Workplace COVID-19 Challenges

Answering Questions About Face Masks, Vaccination Liability and More

Welcome to Workplace Version 2021: Cubicles stand emptied of their former occupants, who gather from home on laptop Zoom calls. The remaining office workers wouldn’t dream of leaving a communal birthday cake in the breakroom. Where did you get your latest mask? is standard water cooler banter (though everyone totes their own pre-filled water bottle these days). So much has changed in such a short amount of time; it can be tough for employers and employees alike to know what is admissible in the workplace.

Employers have questions:

  • Can I require employees to elect the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • What do I do if an employee refuses to wear a face mask?
  • Are there privacy issues as we track employees who receive the vaccine?

Employees have questions:

  • What if my child’s daycare or school closes or my child becomes quarantined? Can this affect my employment?
  • If I have a disability, can my employer still require me to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?
  • Is my employer required to let me work from home?

W3 Insurance and Janet McEnery, a labor and employment attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, have answers. During a February 17 virtual webinar entitled Workplace COVID-19 Issues in 2021: Vaccinations, Face Mask Challenges, Extended Work from Home Orders and Incentives, Ms. McEnery, JD will address some of the frequent questions employers and employees are asking. These include (but are not limited to) the following queries:

Can I require my employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Total workplace vaccination seems like a reasonable request. Everyone vaccinated means everyone back to the office, right? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, many employers can reasonably require employees to be vaccinated. Loopholes exist for the disabled and for those who harbor sincere religious objection. Depending on the daily work situation, mandatory vaccination may make total sense – as it does with health care workers or others who come into contact with the public often – and less sense if all or the majority of employees work remotely.

Keep in mind that when the vaccine becomes widely available, employers could be liable if they do not require it. The employer must provide a safe and healthy work environment, as spelled out by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If an employee does contract COVID-19 and believes it is due to their employer’s lax vaccination stance, the employer may face legal action.

Am I able to require proof of COVID-19 antibodies?

This is a ‘hard no.’ The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employer-mandated antibody testing as a requirement for return to workplace activities.

What about a face mask mandate? Am I able to require them in the workplace?

Protective gear, social distancing and face masks: they’re the triumvirate of pandemic control. They’re also an employer’s right to require, but with caveats. For example, employers can require said gear and adherence to certain social distancing mandates. The OSHA recommendation is that employers encourage face coverings in the workplace, though in some situations they are not feasible (in an environment where chemicals may collect within the mask, for example).

If an employee states a religious reason or reports that disability prevents such an election, the employer must provide another option. This does not mean an employer has to drastically change workplace protocol, as any action that represents ‘an undue hardship’ is not required.

What do I do if an employee refuses to use a face mask?

Look to the root cause. Is it because the employee has a serious health condition that is covered under FMLA or a disability covered by the ADA? The employer can require the employee provide FMLA certification (this is completed by their health care provider) showing they are not able to perform the functions of their job with a mask as a result of their health condition. Reasonable accommodation under the ADA is also a feasible argument for anti-maskers. The employer may ask for reasonable documentation from the employee.

Florida follows the at-will employment doctrine; if an employee does not give sufficient proof that they are unable to wear a mask because of a valid reason, the employer is within their legal grounds to terminate.

Am I able to ask employees if a family member has COVID-19?

No. GINA (The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) prohibits this.

If an employee misses work and I suspect it is because of COVID-19, can I ask them why they were absent?

If an employee misses work for any reason, you are within your rights as an employer to ask the cause.

What if an employee states a religious reason for their reluctance to vaccinate?

If the religious reason is sincere, the employee may not be required to vaccinate. An employer may ask for proof, but this will open them up to potential legal action from the employee. Keep in mind that an employee who states that they just do not believe in vaccines cannot submit this belief as a valid reason not to vaccinate.

Still have questions about COVID-19 and how to make the right decisions regarding work life? Register for the upcoming webinar here.

Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace?

An Employer Guide to Handling Substance Abuse

Substance abuse numbers are staggering: According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, more than 70 percent of those who abuse illicit drugs also work. That means substance abuse is widespread and affects people across all demographics. Perhaps it’s the person in the cubicle down the hall who has challenges with binge drinking; then again, it could be the C-Suite employee in the corner office who seems to be a tireless workhorse.

