California Orders Insurers to Pay Back Premiums Due to Virus

20 Apr

 

Ricardo

Ricardo Lara, California’s Insurance Commissioner

California insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara on Monday ordered insurers in the state to refund some March and April premium payments to policyholders for a range of personal and commercial lines due to COVID-19.

The notice ordered insurers to “make an initial premium refund for the months of March and April” to affected California policyholders as quickly as practicable and no later than within 120 days.

Lines where refunds are required include, commercial and personal auto, workers compensation, commercial multiple peril, commercial liability, medical malpractice and “any other line of coverage where the measures of risk have become substantially overstated as a result of the pandemic,” the notice said.

Insurers can offer premium credits, premium reductions, return of premiums of other “appropriate premiums adjustments” and must report their actions with 60 days, the notice said.

The department will send out a subsequent bulletin to insurers and provide appropriate instructions if the COVID-19 pandemic continues beyond May, the notice said.

The order follows announcements by various auto personal lines insurers and some small business insurers in various states that they would offer premium refunds or discounts to reflect decreases in miles driven and other risk-related changes stemming from the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Chubb Ltd. on Monday announced that small business policyholders whose policies renew between April 1 and August 1, 2020, will receive an automatic 25% reduction in the sales and payroll exposures used to calculate their premium as well as a 15% reduction in premiums for their commercial auto insurance.

In addition, Chubb will purchase $1 million in gift cards from small business clients, which will be donated to healthcare workers and other first responders on the front lines of the pandemic in their communities.

In addition, Selective Insurance Group Inc. on Monday announced it would give commercial and personal auto policyholders a 15% premium credit for April and May related to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.

Workers Exposed to COVID-19

By Kurt Rose and Karen Charlson on  April 9, 2020, Littler law firm.

In yet another significant move, on April 8, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published additional guidance for employers regarding safety practices for “critical infrastructure workers” who may have been exposed to a person with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19.

Since the onset of COVID-19, many employers are requiring employees who have been exposed, or potentially exposed, to infected persons to remain away from work for 14 days – the CDC’s stated incubation period.  As a result, many employers, including those that perform essential functions, were hamstrung operationally because portions of their workforce remained self-quarantined for two weeks.

New Guidance for Critical Infrastructure Employers

The new guidelines help ease the strain on the country’s critical sectors.  The purpose of the guidance is to ensure the continued operation of critical infrastructure.  The CDC is now advising that critical infrastructure employees who have been exposed to the virus can continue to work, provided they remain asymptomatic.  In order to permit exposed employees to continue to work, the CDC advises that employers should, among other things, adhere to the following practices prior to and during work:

  1. measuring temperature before employees enter the facility;
  2. regular monitoring of asymptomatic employees;
  3. having affected employees wearing a mask/face covering in the workplace for 14 days after exposure (employer-issued or employee-supplied);
  4. having employees maintain social distancing (six feet apart), as work duties permit; and
  5. routinely disinfecting work spaces.

Who is Critical?

As noted above, the new guidance does not apply to all employers that continue to operate through the pandemic.  The CDC has highlighted that the new guidance applies to the following critical infrastructure sector personnel:

  • Federal, state, and local law enforcement;
  • 911 call center employees;
  • Fusion center employees;
  • Hazardous material responders from government and the private sector;
  • Janitorial and other custodial staff; and
  • Workers – including contracted vendors – in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, information technology, transportation, energy and government facilities.

This list is not exhaustive, however, and leaves much open for interpretation.  In an effort to provide further clarity, the CDC directs employers to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) website for further guidance on sectors and employees that are considered critical.

Interplay with Shelter in Place Orders

In connection with their shelter in place orders, many states and localities have adopted the CISA’s guidelines.  Therefore, employers should pay close attention to whether the type of work they perform falls within a CISA critical infrastructure sector and, similarly, whether the employees who continue to report to work are, in fact, essential. Employers subject to a stay at home order that does not rely on the CISA framework should be careful to evaluate the nature of their operations under the particular order at issue.

Next Steps

The CDC’s new guidelines can help critical infrastructure employers as they continue to navigate the most appropriate ways to maintain operations during this difficult time.  So long as critical employers implement the above-noted recommendations, essential workers who have been exposed, or potentially exposed, may continue working if those workers are not sick.  At the end of the day, however, critical infrastructure employers may choose to follow more conservative protocols with their workforce.

Flash Report: Cal/OSHA Receiving Thousands of COVID Complaints

Published on: April 17, 2020 Cal/OSHA Reporter

Cal Osha

Cal/OSHA’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has received up to 1,500 complaints about employers alleged failing to provide proper protection during the COVID-19 crisis, according to DOSH Deputy Chief Eric Berg.

The revelation came as stakeholders and Standards Board members pressed Berg, the deputy chief for health, for clarification on Division guidance on personal protective equipment during the virus crisis. The exchange came at the April 16 board meeting, held by teleconference.

Jessica Early, a representative of the National Union of Healthcare Workers expressed concern that DOSH’s interim guidance on PPE for healthcare workers “have undercut respiratory protections.” Taylor Jackson, a lobbyist for the California Nurses Association, asserted that hospitals are “locking up and rationing” respirator supplies.

In response, Berg said the interim guidelines, which align with federal Centers for Disease Control and supercede previous Cal/OSHA guidance on respirators, were only published “because of the extreme shortage that we’re experiencing,” Berg said. “Droplet protections [in healthcare settings] are not sufficient to protect employees,” he added. “Respirators have to be used unless it’s not possible to get fitted respirators due to supply constraints.”

Asked by board occupational safety representative Laura Stock whether DOSH is investigating allegations of respirator stockpiling, Berg affirmed that the Division is doing so. “When we get a complaint or otherwise investigate employers for failing to provide respirators as required,” he said. “We would investigate how many respirators they have coming in, their burn rate and what their stock is.”

Berg’s comment about the crush of complaints came in response to a question from Barbara Bergel, the board’s occupational health representative. She wanted to know whether DOSH has investigated complaints related to non-healthcare workers in hospital settings performing deep cleaning. “We’ve had over a thousand complaints, up to 1,500,” Berg replied. “I’m not aware of all of them.”

To put that number in perspective, for the first quarter of 2019, DOSH investigated 488 complaints.

Berg also emphasized that employers covered by the aerosol transmissible diseases standard (General Industry Safety Orders §5199), such as healthcare, have responsibilities under the standard even if they face a respirator shortage. “If they’re low on respirators and they have to switch to non-respirator protections in that circumstance, that is a change in their ATD program. They are required to communicate these issues with employees and their bargaining representatives” and train them, he explained.

Essential and still open industries are required to identify and address COVID hazards through their Injury and Illness Prevention Program. “Given the widespread nature of COVID, it is a hazard in all workplaces that have some sort of contact with people,” he said. “Once they identify that hazard, that requires them to take appropriate action.” That means following Cal/OSHA guidelines “unless there’s something specific that makes it not possible.”

The Division has developed COVID guidelines for general industry, as well as for several specific industries.

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