The COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in most workplaces. Unfortunately, many employers are reporting that COVID is resulting in labor disputes with their employees. Your employment practices liability insurance (EPLI) can help reduce your risk of damaging lawsuits. However, the unusual circumstances of COVID can impact your policy. This guide will explain everything you need to know about COVID-19 EPLI claims.
Businesses around the nation are reporting an increase in EPLI claims. Below are four common types of EPLI claims that have rocketed since the outbreak of the pandemic:
Federal law requires businesses to give employees a set amount of family and medical leave. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, if you have 500 or less employees, your employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave for things like quarantining, recovering, caring for an ill family member, or caring for children while schools are closed.
Unfortunately, many business owners were not aware of the changes in how medical leave was handled. This led to some people disciplining or even firing an employee who doesn't come to work. Any company who does this can open themselves up to EPLI claims for wrongful termination.
As an employer, you have a duty to keep your employees safe. If they were working without any COVID safety measures, you might be failing in this duty. In these situations, employees may choose to file an EPLI claim against you.
This type of claim shares some overlap with OSHA claims, so it can be a little complicated. You are more likely to experience an EPLI lawsuit if you discipline, demote, or fire an employee who raises concerns about COVID safety at work.
Many of the methods for reducing COVID spread among employees may lead to potential privacy invasions. Employers are usually supposed to keep employees' medical information private, but during COVID, some have shared COVID diagnoses or required employees to take temperature checks.
Whether these sorts of measures count as a reasonable precaution or a violation of privacy are debatable. There are still a lot of unprecedented disputes happening due to COVID, so it's unclear whether these types of EPLI claims can be proven. However, even if an employee cannot prove an invasion of privacy in court, they can cause you a lot of hassle and legal expenses if they believe their privacy was invaded.
One unusual type of EPLI claim that keeps showing up during COVID is claims for mental anguish. Before COVID, this was a less common claim type that was mostly used for situations like workplace bullying. However, during COVID, more and more employees are being put in positions that cause them to experience undue mental anguish.
These claims are often coming from people in customer service who are required to make customers follow COVID safety guidelines. In these cases, people who did not sign up for a security role are now facing a lot of harassment from customers who do not agree with things like mask guidelines. Depending on the situation, this might count as a type of undue mental anguish that could result in EPLI claims.
EPLI insurance is specifically meant to cover you when an employee sues you for unethical employment practices. This type of insurance is very broad, so it can cover many COVID-related disputes. However, every EPLI policy is different, so not all situations are covered. You will need to go over your policy with a professional to see what sorts of COVID situations are covered.
EPLI coverage helps with a wide range of claims, from discrimination to breach of contract. In addition to the above examples, here are some other types of COVID-related situations that may be covered under your policy:
When you laid off employees due to COVID, you only laid off employees of a specific race.
The employee in charge of temperature checks used their duty as an excuse to sexually assault coworkers.
You did not provide accommodation when an employee with a chronic health problem asked to switch to remote work.
Your business failed to give paid leave when someone had to go care for a family member sick with COVID.
An HR employee told other employees who was vaccinated with COVID, opening up employees to harassment from coworkers.
You misused government assistance funds meant to help with COVID recovery, and then you fired the employee who reported you.
It is very common for EPLI policies to have an exclusion saying they will not cover you for OSHA violations. So if you make an employee go to work with COVID and someone gets sick, your EPLI might not help with resulting lawsuits.
However, you should check your policy carefully, because many specify that you still get help if the lawsuit is due to retaliation after an OSHA claim. For example, if an employee reported you to OSHA for making people work with COVID and you fired that employee, you might have coverage.
Another common exclusion in EPLI policies is lawsuits due to improper payment. Depending on your policy, you might not have coverage for disputes related to denying an employee wages. So if an employee who works from home believes you underpaid them, some types of policies might not help you.
A final reason your EPLI insurance might not help with COVID disputes is if you do mass layoffs. Most companies have to follow federal laws about providing advance notice before laying off large numbers of employees. If you break these laws, your policy might not cover you. Of course every policy is different though, so check yours carefully. It might provide more assistance than you realize.
If you have any employees who are filing a lawsuit against you, it is a good idea to talk to a professional insurance agent. You will need to contact your insurance company and discuss your policy with them. They can help you navigate all the paperwork and figure out things like your EPLI insurance deductible.
To prepare for claims, examine your policy closely. Take a look at your EPLI limits to see how much financial assistance your policy gives you. It is also a good idea to look at covered items in your policy, so you can see whether your situation merits coverage.
The right insurance means you do not have to stress if you are dealing with an EPLI claim. Your insurance company can help you with legal fees while you plead your case in court, and they can assist you with paying any lawsuit settlements. Your EPLI coverage ensures that an unexpected claim due to COVID does not devastate your financial situation.
As you can see, COVID causes all sorts of potential employment disputes in the workplace, so it is important to be prepared. If you want to ensure you have the right insurance, CoverWallet is here to help. Our agents are happy to help you explore different coverage options.
If you decide you need more EPLI insurance, we can create a custom policy that suits your unique situation. Contact us now to learn more about our services.