Coronavirus FAQs: Impact to Business Insurance and Employee Benefits

By Cathy Johnson In Business Insurance
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UPDATED 3/25/2020

As we are all facing unprecedented change and uncertainty, we wanted to respond to some of the most frequently asked questions about your business insurance and employee benefits.

Our offices are open, fully staffed. We anticipate the ability to remain fully staffed during this time and we have the capabilities for nearly our entire team to work remotely to service our clients’ insurance needs. We appreciate your patience as we are receiving a large number of phone calls, emails, and slower response times from insurance carriers.

Our office will work quickly and keep this list updated as the situation progresses.
Thank you for reaching out.

Do I have business interruption coverage for Coronavirus?

Most property insurance includes business interruption coverage, which often includes civil authority and dependent property coverage. This coverage is generally designed to cover losses that result from direct physical loss or damage to property and is not designed to apply in the case of a virus. Each claim is unique and must be reviewed based on the underlying facts, policy language and applicable law. For that reason, we are not in a position to comment on hypotheticals or “what if” situations.

If you are experiencing an interruption, we suggest that you file a claim and allow the adjustors to make the final determination on the level of coverage. A list of some of our insurance carrier partners and their claim number is listed on our website at http://dystewilliams.com/claims/. While most insurance companies prefer that the insured file the claim directly, we are here to assist and support you with the process as needed.

Does Workers’ Compensation Coverage Apply to the Coronavirus?

Workers’ compensation insurance helps your employees recover from work-related injuries or illnesses. Every state has its own workers’ compensation insurance laws and regulations that govern the coverage available. To file a workers’ compensation claim, the employee will need to demonstrate that the injury or illness arose both out of and in the course of their employment. If you believe you have a workers’ compensation claim, we suggest that you file a claim.

A list of some of our insurance carrier partners and their claim number is listed on our website at http://dystewilliams.com/claims/. While most insurance companies prefer that the insured file the claim directly, we are here to assist and support you with the process as needed.

Should I close my office?

For businesses that haven’t yet been affected by a state or federal shutdown, we recommend consulting with to your state association or trade group for guidelines and best practices. This appears to be very serious with shutdowns affecting nearly every type of business.

Notice to Minnesota Dental Association Members (March 16, 2020)
The Minnesota Dental Association in conjunction with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry strongly recommends that dentists practicing in Minnesota voluntarily suspend nonessential or non-urgent dental care for the next 14 days. As always, it is expected that dentists will continue to be available as needed for emergency care and services.

If I have to close my office, will the government provide financial assistance?

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus. Upon a request received from a state or territory’s Governor, SBA will issue under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration.

Any such Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance declaration issued by the SBA makes loans available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations in designated areas of a state or territory to help alleviate economic injury caused by the Coronavirus.

Once a declaration is made for designated areas within a state, the information on the application process for Economic Injury Disaster Loan assistance will be made available to all affected communities as well as updated on their website SBA.gov/disaster.

SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%. SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.

For additional information, please contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center. Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

Is temporary relief of premium payments available?

At this point, any consideration for temporary relief of premiums would be made on an individual basis by the insurance company. Carriers are starting to communicate that they are ready to help with billing and payment issues, including the possible movement of billing due dates. Please contact us for more information regarding your specific carrier at 952.593.5025.

Will my Business Overhead Expense (BOE) policy pay if I have to close my office due to Covid-19?

BOE is a disability policy typically written on the owner/operator within a business. It covers expenses like staff salaries, rent, utilities, replacement staff, interest on business loans, etc. if you are out of work due to injury or illness (disabled). BOE benefits don’t start until after the waiting period which is most commonly 60 days. That means you would have to be out of work due to the disabling health issue for 60 days before you could start collecting benefits.

Can I suspend my malpractice coverage while I’m not working?

Some malpractice insurance carriers allow policy suspension for a minimum of 90 days. The requirements and discounts vary by carrier. We are currently researching additional information about this and how carriers will specifically treat situations related to Coronavirus. We will provide more information as it becomes available.

Healthcare Practices Only: Will my malpractice policy provide coverage if a patient contracts or alleges that they have contracted Coronavirus from treatment in my office?

