In recent years there has been an increase in the number of claims filed against employers arising out of employment practice disputes. Many claims have no legal basis, but employers are still forced to defend themselves — spending time and money.
“Businesses are more likely to have an employment practices claim than a property claim,” says Shelley White, assistant vice president at SeibertKeck. “There are over 100,000 charges filed annually against employers under statutes imposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The majority of these claims target smaller businesses. However, no business is exempt.”
Smart Business spoke with White about understanding employment practices liability coverage.
What’s important to know about employment practice claims?
Employment law has grown at an incredible pace since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, among others. Ambiguities in these laws allow the widest possible interpretation, which in turn opens the door for litigation.
The most frequent types of claims made against an employer are discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination and retaliation. There’s also been an uptick in wage and hour lawsuits. Claims can come from potential hires, former and current employees, clients, suppliers or vendors.
Discrimination can be defined as the termination of an employee, demotion, refusal to hire or promote due to race, color, religion, age, sex, physical or mental disabilities or handicaps, pregnancy or national origin. Think about the times you or someone in the office told an off-color or racy joke to a new employee or client. It’s only a matter of time until this comes back as a claim.
The average claim costs an employer $50,000, and defense costs represent about two-thirds of the total settlement. Without a mechanism to transfer risk, these costs could cripple smaller businesses, or at least damage their reputation. For larger businesses, one uninsured claim can lead to potential shareholder lawsuits.
How does employment practices liability coverage mitigate this risk?
Businesses can purchase a policy that provides coverage for a wide spectrum of employment-related claims and offers risk management services to help minimize the risk of getting sued. This policy protects the corporation, directors and officers, employees (including leased and temporary), volunteers, and in some cases can be endorsed to include independent contractors (when working for the employer).
The definition of a claim includes arbitration, regulatory and administrative proceedings, and EEOC and Department of Labor investigations.
Limits can range from $500,000 up to $10 million or higher. As your business assets grow, so should your limits. Settlement costs and legal fees are typically included in the policy limits. However, some carriers will provide separate limits for these costs.
It’s important, however, to be aware of the varying contracts and differences in coverage and exclusions from one policy to another. There is no standard form. Sitting down with your trusted insurance adviser will help with this process.
Beyond buying insurance, what preventive measures lower claim risk?
Minimize the possibility of costly claims by:
- Creating an employee handbook detailing company policies and procedures.
- Educating employees on sexual harassment and discrimination, and offering sensitivity training.
- Establishing a procedure for handling employee complaints.
- Developing job descriptions with clear expectations of skills and performance.
- Conducting periodic performance reviews.
- Creating an effective record-keeping system to document employee issues, and what was done to resolve them.
- Instituting at-will employment.
- Implementing procedures for hiring, firing and disciplining employees.
Many carriers offer free risk management services. Online resources provide best practices training modules for addressing sexual harassment, discrimination, investigations and termination, while providing links to HR websites. ●
Shelley White is assistant vice president at SeibertKeck. Reach her at (330) 865-6582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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