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Tag Archives: Employment

Insurance Q & A – Answers from Marjorie Segale

Question 2 – Workers Comp
We have an insured who is a (domestic) employee referral agency. The employee is paid their wages out of a trust account set up by the homeowner using the domestic employee. The employment contract does not specifically require a Certificate of Insurance showing that the employee is covered for workers’ compensation. We are concerned that the referral agency could be considered the employer if the hiring party has no workers’ compensation coverage. We believe they should be asking for a Certificate of Insurance showing workers’ compensation coverage from the employing homeowner.

Answer by Marjorie L. Segale AFIS, CISC, RPLU, CIC, CRIS, ACSR, CISR
Director of Education, Insurance Community Center
I think you are completely correct. Anytime an employee is hurt, the Department of Labor is going to look for any responsible party to pay for the medical treatment and/or lost wages. I think that they should rightfully ask for a Certificate of Insurance (I don’t think that the absence of that requirement in the contract is a big deal). It is very common for people to ask for a COI showing coverage even if there is not a specific obligation to do so in the contract.
More Questions and Answers are on the Homepage of the Insurance Community Center www.insurancecommunitycenter.com

 

 

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Insurance Q & A – Answers from Insurance Professional

Question 1 – Workers Comp
If an employer no longer has any employees is it necessary to maintain a WC policy if the amount of time they will be without employees is unknown? If so why?

Answer by Casey Roberts, ACSR, AFIS, CIC – Laurus Insurance Consulting
As you have probably figured out by now (even though you say you are a newbie) there are very few “yes” or “no” answers in the business of insurance. Let’s say the insured is a sole proprietor and no longer has any employees. In California I would not have a problem with canceling their Workers’ Compensation policy. Note that I would be 100% CERTAIN that they have no employees. Sometimes employers work with “independent contractors” who may or may not be considered as such should a claim occur. If this is the circumstance then I would be loathe to cancel their policy.

If the insured were a Corporation or similar ownership, I would want to make certain that ALL of the officers that have the ability to select to be covered or not to be have selected to NOT be covered. I would want this in writing from the individuals. Far be it from me to cancel a policy without the knowledge of one of those that could potentially be injured and have a claim.

Another consideration is that oftentimes insurers are willing for a minimum premium charge to continue to carry coverage just in case the insured suddenly and without telling you (trust me, this happens a fair amount of the time) hires a new employee. Consider that your insured just got a job and needs someone for two or three days…are they always going to remember to call you? Unfortunately the insurance agent or broker is not always the first person they think to call.

 

 

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Ethics in the Workplace – Six (6) Points To Consider

1) Define your values – remember this is what you are willing to enforce and live to…so make certain that you

Pavilion Office Building

can and will do just that.

2) If you post it, you MUST practice it – walk the talk and talk the walk

3) Integrate it into your workplace – measure it and incorporate it into your everyday processes

4) Watch for the “slippery slope” – make certain that there is a “line in the sand” aver which NO ONE can step…once beyond that line things tend to get a bit slippery

5) Be above reproach – Stay WAY above your line in the sand. It makes it easier to live with that line every day.

6) Get past your self-protective behavior – you are going to make mistakes. When you do own up to them promptly, it is far better for you, your organization and all of those folks you work with on a regular basis.

Written By:

Casey Roberts, ACSR, AFIS, CIC
Laurus Insurance Consulting
www.laurusinsuranceconsulting.com 

 

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SB 863: The New California Workers Compensation Reform Laws are like “Sausages”

California Statehouse

California Statehouse (Photo credit: queenkv)

There is a saying that has been loosely attributed to Otto von Bismarck that says:  “laws are like sausages; it is better not to see them being made”.  This saying is probably insulting to the sausage industry but spot on when it comes to insurance reform laws.  The point of this saying, regardless of who came up with it, is that while the legislative process can be messy, lengthy and involve many different parties and their opinions, the result should be a well-written law that benefits society.  SB 863 certainly took a long time to come to fruition and is certainly lengthy.  California residents, including the insurance industry, can only hope that the result is beneficial.  The question is for whom:  to the injured worker; the employer; the insurance company or the attorney?  It is unlikely that it will be beneficial for all parties concerned, but perhaps that is too pessimistic. While this is a California law, it will be important not only to California broker/agents but for everyone who writes Workers’ Compensation for risks in California.

Now, before getting into the specifics of this new law, I need to tell you that I have spent the past several weeks reading this law (a nice bottle of Zinfandel may have helped) as well as countless articles, opinion letters, and blogs.  Most of the articles provided an overview with very few specifics about the reform.  So, here’s my warning before you read further:  This is a serious article and one I have tried to include all the necessary detail we will need to work with the reform as it stands at this point. We are also conducting a seminar on the topic through the community on February 13th.  Space will be limited for this very important topic. Here are the facts:

  1. SB 863 was signed into law by Governor Brown on September 18, 2012 to take effect January 1, 2013.
  2. This law was finalized after months of negotiations among representatives of labor unions and several large self-insured employers to create significant reform desperately needed in the California Workers’ Compensation system.
  3. This is the first workers’ compensation regulatory reform in California since the passage of SB 899 in 2004.
  4. Oversight and implementation of the revisions will be handled by the California Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Worker’s Compensation.

