in their company capacity. Side B responds most commonly in the majority of claims brought against directors and officers.

Side C – Known as “entity coverage,” this part covers a company if it is sued alongside any directors and officers.

Sometimes it’s best to mix and match coverages based on your organization-specific risks. For some companies, a Side A will do.

We can evaluate and review the coverages and policy language associated with D&O insurance for you to find a policy that best suits your organization and board.

 

Cost of coverage

Fortunately, there are a number of low-cost D&O policies available for small businesses. The premium for about $1 million worth of coverage will usually run at around $500.

Final thoughts: Sometimes you will have to purchase a policy. For example, many directors and officers may refuse to take on a position without the coverage.

And if your business wants to attract new funding, most institutional investors require the protection.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Working from Home? Expand Insurance as Your Business Grows

As the gig economy grows, more and more people are opting to work from home, either to supplement their income from a full- or part-time job, as a freelancer, or to pursue operating a small business.

Unfortunately, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance may not cover damage to your business assets. Sixty percent of home-based businesses lack adequate business insurance, according to the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, based in Alexandria, Va.

If you are running a small business or working freelance from home, and if the loss of machinery, tools, data or IT equipment would seriously impair your ability to make money, you want to make sure you have the right coverage.

To safeguard your data, equipment and operations, you may want to follow these tips:

 

Check your insurance

If you are running a home-based business or need more protection for business property that is in your home, you may want to consider purchasing additional coverage.

Depending on your needs, you may have a few different options for protecting your business property.

 

Rider to a homeowner’s or renter’s policy
The most inexpensive home-based business insurance is an add-on or rider that expands a homeowner’s or renter’s policy to cover the company.

The cost of such a rider is minimal – often a few hundred dollars per year – but it generally provides about $2,500 of additional coverage. This type of insurance may be appropriate for a one-person business without a lot of valuable equipment or many business-related visitors, and unlikely to suffer a major loss if unable to operate for a while as a result of fire or other disaster.

 

In-home business policy
An in-home policy covers a broader spectrum of contingencies, including loss of critical documents or theft of funds being taken to the bank for deposit. Such a business policy, issued by a home insurer or a specialty firm, usually is a plan against injury or theft covering as many as three employees.

You may be able to buy additional coverage to increase the protection your homeowner’s insurance policy provides for business supplies. Some insurers may allow you to increase the limit up to $10,000. Adding this coverage may help cover inventory, such as cosmetics or kitchen supplies, temporarily stored in your home as you’re preparing to sell it or deliver it to customers.

 

Business owner’s policy

Business owners who need more than $10,000 of coverage should pay for a business owner’s policy. This comprehensive policy is the most common type for small business and covers:

  • Damage to or loss of business equipment and other assets
  • Liability for customer injuries
  • Loss of critical records
  • Malpractice or professional liability claims, and
  • Loss of income or a business interruption in the case of a power outage or a natural disaster.

Such a policy might also protect you when driving a personal vehicle for business purposes.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Identity Theft Goes Beyond Online: Shred Docs

Much has been made of people’s identities being stolen through cyber attacks and other online means, but the majority of identity thefts are still being carried out the old-fashioned way by criminals finding documents bearing social security numbers and other personal information.

Identity theft is a growing problem with consumers reporting more than 490,000 incidents in 2015, up an astounding 47% from the year prior, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Certainly, a good reason for this increase is online data theft, but a surprising number of Americans are still having their personal information stolen because of improper disposal of paper documents.

The best way to combat this kind of identity theft is by regularly shredding paper documents when it’s time to dispose of them. But what documents should you shred and which ones can you just toss in the recycling bin? Here are our tips:

Anything containing your social security number – This is the number one bit of data that identity thieves want to get a hold of. With your Social Security number they can open checking accounts and credit cards – and sometimes even take out loans.

Your social security number can be found on a number of documents, including:

  • Pay stubs
  • ax returns
  • Medical bills
  • Health insurance cards
  • Loan statements

Bank and mortgage statements – First off, you should keep these statements for up to seven years for tax audit purposes. After that time, there is no need to keep them and you should dispose of them.

These documents should be shredded. While they sometimes may contain your social security number, they do contain your bank account statements and crafty scammers can produce bogus checks that they can use to cash checks from your accounts.

Utility and other bills – Utility bills may contain personally identifiable information. Experts recommend that you keep these bills no more than a year. To avoid having your data exposed, you should then shred them.

Anything with your signature – It’s highly recommended that you shred any documents that have your signature on them.

That’s because a clever criminal can learn to copy your signature, and combined with other personally identifiable information they get their hands on, they could open accounts in your name and do real damage to your credit.

Receipts – While you may want to keep some receipts for your tax records, any others you don’t need to shred and can toss into the recycling bin.

