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Disaster Planning

  
It's Time to Update Your Disaster Plan  
  
This article provides agents with a succinct checklist of the major issues they should be considering to assure the continuity of their operations should they be struck by a disaster, a major virus, or an equipment failure of some sort (power, systems, communications, etc.)   CLICK HERE
 
 

Key Considerations in Disaster Planning and Management

This checklist reflects the lessons learned from recent disasters and is applicable to every agency. It emphasizes systems, telecomminucations, and people issues.     DOWNLOAD HERE

The Lessons Learned from Recent Disasters and Recommendations for Improved Response for Independent Agencies and the Industry

ACT set up this work group following the horrific disasters in 2005 to assess the lessons learned, so that we could be better prepared for future events.  Several agents directly involved in the 2005 hurricanes served on this work group.  The report covers a number of different aspects of agency disaster planning and provides helpful tips in each of these areas.

Some Communications & Technology Lessons Learned From Katrina 

This article traces the experiences of an agency managing its way through the aftermath of Katrina and points out lessons relating to communications and technology that will be helpful to all agencies in their own disaster planning.  CLICK HERE


Catastrophes in the Workplace: How to Handle Catastrophic Injury and Death
This article will address the issues facing employers and steps to take in the event of a workplace catastrophe.  It assumes that any injuries and/or deaths arose out of and in the course of employment, and therefore, are compensable under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act


Claims Must Employees Be Paid When the Office is Closed?

It is important for agency owners and employees alike to be aware of the rules applicable to the payment of employees when the agency office is closed due to such events.  As with any question regarding the payment of employees, the analysis begins with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), which set the rules for how long employees may be required to work and how much they must be paid for the time spent working.  State law may supplement the rules established by the FLSA, but since Georgia is an “at will” employment state and has no applicable law regarding this subject, the FLSA’s rules are the only ones that agency owners and employees need to be familiar with.



Catastrophes in the Workplace: How to Handle Catastrophic Injury and Death Claims
By:  C. Wade McGuffey, Jr. and Fred R. Green, Goodman, McGuffey, Lindsey & Johnson, LLP


The events of September 11, 2001 were the worst workplace catastrophes in United States history.  Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, including 2,752 in the World Trade Center.  Many people were fortunate to escape without injury that fateful day.  Almost 6,300 reportedly received treatment for injuries they received, however.  Of the injured, the lucky ones suffered only minor injuries.  Many suffered very serious and catastrophic injuries.


While the American workplace is safer than ever, hardly a week goes by without a news report concerning a plant explosion, a chemical release or a fatality arising out of a workplace accident.  It is every employer’s goal to avoid the workplace catastrophe, and most succeed.  However, it is important to make sure every employer has a plan in place and that the appropriate steps are taken following a workplace catastrophe.  Plans must also be made for those catastrophically or fatally injured as a result of the catastrophe.  Fatalities, injuries to employees and other traumatic events generally require an immediate and decisive response.
 
This article will address the issues facing employers and steps to take in the event of a workplace catastrophe.  It assumes that any injuries and/or deaths arose out of and in the course of employment, and therefore, are compensable under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act.[1]
 



[1] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-1, et seq.
Fatalities in the Workplace
 
There is hardly anything more difficult for an employer than the loss of life in a workplace incident.  Notifying the family members of the victim, counseling other employees and trying to return the business to a sense of normalcy can be extremely challenging.  From a workers’ compensation perspective, however, the compensable death case is fairly straightforward.
 
There are essentially three types of benefits which may be recovered under the Georgia Workers’ Compensation Act as a consequence of a deceased employee’s compensable death: (1) the reasonable expenses of the employee’s last sickness; (2) burial expenses; and (3) weekly dependency benefits.[1]
 
An employer’s liability for the employee’s last sickness is no different than a compensable occupational injury.  The employer is obligated to pay, within the limits of the fee schedule, for authorized and reasonably necessary medical treatment and other health care.[2]  In addition to any other pre-death compensation, the employer must pay reasonable burial expenses not to exceed $7,500.00.[3]  If death results instantaneously from the accident, and if the employee leaves no dependents, the burial expenses and a $10,000.00 payment to the State are the only payments made for the death of the employee.[4]
 
The employer must pay the dependents of the deceased employee – dependents who are wholly dependent on the deceased earnings at the time of the injury/death and only as long as they remain dependents – a weekly compensation equal to the compensation that would have been paid to the employee for temporary total disability benefits.  A child of a deceased employee is presumed wholly dependent if: (1) the child is under 18 or enrolled full time in high school; (2) the child is over 18 and is physically or mentally handicapped; or (3) the child is under the age of 22 and is a full time college student.[5]
Finally, if the deceased employee leaves no dependent children but does leave a surviving spouse, benefits are capped at $150,000.00.[6]  However, the surviving spouse’s entitlement to death benefits ends with the surviving spouse’s own death, remarriage, or with his or her cohabitation in a “meretricious relationship.”[7]
 