Without solid proof that an employee is abusing a substance, there’s no need to start pointing fingers. This isn’t a blog designed to teach you how to merely recognize and respond to an addicted person with penalties. Instead, we aim to share resources to help those caught in a trap of addiction break free. And if you do suspect that an employee has a problem with an illicit substance, there are certain steps you can take to legally protect your organization.

 

What’s the big deal?

Being high on the job doesn’t lead to high performance. The U.S. Drug Test Centers states that $81 Billion in lost productivity occurs every year due to drug abuse and addiction. That’s healthcare costs and productivity down the proverbial drain. It’s an even bigger deal if the person impaired operates heavy machinery or is similarly engaged.

Some substance abusers argue that they can function at an optimum level even while impaired. Perception in this case is not necessarily reality. They are likely incorrect – and they are likely not very healthy. It’s most definitely a big deal to abuse drugs or alcohol at work, but most people would likely agree that it’s at least not a benefit.

 

What should an employer do?

Take a look at your employee handbook. It should state in very clear terms that alcohol use is not permitted during work hours. Catch an employee sipping a lager while on the clock, and you very well could proceed with standard company disciplinary procedures. However, this situation demands common sense. If a salesperson is entertaining a client at lunch and happens to order a glass of chardonnay, that is obviously a different situation than that of the cubicle worker taking covert sips from a whiskey bottle hidden in their top desk drawer.

 

What if I think an employee has a problem but I’m not sure?

Don’t trust office gossip. Instead, if you believe someone has a problem but do not know for sure, share resources that could help that individual – but do it collectively. For example, all employees benefit knowing that their EAP may include therapy sessions and other such wellness tools. Help with alcohol or drug addiction is yet another highlight of an EAP, which will point those in need toward organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Perhaps your workplace has offerings through the health insurance carrier for behavioral health. This assistance can be beneficial, and it is not as intense as rehabilitation center scenarios. Assistance comes through health coaching; some even have access to counselors via virtual visits. This is a solid start for those afraid to take the next step of in-person rehab.

Performance discussions are one way to proceed. Let’s assume an employee has been missing deadlines and coworkers describe them as scattered and confused while at work. Management could address these concerns and ask if there is anything they can do to alleviate the situation.

This discussion opens the door toward revealing the truth. Perhaps the person has a newly diagnosed health condition and is adjusting to new prescribed medication. The workplace has a duty to make reasonable accommodation for this situation. It could be that they are experiencing turmoil in their daily life that is hampering their work. Or the person could deny any issues, and thus the employer can proceed as they normally would if an employee is not achieving desired outcomes.

Expectations should be discussed going forward and any continuing conduct or work-related issues pertaining to the employee should be clearly documented. If the employee does admit to substance abuse, consideration of a few factors should occur. How has this situation been handled in the past at this workplace? Will the employee be given time off to attend a rehab center program? Will they simply be directed to the EAP?

Keep in mind that if a workplace has a ‘no tolerance’ policy for alcohol and/or drug use, they may immediately terminate the individual. Proper documentation of the work issues leading up to that moment should occur, however. Employers who are not sure of the right course of action should seek legal counsel.

 

What about offering help?

We mention the EAP multiple times because these programs are so comprehensive. However, other resources exist that can prove helpful to a person struggling with addiction. For example, addiction experts across the United States agree that a vast majority of people who need treatment for substance abuse disorders do not seek it. Though many barriers exist to discourage people from obtaining needed help, cost is a significant factor. Help.org created a guide that provides comprehensive information on topics like available care options, financial support, and free resources available in Florida.

These guides are available at no cost and are viewable at the links below. Share these with employees. Post them on the company Intranet. And know that someone who needs help with a dependence challenge may well change their course of living because of it.

https://www.help.org/drug-and-alcohol-rehab-centers-in-Florida/

https://www.help.org/drug-abuse-hotline/

We recognize Operation Par on the list; located in Clearwater, this facility is a W3 client that specializes in treatment for substance abuse and mental health.

Learn more about recognizing and reacting to drug and alcohol use in the workplace by reading this comprehensive article from SHRM.