Credit card receipts don’t contain your entire credit card number, so you don’t run the risk of someone gaining access to your card should they come across these receipts.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Smartphones and the Wage and Hour Dilemma

Do you ever wonder if your non-exempt employees are sneaking a peek at work e-mail off the clock? Ever suspect their bosses of pressuring them to respond to calls and e-mails after the workday ends?

If those thoughts keep you up at night, it’s time to make sure your employees’ smartphones aren’t putting your organization at risk of violating wage and hour laws.

The proliferation of smartphones has led to a rapidly rising number of lawsuits by employees claiming they were required to work uncompensated on evenings and weekends when not on the clock. The lawsuits are often class actions stemming from overtime-eligible employees using smartphones to extend their workday without those after-hours tasks being compensated.

The problem for employers is that when one employee complains to the Labor Department that they are not being compensated for time working on their smartphones when away from work, the agency’s investigators won’t stop with the complaining employee. They also look at how many others are “similarly situated.”

A single employee’s complaint can turn in to a class action when all the other similarly situated employees are included.

Just a few minutes a day over months or years can add up to financial disaster if an employer has a number of employees regularly using their phones for uncompensated work.

In the last several years, the courts have seen a flood of lawsuits in which groups of employees claim the time they spend reading and responding to e-mail should be considered work time, and therefore paid.

The danger is that when a boss sends a worker a message off-hours and asks them to read something or send an e-mail, the employee will usually feel compelled to do as they’re told, even if they don’t want to. It’s unlikely a subordinate will refuse to a superior for many reasons, such as job security and also advancement possibilities. Who wants to look lazy when the go-getters are the ones who are recognized?

Employees often are expected to check their work e-mail, and it’s not too much of an overstatement to say many employees today are under pressure because they are required to respond to after-hours messages.

You might think that just a few minutes of after-hours work won’t cause a problem because the time is minimal. But when employees sue claiming they should be compensated for after-hours smartphone work, the employer typically uses the de minimis defense.

De minimis means very little, perhaps just a minute or two. The employer maintains that the time spent is de minimis, but it isn’t. Just five minutes a day adds up to almost a half hour a week. But there are precedent-setting court decisions that have said that even 30 minutes extra a week is not de minimis.

Also, besides federal law, you have our own state law to contend with.

Additionally, you may not even know that some employees are checking work e-mail at home whether they’re told to or not.

Just because the employer doesn’t require employees to stay tied to their phones doesn’t eliminate legal risk. The law defines work time as the time an employee is “suffered or permitted” to work.

So, an employer doesn’t have to require employees to answer e-mail and perform other tasks off the clock to run into trouble. Merely permitting that work without counting it as compensable time, puts the employer at risk.

 

What should you do?

The extension of work time made possible by smartphones and other electronic devices poses a new danger for employers.

To ensure you don’t’ find yourself the target of a wage and hour lawsuit, you need to put in a place a solid policy about non-exempt employees working on their smartphone after hours.

You should put the policy in place, communicate it to your staff in a meeting, as well as include the policy in your employee handbook. Passing out a memo on the matter is also helpful.

Once the policy has been communicated, you have to monitor and survey staff to make sure they are not breaching the rules.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Employers More Confused about Coverage than Ever

One of the biggest challenges for employers who offer their workers health insurance benefits is that the majority of U.S. workers are really in the dark about how insurance works, according to a new survey.

Despite employers’ best efforts to provide as much education as possible to their workers before and during open enrollment, it seems the finer points are not sinking in, according to United Healthcare’s “Consumer Sentiment Survey.”

Here are the main findings:

  • A mere 7% of those surveyed had a full understanding of all four basic insurance concepts: plan premium, deductible, coinsurance and out-of-pocket maximum.
  • More than 60% of respondents could define plan premium and deductible.
  • 36% could define out-of-pocket maximum.
  • 32% could define coinsurance.

 

These deficiencies result in more people spending more on coverage than they may actually need to.

Another study, carried out earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Health Foundation, concluded that not having the correct information can lead to dissatisfaction when employees discover they’ve signed up for a plan that doesn’t meet their needs.

The Kaiser survey revealed that employees are most confused when it comes to understanding these factors:

  • How to calculate out-of-pocket costs once health insurance claims are processed.
  • The concept of providers who are in network vs. out of network at an in-network hospital.
  • Understanding deductibles and out-of-pocket annual limits for their plans.
  • What a health insurance formulary is (concerning prescription coverage amounts).

 

What you can do

So, as open enrollment nears, you may want to consider focusing on the foregoing areas to better educate your workers. Also, it’s recommended that you approach the education process with a multi-pronged approach employing technology, meetings and the offers of one-on-one time to cater to people’s different learning styles.