Catastrophic Injuries in the Workplace
 
Catastrophic injuries create burdens on both the employer and the workers’ compensation insurance carrier which are not present in a death case.  First, the employer and insurer need to assess whether or not the employee’s injury is legally a workers’ compensation catastrophic injury.  A catastrophic injury is defined as: (1) a spinal cord injury involving severe paralysis of an arm, leg or the trunk; (2) amputation of an arm, a hand, a foot, or a leg involving the effective loss of use of that appendage; (3) severe brain or closed head injury; (4) second or third degree burns over 25 percent of the body as a whole or third degree burns to 5 percent or more of the face or hands; (5) total or industrial blindness; and (6) any other injury of a nature and severity that prevents the employee from being able to perform his or her prior work and any work available in substantial numbers within the nation’s economy for which the employee is otherwise qualified.[8]
 
Categories (1) through (5) above are obvious catastrophic injuries even to a layman.  However, the so-called “social security” catastrophic designation is not so obvious.[9]  Catastrophic designation of a workplace injury which meets the requirements of category (6) above is often one of the most fiercely litigated issues in workers’ compensation claims.  It rarely occurs at the time of the accident and may not occur until years later.  If the employee’s injury is designated catastrophic, the employee, in addition to medical treatment and rehabilitation services, is entitled to collect temporary total disability benefits for the remainder of her lifetime.  However, when the workplace injury is obviously catastrophic, the employer must appoint a registered rehabilitation supplier within 48 hours of the employer’s acceptance of the injury as catastrophic.  If the State Board makes the determination that an injury is catastrophic, the employer has 20 days from the date of notification to appoint a registered rehabilitation supplier.[10]  The State Board appointed Rehabilitation Supplier is paid by the employer and its insurer but is responsible for looking after the needs of the catastrophically injured worker.
Conclusion
 
While workplace deaths and catastrophic injuries are generally few and far between, they require immediate and specific actions on the part of the employer and insurer.  Employers can effectively deal with workplace fatalities and catastrophic accidents, but only through proper planning and execution.  In fact, effective planning may help reduce the pain and suffering suffered by the surviving family and co-workers, while at the same time allow the employer to resume normal operations quicker and reduce the financial and potential legal burdens placed on the company.
 
This article is not intended to provide “legal advice” on the issues discussed in it.  The article is provided for the purpose of information.  The reader should contact an attorney who is knowledgeable in this specific area of the law about their specific situation before acting.  For other articles of interest to insurance agencies and agents, please see the website of Goodman, McGuffey, Lindsey & Johnson, LLP, at www.gmlj.com.
 
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[1] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265.
[2] United States Fidelity & Guarantee Co. v. Taylor, 101 Ga. App. 544, 114 S.E.2d 441 (1960).
[3] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265(b)(1).
[4] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265.
[5] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13(b).
[6] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-265(d).
[7] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-13(e).
[8] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-200.1(g).
[9] It is called the “social security” catastrophic designation because it is based upon the Social Security disability standard.
[10] O.C.G.A. § 34-9-200.1(a).



Must Employees Be Paid When the Office is Closed?
Mark G. Burnette, Joyner & Burnette P.C.

Given the recent severe weather events and this past winter’s snow, it is important for agency owners and employees alike to be aware of the rules applicable to the payment of employees when the agency office is closed due to such events.  As with any question regarding the payment of employees, the analysis begins with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), which set the rules for how long employees may be required to work and how much they must be paid for the time spent working.  State law may supplement the rules established by the FLSA, but since Georgia is an “at will” employment state and has no applicable law regarding this subject, the FLSA’s rules are the only ones that agency owners and employees need to be familiar with.

Under the FLSA, employees are divided into two main groups, those who must be paid overtime pay for any time worked in excess of 40 hours in any one work week (known as “nonexempt employees”) and those who are not required to be paid overtime pay regardless of how many hours they work in any one work week (known as “exempt employees”).  How you determine whether a particular employee is a nonexempt or exempt employee is beyond the scope of this article, but there is one important requirement for exempt employees that is relevant to its subject and explains why the two types of employees are treated differently.  As a general rule, to be an exempt employee, the employee must be paid on a fixed salary basis in an amount that equals at least $455.00 per week.  As defined by the FLSA, the employee must "regularly receive each pay period on a weekly, or less frequent basis, a predetermined amount constituting all or part of his compensation, which amount is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of the work performed.
 
Nonexempt Employees


Since nonexempt employees can be paid on either on an hourly or salary basis and the amount of their pay can fluctuate depending on how long they work during any particular pay period, as long as they are paid overtime for any work done in excess of 40 hours per work week, they do not have to be paid when the agency’s offices are closed due to severe weather or for any other reason.  In addition, if the agency’s offices are closed for less than a full day, as for example when they open later than normal or close earlier than normal due to hazardous travel conditions, nonexempt employees need only be paid for the time they were actually at work on that day.  However, if a nonexempt employee performs work while at home on such a day, either at the agency owner’s request or on their own, they must be paid for the time they performed such work.  Needless to say, if the agency’s offices are open, but a nonexempt employee does not come in to work for any reason, they need not be paid anything for that day.
 