At the core of this new law are two specific goals:

  1. Increase permanent disability benefits
  2. Cost containment for medical treatment, benefits and administration of workers compensation claims

Because the costs of the foregoing have been significantly increasing, employees and employers agreed that in order for benefits to be increased costs would have to be decreased and the process involved with the workers compensation system must be streamlined. In the past two years, the costs of workers’ compensation insurance have raised from $14.8 billion to $19 billion with a projected 12.6% increase above that in the coming months, prior this reform being enacted. Some of the changes that this law requires are fairly straightforward and involve specific dollar amounts for benefits as well as calculations for disability ratings.  Some of the other changes are not as black-and-white so we will discuss the intent along with the specifics in those areas.

PERMANENT DISABILITY

  1. Minimum and maximum weekly benefit amounts will be phased in over the next two years.  At the end of that time, the maximum benefit will be $290 / week.
  2. The permanent disability rating calculations have also been changed.  Prior to January 1, 2013, the rating formula used modifiers that range between 1.1 and one 1.4 depending on the injury.  The modifier is used to take into account the injured workers diminished future earning capacity as a result of the injury.  The rating formula will no longer include the future earning capacity modifier.  All injuries that occur on or after January 1, 2013 will be adjusted by a factor of 1.4.  The rating system also uses the injured workers age and occupation as modifiers.  Those modifiers will continue to be used. Injuries that took place prior to January 1, 2013 will continue to be calculated at the same modifier that was initially used.
  3. Section 4662 of the Labor Code provides specific circumstances under which the injury is soon to be total disability:  (1) loss of both eyes or site (2) loss of both hands or use (3) effective total paralysis (4) brain injury resulting in incurable mental incapacity or insanity.  All other cases are decided in accordance with the facts of the injury.  This section of the Labor Code has not been changed.
  4. Previously, permanent disability awards were available due to sleep disorders or sexual dysfunction resulting from physical injuries.  These circumstances will no longer qualify for permanent disability awards.  Psychiatric injuries resulting from physical injuries will no longer qualify for permanent disability unless the injured worker with either the victim of a violent crime or witnessed a violent crime.
  5. Psychiatric claims involving treatment for sleep problems, sexual dysfunction and or psychological consequences of their injuries will still be compensable under the new law.
  6. The combination of the increase in benefits and the methods used to calculate permanent disability ratings results in approximately $850 million in additional benefits for permanently disabled workers.

JOB DISPLACEMENT VOUCHERS

  1. An injured worker has been eligible to receive this job displacement voucher that could be used to pay for job retraining.  The amount of this voucher was based upon the permanent disability rating and was on a sliding scale that ranged between $4,000 and $ 10,000.  In order to be eligible for this retraining voucher the permanent disability rating had to be fully determined either by a ruling by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board or by a settlement agreement between the injured worker and the employer.
  2. The voucher amount is now fixed at $6,000 when the injured worker reaches permanent and stationary status and the treating physician reports on the injured workers abilities and limitations resulting from the injury.

RETURN TO WORK FUND

  1. The Department Of Industrial Relations is responsible for establishing and administering a $120 million asked per year Return to Work Fund.  The reason that this new fund is being established is to take care of the worker when their disability is disproportionately low compared to their earnings.  The new Labor Code Section 139.48 says:

139.48. There shall be in the department a return-to-work program administered by the director, funded by one hundred twenty million dollars ($120,000,000) annually derived from non-General Funds of the Workers’ Compensation Administration Revolving Fund, Eligibility for payments and the amount of payments shall be determined by regulations adopted by the director, based on findings from studies conducted by the director in consultation with the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation. Determinations of the director shall be subject to review at the trial level of the appeals board upon the same grounds as prescribed for petitions for reconsideration.

  1. The term director in this law refers to the director of the DIR.  Where will the money come from?  It will be 100% funded by surcharges on the Workers’ Compensation policies purchased by California employers.  The payment of benefits will not be paid by the insurance companies, but will be determined and administered by the DIR.  Any appeal from a determination of benefit will be made to the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.  A number of attorneys have opined that since the law specifically allows review at trial level, that it is implied their fees will be paid from the fund.  There are no current regulations that expressly provide for those payments.  The regulations to comply with this requirement have not yet been written, or at least published.

