Insurance premiums on both sides of the Atlantic as workers return to desks

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Insurance premiums on both sides of the Atlantic as workers return to desks

Insurers worry about COVID 19 discrimination claims as workers return to office desks.

LONDON - Liability insurers on both sides of the Atlantic are scaling back the cover they offer companies in an expected wave of discrimination claims as employers call staff back to their desks after 18 months of pandemic-induced home work.

There have been about 2,950 employee lawsuits in the United States since the start of the pandemic, which range from disputes over remote working to workplace safety and discrimination, based on the law firm Fisher Phillips says.

Now industry sources say companies are starting to trigger policies which protect them against costs of defending discrimination lawsuits and compensation awards, so-called employment practices liability insurance.

Adrian Cox, chief executive of Beazley, a major Lloyd's insurer, calls this a high exposure area, especially in North America.

How you deal with vaccination and testing. those are difficult things for employers to work through, he told Reuters.

Karen Cargill, management liability specialist at insurance broker Marsh in Britain, said a fifth of notifications by its insurer clients of possible EPLI claims in London have been COVID-related in the past six months.

Insurers, employers and lawyers view mandatory vaccinations as a growing but small area of contention.

Tech giants such as Google and Facebook Inc are among companies that have advised U.S. employees to be inoculated against COVID 19 before stepping into office or campus to help protect the health and safety of colleagues.

U.S. vaccination-related claims amount to less than 5% of total COVID under all circumstances, or less than 150 - said Kevin Troutman, partner and co-chair of Fisher Phillips Healthcare Industry Team. The Vaccin mandate conundrum is just the next version of CSV states that we're going to see, said Kelly Thoerig, who oversees Marsh's U.S. EPLI practice.

According to preliminary results of an ongoing pulse survey of more than 200 American employers, which began on 19 July by consultancy Mercer, 14% now require employees to be vaccinated to work at a company site.

A number of U.S. employers with such policies have already faced court hearings. Workers at a Texas hospital alleged the vaccinations are human and that staff are being used as experimental guinea pigs.

The case was dismissed in June and some lawyers say this type of case is unlikely to be viable.

But workers could have protection if they are unable to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons - unless this would pose an undue hardship on the business, the U.S. Insurance Information Institute says.

Employers can also sue vulnerable workers because a lack of mandatory vaccination policy puts them at risk.

However, even if cases are excluded, defence costs would fall to employers and their insurers.

Hiring employment lawyers have seen fewer discrimination lawsuits in the UK so far.

In one case in Scotland, a chef won his unfair dismissal claim after being fired without notice having raised concerns about a lack of personal protective equipment and the risk of passing on coronavirus to his vulnerable father.

Legal documents state that no jab, no job contracts - such as those offered by the London-based Pimlico Plumbers - risk discriminating against younger staff who may not yet have been offered their first vaccine or pregnant women, who might prefer to be vaccinated after childbirth

If an employee has decided to refuse the vaccine via personal choice. it would be possible to exclude them from the premises on the grounds of health and safety, said Winckworth Sherwood.

if an employee refuses to have the vaccination because of a religious condition or a health belief, they could argue that a mandatory vaccination policy is disability or disability discrimination.

Many insurers are adding restriction on new and renewed policies, requiring employers to bear more of the costs and increasing premium rates, according to Jason Binette, EPLI product manager at AmTrust Exec in Windsor, Connecticut.

Lloyd’s of London are among those to strip EPLI cover of broader insurance packages they offer businesses, to keep costs under control. However, specialist insurers in Bermuda, for example, still offer such cover, brokers said.

Businesses are booming for those who sell EPLI, while premium rates are staying high.

AmTrust has seen a 22% increase in requests for Cover since the pandemic started, driven in part by new small business customers.

I'm seeing companies that have been around for 40 years that haven't had coverage and now want it, Binette said, adding that premium rates had jumped by 10 - 20%.

Howden, associate director at insurance broker Sam Vardy in London, puts the rate increase at 25 - 75% over the past 18 months.

Some employers simply say the price of EPLI is too high to risk bringing staff back to offices, according to Julia Graham, CEO of UK insurance buyers' association Airmic.

She said 'they can't get at the price they are willing to pay'.