By Carl Santa Maria, CPCU
We’ve all heard or seen it around the office. Whether it’s an off-color joke around the water cooler, improper advances by a supervisor, or hiring decisions excluding certain ages or genders, there are many local, state and federal laws that enforce the fair treatment of present, past and potential employees, and even 3rd party contractors.
As an employer, you bear the significant and growing risk of claims for various forms of discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination. These claims are either made through private attorneys or government agencies, such as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), for investigation and potential action. Whether taken to trial or settled out of court, companies can incur large costs from an employee lawsuit.
A minefield for employers
One of the higher profile cases today involves Texas Roadhouse, a chain of steakhouse restaurants, which was sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for what the EEOC claims is systemic age discrimination. In this case, not a single complaint had been filed with the EEOC to prompt the charges. Texas Roadhouse is fighting the charge, spending millions on legal fees to date, with the trial still at least a year away.
In another case, a woman resigned her position after three years with a company and sued four managers/directors for sexual harassment and gender discrimination. A company investigation uncovered clear evidence of the misconduct and dismissed three of the four people involved. As a result, the defendants were personally liable for attorney fees and a settlement totaling nearly $300,000.
With loads of information available online and several high-profile cases in the news, employees today are much more aware of their rights. Even if you treat people fairly and within the law, others that you hire, contract or otherwise work with might not. And if they create an uncomfortable or hostile work environment for those working for you, it’s still your business that gets sued.
What can you do?
In recognition of the growing risk, more and more businesses are providing specific training to managers and employees in an attempt to create a more fair and inclusive culture. However, it is estimated that 60 percent of all companies will be sued over employment-related issues.
Companies should protect themselves with Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI), which covers these specific types of claims. It is inexpensive, easy to obtain, and it can be purchased as a stand-alone policy or as part of a business and management liability package, which can include D&O, fiduciary, crime and cyber coverages. Nevertheless, it is estimated that in 2015 less than half of all employers carried EPLI coverage, meaning most companies are bearing this rapidly growing risk themselves.
You are vulnerable from your first contact with a potential employee through the exit interview, so it is wise to speak with a corporate insurance broker as soon as you decide to hire employees. A knowledgeable broker can help you understand your exposure and provide risk management advice and EPLI coverage as part of a comprehensive risk mitigation solution.
Carl Santa Maria is Chairman and CEO of Santa Maria & Company (SMC), a risk management consultancy and commercial insurance brokerage in the San Francisco Bay area with deep expertise helping companies protect what is most important to them: their assets, their employees, and their futures. Contact SMC at 925-956-7600 or online at www.smcrisk.com.
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