INDEPENDENT MEDICAL REVIEW

  1. This portion of the new law is designed to create a significant change in resolving medical treatment disputes.  As of January 1, 2013 for injuries occurring on or after that date and as of July 1, 2013 for all injury dates, an Independent Medical Review will be used to decide these types of disputes.
  2. Currently it can often take 12 months to resolve a dispute and requires specific steps that must be taken.  The process involves (1) negotiating the selection of a medical evaluator (2) obtaining a listing of state-certified medical evaluators (if an agreement is not reached) (3) negotiating over the selection of the state-certified medical evaluator (4) making the appointment (5) examination (6) obtaining the evaluator’s report (7) obtaining a hearing date with the judge if there is a disagreement on the evaluation (8) waiting for the judge’s decision.  In addition, the treating physician can rebut a request clarity from the medical evaluator and the evaluator may be required to submit supplemental reports.
  3. The law does proscribe the process for an injured worker to appeal an IMR determination and again, that will go to the trial level of the WCAB.  The basis for the appeal is either fraud, conflict of interest or a mistake of fact.  The IMR is only available if there is a dispute over the requested medical treatment.  It is not available to resolve other types of dispute, such as the injury itself.

MEDICAL PROVIDER NETWORKS

Due to the prevalence of complaints involving MPNs, such as including doctors who do not accept workers compensation patients and the lack of availability of care and specialty areas the bill includes several modifications of the MPN system.

  1. Removal of the current requirement that 25 percent of doctors within the Network practice in areas other than occupational medicine.
  2. Physicians must affirmatively confirm participation in a network.
  3. Each Network will have to provide medical access assistants who will help the injured worker find an appropriate doctor for treatment.
  4. The Division of Workers’ Compensation must perform continuous and random reviews.  The DWC has been provided the authority to impose penalties if the Network fails to properly address and correct access problems.
  5. Disputes regarding whether or not an injured worker is subject to utilizing a Network will now be resolved at the time of the dispute, rather than holding resolution over until the end of a claim.
  6. Treatment from a non-Network provider without authorization from the insurance company or a judge’s order will no longer be paid by the insurance company or the employer.
  7. If the injured worker obtains treatment from an unauthorized provider that is either unsuccessful or worsens the injury, those medical costs will not be paid by the insurance company or the employer.
  8. Medical reports submitted by a non-Network provider can no longer be the sole basis for a compensation award.  These types of reports must be reviewed by the authorized physician and a qualified or agreed medical evaluator.

INDEPENDENT BILL REVIEW

  1. This is a new process that is being established to resolved medical billing disputes.  This portion of the law also contains new requirements for submitting a bill and how insurance companies or employers must communicate their payment decisions to the medical providers.

LIENS

This is one of the most significant modifications to the workers’ compensation system in California.  A lien is a direct claim against the defendant typically submitted by medical providers or other service providers that the employer was required to provide.  The medical provider uses a lien to contest the employer’s determination of the amount payable for the medical services.

This legal tool is relatively unique to California and has resulted in a significant number of liens to be filed through the court system.  In 2010 there were approximately 350,000 liens filed and in 2011 approximately 450,000.  The result of this is an expense incurred by insurance companies and employers alike of approximately $200,000,000 a year.  Because of the sheer volume of filed liens the courts encouraged settlement of these liens and as a result many unjustifiable claims were paid.

  1. The bill requires that a lien filing contain certain declarations made under penalty of perjury.  The filer will also have to pay a filing fee of $150.00.  All fees collected will be deposited into the Workers’ Compensation Administration Revolving Fund.    There are also provisions for dismissal of liens after January 1, 2014 as well as a statute of limitations (18 months) for filing liens for services rendered after July 1, 2013.  Another statute of limitations (3 years) applies for services provided prior to that date.
  2. The bill also requires the employer to pay for interpreter services.
  3. The specific language in the bill relative to the subject of liens is contained in many, many pages of the bill.  Undoubtedly the wording and intent will be clarified over the course of the next several years as to the legislative intent and the various loopholes will be found by the courts, whether favorable to the employer, the injured worker or the service provider.
  4. A schedule of maximum service provider fees are to be developed and implemented.  The Official Medical Fee Schedule will be updated and will incorporate Medicare’s Resource Based Relative Value Scale.

SELF-INSURED EMPLOYERS

  1. Required to pay deposits to ensure that their responsibilities to pay losses will be to be issued by December 31stannually.
  2. The bill also precludes Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), temporary employment agencies and employee leasing organizations from being a self-insured employer.  The bill also tightens the restrictions that could allow an illegally uninsured employer from claiming self-insured status.  The employer must receive approval from the Self-Insurers’ Security Fund.
  3. Self-insured public entities’ annual reporting requirements have also been strengthened and a required study of the self-insured public entity programs must be performed by the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation and a report completed with preliminary recommendation for improvement of the program by October 1, 2013.