20/20 Vision Advice for 2020

Warning: prepare for plenty of eye-related puns in this post about vision benefits. Consider this an eye-opening reminder to check your benefit details before the end of the year. Use those dollars to pay for a much-needed eye exam. Purchase that annual supply of contact lenses or add a stylish new pair of glasses to your wardrobe. You’ll likely need to use your benefits before 2020 is over – and that means making an appointment now.

When you make that appointment, you’ll likely encounter a choice that is a relatively new option as part of the annual exam: a no-dilation glaucoma test. That’s right: no drops needed! No waiting for the dilation to decrease before you drive home from the optometrist; no waiting extra time for the drops to take effect before an exam can occur.

Introducing the Optomap, a painless diagnostic protocol that takes a picture of the retina. Contact your carrier before the visit to check if insurance covers this service; if not, the added cost is usually small.

Why consider the Optomap instead of a standard dilation exam?

Dilation allows the doctor to view a select spot of the retina; Optomap reveals the majority of the retina. The digital capture is painless and non-invasive; it also allows for an instant reveal of the image. That means you and your doctor can go over the results immediately. While it is a personal decision whether or not to ‘opt’ for the Optomap, certain elements should be considered before making the selection.

Benefits of the Optomap include:

  • Time savings – From start to finish, the dilation process is about 45 minutes.
  • Comparison ability – Because the Optomap generates a comprehensive digital picture of the retina, that picture can be compared to others in subsequent years to monitor any changes in eye health.
  • No sensitivity issues – That uncomfortable numb feeling caused by dilation is not an issue with Optomap, which requires no desensitization. Note: Optomap is also an ideal alternative to dilation for those who experience a vasovagal episode as a result of the numbing agent. (These select few faint or feel uncomfortably woozy after the eye drops are inserted).
  • More comprehensive view of retina – The classic dilation test reveals a sliver of the retina, while the Optomap engages ultra-widefield retinal imaging to showcase a much wider surface area.

How to Decide Whether or Not Dilation or the Optomap is Right for You

Three words are sufficient here: Ask your doctor.

This has been a tough year all around; at the very least, you can begin 2021 by seeing clearly, no matter which type of test you select. In addition to ensuring your vision benefits do not expire, it’s important to be aware of ‘pandemic eye strain.’ Yes, as if COVID-19 didn’t give us enough to worry about, it’s doing a number to our eyes. The good news is that your peepers don’t need a mask in order to find protection. Lessen eye strain caused from all that remote work.

COVID-19 is Leading to Eye Strain. Here’s What to Do.

1. Tip One: Realize that the eyes aren’t meant to stare at a computer screen for hours on end.

  • Most Americans (70%, as reported by The Vision Council) don’t believe they’re susceptible to eye strain. News flash: They’re wrong. With so many of us sitting in front of dimly lit screens for 4-6+ hours each day, eye strain is inevitable.

2. Tip Two: Identify whether you are experiencing eye strain.

  • Are your eyes sore or tired? Burning? Those who have dry eyes, blurred vision, increased light sensitivity and/or difficult focusing are prime eye strain candidates.

3. Tip Three: Make a plan to lessen the strain.

  • Cut down on the screens. This can be easier said than done; so many adults are working remotely during these pandemic times, and children engaged in digital learning find themselves glued to the screen for hours on end. Even those heavy screen users can employ simple strategies to lessen the strain.

There are many ways to combat the effects of screen time on your eyes. They include the following practices:

  • Decreasing the glare – How bright is that monitor? Go darker. Head to settings and turn the monitor brightness factor down.
  • Dimming that lighting – Glare is a prime cause of eye strain, so consider a little ‘mood lighting’ when you’re working on a screen. It’s nice to have natural light filtering through the home, but consider moving away from a window. Your eyes may thank you for it. An anti-glare filter for the monitor is a solid idea as well.
  • Getting comfortable – How are you, ergonomically? The screen should be in front of the face just below the eyes. Place the computer about an arm’s length away.
  • Making those letters huge – Increasing font size will lessen your squint. We’re not talking size 36 times new roman, but a little increase can make a huge difference!
  • Purchasing stylish computer glasses – You can choose ugly ones, but why? There are so many stylish, affordable glasses available today that filter out the blue light that’s so damaging to the peepers.
  • Don’t forget to blink – Really. We know you’re focused on that report, but blinking is an absolute necessity.
  • Live by the 20-20-20 rule – Every 20 minutes, glance away from your screen at something else for at least 20 seconds. Those of us working from home as our children learn remotely at home are likely having no problems with this one. The rest of us may need to consciously remember to do it.
  • Read a physical (paper) book – It had to be included in the list. After all, going from computer work all day to e-reader at night is not going to help reduce eye strain.

