Employee’s Personal Vehicle for Work

Employee’s Personal Vehicle for Work

One of the largest exposures your field workers have to contracting a communicable disease is spending time in the same vehicle with someone who is contagious while riding to and from the jobsite. The close quarters inside the cab of a truck make it very easy for an infected person to unintentionally transmit a virus to their co-worker.

Because of this many tree services have begun to allow employees to drive their own personal cars and trucks during the work day.

While this risk control measure is great for reducing the risk of spreading an illness, it creates other liabilities to the tree care business that needs to be managed. Below, I have outlined the additional concerns a tree care company must consider to address to successfully implement a “Drive Your Own Car Policy”.

For the Employee
In the vast majority of states, their personal auto insurance policy will be the primary policy in case of an accident. Meaning:
It is also the only policy that will pay for damage to their car. Their limit of liability is very important, as this limit is what initially will be used to pay for any injuries or property damage they cause to others.
If they use their personal vehicle regularly for work purposes, they should talk to their auto insurance company to make sure coverage is there for ‘business use’. Without their insurance company knowing about the use of the vehicle for work, there may not be coverage for an accident.

For the Company
A standard business auto insurance policy does not have coverage for anything that happens with non-owned vehicles. A tree service must add Non-Owned Auto liability coverage to provide liability protection if your company gets sued due to an accident by an employee with their vehicle while on company business. This is most likely going to be secondary coverage that pays after the employee’s personal auto policy limits are exhausted.

A business auto insurance policy does not and cannot provide coverage for physical damage to the employee’s car.

Management Best Practices
Know the driving record of the employee that is asked to drive their personal vehicle for work purposes. This is no different than analyzing if an employee can drive a fleet vehicle for the company based on their driving record. (Contact ArboRisk to get a copy of our MVR Guidelines to determine if you would like them to drive or not).

The tree service should get a copy of each employee’s personal auto insurance policy to prove coverage is in place and review their liability limits.
A minimum limit of liability that an employee is required to carry on their personal auto insurance policy is important. (We recommend requiring, at minimum, $500,000 coverage per person, but check with your state’s Wrongful Death Act regarding the minimum lawsuit for a minor’s death. Use that as a guideline for setting your limit.)

Decide whether or not the company will pay for repairs or deductibles associated with breakdowns or accidents that happen while on work time.

Inspect the employee’s vehicle for any safety issues before allowing that employee to drive for work.

Decide how the company will reimburse for expenses, either using the IRS guideline for mileage or another way that is better suited for the company.

Create a written policy that outlines all of the requirements and responsibilities of both the employee and the company.Allowing employees to drive their personal vehicles on the clock can be a very critical risk management move during the midst of a community wide outbreak, however, the tree care owner must ensure that proper steps are taken not to create a larger liability to the company when doing so.

Written by: Eric Petersen

Business Management Strategies for Pandemics

BUsiness Management Strategies for Pandemics

Last week we looked at some safety strategies to help individual team members prevent contracting the coronavirus in the article Coronavirus Safety for Arborists, however, a lot of my conversations with our clients have turned to how can the business minimize the impact of this pandemic? Here are few business management tactics that can help insulate your business during a pandemic.

What Essential Services are You Providing? – According to a joint statement released by TCIA and ISA, many of the projects that tree care companies perform everyday could qualify as essential services, allowing your tree service to continue to operate. Make sure to read their statement and understand the specific rules in place in your operating area. Also, If you temporarily lose enough employees due to illness, you will need to prioritize which jobs to do first. How you reorganize and service your customers will be critical for success after the illness crisis. I suggest focusing on the highest hazard jobs first, as long as you can safely get the work done. Communicating this to your customers is of utmost importance as everyone won’t fully understand the restrictions and allowances for tree care companies to continue to perform work during this time.

Know Your Crew – Similar to how we outlined knowing your crew member’s medical history in our article “Know Your Crew”, knowing the skill strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members will help you shuffle crews easier when facing a shortage of employees who are out sick.

Distractions at Work – Remember the most common reason we all want to work safe, our family and loved ones, are also some of the largest distractions when we are at work. During this time of uncertainty, many people will have other things on their mind while they are at work Talk to your team about how to identify and handle distractions so your team members don’t suffer an injury or get into an auto accident because they were focused on what is going on at home rather than what’s right in front of them.

Down Payment or Prepay Discounts – With the economic uncertainty that has already come with the coronavirus being able to get money upfront as a down payment on soon-to-be completed jobs is a great way of working your cash flow. Also, offering discounts or low interest rate financing for customers to prepay or agree to the work is a way to insulate your cash flow.

Pay-As-You-Go Work Comp Policy – Speaking about cash flow, there are Work Comp policies where you pay the premium based on the prior month’s payroll. When your payroll is lower from not doing as many jobs, your premium is lower which can be a tremendous boost to your cash flow.

Flexible Sick Day Policy – Make sure your sick day policy is flexible enough that an employee who is sick does not come into work just so they can continue to get a paycheck. If they are sick they should feel comfortable that they will not lose their job or because of an illness. Obviously, this will slow the spread within your company and hopefully prevent a full scale outage of employees at one time.

