Business Insurance and Your Employee Handbook

It’s important to understand the crucial connection between your employee handbook and your insurance. In fact, you can think of your employee handbook as a fundamental part of your insurance coverage. Essentially, insurance is much of what the book represents, since one of the top priorities as you create your employee handbook should be to protect yourself against costly lawsuits.

Yes, you provide the handbook to deliver information to employees and help onboard them, but the information is provided to help you as well. You can include fun facts about the history of the business and contest records from company picnics, but don’t leave out the nitty-gritty information that is essential to your operations.

The handbook should clearly spell out expectations in all areas of employment, offering guidelines you can refer to if an employee accuses you of unfair treatment. If a situation escalates into a discrimination lawsuit, you have the handbook to fall back on as proof you fully disclosed your policies and properly handled the situation.

Without these disclosures and guidelines, employers put themselves at greater risk of costly lawsuits. To give your business the best protection, create a thorough handbook that covers all the bases. Be sure to include:

Equal opportunity statement: This assures employees that you do not discriminate with regards to gender, religion, disability, etc. Therefore, it helps cover your company’s liability on a host of fronts.

At-will statement: This statement informs employees that their employment with your company is voluntary and subject to termination at will, with or without cause, and with or without notice. This will help cover many situations that could otherwise escalate into lawsuits.

Hiring and firing: Provide the details of your hiring process as well as the process for firing an employee.

Discipline: Provide an outline for disciplinary action. What happens after a first offense, second, and so on? Clearly detail what steps will be taken to correct employee behavior and at what point you will terminate.

Job descriptions: Clearly describe the expectations of each position and the skills required to meet them.

Attendance policies: Specify expectations of attendance, including hours if appropriate. Note the action that will be taken if attendance does not meet these standards.

Complaints: Inform employees of the correct procedure to follow if they need to file a complaint against a fellow worker, a manager, or the company. Let employees know what they can expect as a response.

Open-door policy: Let employees know they can report harassment, violations, or other situations without fear of reprisal. Outline the proper procedures for these actions. Make sure employees know clearly what to do if they experience a situation such as sexual harassment in the workplace.

Zero tolerance policy: State in your handbook any zero tolerance policies. Such policies typically include discrimination, harassment, and substance abuse.

Be sure to include a definitive index, but don’t worry if your handbook becomes lengthy. A thorough handbook will protect your business more effectively against potential lawsuits. It will be well worth the extra pages.

Editor’s Note: These are guidelines only. Here are two of the many resources available to help you ensure your handbook covers what is necessary:  Need to Know What Goes into an Employee Handbook? and Top 10 Employee Handbook Updates

Is Employment Practices Liability Insurance a Must?

Employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) is a form of errors and omission insurance and protects your business against employee claims of discrimination, which could be based on age, sex, disability, race, or other traits. EPLI also covers suits regarding harassment or wrongful termination. In fact, as its name implies, its key function is to provide coverage if your employment practices are called into question.

If you’re the owner of a small to midsize business, you may assume this coverage is for large corporations. But bear this in mind: Although large corporations have hefty teams of lawyers on retainer to handle any employee lawsuits, it’s actually small and/or new business owners who are most vulnerable to these suits. As soon as you hire your first employee, this coverage becomes crucial.

Can you afford EPLI? The real question may be, can you afford not to have it? Claims and awards continue to increase, and you are at risk from discrimination claims in the same way as you are at risk from other types of liability claims.

Plus, EPLI may be more affordable than you think.

Its cost is based on several factors. The top variables include the number of people you employ, your turnover rate, your established rules and employee practices, and whether you’ve had any suits filed against you in the past.

Regardless of size, EPLI should be part of any company’s risk management plan. Discuss EPLI policy options and costs with your insurance agent, who can help you select the coverage you need.

Do I Need Extra Insurance for Exterior Rebuilds?

You’re planning your next remodeling project. Perhaps you’re expanding your home to enjoy more living space. Maybe you’re replacing the 1990s siding. Whether your project is a minor exterior renovation or major roofing repair, it’s important the work is properly insured. This may or may not involve the purchase of additional insurance.

