How COVID-19 could expose businesses to employers liability claims

How COVID-19 could expose businesses to employers liability claims

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COVID-19 continues to pose a significant risk to Australian employers, even as we begin to return to more normal ways of working.

Managing the liability risk of unfair dismissal claims

Procover Casualty Underwriting Manager Jayson Grossman says that to avoid unfair dismissal claims as a result of redundancies, employers need to have documented procedures for employee termination, and ensure that they are rigidly followed.

“Beyond that, if businesses are laying off staff they need to ensure that all of the employees’ statutory entitlements are paid, and paid accurately. Because often that’s where the real disagreements begin,” he says.

Managing the liability risks of staff returning to work

With low case numbers in Australia, many businesses are beginning to consider having staff return to workplaces, but before doing so, Mr Grossman says there are a number of risks employers need to address to ensure they’re providing a safe workplace. 

He says staggering in-office work days or start times, and considering the risks posed to employees who travel by public transport are all factors management teams will need to consider. 

“Once staff are in the office, social distancing protocols for lifts, meeting rooms and workstations will also need to be considered. We expect there’ll be a move away from hot-desking to socially-distanced, single-user desks with plastic dividers, but there will be a cost associated with that and the subsequent increase in the amount of floor space that will be required.”

He adds that forcing staff to return to workplaces – or continue to work from home – could also leave employers exposed to mental health-related claims. 

“Some people have a genuine fear of catching COVID-19 if they return to work, while others feel their mental health is suffering by working from home. To manage the risks, employers will need to listen to what their staff want and take it on board,” Mr Grossman adds.

Managing the liability risk of staff continuing to work from home

If some staff continue to work remotely, Mr Grossman says employers need to remember that they have responsibility for the health and safety of their employees when working from home. 

“As an underwriter, we would need to understand how they are managing that. Are they asking if their employees have a safe work environment at home? How are they managing slip and trip exposures at home?” he says. 

How are insurers responding to the changing risk environment?

Many insurers have added an addendum to their renewal and new business documentation, seeking additional information about business solvency and how businesses are managing their occupational health and safety and employment practices liability risks in relation to COVID-19.

Asking additional questions such as whether the business has accessed Government assistance, whether it plans to make redundancies, and what precautions it’s taking to minimise the risk of COVID-19 to staff to get an understanding as to how the pandemic has impacted their business and whether it may do so in the future.

How can HDL Help?

HDL are here to help by ensuring you have documentation in place that demonstrates you are carefully considering the additional risks posed by COVID-19. 

If you’d like any more information about the potential impact of COVID-19 on your employment liability insurance contact us.

The information provided in this article is of a general nature only and has been prepared without taking into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. If you require advice that is tailored to your specific business or individual circumstances, please contact HDL.

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