Exempt Employees
 
The requirement that exempt employees be paid on a fixed salary basis means that if they perform any work during a work week no matter how little they do and they remain ready, willing, and able to perform work during the rest of the work week, they must be paid their full salary for that week.  The Department of Labor, which is responsible for the enforcement of the FLSA, has determined that the closure of a business by the owner due to severe weather or for any other reason will not relieve the owner of paying the salary owed to an exempt employee, unless that closure is for a full work week. 
 
However, if the business has a paid vacation or other time off policy that is applicable to an exempt employee, the employee may be required to use any available portion of their paid vacation or other time off for any day that the business is closed due to severe weather or any other reason.  Such a use of paid vacation or other time off can also be required if the business opens late or closes early on any work day, but only in accordance with the policy provisions (e.g., if the policy specifies that paid time off can only be taken in four hour increments and the office opens less than four hours late or closes less than four hours early the exempt employee can not be required to use such time off).  In addition, if the exempt employee does not have enough unused paid vacation or other time off to cover the time period that the office is closed during any one work week, the employee must be paid their full salary for that work week.   
 
As with the nonexempt employee, if the agency’s offices are open and an exempt employee does not come to work for any reason (even if they are “snowed in”) for the full day, their salary can be reduced for that day’s absence from work.  But if the exempt employee makes it into work late or leaves early, their salary can not be reduced by any amount.  Similarly, if an exempt employee performs any work from home on a day when the office is open, their salary can not be reduced.
 
This article is not intended to provide “legal advice” on the issues discussed in it.  It is only for information purposes.  The reader should seek advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable in this area of the law about their specific situation before acting.  For other articles of interest to insurance agencies and agents, please see the website of Joyner & Burnette, P.C., at www.decatur-law.com.     
 
Mark G. Burnette of the law firm of Joyner & Burnette, P.C., is the attorney for the Association.  He handles the “IIAG Free Legal Service” program, under which each member agency is entitled to one free 15 minute telephone consultation per calendar quarter.
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Read the disaster issue of the Dec Page Quarterly


E&O Risk Management Webinar on Catastrophe Exposures 
 
On  July 21, 2011 Swiss Re Corporate Solutions sponsored a webinar that focused on how catastrophes can affect agency customers and the E&O issues they bring. Featured panelists include Dr. Robert Hartwig , president of the Insurance Information Institute, E&O Defense Attorney Max Cohen, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions Claims Manager Nathaniel Bunck and claims expert James Redeker. Watch for the archived version coming soon. Click here.

 

 

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IIAG CAT Response Team:
Our Mission and Search for Volunteers
 
By Andrew McElhannon, Member Services Administrator
 
At the March 2011 Board of Directors meeting, the Catastrophe Response Committee  presented its plan that would allow the association to respond to members’ needs after a disaster strikes. Resources that can be used to help members formulate their own agency disaster preparedness plans were also discussed.
 
Committee Chairman Ted Carpenter (The Insurance Store/Marietta) says “It’s our responsibility to ensure that member have the resources needed to customize a readiness plan of their own.”
 
The committee has prepared a series of checklists, disaster plan templates, videos, webinars and other information to assist members and it is all located on www.iiag.org on the Member Resources tab.
 
The best way members can be prepared is to already have the plan in place before it is needed. “Agents have become content that storms like the one that came through northwest Georgia this spring are a rare, isolated thing in Georgia, and they probably won’t ever have to worry with being displaced from heir business,” says IIAG president Stark Harbour, who has a passion for the CAT team and seeing disaster preparedness among agencies. “We want our members to be survivors when these incidents occur, and to be able to help their clients when disaster strikes.”
 
Each time IIAG’s Catastrophe response team goes into a disaster recovery situation it is charged with several duties:
 
First, ensure that association members are safe and assist them with securing their agency from other impending weather, loss to theft r looting, and aid in relocation to temporary or new offi ces, if needed.
 
Second, the team helps in getting the member’s business up and running again so it can assist their clients with claims. The team would provide resources such as power generators, phones, internet access, shelter, manpower and administrative help.
 
Third, once obligations one and two are met, the team reaches out to help the general public affected by the catastrophe and provides answers and direction in insurance matters.
 
Currently seeking volunteers, the CAT response team encourages you to join in and aid your fellow members when the time is needed. Contact me, the team coordinator, at 770-458-0093 ext. 110 or complete this volunteer form HERE and email it to me at: amcelhannon@iiag.org.

 
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IIAG CAT Response Team Assists Members after Tornadoes Storm Georgia

Stark Harbour, President of the Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia, and Aubie Knight, CEO,  led the association’s catastrophe response team to Ringgold to assist members and residents after the historic tornado storms in April 2011. Pictured right is the staff of Weeks & Peters Insurance and the Trusted Choice catastrophe response vehicle loan from our friends at the Florida association.  
 
Next, the team headed to Rossville Watch YouTube videos.

Disaster Planning  
Use the following resources to help prepare your agency for disaster, catastrophe and unexpected issues that affect your ability to do business.
 

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