As a conclusion to this lengthy article, this law has been touted by many different groups as a streamlining, cost-saving reform that will also include significant increase in benefits, particularly for those persons deemed permanently disabled.  The funding of the increase in benefits is supposed to be funded by the streamlining of the compensation claim process and the other procedures identified above.  Well, there is no doubt that the scope of this reform bill will have significant impact on the entire workers’ compensation system in California for years to come.  One can hope that the employers will actually see cost-savings relief and that those seriously injured workers get the help they deserve.  There is little doubt that the legal jousting will begin and continue for some time.  Thanks to all of you who have actually reached the end of this article and hope to see you in class on February 13th.Sign up on site at www.insurancecommunitycenter.com

Written by:

Marjorie Segale AFIS, CISC, RPLU, CIC, CRIS, ACSR, CISR
Director of Education, Insurance Community Center & President, Segale Consulting Services, LLC
 

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Stranger Things Have Possibly Happened

An Australia government employee was injured in a motel room while on a business trip and she wasn’t playing canasta.  While the lower court there ruled that this was not arising out of employment, that decision was overruled by the Australian Federal Court.  Now, if you think that type of claim could never happen here, consider the following:

  • Housekeeper files for benefits under domestic Workers’ Compensation claiming carpal tunnel syndrome from regularly, shall we say, servicing the “master” of the house.  The Workers’ Compensation insurance company paid loss of wages, medical and rehabilitation expenses.  Retraining was apparently not required.  As a side note, this claim was reported by the wife.

On to some other strange and just weird claims:

  • A woman working out of her house, tripped over the family dog, breaking her wrist.  The Appeals Board asserted that since the home was her work environment and she was injured while working, the claim would be covered under the Workers’ Compensation policy.
  • This claim occurred in a monopolistic state.  A number of employees were roughhousing during a mandatory team building event.  A group of them were in a canoe, saw a coworker standing on the riverbank and tried to pull him into the river.  One of the male employees grabbed him, threw him to the ground and caused a neck injury.  The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s decision since this was a mandatory business event.  Horseplay doesn’t necessarily remove a claim from the Workers’ Compensation system.
  •  Apparently in at least one state, smoking a little weed doesn’t mean that an injury can’t be covered under Workers’ Compensation.  A man mauled by a wild animal at a tourist park claimed employee status.  The employer argued that he was a volunteer and he had smoked marijuana that day.  The state’s Supreme Court states that he received compensation for his duties and that his habit was not the major cause of his injury and ruled in favor of the employee.
  • A group of employees were sent to a two-day training conference.  At the end of the first day, a group of the employees first attended a company
    dinner, then visited three bars over a four hour period.  After going back to their hotel, three of the employees decided they should climb out of a bathroom window onto the roof of their second-story hotel.  One of them leaned against a rail which gave way and the employee sustained injuries due to the fall.  The appellate court ruled that benefits should be denied stating that the employee’s conduct was unreasonable under the circumstances.
  • A man, working as a maintenance worker at a trailer park was asked to go into a trailer to investigate a very bad smell.  He found the decomposing body of an opossum and suffered a heart attack.  Although he had a pre-existing heart condition, the jury ruled that the injury was work related and, therefore, covered under the Workers’ Compensation policy.
  • Then there was the injury of a 21-year old man who gave a vending machine at his employer’s place of business a push to dislodge a bag of chips for a female coworker.  He suffered a displaced fracture in his neck and was awarded benefits by the state Appellate Court.
  • A co-worker’s perfume was found to have aggravated an employee’s pre-existing COPD.  The Appellate Court found that was a compensable injury as it arose out of employment.
  • An employee was off the job due to an employment-related injury when he was arrested and incarcerated for solicitation of murder (of his wife).  This was deemed to be involuntary removal from employment.  His benefits were to be continued.
  • An employee was injured while working at a fast-food establishment.  Part of the insulation of an electrical wire to a microwave oven had been removed and the employee sustained electrical burns.  The act of removal did not rise to the level of intentional tort liability, although clearly injuries arising out of and in the course of employment.

So, what is the moral of this collection?  Sometimes the employer is held responsible, even when, at first glance, it sounds absurd.  But then, humans can act in absurd and strange ways and cause themselves or others harm in the process.

Although I cannot confirm the veracity of the following, I couldn’t resist including these  claimant statements that I found at http://www.funny2.com (no – everything found on the internet is not true!).  Sometimes, it is all how you phrase it!