Remote Office – We touched on this last week, but there are soooo many benefits to being able to have your office staff work remotely. Limiting the spread of an illness is one of the largest benefits, but also to work remotely effectively, your workflow procedures and document record keeping need to be in order. When you have solid procedures and document storage it is remarkable how efficient your office team can be.

These are just a few ways to help minimize the impact of a pandemic within your tree service. We’d love to hear other ideas, please comment below to help fellow tree care companies through this tough time.

Written by: Eric Petersen

Coronavirus Safety for Arborists

Coronavirus Safety for Arborists

By now, everyone has been inundated with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the Coronavirus, however, I have yet to see an article directly relating to the unique exposures that a tree care company has to the virus.

Unfortunately, many arborists are not that concerned with contracting the virus because they work outside and do not have much exposure to other people.

This can be a very dangerous attitude to take especially in an industry with a labor shortage, so I wanted to outline a few areas to consider within your tree care company to limit the spread of any illness throughout your entire team. These are, of course, in addition to the guidelines already posted by the CDC.

Are your company issued PPE’s actually personal? – If your safety equipment (specifically, helmets, eye protection, face shields, chaps, respirators) is not being assigned to a specific employee, now is the time to get out the Sharpie and start writing someone’s name on each piece.

Trucks – Place a container of sanitizing wipes in each truck and make a thorough wipe down of the interior of the cab (including the door handles, steering wheel, gear shifter, radio controls, door locks and window controls) part of your pre and post trip inspections.

Chainsaws and other Handheld Equipment – Just like the trucks, sanitize any hand held equipment after each new person uses the equipment and at the end of each day.

Video Conferencing – Utilize technology like Zoom or Webex to deliver your safety meetings and the morning crew duties and assignments to limit the amount of face to face interaction.

Electronic Proposal Delivery – Just like using technology to talk with your team members, implementing an electronic proposal delivery system helps minimize spreading germs directly to and from customers. It also has the added benefit of streamlining paper processing time for you office crew.

Remote Office – Speaking of your office crew, using a cloud based remote desktop server, your office team can be fully operational anywhere in the world. If you are not yet using a cloud server, hopefully the current situation we are in will give you added incentive to get one in place. It also will double as information security in case of a large loss at your office, like a fire or tornado.

By no means is this list all-inclusive, so take a few moments and think about every aspect of a team member’s day and how you can limit their exposure to germs inside your shop and out on the jobsite. Doing this will certainly reduce the risk of your employees contracting the virus at work.

Written by: Eric Petersen

Coronavirus and Insurance Claims

Coronavirus And Insurance Claims

With all of the attention that the coronavirus (COVID-19) is getting, many tree service owners have asked us if they could be held responsible in any way if their employees or customers were to become infected. The answer really depends upon the specific circumstances of the infected person, but let’s take a deeper look at insurance coverage and illnesses.

To start, let’s discuss how flu epidemics are treated in contrast to location-specific illnesses like E. Coli or Salmonella. An outbreak of Salmonella can often be traced back to an exact source of contamination. This allows the local health department to take action against the company who harbored the bacteria. Depending on the facts surrounding the outbreak, the business could be liable for any illnesses or deaths associated with the outbreak. There are custom insurance coverages available to protect businesses that can be purchased, however, this is much more common in the food service and hospitality industries than the tree care industry.

Now during a flu epidemic, where someone could pick up the virus almost anywhere, it is near impossible to connect the contraction of the illness to a particular business or location. Therefore these events are unlikely to trigger a liability to your tree care company.

What we know about the coronavirus is that it is spread from person to person like the flu. The new known cases rarely have any connection to a specific location or source of infection, consequently the claims analysis for an infected coronavirus person would be handled similar to that of the flu.

In regards to Workers’ Compensation, a coronavirus infected employee could make a successful claim, however, there needs to be a very specific set of circumstances. In most states for a workplace illness to qualify as a Work Comp claim, it must be proven that the employee was subjected to a unique environment that is not common to the general public. If that unique environment was a known location to have a coronavirus outbreak and the employee was sent there to perform their work duties and they contract the virus, they could claim the illness on Work Comp.

In summary, despite the real fear of a widespread coronavirus pandemic, there will most likely not be business insurance coverage available to infected persons. Take all precautions to limit exposure to the virus, just like you would the flu and make contingencies for your office team to work remotely if possible to limit the spread throughout your organization. If you have a specific employee contract the virus and are concerned it may qualify for Work Comp, turn it into your insurance company right away and let them investigate it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), here are some tips to minimize the impact of the coronavirus.

Ensure sick employees stay home and are symptom free for at least 24 hours before returning to work.

1. Be flexible with your sick leave policy and make sure employees know what they are expected to do when sick.
2. Educate employees on proper self-hygiene, like washing hands and covering your mouth during a cough or sneeze.
3. Keep cleaning supplies, tissues and hand sanitizer stocked and readily accessible.
4. Perform routine cleaning in your shop and office as well as providing disposable wipes to employees to keep their individual workstations clean.
5. Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for travel guidance before sending an employee on business.