As with any vision problems, consult your doctor if you have any concerns at all. Your sight is too important and valuable to gamble with. Abide by the suggestions listed above and read this Healthline article for even more options.

Here’s to better eye health and an overall better outlook for 2021! For more information about vision benefits and wellness benefits in general, contact W3 Wellness Coordinator Trish Blocker at tblocker@w3ins.com.

Follow These Halloween Safety Tips for an Un-Scary Night

Halloween safety tip tales have long included horror stories of razor-filled caramels and egg-tossing teenagers. As your friendly insurance advisors, we’re sorry to report that the list of potential All Hallows Eve havoc does not end there. Things that go bump in the night can lead to scary claims – and, just to be clear, those ‘things’ are people. Read below as we share how to keep your Halloween as free from risk as possible. We’ll even throw in a few COVID-specific guidelines.

Remember: The scariest thing you can encounter going ‘bump in the night’ October 31 isn’t that horror flick marathon you insist on watching. It’s the ‘L’ word, also known as lawsuit. The travesty of Halloween night should be that your child doesn’t share enough of their chocolate stash, not that you’re calling your insurance advisor at 10pm to check coverage limits.

Therefore, we advise you do the following long before you stock up on bags of candy for all those trick or treaters. Start with these.

Check your potential tripping hazards.

  • There is little more terrifying than realizing that the little goblin or Star Wars character laid out in your yard is screaming in pain. Before Halloween night arrives, walk the routes children will take to arrive at your doorstep. If there are any holes in the lawn or wonky stepping stones, address those.
  • Nix the fog machine if it elicits confusion. If children can’t see their gloved hand in front of their face, the fog is too thick. You’re not setting a mood – you’re setting a hazard.

Say NO to hosting a haunted house in the age of COVID-19

  • We know that this is an especially difficult suggestion to follow. The pandemic has inspired so many potential horror vignettes (people without masks! Less than six feet apart in social situations)! Even if yours is the house that usually invites the neighborhood inside for creative scares, forego it this year. The risk of COVID is just too high.
  • In the future, know that charging admission to your own haunted house could lead to it being viewed as a business – with the accompanying risks. Our advice? -Don’t do it.

Look where you’re placing those pumpkins. And life-size grim reapers. And….you get the idea.

  • That skeleton in the middle of the driveway is destined to scare the pants off some kid, so goal achieved! We applaud your attention to location, really, but said kid could also be seriously hurt in this situation. Move the skeleton to a more well-lit area.
  • While you’re at it, it’s worth noting that a real fire is not to be considered a scare success. Check your electrical outlets. Don’t overload them. And if you select decorations that contain lights, check to ensure they are safe.
  • If a decoration contains a light source, don’t place anything over it. That goes with black paper, towels, etc. Looking for ambience? Consider a colored light bulb. Simply screw it into a normal light outlet and, voila! Instant creepiness. We suggest the lights that give off a rosy glow. Unexpected….and simultaneously foreboding.

Remember that this is Halloween with a pandemic twist.

  • Even if you don’t normally host the scariest haunted house walk-through on the block, this isn’t the time to invite neighbors inside for spiked apple cider. Respect social distance guidelines. Hand out candy yourself, instead of allowing all those little hands to grope around in the bowl for the biggest piece. And follow up the visit with a squirt of hand sanitizer (for the trick or treater and yourself).
  • Organize a bike parade. This really only works if the neighborhood understands what’s going on – otherwise, you and your kids will just get exercise without the candy. A bike parade allows for social distancing and allows everyone to wear those cute costumes they’ve been planning for months. Neighbors stand on driveways and throw candy while people cycle by. It’s really that simple.
  • Set up a table at the end of your own driveway and decorate it. You’ll be able to control how close people interact, keep those sticky hands out of your treat bucket, and still participate in the holiday to the fullest.
  • Stuff a pinata with your household’s favorite candy and let the kids pummel it. There you have a win-win: no undue coronavirus exposure, plus all the candy the kids collect will go in the ‘keep’ pile.

