Like so many people this past spring, we had to rethink how we use our homes. For most of us they just simply weren’t set up for 24-hour occupancy by multiple people working from home. We also had to rethink how we work and who to include in our daily scheduling to avoid competing video calls and preserve precious bandwidth.
While this might have been frustrating at first, it also underscored how truly grateful we are for those homes and jobs that were abruptly intertwined. And though the promise of forthcoming vaccines is a welcome light at the end of the tunnel, we aren’t there yet and the effects of this virus on work and home continue, and may permanently alter the very structure of employment for many industries.
More and more employers have extended work from home into at least next year. Others have realized the overhead savings of working remotely, and are moving toward restructuring permanently. With this altered landscape it’s not just our homes and jobs that are intertwined, so are the insurance policies we use to protect them.
For employers that supply their workers with computers and office equipment, it is important to make sure your property policy has coverage for items while not at your scheduled business locations. This type of coverage can be achieved through different forms, so businesses should contact their broker about how to specifically cover property, whether by adding employees’ homes to the schedule of locations, or making sure the policy contains a provision for property “offsite.” They should also ask whether they need to create written agreements with workers to make sure they are complying with any requirements of the policy such as providing smoke detectors and security systems.
There are also liability issues that arise for businesses. And while potential direct Covid-19 liability is certainly top of mind for many, it is still too early to know how various legislative and other governmental attempts to shield businesses and employers from direct liability will shake out.
We can predict however that any new forms or coverages drafted to address this type of liability will likely be inconsistent and frankly, a mess. Think cyber coverage, in that insurers were in such a rush to have a product to sell, and insureds were so desperate to have some such coverage, that many insureds ended up with policies that covered very little.
With the virus consuming so much mental space, lesser considered is an employer’s potential liability risks raised by employees telecommuting. Take for example this hypothetical: I fail to shovel and salt my home’s front steps and a courier or document delivery worker falls and injures themselves. Is the firm policy exposed? And if I am furnished with a piece of equipment that catches fire or otherwise damages my home, can I expect my homeowner’s carrier would take the position that the firm’s policy is on the hook, not mine? Both employers and employees need to have conversations with each other and their respective brokers to ensure they are covered for the risks that accompany this new reality. It is always better for the fight to be about which policy is primary for something, than whether it is covered at all.
Employers also need to consider their auto policies. Maybe you never had a business auto policy or endorsement before. Maybe you had company vehicles at the office that employees used for travel during the work day. While many of us are driving less now, we are also multi-tasking. So instead of handing someone a file at the office, we might be dropping it by their house on the way to the grocery store. We might be making a handsfree work call on the way to the pharmacy.
Examine how operations have changed, talk to your employees about the reality of day to day vehicle usage, and consider making sure they and their autos are covered by a company policy. Explore getting “hired or non-owned auto” coverage with your broker, and ask them what other ways you can protect yourself and your employees in terms of both auto liability and uninsured-underinsured motorist coverage.
And for workers, check your homeowner (as well as your umbrella or excess policy) for a business exclusion and talk to your broker about whether your specific work activities would fall under it. This is something we always try to hammer home with clients, as so often what they think of as a hobby technically qualifies as a business. Or, though they think of themselves as an employee, they are not an employee under their policy. The basic rule of thumb when considering whether a business exclusion would apply is anything that is income generating, regardless of whether you turn a profit, is business. This means even if you are making masks and selling them to neighbors at cost, your insurer could apply a business exclusion. It’s worth calling your broker, and while you’re at it, asking if there’s some sort of discount since your home is now occupied 24 hours a day, which can reduce risk. Unlikely they’ll agree, but it might be fun to hear them search for an answer.
Besides the physical location issues, there are also things to consider as far as technology protocol and cyber policies. For people working at large, or even small, firms and companies, can you honestly say your home network security is as robust as it is at work? And when you consider that now your professional cyber security might be affected by your child’s online activity; it’s worth at least examining best practices and setting up procedures to counteract the lack of physical proximity with coworkers, system administrators, and the beloved IT department.
It is far easier to fall victim to a bad actor when you can’t simply poke your head in someone’s door and ask about a password reset, order confirmation, or payment request that’s maybe a little weird. And we can’t dismiss the power of the casual office conversation, such as a coworker telling you about a news story they saw on the latest phishing scam. With these in person networks disrupted, it is paramount we proactively protect our digital ones. We also need to make sure our home offices comply with the requirements of our work cyber coverage, and ask our brokers what steps need to be taken to make sure our cyber coverage extends to employees working from home.
For both liability and workers’ compensation coverage we expect interesting debates with respect to whether someone was engaged in or “at” work. The lines between home and work have blurred to an extent that sometimes the kitchen feels like the breakroom, and doing dishes feels like office maintenance. Full disclosure, when I was still perfecting how to keep confidentiality in a suddenly very full house, John and I scheduled a FaceTime to test our prospective set ups and back drops for video calls. In order to take advantage of one of the far too scarce doors in my home, I was hoping I could pull off some stagecraft and appear professional while masking that I was sitting on my bed. That hope proved folly when the top half of my body slowly but unstoppably slid toward the floor, betrayed by my inadequate pillow stacking and rendered helpless by my computer and file placement. As I hung upside down from my bed, I thought of all you workers’ comp folks. You might get some really weird ones out of all this.