We believe that if this type of allegation were made, it would be defended by your professional liability policy. Patient allegations of treatment related injuries are what the professional liability policies were designed to address. There are coverage exclusions found in every insurance policy but we see nothing in the exclusions associated with the common dental professional liability policy that would concern us regarding this type of allegation. However, proving that the patient was exposed at the provider’s office due to the negligence of the doctor and staff would appear to be difficult in most cases.

TIME OFF BENEFITS

Are my employees entitled to paid time off?

If employees miss work due to COVID-19, whether they are compensated for their time off will depend on the circumstances. Employees may be entitled to paid time off under certain state laws if they, or a family member, contract COVID-19. In other cases, non-exempt employees generally do not have to be paid for time they are not working. Exempt employees must be paid if they work for part of a work week, but do not have to be paid if they are off work for the entire week. Note that special rules may apply to union employees, depending on the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.

Is Federal assistance available to Employers and Our Employees?

On March 18, 2020, the U.S. Senate voted to approve a coronavirus relief bill that was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives over the weekend. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law. This bill requires employers to provide paid leave for some employees related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, among other measures. Specifically, the bill:

  • Requires two weeks of paid sick leave for affected government workers and employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees; and
  • Provides FMLA rights for some employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees.

The bill also provides funding for economic assistance, requires health plans to cover COVID-19 testing at no charge, and includes a refundable tax credit for employers that provide paid leave benefits due to the coronavirus outbreak. The bill will take effect no later than 15 days after it is signed by the president.

Should this law go into effect, the Secretary of Labor may have the authority to exempt employers with 50 or fewer employees from this requirement by regulation. Most observers believe this is likely, but we will have to see how if the language in the bill changes in the Senate and then what regulations the Secretary of Labor puts in place.

Possible Steps Forward:

  1. Discuss having staff available for emergency services and care. Some staff may wish to remain at home during this time.
  2. Review your employee handbook to see if it addresses using paid leave for unplanned absences or if addressed temporary lay-off situations. If so, follow those rules. If it is not clear, we are happy to review your handbook requirements with you.
  3. Placing employees on a temporary layoff (even if it is only a reduction in their normal work hours) means they can apply for unemployment benefits with the State of Minnesota.
  4. You have good employees, and you should let them know you look forward to getting them back to work as soon as possible!

Are employees eligible for Short Term Disability (STD) benefits?

Short-term disability benefits are there to support your employees when they have an injury or an illness that prevents them from doing the essential duties of their job.

If you have an employee who becomes ill or has symptoms and/or tests positive for COVID-19, and they are unable to work from home, your employee would be eligible to receive STD benefits in accordance with the contract.

Please note: If the employee is not exhibiting any symptoms and can continue their work from home while self-quarantined, there is no absence from work, so there is no disability claim.

Are employees eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

The Minnesota Unemployment Insurance program is ready to assist workers who can’t work, workers who have had their hours reduced, and workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If your employees’ employment has been affected by COVID-19, they can apply for unemployment benefits. They must apply in order to find out if they are eligible. They should apply as soon as possible; waiting may result in losing some benefits. MN Unemployment Insurance program website.

Are employees eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

If an employee, or an employee’s family member, contracts COVID-19, the employee may be entitled to time off from work under federal or state leave laws. For example, an employee who is experiencing a serious health condition or who requires time to care for a family member with such a condition may be entitled to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

An illness like COVID-19 may qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA if it involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. Employees may also be entitled to FMLA leave when taking time off for medical examinations to determine whether a serious health condition exists.

Many states and localities also have employee leave laws that could apply in a situation where the employee or family member contracts COVID-19. Some of these laws require employees to be given paid time off, while other laws require unpaid leave. Employers should become familiar with the laws in their jurisdiction to ensure that they are compliant.

Some employees may wish to stay home from work out of fear of becoming ill. Whether employers must accommodate these requests will depend on whether there is evidence that the employee may be at risk of contracting the disease. A refusal to work may violate an employer’s attendance policy, but employers should consult with legal counsel prior to disciplining such an employee. However, if there is no reasonable basis to believe that the employee will be exposed to the illness at work, the employee may not have to be paid for any time that is missed.

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