  • My head injuries have created a permanent increase in libido which has led to two affairs and has ruined my marriage.
  • I got my right hand first finger in the saw while helping Mike and staying out of his way. My finger bled and it affected my mind.
  • I chipped my tooth on a cookie while visiting a customer.
  • While on duty, I was hit in the face by a hand. My glasses were broke and something hit my eye. No one believes I was hit but it hurt!
  • Hot grease splashed on me and fried my thumb.
  • I was working on my job and got a pain at the end of the week.
  • Accident unnecessarily occurred on account of a misjudgment.
  • I ran down the steps and when I got to the end, my feet wouldn’t stop.
  • I had my hand in the machine while the air was off. Someone turned on switches and folded my hand.
  • I was assaulted and attacked by a vicious employee because he didn’t like me and I know it.
  • The patient was going to fall for me. I could not let this happen. In so preventing this, I caused myself damage to my knee.
  • This is for the cut on my hand, but I took the stitches out myself. However, I am filing on account of the watchdog biting me and on account of a hurt I got in a fall in the paint shop.
  • In performing the job of which I am capable, I didn’t know the machine was on and was showing my new helper what not to do and did.
  • I was proving that I could carry an air compressor and I strained my back.
  • I looked into the hose to see why the water did not come out. It came.
  • I sprained my ankle the same way I sprained my ankle before.
  • I hit my arm against the hopper, and got flea bites.
  • That night I done something I shouldn’t-a done and now my back hurts.
  • A gate hit my foot while my back was turned, closing the other side.
  • Customer thought she needed the brakes adjusted. She drove the car into the station, could not stop the car, came through the door and pinned claimant against the cash register.
  • I was removing a blouse for a customer and which time I injured my back.
  • I inherited this occupational disease.
  • Acting on behalf of my employer, I hit another automobile.
  • In order to avoid a person, Betty lost her balance and fell down. In one hand she had a ketchup bottle which broke on impact, cutting her hand. In the other hand she had her thumb.
  • I over asserted myself and got a hernia.
  • The doctor gave me a disease for my occupation and said I must change jobs.
  • Gears smashed thumb while holding air cleaner, while putting nipple on with right hand, while balancing air cleaner with left hand, while holding end with left hand away from right hand. Gears were not covered.
  • I didn’t know water was where I fell.
  • I fell down in the Fotomat booth while dislocating my knee.
  • Sustained back injury due to car accident which is part of his job.
  • Falling off the truck, I dislocated my pelvis and other male organs.
  • I slipped and fell and hurt everything in me.
  • I dropped my head on my foot when someone pushed their guts across the table without calling out (from a slaughterhouse employee).
  • The fumes were so bad I was taken by them and went to bed with the doctor.
  • The guy I work with went ape s4%t. He hauled off and punched me in the jaw and then tried to rip my throat out.
  • Carrying roll roofing, I caught my toe on a piece of tin that was froze in the ground. The tin flipped against me causing me to trip, letting the roofing fall into the bucket of tar. Tar splashed out, burning my arm, and causing me to jump back into the ladder which fell against me, knocking me into the building, breaking my tooth. Thus I burned, bumped, and broke me.

 

  • Written by:
  • Marjorie Segale AFIS, CISC, RPLU, CIC, CRIS, ACSR, CISR
    Director of Education, Insurance Community Center
    & President, Segale Consulting Services, LLC
 

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Producer Contract Fundamentals

Contracts

One of the amazing things that occurs in some agencies, even successful ones, is that often the producers have not signed contracts.

There are three main reasons for the lack of contracts.

The most common is that the agency owner and the producer has a verbal agreement. Usually the owner is reluctant to put the agreement in writing for fear that the producer will not sign one any way and might leave if forced to sign.

The second reason is that the owner just did not take the time to draft an agreement or did not know were to start. The third most common reason is that the owner feels contracts are a waste of time and money. They believe that if a producer wants to leave and violate the contract they will.

The last reason does have a bit of truth to it. However, if a producer does violate a contract, at least the owner does have a means of recourse. This is especially true if the agreement is fair.

Those who feel a verbal agreement will suffice or fail to take the time to write an agreement are playing with fire, and will get burnt. Without a contract, any dispute must rely on verbal agreements, implied agreements and common practices. The results of such disputes are up in the air. At least with a contract both sides have a common starting point in which to resolve their disagreements.

One of the biggest reasons to have a contract with a producer is to clearly state who owns the business. Producers often feel that since they generated the business they own it. Whereas many owners feel that since they own the agency, they also own all of the business. The conflict arises when these two opposites do business together.

The time and money it takes to put a contract together seems trivial when a producer with a $250,000 commission book of business walks away. Sometimes the ownership issues pop up only when the agency owner is retiring, only to find out their agency is worth a lot less because they do not own the producer’s book of business.

The Starting Point
There are many boilerplate or do it yourself contracts out there. Some of these are quite well written. They can be used as the starting point for negotiations between the parties. Or, you may choose to start with a plain language Letter of Intent that outlines all the terms agreed to by all parties.

The next step is important. HAVE A COMPETANT LEGAL ADVISOR REVIEW AND APPROVE ALL YOUR CONTRACTS. Boilerplates are fine to an extent, but laws change and vary from state to state, so never do all the contract work without an attorney who has experience with producer contracts. If you start with a Letter of Intent, the attorney can use it as the raw material for a contract.