Written by: Eric Petersen

7 Deadly Sins of Workers Comp

7 Deadly Sins of Workers Comp

If there is ever a place where the phrase ‘attitude is everything’ holds true, it is certainly in the Work Comp world. After partnering with tree care companies over the past fifteen years, I’ve noticed distinct patterns in the attitudes of business owners on how they view Workers’ Compensation and their individual company’s financial strength. These observations led to the creation of the 7 Deadly Sins of Work Comp analogy to help tree care owners and managers avoid destructive behavior.

When a tree care company exhibits any of the characteristics listed below there are grave consequences to both the business’ fiscal health and overall culture. The 7 Deadly Sins of Work Comp are listed starting from the most to least dangerous for a tree service.

Pride – dangerously corrupt selfishness – The deadliest Work Comp sin is Pride. Pride results when tree service owners believe they are already doing the best they can to prevent injuries from happening and they think they know everything about how to handle them. This prideful mindset blocks their ability to learn and grow as a leader for their company, putting their organization and everyone involved in a very precarious situation. Being open minded to suggestions and improvements on safety and injury handling practices can combat Pride. A tree care company owner can never learn too much about how to keep their employees safe and how to lessen the impact of injuries.

Wrath – uncontrolled anger or vengeance – Far too often, a tree care owner or leader gets so fed up with Work Comp that they assign the responsibility to someone else in their company. Their frustration, anger and negative attitude about the system demolishes any positive aspects of Work Comp and sets the company up for failure. A commitment to building a strong safety culture and implementing proper documentation and best practices for Work Comp, must start at the top of the company. The leaders should employ others on the team to help achieve success, however, the responsibility should never be assigned to someone else out of frustration or anger at the system.

Lust – intense longing – Every tree care company wants the lowest possible cost to their Work Comp. However, the intense desire for the lowest cost often blinds the business from how to properly achieve it. The insurance industry, unfortunately, has played a large part in creating this longing. Rather than helping to educate their clients and prospects on how to reduce their long-term Work Comp cost, most insurance agents simply focus only on beating the price of the current insurance company. This is exactly what happens to your customers when your competitors are focused solely on providing cheap tree care services and do not take the time to work with the customer on proper tree care. It is perfectly normal to want to get the lowest cost for your Work Comp policy, however the owner needs to make sure they understand how the system works so they can continue to keep their cost as low as possible into the future and not be blinded by a one-time low quote.

Sloth – lack of interest – The Work Comp sin of Sloth is similar to Pride, but instead of the tree care owner believing they are doing everything they can do; they have a disinterest in proactively preventing and managing injuries. Accepting that injuries are “just a part of tree work” is the surest way to have your company suffer because of them. The impact of the injury multiplies significantly when the tree care owner intentionally does not do anything to manage the injuries when they do happen. To avoid this, the owner must commit to preventing injuries from occurring and create a process to consciously manage them. Written policies and procedures, like safety and return to work programs, as well as injury reporting guidelines are part of the preparation a tree care company should go through to minimize both the financial and emotional pain of an injury.

Envy – insatiable desire – It doesn’t happen often in the tree care world, however, some employees will view Work Comp as an easy paycheck and grow envious of those that get a “free-ride” from the Work Comp company after an injury. If an employee is injured and cannot perform their assigned work duties, they will receive a paycheck from the company’s Work Comp policy. To dodge this sin, institute a formal return to work program outlining what tasks an injured worker can perform for your company. Make this a part of your employee handbook and have all employees sign the handbook, stating they understand that if they’re injured the company will provide work for them to perform within their medical restrictions. Communication between the tree care company, the injured employee, and the treating physician is critical for an effective return to work program.

Gluttony – overindulgence – Not only can an injured employee abuse the Work Comp system, but tree services may also be gluttonized by the medical community. Now, the overwhelming majority of doctors will do their best to return the injured employee to work as quickly as possible. However, a tree service must make sure the treating physician doesn’t see a Work Comp claim as a blank check. Treating physicians have the authority to assign the injured employee off of work to help the injury heal. Thus, just like with Envy, having a solid written return to work program in place protects a tree service from being taken advantage of. Ensure that the doctor knows immediately of any light duty work that is available so they can write any physical restrictions to accompany the light duty. Top performing tree care companies have established relationships with medical clinics before any injuries occur, thereby eliminating most of the potential for errors in communication and gluttony by the doctor.

Greed – desire by trickery – The final Work Comp sin happens when tree care owners intentionally misclassify their employees on their Work Comp policy to get a lower rate. Like other forms of deception, intentionally misclassifying employees sets up the tree service for audit penalties and disciplinary action from the Work Comp insurance company. Not only will the tree service receive an increase in premium from the audit, many insurance companies will non-renew policies if different classifications should have been used at the start the policy. The acceptance of different class codes is something that needs to be agreed upon with the insurance company prior to the policy start date. Owners must work with their insurance agent to understand how to track and report payroll if they can use multiple codes for an employee.

Don’t go to Work Comp hell! Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Work Comp to keep your business as strong as possible.

Eric Petersen of ArboRisk Insurance presented this topic at the 2019 TCIExpo in Pittsburgh, PA.

Written by: Eric Petersen