Improving Outcomes

Building Trust With Injured LGBTQ Employees

Actively addressing issues related to injured workers' sexual orientation or gender identity can help employers overcome hidden barriers to recovery.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Workers’ comp providers and payers in recent years have been taking note of the broad range of social and psychological issues that can impact recovery outcomes for injured workers. But a factor that flies mostly under the radar is how to navigate issues related to employees’ sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Prompt reporting is a key concern with employees that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ). Data from the Institute of Medicine and the Kaiser Family Foundation suggest that the LGBTQ population is more likely to delay or avoid seeking treatment because of past discrimination, said Genex branch supervisor Chikita Mann during a recent podcast on the Inside Workers’ Comp blog.

HIPAA privacy rules also work differently within workers’ comp, which can complicate things further, if employees are worried that sexual orientation or gender identity information might be included in the information disclosed to their employers.

Employers should consider the employment non-discrimination laws (or lack thereof) in the states where they operate. There are currently 28 states where employers are not barred from discriminating against or even firing employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTQ employees working in those states understand all too keenly that even if the law states they can’t be fired for reporting an injury, their sexual orientation or gender identity could easily be used as a smokescreen to justify termination after filing a workers’ comp claim.

Chikita Mann, branch supervisor, Genex

That’s why having a culture of inclusion and a track record of treating all employees with dignity is so important for employers, said Mann.

“When it comes down to it, the company’s culture really has a lot to do with getting the LGBTQ individual back to work,” she said. “If [LGBTQ individuals] feel that the culture of the company is not accepting of them, you have another brick wall as to trying to get them back to work, because it starts from the organization and it trickles down to the workers.”

And the same goes for the culture throughout a company’s workers’ compensation team, both in-house personnel and third-party providers that the injured employee might interface with.

If a gay employee is seriously injured, and the case manager assigned to him snubs or ignores the same-sex partner or spouse at his bedside in the hospital, the injured employee isn’t likely to feel respected, and will have precious little belief in whether his best interests will be looked out for by the workers’ comp team.

In turn, he’ll be less likely to comply with his treatment or return-to-work plan, and will be far more likely to feel that he needs a lawyer to represent him.

Even if it doesn’t come to that, said Mann, studies have found that LGBTQ employees are more likely to suffer from comorbidities such as depression and substance abuse. That makes it all the more urgent that employers connect with them in a positive way before they get isolated.

Setting the Right Tone

Including sexual orientation and gender identity in a company’s non-discrimination policy is important, but companies need to do more to create the kind of environment that will foster better outcomes for all employees.

“You’re dealing with diversity issues of course, but [it’s] really about inclusion, said Minnesota-based harassment and bullying consultant Susan Strauss.

“How do you establish and sustain an organizational climate that is inclusive of the LGBTQ community?”

That means looking at everything from a company’s mission statement and the kinds of advertising messages it presents to whether it includes the LGBTQ community in its recruitment outreach efforts and other community involvement.

“When people feel that they are being really treated with respect and with dignity, we’re going to get the buy in that we need from the individual in order to get back to work.” — Chikita Mann, branch supervisor, Genex

“Organizations should be involved in community efforts that are geared for the LGBTQ community, like any pride parade that might occur, or — depending upon the size of the community — an LGBTQ chamber of commerce,” said Stauss.

“There’s just so much that should be done. It should not be piecemeal. It needs to be a strategic approach.”

It comes down to making inclusiveness part of the organization’s corporate identify. Strauss noted that participating in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) can be a part of the overall strategy for some companies.

The index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. Top scoring companies earn the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

“Depending upon your score, that would be something that you would proudly display on your website,” said Strauss, letting potential employees and existing employees know about it.”

Non-government employers in the U.S. with 500 or more full-time employees can request to participate HRC’s Corporate Equality Index.

Ensure Partners Are Aligned

Case managers can help build trust with injured LGBTQ employees by consistently making it clear that the employee is understood and respected, said Genex’s Mann.

“When people feel that they are being really treated with respect and with dignity, we’re going to get the buy in that we need from the individual in order to get back to work,” she said.

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“It’s even more critical with the LGBTQ individual, that we use the motivational interviewing skills. … We are letting them know that, ‘We’re here for you. We’re going to do our best to help you get the medical treatment that you need.’ “

Strauss added that employers should include LGBTQ philosophy among the things they look for in their workers’ comp partners and providers.

“Make sure that everybody you’re doing business with has been educated in what some of the unique challenges might be in dealing with an LGBTQ patient,” she said. The onus is on the employer to ensure that their partners share a commitment to respect, equality and non-discrimination.

Otherwise, “you’re running a risk of that patient being undermined and potentially discriminated against.”

The bottom line, said Mann, is that everyone who comes in contact with injured workers should be reinforcing how much each individual is valued as an employee.