Before the big BOO day, talk with your insurance advisor about your homeowners and umbrella policies. Being prepared this year for Halloween means so much more than just purchasing bags of candy. The same Halloween safety tips apply as always – with some extra COVID precautions thrown in for good measure.

Florida Homeowners Insurance: Tips You Should Know

Thanks to those serious Sunshine State-loving hurricanes, Florida homeowners insurance premium numbers tend to be higher in comparison with the rest of America. Add state-specific legislation regarding property insurance and insurance fraud to the equation to bump the numbers ever higher, and it’s no wonder that Floridians are so eager to learn about coverages and policy discounts. For homeowners who see themselves paying nearly double (sometimes more) than their neighbors in nearby states, it makes sense to learn everything possible about the subject.

That’s why we’ve put together a Florida homeowners insurance primer to help you make the right decisions for you and your family. We realize there are challenges in selecting a policy and assessing risk. That’s why it’s so important to also talk with a Florida-specific insurance advisor who understands where you definitely need coverage, where it’s not supremely necessary, and how to edge those payments lower and lower through strategic methods.

A knowledgeable Florida insurance advisor will reveal the ins-and-outs of homeowners insurance.

Simply put, Florida homeowners insurance is designed to cover sudden and accidental direct physical damage or destruction of the interior or exterior of a private home subject to the insurance policy provisions. But there’s more: it’s not just those walls that are protected by a policy of this sort. The possessions inside are as well – and some third-party liability protection is tucked nicely in there as well. This is a quick answer to the question Why do I need homeowners insurance? A more detailed description of why is shared below.

Did you know Florida homeowners insurance is not required by law?

This purchase is a preventative measure that homeowners take in order to secure what is likely their most costly asset: the home sweet home. But no, it is not required. And that means if disaster occurs, it is the homeowner’s responsibility to have planned for any possible loss – whether partial or total.

Hurricanes aren’t the end-all.

In fact, most homeowners insurance claims don’t stem from mammoth storms. It doesn’t take a natural disaster in order for loss to occur. It goes without saying that a hurricane can completely decimate a property and its contents, but the dramatic scenario of a house being torn from its foundation is much less likely than other issues that can arise on a normal occasion due to what’s known as unforeseen perils. Even without worst-case scenarios, plenty of risk exists. Common events such as water losses can do major damage, for example. Opt to go without Florida homeowners insurance, and those repairs will come straight out of your wallet.

Floridians can’t put their homes in a protective bubble; homeowners insurance is the closest thing to it.

Wind, water, theft, fallen trees that crush the roof and more can prove disastrous to a homeowner. Those losses can be covered under homeowners insurance.

Let’s talk canines. The liability portion of a homeowners insurance policy might include dog bites, as those that do happen commonly occur at the owner’s residence.

Before adopting a dog, check with the insurance carrier to see if they will deny coverage because of the breed. Many insurance companies have an Animal Liability Exclusion, or they limit the amount of liability you can purchase for this type of coverage. This is another solid reason to review your policy with an insurance advisor.
Costs of Florida homeowners insurance policies vary.

Florida homeowners face a common challenge when deciding what type of homeowners insurance to actually select.

A trio of options exist; knowing the aspects of each will help in the decision. Before you head into that appointment to talk with an insurance advisor, know your ACV, replacement cost and extended replacement cost verbiage. That way, you’ll be able to have an in-depth discussion and decide together which is right for you and your family.

