Will Ebola cause an outbreak of new challenges for employers?

Published on Tue, 10/28/2014 - 19:21
 Ebola cause

According to the World Health Organization, the recent Ebola outbreak is "the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times." The virus has claimed thousands of lives and decimated towns and villages across West Africa, and it’s generated a lot of hysteria and media coverage in this country.

But this outbreak has the potential to be more than just a health crisis. It could easily stir up some unintended and costly consequences for your business. Here are four areas of your business that could be impacted:

1.       Workers' compensation: If one of your employees should contract the virus, would it be covered by workers’ compensation? That depends. Before any illness or disease can be considered compensable, it generally has to pass two key tests:

a)      Is the illness or disease “occupational,” meaning did it arise out of the course and scope of employment?

b)      Did the illness or disease arise out of, or was it caused by, conditions “peculiar” to the work?

In other words, the condition would have to meet the appropriate state thresholds for compensability. Your insurance carrier would thoroughly investigate each claim on its own merits, and if they find that the employee contracted the virus through a work-related exposure, it could be compensable.

Paying for a compensable Ebola claim would be costly enough, but exposure to the rest of your employees is also an immediate and potentially costly concern.

2.       Business operations:  In October, a doctor in New York City, Dr. Craig Spencer, contracted Ebola after volunteering with Doctors without Borders in Guinea, West Africa. As it turns out, he also visited a bowling alley before being diagnosed, and that business had to be inspected and decontaminated. If one of your employees should contract the virus, you’re likely looking at a similar disruption in your operations, and those costs can add up quickly.

Bellevue Hospital has also had to alter their normal routine to keep Dr. Spencer in high-tech isolation, using safeguards that would be appropriate for poisonous gas. In California, all five University of California medical centers have shifted personnel and resources to provide care for any Ebola cases that arise.

If your business was patronized by someone who was later diagnosed with Ebola, you too, could be facing at least a small period of business interruption.

Most policies have exclusions for endemic diseases. Therefore, it’s very likely that your business insurance policies would exclude losses related to an Ebola outbreak. If you are concerned, you can protect your business with an added Continuing Expense Indemnity Insurance policy. Contact a Heffernan representative for further information.

3.     Affordable Care Act implementation: As if the new health care law isn’t complex enough for employers, the Ebola outbreak could make things even more complicated. Congressional funding battles have forced the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to shift much of their operating budget and some key leadership positions to Affordable Care Act implementation. Now, with the Ebola concern, money and people are needed in both places. This strain on resources could make communication and ongoing program implementation even more tedious.

4.HR work load. You’re already busy figuring out how to fully comply with the Affordable Care Act. The Ebola crisis could add to your busy work with preparedness plans and drills.

Need help sorting it out?

Here are some helpful resources to keep you up to date on the latest developments in this crisis:

·         Department of Labor/OSHA – Ebola

·         Centers for Disease Control: Workplace Safety

·         California Department of Public Health

(California employers, don’t forget: effective 7/1/14, you’re required to provide the revised Workers Compensation brochure “Facts About Workers Compensation” in new hire packets.)

When you need expert advice, talk to the risk management experts at Heffernan Insurance Brokers. From workers’ compensation and business interruption insurance to health care compliance, we’ll make sure you’re prepared for this and any other crisis.