“Everybody wants to be needed, and everybody wants to be shown that they have value. If we can do that, that will go a long way with the LGBTQ individual.”

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Scenario

A Recall Nightmare: Food Product Contamination Kills Three Unborn Children

A failure to purchase product contamination insurance results in a crushing blow, not just in dollars but in lives.
By: | October 15, 2018 • 9 min read
Risk Scenarios are created by Risk & Insurance editors along with leading industry partners. The hypothetical, yet realistic stories, showcase emerging risks that can result in significant losses if not properly addressed.

Disclaimer: The events depicted in this scenario are fictitious. Any similarity to any corporation or person, living or dead, is merely coincidental.

PART ONE: THE HEAT IS ON

Reilly Sheehan, the Bethlehem, Pa., plant manager for Shamrock Foods, looks up in annoyance when he hears a tap on his office window.

Reilly has nothing against him, but seeing the face of his assistant plant operator Peter Soto right then is just a case of bad timing.

Sheehan, whose company manufactures ice cream treats for convenience stores and ice cream trucks, just got through digesting an email from his CFO, pushing for more cost cutting, when Soto knocked.

Sheehan gestures impatiently, and Soto steps in with a degree of caution.

“What?” Sheehan says.

“I’m not sure how much of an issue this will be, but I just got some safety reports back and we got a positive swipe for Listeria in one of the Market Streetside refrigeration units.”

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Sheehan gestures again, and Soto shuts the office door.

“How much of a positive?” Sheehan says more quietly.

Soto shrugs.

“I mean it’s not a big hit and that’s the only place we saw it, so, hard to know what to make of it.”

Sheehan looks out to the production floor, more as a way to focus his thoughts than for any other reason.

Sheehan is jammed. It’s April, the time of year when Shamrock begins to ramp up production for the summer season. Shamrock, which operates three plants in the Middle Atlantic, is holding its own at around $240 million in annual sales.

But the pressure is building on Sheehan. In previous cost-cutting measures, Shamrock cut risk management and safety staff.

Now there is this email from the CFO and a possible safety issue. Not much time to think; too much going on.

Sheehan takes just another moment to deliberate: It’s not a heavy hit, and Shamrock hasn’t had a product recall in more than 15 years.

“Okay, thanks for letting me know,” Sheehan says to Soto.

“Do another swipe next week and tell me what you pick up. I bet you twenty bucks there’s nothing in the product. That swipe was nowhere near the production line.”

Soto departs, closing the office door gingerly.

Then Sheehan lingers over his keyboard. He waits. So much pressure; what to do?

“Very well then,” he says to himself, and gets to work crafting an email.

His subject line to the chief risk officer and the company vice president: “Possible safety issue: Positive test for Listeria in one of the refrigeration units.”

That night, Sheehan can’t sleep. Part of Shamrock’s cost-cutting meant that Sheehan has responsibility for environmental, health and safety in addition to his operations responsibilities.

Every possible thing that could bring harmful bacteria into the plant runs through his mind.

Trucks carrying raw eggs, milk and sugar into the plant. The hoses used to shoot the main ingredients into Shamrock’s metal storage vats. On and on it goes…

In his mind’s eye, Sheehan can picture the inside of a refrigeration unit. Ice cream is chilled, never really frozen. He can almost feel the dank chill. Salmonella and Listeria love that kind of environment.

Sheehan tosses and turns. Then another thought occurs to him. He recalls a conversation, just one question at a meeting really, when one of the departed risk management staff brought up the issue of contaminated product insurance.

Sheehan’s memory is hazy, stress shortened, but he can’t remember it being mentioned again. He pushes his memory again, but nothing.

“I don’t need this,” he says to himself through clenched teeth. He punches up his pillow in an effort to find a path to sleep.

PART TWO: STRICKEN FAMILIES

“Toot toot, tuuuuurrrrreeeeeeeeettt!”

The whistles of the three lifeguards at the Bradford Community Pool in Allentown, Pa., go off in unison, two staccato notes, then a dip in pitch, then ratcheting back up together.

For Cheryl Brick, 34, the mother of two and six-months pregnant with a third, that signal for the kids to clear the pool for the adult swim is just part of a typical summer day. Right on cue, her son Henry, 8, and his sister Siobhan, 5, come running back to where she’s set up the family pool camp.

Henry, wet and shivering and reaching for a towel, eyes that big bag.

“Mom, can I?”

And Cheryl knows exactly where he’s going.

“Yes. But this time, can you please bring your mother a mint-chip ice cream bar along with whatever you get for you and Siobhan?”

Henry grabs the money, drops his towel and tears off; Siobhan drops hers just as quickly, not wanting to be left behind.

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“Wait for me!” Siobhan yells as Henry sprints for the ice cream truck parked just outside of the pool entrance.

It’s the dead of night, 3 am, two weeks later when Cheryl, slumbering deeply beside her husband Danny, is pulled from her rest by the sound of Siobhan crying in their bedroom doorway.

