Reasonable Accommodations: a Business Necessity

As our population ages and older workers begin to deal with health issues that may make them more prone to being hurt on the job, employers are finding themselves faced with an increased need to accommodate injured workers. It’s not a matter of doing the right thing, it’s the law. Not a choice but a business necessity.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employers with more than 15 employees. It places a great deal of responsibility on the employer to accommodate applicants and workers with conditions that limit their ability to perform essential job functions unless doing so would create an “undue hardship” for the business entity. Generally, the larger an organization and the deeper its resources, the more difficult it is for a company to claim that a requested accommodation creates a hardship.

Just about any condition that substantially limits a life activity now protects an employee under the ADA. It affects hiring practices – the ADA now impacts employers in both their hiring and employment practices – but also defines how an organization manages its employees injured at work.

Sometimes employers refuse to accommodate an injured worker’s return to a modified position, demanding the worker wait until all their duties can be performed. This approach is no longer acceptable under the amended ADA and can generate intervention and fines by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that oversees ADA violations. Employment actions taken by employees or the EEOC are expensive to defend and are not covered under an organization’s general liability coverage.

The EEOC is diligent in its pursuit of disabled workers rights. As recently as December 2012, the EEOC filed a lawsuit alleging a woman was wrongfully fired because she had a prosthetic leg. The case is currently in the courts.

It is now a business necessity to make reasonable accommodations, defined in the ADA as follows: “In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.”

Here is a partial list of some accommodations you can make to ensure injured workers return to productivity and you do not violate the ADA.

  • Modifications to the work environment like purchasing ergonomic equipment or rearranging how and when the job is performed. For example, you may change work hours to allow an employee who is on medication to arrive later.
  • Providing access to your facility so that someone with a disability may apply for a position.
  • Providing the employee with readers or interpreters.
  • Job restructuring or reassignment.
  • Allowing an employee to work from home when feasible.

In March 2012, the federal government introduced updates to the ADA that included changes to further remove barriers and that may affect employers planning new construction in 2013 and on.

Note that this is a very basic discussion of the ADA and its updates. For specific advice, contact your employment lawyer or other ADA expert.

Don’t Gamble by Underinsuring your Business Properties

This may not be on your radar, but underinsuring your property could result in serious problems for your business.

Insurance companies base premiums on an amount of insurance that is 80% to 100% of your property’s total value. This is referred to as “insurance to value,” and insurance underwriters are concerned that you may be underrating the value of your property to keep premiums low or are unaware that property improvements and the state of the real estate market have increased the value of your building. In these instances you may be underinsured.

Some people gamble they won’t suffer a large loss. Because most losses are partial, you would normally recover in full on most of your losses. However, if insurers set your rates assuming they are based on insurance to value, they might not collect sufficient premiums. So in the event of a large or total loss, you won’t have been adequately insured.

The “coinsurance condition” addresses this issue. You must agree to carry insurance at least equal to a specified percentage of your covered property’s value. The coinsurance percentage normally used is 80%, although percentages of 90% and 100% are sometimes available for a reduced premium.

The coinsurance condition penalizes you if you do not insure to at least an agreed-upon percentage of value. If you have a loss and are underinsured, insurers reduce payment on your losses based on the actual building’s insurance to value.

Don’t gamble. Discuss your current insurance to value with your insurance professional.

RVing This Spring? Review Your RV Insurance Now

Increasing numbers of Americans are setting out to see their country in recreational vehicles (RVs). Just as RVs demand special handling, RV owners have special insurance needs. Whether you are an experienced RV owner or are just beginning to shop for your RV, consider these insurance options to protect your family and your investment.

  • Buying a new RV is expensive, and once you drive it off the lot, it depreciates. Some carriers offer additional upgraded protection with Total Loss Replacement coverage that will provide a new RV if your newer-model RV is totaled.
  • Everyone wants an event-free trip, but breakdowns can strand you in out-of-the-way places. You may want to investigate 24/7 Roadside Assistance for towing, lockout protection, battery replacement, flat tire repair, fuel delivery, and removal from mud, snow or sand.
  • Vehicle add-ons need special insurance protection. Antennas, satellite dishes and other post-purchase additions can be expensive to replace. Accessories coverage protects your add-ons, and additional coverage is available for awnings and other extras.
  • Some travelers decide to live in their RVs full time. However, they still need liability coverage. Imagine if your on-board canine companion bites someone or someone falls near your RV. Full-Timer coverage can help you protect your assets while enjoying a traveling lifestyle.

RVs Good Sam Club has a million-plus members, so RVing is clearly a lifestyle choice for many. Do it safely; discuss insurance options with your insurance professional for the RV coverage that’s right for you.

Shopping Online for Car Insurance? Read this First

Every day we’re bombarded with advertising for auto insurance. According to a recent U.S. survey, car insurers alone spent $5.3 billion on advertising in 2011 – an increase of 15% over 2010.

Why? The industry is changing. Vehicle registrations are down, and most North Americans now keep their cars longer due to the economy. Many are even dropping physical damage coverage. And insurance companies are feeling the pinch.