So what are the key elements that make up a good contract? The first thing to consider is that each agency and producer is unique and that a contract can and should vary based on the circumstances. There are, however, some basic components that each contract should contain. The most common elements are:

Parties to the Agreement and Recital – State the name of all parties (individuals and entities) that are entering into the agreement. The recital provides a brief overview of the background and why the agreement is being written.

Term of Employment or Contract – State how long this agreement will run. It can be open-ended, if so desired.

Responsibilities of the Producer – Describe the duties expected from the producer. Always add a line that duties include any reasonable task requested or assigned to him/her by the employer. This is a good “catch-all” phrase.

Obligations of the Employee – Explain what the employer will provide the producer to enable them to perform their work.

Compensation and Benefits – Outline the compensation plan and any benefits provided.

Exclusive Nature of Employment – State that the employee is to devote their full-time and efforts exclusively for the benefits of the business. This section should not be included in a contract with an independent contractor.

Termination of Agreement – Describe what the rules will be for termination of employment.

Death and Disability Issues – Many contracts omit this valuable section. Make sure it is understood how the death or disability of the producer will impact the agreement.

Non-Disclosure and Non Piracy – Clearly state the importance of non-disclosure and non-piracy of the agency materials. If included in the contract, it is most likely to hold up in court.

Ownership of Accounts, Expiration Lists and Renewals – Describe how the ownership of the accounts will be handled.

Injunctive Relief and Damages – Spell out the ramification of any violations of the agreement.

Assignment of Agreement – Allow for the assignment of the contract to a third-party, such as a buyer of the agency.

Invalidity of Specific Sections – This section allows for the rest of the agreement to remain intact, if a specific section becomes invalid for some reason.

In addition to these sections, there will be additional sections related to common legal practices in a contractual agreement, such as Applicable Law, Binding Effects, Amendments, Waivers, Arbitration and Complete Agreement.

Is it Negotiable?
Some of these sections are negotiable, such as Compensation and Obligation of the Employee. It is important, however, that the agency owner not negotiate on other sections such as Non Disclosure, Assignment of Agreement and Termination of Agreement.

The sections that tend to be the most important to the owner and the producer revolve around compensation and ownership issues. The approach towards these two issues needs to be customized based on the needs, expectations and position of the parties.

Insights on how to handle producer compensation was addressed in a prior article (VVVVV). The bottom line on compensation is that it needs to be rewarding and motivating for the producer, affordable to the owner and fair to both parties.

Ownership of Accounts
There is a wide range in how account ownership is handled, or mishandled, by many contracts today. Some agreements have the producer owning it all, some have the agency own it all and some fall in between.

The problem is that sometimes account ownership has been used as the vehicle for a vesting agreement or deferred compensation plan. It is important to keep the concept of account ownership separate from the concept of a vesting agreement or deferred compensation plan.

The ownership of the accounts, renewals and expiration lists should always remain with the agency. The contract should clearly state this fact. This will prevent any misunderstanding about who owns the accounts. The vested interest, if allowed, should be strictly a financial benefit to the producer, not an ownership interest in the accounts.

If the two parties agree to some sort of vesting or deferred compensation, that should be spelled out separately from account ownership. In a vesting agreement, the producer has a vested interest in some portion of the renewal commissions generated by the accounts, while the ownership still remains with the agency. This agreement can be part of the employment contract or it can be its own agreement.

A deferred compensation plan can be effectively the same as a vesting agreement. It is probably less confusing to use the deferred compensation terminology rather than the vesting terminology, since the latter may be confused with an ownership of the accounts.

Keep in mind that a deferred compensation plan can be unrelated to the producer’s book of business. For example, the employee may earn $10,000 in deferred compensation per year of employment.

The terms of the deferred compensation or the vesting agreement needs to be clearly stated. Why bother saying that a producer is 50% vested in their accounts without describing how the value will be determined? Failure to state how the value is determined will only cause more problems.

A “rule of thumb” multiple for value is the most common approach. The main problem with a rule of thumb, such as one times commission, is that it may not reflect the fair value of that particular book of business. It makes sense to include the option for a professional appraisal if a dispute arises.

The contract can also allow the producer to buy the accounts from the agency. This makes the agreement bilateral and may help the agreement to be construed as fair in the courts. The agency, however, should always reserve the right to sell (or not).

Summary
Good producers are hard to find. For an agency owner to spend a lot of time and money finding and developing a good producer, it only makes sense to have a clear understanding of what their agreement is. When both parties know what the terms are and agree to them in writing, it tends to keep both sides honest and more likely to follow the terms.

The legal world is not perfect and valid contracts sometimes don’t hold up for one reason or another. An agency’s clients are better off with the proper insurance then no insurance at all. In a similar fashion, an agency and producer are better off with a written contract then no contract. A well-written producer contract is a form of assurance to a good relationship between the agency and the employee.