In dealing with a contractor: If you are planning to hire a contractor to perform the work, protect yourself and your property with proper coverage. For example:

  • Ask for proof of insurance. Examine dates and coverage carefully to ensure coverage is current and legitimate.
  • Ask to have your name added in writing as an additional insured on the contractor’s liability policy. Some contractors offer this free, but you may have to pay a small fee for this service.
  • Make sure the contractor’s insurance coverage includes workers’ compensation. You don’t want to have to pay for injuries occurring to contract workers on your property.

By placing yourself as an additional insured on your contractor’s policy, you’re also covering the gray areas that include situations such as a roofer’s ladder falling over and damaging your neighbor’s property. The additional-insured documentation should protect you in these types of third-party cases.

For major projects, such as additions or new homes, you might want to consider purchasing temporary builders risk insurance. This will cover mishaps during construction.

Contact your insurance agent: Whatever type of project you’re planning, contact your insurance agent early in the process. Your agent can advise you on the best type of coverage to add. He or she can also make the proper adjustments to the value of your home.

If you are building an addition, for example, your home will be worth more than when your homeowners policy was originally written. Communicate with your agent to ensure you have appropriate coverage based on the new value of the property.

Avoiding Collisions between Vehicles and Animals

There are over half a million large animal/car collisions each year. A significant number of these accidents involve fatalities – both animal and human – and most involve major vehicle damage.

While these incidents are typically covered by comprehensive auto insurance, the best option is to avoid the accident altogether. Here are tips to prevent an animal/car collision, plus the appropriate steps to take if you encounter Bambi, Smokey, or one of their pals.

Be alert during peak times: Deer in particular, but other large animals as well, are generally active shortly before and after sunrise and from sunset to midnight. Remain alert for animal crossings during these hours.

Wait for the others: Bears often come with cubs, and deer rarely run around alone. If you catch sight of one animal in your headlights, there may be others nearby. Proceed with caution.

Use lights, not devices: High-beam headlights can illuminate animals’ eyes, but devices such as deer whistles and reflectors have not been proven effective in preventing collisions.

Brake, don’t swerve: A driver’s instinct may be to swerve out of the lane to avoid an animal, possibly putting the driver in the line of opposing traffic, or causing him or her to veer off the road and roll over. Instead, hit the brakes – hard.

Contact your insurance carrier: If you are in a collision with a large animal, contact your insurance company to report the accident and begin the claims process as soon as possible. Your agent will help walk you through the appropriate steps to make repairs to your vehicle.

To Find and Retain Good Workers, Offer a Group Health Plan

In today’s improving job market, small-business owners constantly struggle to find and retain top employees. Group health benefits are valued by potential workers and can therefore greatly broaden your choices.

Federal law defines businesses with two to 50 full-time employees as “small employers.” To form a group and offer health benefits, you need two employees (including an owner, if desired). Note that if you insure one full-time employee, you must offer coverage to all, and the same rule applies to any part-time employees you cover.

Many employers pay the entire premium for their employees, while others pay 50%, with employees paying the balance through payroll deduction. Some tax benefits may be available to employers who contribute to employee health premiums.

Health insurers base their rates on several factors, including employee age and sex. They can’t charge more for certain health conditions or exclude those with preexisting conditions. Also, your insurance carrier will want to ensure that you have workers’ compensation; without it, a work-related injury may impact group health coverage.

Allow at least six weeks to place coverage, especially during the busy Affordable Care Act enrollment period. Necessary documentation includes articles of incorporation, quarterly wage statements, plus a short application for each employee you want to cover.

While group health helps attract and retain a better workforce, research also shows that healthy employees perform better and use fewer sick days. And, most importantly, no one wants to see a valued employee, with no access to group coverage, bankrupted by medical bills.

Critical Illness Policies Support Financial Health

As Americans age, they are increasingly concerned about their health and the financial impact of illness. Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the US, often because traditional health care coverage won’t cover all the expenses of a critical illness (CI).

A Harvard University study found that almost 80% of those who filed for bankruptcy had health insurance plans when their illnesses began – but likely not CI coverage. Effectively, CI coverage can help protect you against financial ruin.

What illnesses are covered?

The most common (and expensive) critical illnesses include cancer, heart attack, and stroke. But CI coverage provides increased protection for a wide variety of illnesses; policies range from those covering a diagnosis such as cancer to those that cover more than 20 conditions, ranging from kidney failure to organ transplants. Note that CI generally won’t cover chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Is CI coverage right for you?