“Mom, dad!” says Henry, who is standing, pale and stricken, in the hallway behind Siobhan.

“What?” says Danny, sitting up in bed, but Cheryl’s pregnancy sharpened sense of smell knows the answer.

Siobhan, wailing and shivering, has soiled her pajamas, the victim of a severe case of diarrhea.

“I just barfed is what,” says Henry, who has to turn and run right back to the bathroom.

Cheryl steps out of bed to help Siobhan, but the room spins as she does so.

“Oh God,” she says, feeling the impact of her own attack of nausea.

A quick, grim cleanup and the entire family is off to a walk-up urgent care center.

A bolt of fear runs through Cheryl as the nurse gives her the horrible news.

“Listeriosis,” says the nurse. Sickening for children and adults but potentially fatal for the weak, especially the unborn.

And very sadly, Cheryl loses her third child. Two other mothers in the Middle Atlantic suffer the same fate and dozens more are sickened.

Product recall notices from state regulators and the FDA go out immediately.

Ice cream bars and sandwiches disappear from store coolers and vending machines on corporate campuses. The tinkly sound of “Pop Goes the Weasel” emanating from mobile ice cream vendor trucks falls silent.

Notices of intent to sue hit every link in the supply chain, from dairy cooperatives in New York State to the corporate offices of grocery store chains in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

The three major contract manufacturers that make ice cream bars distributed in the eight states where residents were sickened are shut down, pending a further investigation.

FDA inspectors eventually tie the outbreak to Shamrock.

Evidence exists that a good faith effort was underway internally to determine if any of Shamrock’s products were contaminated. Shamrock had still not produced a positive hit on any of its products when the summer tragedy struck. They just weren’t looking in the right place.

PART THREE: AN INSURANCE TANGLE

Banking on rock-solid relationships with its carrier and brokers, Shamrock, through its attorneys, is able to salvage indemnification on its general liability policy that affords it $20 million to defray the business losses of its retail customers.

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But that one comment from a risk manager that went unheeded many months ago comes back to haunt the company.

All three of Shamrock’s plants were shuttered from August 2017 until March 2018, until the source of the contamination could be run down and the federal and state inspectors were assured the company put into place the necessary protocols to avoid a repeat of the disaster that killed 3 unborn children and sickened dozens more.

Shamrock carried no contaminated product coverage, which is known as product recall coverage outside of the food business. The production shutdown of all three of its plants cost Shamrock $120 million. As a result of the shutdown, Shamrock also lost customers.

The $20 million payout from Shamrock’s general liability policy is welcome and was well-earned by a good history with its carrier and brokers. Without the backstop of contaminated products insurance, though, Shamrock blew a hole in its bottom line that forces the company to change, perhaps forever, the way it does business.

Management has a gun to its head. Two of Shamrock’s plants, including Bethlehem, are permanently shuttered, as the company shrinks in an effort to stave off bankruptcy.

Reilly Sheehan is among those terminated. In the end, he was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Burdened by the guilt, rational or not, over the fatalities and the horrendous damage to Shamrock’s business. Reilly Sheehan is a broken man. Leaning on the compassion of a cousin, he takes a job as a maintenance worker at the Bethlehem sewage treatment plant.

“Maybe I can keep this place clean,” he mutters to himself one night, as he swabs a sewage overflow with a mop in the early morning hours of a dark, cold February.

Bar-Lessons-Learned---Partner's-Content-V1b

Risk & Insurance® partnered with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions to produce this scenario. Below are their recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance.®.

Shamrock Food’s story is not an isolated incident. Contaminations happen, and when they do they can cause a domino effect of loss and disruption for vendors and suppliers. Without Product Recall Insurance, Shamrock sustained large monetary losses, lost customers and ultimately two of their facilities. While the company’s liability coverage helped with the business losses of their retail customers, the lack of Product Recall and Contamination Insurance left them exposed to a litany of risks.

Risk Managers in the Food & Beverage industry should consider Product Recall Insurance because it can protect your company from:

  • Accidental contamination
  • Malicious product tampering
  • Government recall
  • Product extortion
  • Adverse publicity
  • Intentionally impaired ingredients
  • Product refusal
  • First and third party recall costs

Ultimately, choosing the right partner is key. Finding an insurer who offers comprehensive coverage and claims support will be of the utmost importance should disaster strike. Not only is cover needed to provide balance sheet protection for lost revenues, extra expense, cleaning, disposal, storage and replacing the contaminated products, but coverage should go even further in providing the following additional services:

  • Pre-incident risk mitigation advocacy
  • Incident investigation
  • Brand rehabilitation
  • Third party advisory services

A strong contamination insurance program can fill gaps between other P&C lines, but more importantly it can provide needed risk management resources when companies need them most: during a crisis.



Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]