  • Actual cash value – A homeowners policy that is ACV will take depreciation into account. Let’s say an ACV policyholder experiences a loss that is covered under their Florida homeowners insurance policy. Since they’ve opted for ACV, which was likely less expensive in premium than the replacement cost option, they will likely not receive the same amount they originally paid for the insured item. Instead, the actual value at the time of the loss will factor into the claim. As anyone who has ever sold a car can tell you, depreciation is not a positive element. But then again, at least with this coverage the insured is protected up to a certain point.
  • Replacement Cost on Contents – You paid that certain amount for that property that was damaged or stolen. In your mind, it was worth that sum and perhaps more, due to sentimental value. The policyholder who opts for replacement cost insurance will be talking to their insurance adjustor about the replacement of covered items with ‘like kind and quality’ without depreciation; unfortunately, sentimental value is not a consideration when adjusting a claim.
  • Ordinance or Law Coverage – Looking for even more coverage? This endorsement will extend the coverage amount 25%-50% above the dwelling coverage limit. Someone who wishes to opt for this likely is looking ahead at possible scenarios: perhaps they live in an especially storm-prone area and know they’d have to incur more expense due to updated ordinances, or they are anticipating laws regulating the construction and repair of damaged homes. Cost varies for this extra assurance, but should a covered claim strike you’ll have peace of mind.

How can you lower your Florida homeowners insurance premiums?

Time for some good news! Opportunities do exist to lower your premium and still enjoy the benefits of comprehensive coverage. Some of these elements include:

  • Water shutoff devices – How sturdy is your water heater? Has that hose connected to the washer ever been serviced? These questions are important to answer affirmatively because water damage can really be a drain on your finances. The right water shutoff device will not only protect you from that damaging H20, but it can also elicit a premium discount. Inquire as to whether that water shutoff device is approved by your carrier for savings.
  • Multipolicy discounts – Have you opted to keep your insurance coverage through one company? Perhaps it’s time to start. An insurance company may offer you multipolicy discounts, and with that one-stop-shop mentality comes the ease of dealing with one company. Imagine it: One comprehensive renewal, and one advisor who understands customized protection for what matters to you. It’s a win-win scenario. W3 is an independent insurance agency, we shop for insurance solutions tailored for you!
  • Of course, there’s always the tried-and-true higher deductible choice. If you are looking to reduce your premium, consider a higher deductible. An advisor who understands your unique situation can give insight as to whether that’s likely a good fiduciary move.
  • Improve home security – It makes total sense that an insurance carrier might give you a discount for installing a solid security system. If a thief has difficulty making their way into and out of your home, those possessions that you’ve insured are much safer.
  • Wind mitigation credit – How wind-prone is your residence? Consider having an expert inspect your home. If it’s wind-resistant, you’ll get credits – and that means discounts.
  • Straddle that line between overinsured and underinsured. Again, that’s where the knowledgeable insurance advisor is worth his or her weight in gold.

Consider adding umbrella insurance to your homeowners portfolio.

  • While you’re talking with your Florida homeowners insurance advisor, be sure to ask about the mighty umbrella. There are so many true-life stories of people who purchased Florida homeowners insurance with total confidence, only to find out later that they were in fact underinsured. The umbrella covers you like a shield, one more layer of liability protection. It’s so possible to imagine any of the following scenarios occurring. That’s why it’s so important to acquire the right amount of insurance.
  • Falls on your property – Who knows to what extent the medical bills will be for someone who trips over that loose paver in the driveway? You could be paying for hospital stays in perpetuity.
  • Calamitous events – No one can see into the future. That’s why accidents occur, and that’s why it’s important to consider umbrella insurance to fully cover you if they do.
    Add your own here: __________. It only takes a small amount of creativity to imagine the Halloween trick or treater who stumbles on the step and needs medical attention or the teenager who goes to take the car out of the garage for a joyride and forgets the gear is in reverse.

No one wants to go through the claims process, so take measures where you can to improve the hardiness of your home and keep more money in your pocket. As a Florida homeowners insurance shopper, you’re on the right track; you’re definitely ready to search for the right policy now that you’ve read this blog.

Good luck as your protect that which you hold most dear, and contact W3 Insurance when you’re ready to talk about coverage options. Please note that this article provides a general description of coverages. For complete policy information, including exclusions, limitations, terms and conditions, please refer to your insurance policy contract.

We’re here to help you protect and save. As an all-lines agency, we offer advice regarding coverage, discounts and more. Contact W3 Insurance at 727-522-7777 for more in-depth advice regarding Florida homeowners insurance.