Many Americans will become critically ill at some point in their lives. When a critical illness will increase expenses or reduce income, CI can help you maintain your current lifestyle. It will provide funds to meet your financial commitments, such as auto payments or mortgages; it can help defray the cost for treatments not covered by your health plan; and it can help you meet your deductible if you have a high-deductible health plan.

How does the CI policy pay?

Generally, critical illness coverage provides a lump-sum payment or monthly benefits upon diagnosis. Lump-sum benefits can range from $10,000 to $500,000 or more.

Are you eligible for coverage?

Discuss your eligibility for CI coverage with your agent. Many individuals will meet underwriting standards after answering a series of simple questions. With simplified underwriting, you’re not required to have medical tests or blood work. And, in cases with few medical issues, your insurance agent usually can place coverage in seven days to a few weeks.

If You Have Children, You Need Life Insurance

According to a recent article in The Motley Fool, an alarming 75% of millennial parents currently do not have life insurance. A study by online platform Bestow indicated the reasons given by the millennials – the need to research insurance options and insufficient time – show they’re falling short when it comes to insuring their own lives and their loved ones’ welfare. Plainly put: It’s a bad idea to go without life insurance if you have children, regardless of your age.

That is true even if you and your spouse both work. If one of you dies, you might reason, the other can take care of the children financially. But is that true? What if you had bought a house together, assuming you’d both be earning money to pay the mortgage? In this case, the survivor might struggle to keep up with payments if you die.

You also need life insurance if you are a stay-at-home parent who earns no income. You may not be earning money to support your household financially, but your death would likely have a major impact on your family’s finances. If the full-time homemaker dies, for example, the surviving spouse will have to pay for child care in order to continue to work – and pay the mortgage.

There is an easy way to help you determine whether you need life insurance: Ask yourself, “Will my death make it financially difficult for a loved one (typically a spouse or child) to survive?” It doesn’t matter how much you earn. If the answer to the question above is “yes” – and it usually is if you have children – then yes, you need a life insurance policy. If you haven’t purchased life insurance because researching a policy is time-consuming, help is available. Your advisor can assist you in determining the policy that’s right for you and your family.

How to Lower Your Property Insurance Costs

Property ownership is a significant investment. The purchase price is only the beginning: maintenance, repairs, and property taxes add to the price of owning a commercial building – as does obtaining the proper insurance coverage to keep your investment safe.

Insurance coverage can influence where to locate a building, what upgrades to install, and how the building is constructed. At least, it should. Many property owners don’t realize how much these factors can affect property insurance rates. To save on insurance, owners should understand what influences property rates and what to do to reduce their insurance costs.

Following are seven factors to keep in mind. As you consider investing in a new building or research insurance options for a current property, ask yourself:

How old is the building? Older buildings typically cost more to insure, as they’re more susceptible to damage from issues such as old wiring or worn structural components. Additionally, if a building must be brought up to code, this can translate into costly repairs. All of these factors will drive up the premium.

What type of equipment does it house? If your building is home to older equipment that is harder to maintain and repair, this will increase your insurance costs. However, you should weigh the pros and cons of paying this rate and keeping the equipment you have versus investing in new equipment, which may be even costlier. The type of equipment is also a factor, since heavy industrial machinery is typically more expensive to insure than office equipment.

Where is the building located? Buildings in low-crime areas are generally cheaper to insure than those in high-crime neighborhoods. Also, locating in areas prone to natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornados, will also affect insurance rates. Choosing an investment property in a safe area will save on premiums.

What security is in place? A building that is well-protected from vandalism and theft generally earns lower premiums. If your building offers low-security measures, consider investing in a better system that will help you save on insurance costs.

How much space do I really need? If you rent a small space for your business, your insurance policy will cost less than one for a large office or factory. Consider how much space you realistically need in your operations. Unnecessary space raises insurance premiums and property taxes.

Do I want replacement value or actual cash value coverage? Too often, property owners overlook this distinction. Replacement value pays what you need to replace the damaged goods with brand-new items. Cash value pays what your depreciated property is worth. Logically, replacement-value coverage costs more, so you must determine if this coverage is worth the higher premium.