About the Authors.

Bill Schoeffler and Catherine Oak are partners in the international consulting firm, Oak & Associates, based in Northern California. The firm specializes in financial and management consulting for national and international insurance agencies, including valuations, mergers acquisitions, clusters, sales and marketing planning as well as perpetuation planning. They can be reached at (707) 936-6565 or by e-mail at catoak@sonic.net. print

 

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10 Ways to Attract and Retain Great Employees – Parts 1 & 2

The “human factor” has always been paramount for the insurance industry. In today’s business environment, clearly the long-term winners will be companies that provide a flexible and challenging work environment, along with employee recognition and rewards. Organizations have to be willing to share their successes. If employees are asked to share the risks, then they have to share the rewards.

Employment Exhibition

WHAT DO EMPLOYEES REALLY WANT?

In our work as consultants we often discuss what owners and employees think are the key motivating factors. Most business owners initially think money is the key issue. However, many employees state that they are looking for challenges, recognition, and empowerment.
Despite the current softness in the economy and the rise in the unemployment rate, the shortage of skilled insurance workers is still restraining growth for many agencies. Given this environment, what can a firm do to retain and attract the best and brightest employees, while challenging them to achieve the business’ goals?
First, recognize that money, by itself, will not do it. High performing employees are searching for something more than just a high salary. The typical employee compensation plan should include a total package of rewards, recognition and environment. Some of the elements are “satisfiers” that allow a firm to attract and retain employees such as benefits, flex-time and training. Other elements of compensation are “motivators” such as bonuses, incentives, challenge, and opportunity. A well designed plan will have long term and short term compensation components.
The key to attracting and retaining the best people to the firm is the use of a “total compensation” approach. It is also a critical component in improving employee performance. A firm that takes the time to carefully customize a “total compensation” package will transform individual employees into high performing, and committed employees.
There are three basic ingredients to the total compensation package that every agency must have:
1.         Challenging Work
The old system of directing and monitoring every task that an employee performs is out. Employees with multiple skills and authority are in. For example, a major retailer has a one-paragraph employee handbook that states: “Rule #1: Use your judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.” To truly perform at this level requires enormous trust in the employees. However, if a business is able to perform at this level it will reach incredible heights.
Provide additional opportunities for learning and skill development to spice work up. Encourage the staff to take classes to get licensed and for courses to earn the necessary CEUs. But, an expansion of training could provide more flexibility through a higher skilled workforce. Send the employees to Dale Carnegie, Microsoft software training, business skills seminars, team building sessions or a sales class (such as Dynamics of Sales sponsored by CIC).
2.         Work Environment
Today’s workforce is looking for flexibility on the job and balance in their life. Management needs to evaluate ways to realistically provide this sought after flexibility in work. For example, tradition has it that the employees work in an office with established work hours. Could the firm allow for variations, such as 4-day workweeks, working at home two days a week or job sharing? Flexible work hours are becoming a common tool to attract and retain good employees.
3.         Recognition and Rewards
Non-cash recognition awards are a very effective way to reinforce the agency’s values. They can be a low-cost, high-impact element of the total compensation package. For example, employees who provide outstanding or innovative customer service receive special awards. One way is for employees to be nominated by customers or their peers.
Management needs to think about the types of awards that make sense for employees. Here are some examples:
¯Provide a day off with pay
¯Provide tickets to sports, music or cultural events
¯Take out an advertisement in the local newspaper thanking your employees for their contributions
¯Provide a donation in an employee’s name to the charity of his or her choice
¯Pay for tutoring for the winner’s child
¯Have the winner’s car detailed during work
¯Pay for the winner’s house to be cleaned
¯Pay for an evening out for the winner and their spouse – dinner and babysitting
Once the basic ingredients are established, the firm can then look into advanced tools to attract and retain employees. The following are some of the approaches that owners should also consider:
4.         Profit Sharing
Although money is not always king, it still has a lot of clout. Firms that establish a bonus plan based on the business profitability will have employees that strive to increase sales and cut expenses. Profit sharing can be based on the profitability of the overall business or by profit centers such as commercial lines versus personal lines versus life and health. The pool of bonus money can then be distributed to the staff based on management’s discretion.
A variation of profit sharing is to reduce the employees’ base compensation while providing quarterly bonuses based on a department’s performance. A plan that tracks employee performance will then allow them to see a direct correlation between their effort and their compensation.
Even in this economy, great employees are hard to find. You need to work hard and smart in order to find those star performers. Below are six more ideas for your agency to find and keep those high performers.
One of the key steps to take is to do your homework before you even begin the process of hiring a new employee. First, you need to identify what you are looking for. This includes the responsibilities for the position, skills required and your basic expectations for the type of person you want to hire.