A large number of auto insurers are competing intensely for your premium dollar. The majority of auto premiums go to the top insurance companies, and particularly if you have a stellar driving record, these insurers want your business badly.

To get it, most provide quotes online. Shopping online for auto coverage may seem like a good alternative; you can receive a quote in less than five minutes. However, unbiased experts (those not involved in the auto insurance industry) offer the following cautions:

First, to obtain an accurate quote you must be prepared to give out sensitive information, such as your Social Security number, online.

Second, you may not get the details you need to compare policies from one company to another. Often coverage options are vague, using terms like “standard coverage,” which does not fully explain what you will receive for your hard-earned premium dollar.

Last, and probably most important to the consumer, you usually aren’t provided with information on how the insurance company you choose online will handle a claim.

Your independent agent can provide you with all the same information websites offer. And more. Instead of hours of Web searching and DIY comparisons, why not discuss your individual circumstances with your insurance professional, who can tailor coverage to your needs?

Auto insurance is more than a commodity. It protects your family from liability arising from the use of your car. Why buy something that important from an unknown source?

Newly Insured May Face Doctor Shortages

When 2014 rolls around, almost 50 million Americans will be seeking health insurance coverage and primary care physicians.

That’s when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires virtually every American to have health insurance. The problem is they may not be able to find a primary care physician.

According to a study out of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), many primary care doctors don’t plan to accept new patients.

The MGH study builds on earlier research by the Institute of Medicine that found that there were insufficient “safety net” physicians – unofficially referring to those physicians who deliver care to persons on Medicaid and uninsured people – in the period under study (2000). With the large number of previously uninsured individuals entering the system in 2014, it will be further stressed, the MGH research indicates.

The ACA, as part of its mandate toward affordable health care for almost everyone, has called for an expansion of eligibility for Medicaid.

Many of the newly insured will seek out safety net physicians, who are already stretched thin. They may or may not be able to find a primary care physician who is able to take them.

One solution suggested by the MGH research involves recruiting additional primary physicians with traits that are consistent with current safety net physicians.

According to MGH, women, minorities and graduates of foreign medical schools are most likely to have become safety net doctors, and to expand the numbers, the recommendation is to make a focused effort to bring more of these physicians into primary care.

The research also noted that safety net physicians now operate with limited resources. This “too” will need to be changed along with the income gap between safety net and non-safety net primary care physicians, if newly insured people are to be able to find physicians to care for them.

Will You Lose Your Health Coverage After a Divorce?

Are you considering divorce? Unfortunately, there’s one more thing to add to your list of concerns: the state of your health insurance after you split.

If you are now receiving health care coverage under a spouse’s plan, you likely won’t qualify as a dependent under that plan after a divorce. That means you will need to get a private health insurance plan. Otherwise you may lose your coverage.

Although both men and women can be cut off their spouses’ plans after divorce, a study published in December 2012 indicates that women most commonly lose their insurance or have to settle for lower coverage.

According to a University of Michigan study, found in the December Journal of Health and Social Behavior, about 115,000 women lose their private health insurance after a divorce.

Other findings include:

  • Women’s overall insurance coverage remains lower for at least two years after a divorce.
  • Middle-class women are most impacted: They tend to lose coverage more than women with higher incomes, yet their incomes aren’t low enough to make them eligible for public insurance.
  • Even when women are covered by their own employers’ plans, they may have difficulty paying their share of the premiums because of financial hardship after a divorce.

The Affordable Care Act includes provisions that could help remedy this situation for both sexes, including tax credits in 2014 for people with incomes of 100% to 400% of the poverty line who don’t qualify for other affordable programs.

Is it Time to Revisit Your Decision on Life Insurance?

Chances are, if you have a comprehensive financial plan, you have considered life insurance. However, if you decided you don’t need it, you may want to revisit that choice.

Life insurance is a contract between an insurance policyholder and an insurance company. The policyholder pays a premium, either regularly or as a lump sum. In exchange, the insurance company promises to pay a designated beneficiary a sum of money (called benefits) upon the policyholder’s death. Depending on the contract, events such as terminal illnesses may also trigger benefit payments.

Life insurance offers the policy holder peace of mind, assuring him or her that death will not lead to financial hardship for loved ones. Life insurance, then, is usually purchased by individuals with dependents: spouses, children, even pets.

As your life circumstances change, it’s a good idea to reconsider whether you need life insurance and how much.

A remarriage, for example, might lead to more child dependents; a spouse losing a job or retiring might create a spousal dependent.

Before deciding if you need life insurance, it’s a good idea to discuss your individual circumstances and options with your advisor.

There are many types of life insurance, the most basic being term insurance, with coverage that lasts for a set period of time provided you pay the monthly premium.

Other types are more complicated. For example, whole-life policies combine life insurance with an investment fund; your beneficiaries receive a fixed amount on your death, and part of your premium is invested and used to build cash.

Others include universal, variable and variable universal – the list goes on and on, and you have a myriad of choices.

One important point: If you decide you do need life insurance, don’t delay. Premiums are less expensive when you’re younger but tend to rise steadily as you age.