Can I combine my coverage? A business owner’s policy (BOP) may offer potential savings. This combines your coverage for property insurance with other types of business insurance coverage. The bundle is designed to provide adequate coverage plus savings for business owners. Consult with your insurance agent to review the options for your business.

How Much Business Auto Insurance Does My Company Need?

You probably realize you need insurance on your business vehicles. What you may not know, however, is what commercial auto insurance covers, what vehicles need coverage, and how much insurance you’re actually going to need. To help, here’s a quick overview of commercial vehicle insurance:

What it covers: A business auto policy provides coverage for physical damage and liability costs incurred in an accident involving a company vehicle. This includes the cars, trucks, trailers, vans, and other vehicles used on public roads that your business owns, hires, or leases for business purposes.

When it’s needed: Keep in mind that your personal auto policy may provide some coverage for business use of a vehicle, but if a vehicle is primarily used for business purposes, a separate commercial policy is required. Also, basic business owner’s policies (BOPs) do not include coverage for vehicles. So, if you use vehicles in your business, you should have a commercial auto insurance policy. If you’re unsure whether a vehicle qualifies, you should discuss it with your commercial insurance agent.

How much is required: The fact is you probably need a commercial auto policy. But it’s not always easy to decide how much business auto coverage to get. The rule of thumb is that all businesses should carry a minimum of $500,000, but most companies opt to carry $1,000,000.

Consult with your agent on your individual business needs. By asking detailed questions about your needs and vehicle usage, he or she can determine exactly what type of coverage is best for you.

The First Steps to Take After a Disaster Has Occurred

When disaster strikes, it’s hard to know what to do first. When it comes to insurance claims, the process can feel like an overwhelming task on top of everything else you need to do. However, homeowners can take the following steps to make this process smooth and simple.

1. Get started immediately

With a lot on your plate, it might be tempting to put this task off for a later date. Don’t do it. Contact your insurance agent right away to start the claims process. Provide a description of the damage to your property, and a company representative will walk you through any necessary documentation. If you have a home inventory, provide this to the representative.

Once you start the claims process, your carrier will arrange an inspection of damages. Be sure to provide your contact information – such as where you can be reached – since disasters often change your coordinates.

2. Get the details

As the representative helps you through the process, it’s important to get a clear understanding of what is expected. Find out:

  • Whether the disaster damage is covered under your policy
  • How long the claims process will take
  • What they need from you (estimates for repairs, receipts for belongings)

3. Get more details

If your policy offers coverage for the disaster damage, review your declarations page with your agent or company representative to get a clear understanding of what is actually covered, including structural damage, loss of personal belongings, and liability payments. Then you can move forward with decisions on repairs and reimbursements.

Will a Claim Raise My Car Insurance Premiums?

You’ve been in an accident. What are your initial thoughts?

If you’re like many vehicle owners, your mind quickly turns to the financial ramifications of the incident: “How much will repairs cost?” “If I make an insurance claim, will this accident increase my premiums?”

Too often, car owners don’t file a claim for fear of potential rate increases.

The truth is, filing a claim may or may not increase your premium, as there are several factors that can affect this situation.

The Accident: How severe was the accident? Was it a fender bender or a major crash? If the damage was great, it’s more likely to lead to a premium increase.

The Fault: Who was at fault in the accident? If you were at fault, it’s more likely your rates will go up. Often if the fault lies with the other driver, your rates will not be affected.

In some areas, both insurance companies will pay for some of the costs as a result of “no fault” regulations in those areas. Your insurance carrier will determine if the incident results in an increase.

The Record: Is this your first accident? If you have a safe driving record and have been with your insurance company for a long time, you are less likely to experience a premium increase.

If it is your first accident, you also may be eligible for accident forgiveness.

The Theft: Was your car stolen? If you need to file a claim as a result of the theft of your car, rather than an accident, your rates may increase, especially if you live in a high-crime area.

If you suffer any vehicle damage, it’s always a good idea to discuss your repair and replacement needs with your insurance agent.

He or she can help you determine the next best steps and walk you through the process of filing a claim.

