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

Cyber Liability

Fresh Worries for Boards of Directors

New cyber security regulations increase exposure for directors and officers at financial institutions.
By: | June 1, 2017 • 6 min read

Boards of directors could face a fresh wave of directors and officers (D&O) claims following the introduction of tough new cybersecurity rules for financial institutions by The New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS).

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Prompted by recent high profile cyber attacks on JPMorgan Chase, Sony, Target, and others, the state regulations are the first of their kind and went into effect on March 1.

The new rules require banks, insurers and other financial institutions to establish an enterprise-wide cybersecurity program and adopt a written policy that must be reviewed by the board and approved by a senior officer annually.

The regulation also requires the more than 3,000 financial services firms operating in the state to appoint a chief information security officer to oversee the program, to report possible breaches within 72 hours, and to ensure that third-party vendors meet the new standards.

Companies will have until September 1 to comply with most of the new requirements, and beginning February 15, 2018, they will have to submit an annual certification of compliance.

The responsibility for cybersecurity will now fall squarely on the board and senior management actively overseeing the entity’s overall program. Some experts fear that the D&O insurance market is far from prepared to absorb this risk.

“The new rules could raise compliance risks for financial institutions and, in turn, premiums and loss potential for D&O insurance underwriters,” warned Fitch Ratings in a statement. “If management and directors of financial institutions that experience future cyber incidents are subsequently found to be noncompliant with the New York regulations, then they will be more exposed to litigation that would be covered under professional liability policies.”

D&O Challenge

Judy Selby, managing director in BDO Consulting’s technology advisory services practice, said that while many directors and officers rely on a CISO to deal with cybersecurity, under the new rules the buck stops with the board.

“The common refrain I hear from directors and officers is ‘we have a great IT guy or CIO,’ and while it’s important to have them in place, as the board, they are ultimately responsible for cybersecurity oversight,” she said.

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting at Argo Pro, said that unknown cyber threats, untested policy language and developing case laws would all make it more difficult for the D&O market to respond accurately to any such new claims.

“Insurers will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure,” he said.

Going forward, said Larry Hamilton, partner at Mayer Brown, D&O underwriters also need to scrutinize a company’s compliance with the regulations.

“To the extent that this risk was not adequately taken into account in the first place in the underwriting of in-force D&O policies, there could be unanticipated additional exposure for the D&O insurers,” he said.

Michelle Lopilato, Hub International’s director of cyber and technology solutions, added that some carriers may offer more coverage, while others may pull back.

“How the markets react will evolve as we see how involved the department becomes in investigating and fining financial institutions for noncompliance and its result on the balance sheet and dividends,” she said.

Christopher Keegan, senior managing director at Beecher Carlson, said that by setting a benchmark, the new rules would make it easier for claimants to make a case that the company had been negligent.

“If stock prices drop, then this makes it easier for class action lawyers to make their cases in D&O situations,” he said. “As a result, D&O carriers may see an uptick in cases against their insureds and an easier path for plaintiffs to show that the company did not meet its duty of care.”

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One area that regulators and plaintiffs might seize upon is the certification compliance requirement, according to Rob Yellen, executive vice president, D&O and fiduciary liability product leader, FINEX at Willis Towers Watson.

“A mere inaccuracy in a certification could result in criminal enforcement, in which case it would then become a boardroom issue,” he said.

A big grey area, however, said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader for cyber risk at Starr Companies, is determining if a violation is a cyber or management liability issue in the first place.

“The complication arises when a company only has D&O coverage, but it doesn’t have a cyber policy and then they have to try and push all the claims down the D&O route, irrespective of their nature,” he said.

“Insurers, on their part, will need to account for the increased exposures presented by these new regulations and charge appropriately for such added exposure.” — William Kelly, senior vice president, underwriting, Argo Pro

Jim McCue, managing director at Aon’s financial services group, said many small and mid-size businesses may struggle to comply with the new rules in time.

“It’s going to be a steep learning curve and a lot of work in terms of preparedness and the implementation of a highly detailed cyber security program, risk assessment and response plan, all by September 2017,” he said.

The new regulation also has the potential to impact third parties including accounting, law, IT and even maintenance and repair firms who have access to a company’s information systems and personal data, said Keegan.

“That can include everyone from IT vendors to the people who maintain the building’s air conditioning,” he said.

New Models

Others have followed New York’s lead, with similar regulations being considered across federal, state and non-governmental regulators.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Cyber-security Taskforce has proposed an insurance data security model law that establishes exclusive standards for data security and investigation, and notification of a breach of data security for insurance providers.

Once enacted, each state would be free to adopt the new law, however, “our main concern is if regulators in different states start to adopt different standards from each other,” said Alex Hageli, director, personal lines policy at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

“It would only serve to make compliance harder, increase the cost of burden on companies, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really help anybody.”

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Richard Morris, partner at law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP, said companies need to review their current cybersecurity program with their chief technology officer or IT provider.

“Companies should assess whether their current technology budget is adequate and consider what investments will be required in 2017 to keep up with regulatory and market expectations,” he said. “They should also review and assess the adequacy of insurance policies with respect to coverages, deductibles and other limitations.”

Adam Hamm, former NAIC chair and MD of Protiviti’s risk and compliance practice, added: “With New York’s new cyber regulation, this is a sea change from where we were a couple of years ago and it’s soon going to become the new norm for regulating cyber security.” &

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]