We are very excited to offer to you our new employee hiring service through our partner, Insurance Hiring Systems. This is a great resource to help you do your homework before you hire and then have access to many tools that make sure you hire the right person. WWW.OakHiringSystem.com
10 Ways to Attract and Retain
Great Employees – Part 2
5 and 6            Phantom Stock and Stock Appreciation Rights
Stock appreciation rights (SARs) and phantom stock are both specialized deferred compensation techniques designed to provide an employee with the economic benefits of stock ownership without the employee actually owning any company stock. When an owner cannot or will not change the existing ownership structure, SARs and phantom stock are often used, to provide an employee with some sort of incentive compensation based on the actual business performance.
A SAR is simply a grant to an employee which gives that person a right, at some specific time in the future, to receive a cash award equal to the appreciation in value of a certain number of shares of company stock. In concept, SARs are similar to stock options, but different in several points. Stock options require the employee to purchase the company’s stock at the grant price. However, SARs do not require a cash outlay from the employee. The employee only receives the appreciation in value of the stock.
Phantom stock on the other hand can be viewed as units of value, which directly correspond to an equivalent number of shares of company stock. These phantom stock units are then granted to an employee for a specific period of time. When the maturity period is reached, the employee is then compensated directly in cash, based on the value of the phantom stock. Unlike SARs, the amount of compensation with phantom stock usually includes the underlying value of the stock as well as any appreciation above the grant price. Another difference is that SARs are typically paid out when the employee chooses to exercise the SAR, while phantom stock typically has a fixed award date.
7.         Deferred Compensation
Deferred compensation is a method for producers to build long term value for their efforts directly related to their books of business. We recommend using deferred compensation instead of ownership in the producer’s book of business. The plan is often phased in over time until the producer is fully vested in the plan.
The agency benefits by having a system that encourages the producers to build their books as well as remain with the firm. It must be noted that a deferred compensation plan (as well as SARs and phantom stock) creates a contingent liability for the firm, which does negatively affect agency value. However, deferred comp is also “consideration,” which helps uphold the covenant not-to-compete in a producer contract. This is another good reason to include deferred compensation as part of a producer agreement.
8.         Split Dollar Life Policies
A split-dollar plan is a way to provide life insurance for an employee or their spouse at a reduced cost to that individual. The premium for the insurance is shared by the employee and his or her employer (thus the name “split dollar”).
It is an effective way to retain key employees while the business is reimbursed for every dollar it advances. From the employer’s perspective, split-dollar is an inexpensive method of buying life insurance for any personal or business needs of select employees. It enhances employee loyalty by providing substantial insurance benefits. Some split dollar policies can provide funds, which may be used for additional employee benefits in the future (deferred compensation, salary continuation, stock redemption, or retirement income).
From the employee’s perspective, split-dollar can help replace needed family income that would be lost at the employee’s death or help pay any estate taxes. If the employee owns the policy and collaterally assigns the policy to the employer, the employer can borrow against the cash value to the extent allowed by the collateral assignment form.
9.         ESOPs
Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are a way for business owners to sell shares in the company or to provide an additional benefit to all qualified company employees. These plans were initially created as a win-win for business owners and employees. ESOP contributions are tax deductible as are dividends if they are paid to employees directly, on their behalf to the ESOP or applied to the loan payments of a leveraged plan. Because the ESOP is funded with pretax dollars, the company’s tax savings may increase even further.
The selling shareholder can also defer the capital gains on stock sold to an ESOP as long as the ESOP owns 30% or more of the company’s stock and the seller rolls over the sale proceeds into qualified replacement property (stocks or bonds of domestic companies). Employees pay no tax on the contributions until they are entitled to receive the stock when they leave the company or retire. At this point, the company generally buys back the stock through a buyback provision in the ESOP.
ESOPs are expensive to set up and maintain. Businesses need to be a certain size before it makes financial sense. We recommend that agency owners do their homework before seriously considering this option.
10.       Stock Equity
Stock ownership usually conjures up visions of importance and respect. Producers and employees feel that having the word “Owner” on their business card will improve sales and stature. Often the employees only understand the benefits of stock ownership and the drawbacks are ignored or not understood.
Agency owners are often unclear themselves whether or not they should offer stock to an employee. They usually first think about it either when a current employee is about to walk out the door and may not come back. Owners might often feel that they are forced to offer stock in order to entice a new producer to join the firm or to retain the currently employee, such as a producer with a book of business.
We recommend that owners think long and hard before offering stock to an employee. The decision whether or not to make an employee an owner needs to be based on a review of many factors. The right decision can propel the agency forward for many years to come. The wrong decision can mire the firm in unimportant muck.
A Final Thought
A good principle to follow is that if you want outstanding results, you need to be prepared to pay outstanding rewards. Implementation of a “total compensation” plan will motivate employees to improve not only their own performance but the performance of the firm as well.
Written by: Bill Shoeffler, CIC

 

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