Travel Insurance: Picking the Wrong Policy Can Cost You

Americans love to travel. According to the most recent information from Statista, approximately 31.82 million U.S. citizens traveled overseas in 2016. If you love to travel, consider purchasing a good travel insurance policy before you leave. And plan ahead! Why? Here are a few things that can go wrong:

Bad weather and other travel-related delays: Weather delays can mean delays in obtaining much-needed medication. Travel with enough prescription medicines to cover unexpected delays.

Trip cancellation: Some travel policies cover trip cancellation. It happens. Be ready.

Lost or stolen baggage: Some policies cover these problems. But not all do. Check with your travel insurance agent to find a policy that does.

Unexpected injuries: Part of the fun of a vacation is exploring. But exploring jungles (or even city centers) carries risks of injury or illnesses. Travel insurance provides peace of mind. If something does go wrong, you have access to local physicians and hospitals. If you do need treatment abroad, travel insurance can help you find the right physician and defray the cost of medical treatment.

Illnesses: Illnesses can occur on cruise ships or just about anywhere abroad. Repatriation – returning you home for medical treatment – is always costly. Medical insurance policies that provide repatriation for you, or – in the worst case scenario – your remains, are a necessity these days.

Travel policies differ greatly. Picking the wrong one and/or choosing the lowest-priced policy can cost you. Your travel insurance agent can advise you on the coverages you’ll need, and also tell you which may duplicate coverage found in your homeowner’s policy.

Will Electronic Doctor Visits Work for You?

Your health insurance may cover (and even promote) electronic doctor visits. And many Americans are opting to take advantage, whether it’s via Skype or Facetime, or by logging in to an online portal provided by their health insurers.

Telemedicine (also called “e-medicine”) is a mobile application allowing a physician to provide medical treatment remotely by using video chat. If you have a rash or a cut, for example, you can send photos, describe your symptoms, and often receive a diagnosis and a prescription – all from your home or office.

It’s becoming increasingly popular: a survey conducted by global tech company Cisco Systems showed that almost three-quarters of patients are open to visiting their doctors from the comfort of home.

Why? E-visits are simply more convenient for everyone: no long trips to see your doctors, or exposure to other sick patients in their waiting rooms. Plus your copay may be waived by your insurer if you visit your doctor electronically.

E-medicine is not new. For more than 40 years, it’s provided patients with opportunities for care that might otherwise be unavailable; medical practitioners have successfully used e-medicine for decades to treat individuals in remote areas who have limited access to hospitals and doctors. The picture changed, however, when investors and researchers began to step up the search for easier, better, cheaper ways to deliver telemedicine services. Now it’s readily accessible to almost everyone.

There are some downsides to telemedicine; it’s not for those who need one-on-one relationships with their physicians. But for common symptoms and ailments, like a cold or the flu, an e-visit may be the answer.

The Medicare website includes good information on e-medicine, and if you are privately insured, your health care provider often offers e-medicine access. Check with your insurance carrier to determine in-network e-medicine providers and how your copay may apply, and visit your health insurance agent to help identify your options.

When Is Term Life Insurance Right for You?

Many of us believe life insurance lasts for life. After all, it is called “life insurance.”

But that’s not always the case. Some life insurance policies last for a shorter period of time, and these types of policies can be very useful.

Whole life insurance policies stay in effect for your lifetime, as long as you pay the premiums. Such policies are appealing to people whose dependents will always need to rely on them financially.

On the other hand, term life policies can last for your lifetime, for a limited period of time, or for a specified term. With a 15-year term, for example, your beneficiary will receive the death benefit if you die anytime during the next 15 years. Term life insurance policies are usually less costly than whole life insurance policies, because a limited term presents less risk to the insurance company.

The right term for you

Term life insurance may work better for you than whole life if your dependents won’t need to rely on you financially for the rest of your life. For example, if your children will be graduating from college and are likely to get jobs in five years, a five-year term policy might make sense. Or you could select a 10-year term to give them a cushion while becoming established in their jobs. Many terms are available, depending on the time frame that works for you.

One caveat: Term-life insurance may present problems when you want to reinsure.

For example, if you have a heart attack during the term of your policy and want to reinsure when the term expires, you will have to reapply for a new policy. However, your current health condition may make that difficult and expensive.

Some policies offer a feature called guaranteed reinsurability to address this problem, so discuss this with your insurance advisor if you decide to explore purchasing term life insurance.