It’s important for your employee morale and their pocketbooks that they understand what their choices are and what they’re buying. The more light you can shine on the process and the more stress you can reduce, the better off your employees will be.

This is especially true in light of one other finding in the United Healthcare study: One-fourth of respondents said they would rather file their annual income taxes than select a health plan.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

 

Court Ruling Lowers the Bar for Harassment Liability

Just how far is too far in terms of employee harassment? Where does the line of indecency or rudeness end and liability for the employer start? Typically, teasing and occasional acts of verbal harassment have not been enough to move the needle.

But, a California Appeals Court has set a new standard by upholding a $500,000 award against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a correctional officer at a prison who had claimed disability harassment after being teased and mocked about his speech impediment at least a dozen times over a period of two years.

The trial court had deemed the jury award too large, so it had ordered a new trial based solely on that issue, but the plaintiff appealed and the appeals court reversed the lower court’s order

The significance of the case for employers is that even teasing and sporadic verbal harassment can be enough to create a hostile work environment and, hence, liability.

The plaintiff had evidence of harassment by one employee who mocked the plaintiff’s stutter “five to 15 times” over more than two years. There was other, vague testimony that there was a “culture” at the prison of mocking the plaintiff’s stutter.

Also, the prison management had failed to take adequate steps to deal with the problem, such as separating the employees.

The jury’s verdict reflected a finding that the conduct was both severe and pervasive. While in the past it would not have been easy to establish legal liability based on the facts in this case, over the years, a cascade of legal precedents have made it easier to establish that there is a hostile work environment.

 

The takeaway

This ruling sets a new bar for what constitutes a hostile work environment. The best way for employers to not fall afoul of the law is to have a workplace anti-harassment policy in writing.

All of your staff should know and understand the policy and you should conduct training to ensure everyone understands what is considered harassment. But your training must be effective. To use the egregious action in this case, everyone knows that making fun of someone who stutters is wrong, especially in a workplace.

A strong training program should focus on the ramifications for perpetrators of harassing behavior, such as:

  • Termination,
  • Salary cuts,
  • Unpaid leave, and
  • Bad references if they are seeking new employment later.

Additionally, you should have a complaint mechanism that guarantees the complaining employee that they will not face disciplinary action for making a complaint against a co-worker or supervisors.

You need to ensure that you have buy-in from all of your management and that they and your human resources head take complaints seriously and investigate and enforce your in-house rules.

And if the harassment is serious enough and/or a harasser continues their behavior after being warned, management must be willing to take disciplinary action, including terminating the harasser’s employment if need be.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Fix Deck Problems Before Someone Is Injured

Everyone loves to spend time on the deck with the family or entertaining. That’s why you bought a house with a deck or you built one yourself.

Decks are part of the American way of life, but they require upkeep as they are subjected to the elements all year long from hot summer months and cold, rainy or snowy winter months – and everything in between. Collapses happen regularly and people are injured because the owners failed to maintain their deck.

Here are the main things you should look for to reduce the chances of a collapse or other incident.

 

Splintering boards

It’s imperative that you check your boards annually. The weather changes from the hot summer months to cold and harsh winters (all of this varies by region, of course), which can lead to splintering. Splintering decks can cause cuts and scrapes, splinters and tripping hazards. Someone wearing flip-flops on the deck can sustain a nasty gash from a splintering board.

If you notice any splintering, you should remove the splinters and inspect to see if the entire board needs replacing.

 

Handrails

As time marches on and the various weather conditions of the seasons take their toll on your deck, handrails can become less secure and wobbly. Here’s what’s going on: Warm weather expands the wood, leaving room for the nails and screws to become loose and move. When the cold weather comes and the boards contract, the nails may be in a slightly different position, which when summer comes will make the handrail even less stable.

If a handrail is wobbly or bending, it may be time to replace it.

 

Stairs

This is another area that causes hundreds of injuries every year. Wear and tear and weather can loosen the stairs much like handrails, but there is an added danger if one step collapses or becomes loose as they can pose tripping hazards, if not worse.

If stairs bend when you walk on them or there are splits or splinters in the wood, you should inspect the steps to see if they need replacing.

 

Posts

The posts are potential access points for termites, wood-boring beetles or dry rot. Not only that, but the posts are the main support for your deck so it’s imperative they remain free of infestation from pests, lest you want to risk the stability of your deck.

If the wood is splitting or decaying, you can inspect it by inserting a flathead screwdriver into the cracks or splits. If you can insert it more than 1/4 inch into the wood and the wood feels spongy, you should call an inspector and replace as necessary.

 

Protruding nails and screws

As mentioned in the handrail section, nails and screws can loosen and start working themselves out of their holes. If they start working their way out, they can protrude from the floor of your deck and cause snag and trip hazards. Not only that, but loose nails and screws can cause boards and support structures to become less stable.

 

Prevention

Inspection tip

Get down on your hands and knees periodically and crawl around your deck, which will give you an excellent vantage point to see splinters, raised nails and other hazards that are hard to spot from an adult’s perspective. Seeing the world from your pet’s or child’s point of view will help you spot problems before they become real dangers.

 

Sealer and stain tips

The best way to prevent wear and tear on your deck is by applying a coat of sealer annually. Sealers protect against moisture that causes rot and splitting, last one cycle of seasons and should be reapplied each year.

Also, if you have used stains, paint-maker A.G. Williams recommends that if they are transparent or semi-transparent, you apply sealer on an annual basis. Solid states, which are almost like paint, provide several years of protection and should be recoated every four or five years.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Do You Need Workers’ Comp Coverage for Family Members?

One question we get often from small business owners is whether they have to secure workers’ comp coverage for family members that work for them. The short answer is “yes,” in most cases.

Under most state laws, every employer that uses employee labor, including family members, must secure workers’ comp coverage. When we talk about family members we usually mean children, spouses, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins.

If you fail to include a working family member on your workers’ comp policy, you could risk a fine, so it’s wise to understand the regulations.

Here are a few scenarios:

Your nephew helps in your business for a few hours a day, but you don’t consider him an employee – Under most state labor laws he is considered an employee. An “employee” is defined as someone you engage or permit to work. Even though your nephew is part of your family, he is considered an employee and hence must be covered by workers’ comp insurance in case he is injured on the job.

If the state finds out that you don’t have the necessary workers’ comp insurance, you could face serious consequences including fines and even misdemeanor charges in some cases.

Also, if your nephew got hurt at the store, he (or his parents) could file a personal injury lawsuit against you if you don’t have him covered on your policy.

 

You run a diner and your daughter works 25 hours a week in the kitchen – Your daughter would be considered an employee subject to workers’ comp laws and she would not be able to be excluded on your workers’ comp (unless of course she was an owner/officer, member or partner).

 

You have a small business and your husband helps out about 10 to 15 hours per week – Your workers’ comp policy may not have to cover you and your husband.

But it could depend on whether your business is a sole proprietorship (which can be owned by a married couple in many states), a partnership or a limited liability company.

If you are a married sole proprietor, typically your insurance company will consider your spouse a co-owner and exclude them without any question. But different insurance companies will handle this situation differently, so it’s important to know how yours handles it.

If you’re a corporation, LLC or partnership, your spouse cannot often not be excluded merely because he/she is your spouse. If you formed a corporation, your spouse would have to own shares and be a titled officer in the corporation in order to be excluded.

If you formed an LLC, your spouse would have to be member of the LLC in order to be excluded. If you formed a partnership, your spouse would have to be one of the partners to be excluded.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.

Companies Struggle with Benefits Compliance

More and more employers are being overwhelmed by all of the compliance requirements associated with managing employee benefits.

The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s “Benefits Balancing Act” study found that 60% of employers are feeling overwhelmed with the increased complexity of managing their benefits programs. One of the main reasons for the additional burden is the Affordable Care Act, with its myriad of compliance and reporting requirements.

The employer mandate and the documentation and new filing requirements with the IRS are high on the list of compliance issues, as are evolving Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and ERISA requirements.

Interestingly, larger firms with 100 or more employees are having the hardest time, with 70% saying they are especially challenged by installing new coverages, changing carriers and employee communications and enrollment.

The shackles of compliance are so great that it’s the number one benefits-related concern for nearly 30 % of employers, the study found. In fact, 70% said that their firms are not equipped to keep up with the steady changes in federal and state laws governing employee benefits.

The top areas of compliance concern are:

  • The ACA excise tax (“Cadillac tax”)
  • Changes to paid parental leave laws
  • ACA employer mandate
  • ERISA requirements
  • State and local FMLA requirements

In terms of administration the top concerns are:

  • Employee communications and education
  • Adding new benefits or changing plans and insurers
  • Establishing electronic data interchanges
  • Account management and service delivery
  • Claims and employee customer service
  • Enrolling employees

What companies are doing
As the regulatory landscape has shifted so dramatically over the last seven years, many employers have opted for outsourcing their benefits compliance.

This may be an especially smart move for smaller employers, which often do not have in-house benefits administration resources.

Among employers outsourcing at least some benefits activities, the study found that:

  • 50% use the services of a broker
  • 25% use an insurance company
  • 25% use a third-party vendor (enrollment firm, HR services firm or a private exchange)

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a professional advisor, please contact ACBI Insurance at 203-259-7580.