Workers' Compensation

A Growing Issue in the Gig Economy

Opinions vary on the best way to ensure that gig economy workers have access to workplace injury and illness coverage.
By: | June 29, 2017 • 5 min read

The rapid growth in the gig economy has many companies taking a closer look at their workers’ comp policies.

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Some experts say there is a need for alternative or universal coverage arrangements to protect companies from liabilities and workers from injuries while performing on-demand jobs. Legislators in New York, Washington and other places are considering systems that would require online platforms to pay into workers’ benefit funds.

While such issues will be debated at the state level, there is growing consensus that the growing volume of gig economy workers will necessitate a new model that offers portable and universal workers’ comp.

Blurring Lines

On-demand platforms and companies that use such workers may be at risk for misclassifying their employees as independent contractors.

In October 2016, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries ordered San Francisco delivery company Postmates to retroactively pay two years of workers’ comp premiums.

And since its inception, regulators in many states have questioned Uber’s classification of drivers as independent contractors.

Gig economy jobs are typically defined as those where workers connect with clientele through a digital platform.

These new work platforms are increasingly blurring the lines, not only for Uber drivers but for the tens of millions of tech and administrative workers who work remotely from their homes.

Most companies that use such models, such as Uber, Upwork and TaskRabbit, serve as an intermediary between the worker and customer.

Jared Staver, attorney, Staver Law Group

Jared Staver, an attorney with Staver Law Group in Chicago, Ill., said the distinction between employee and contractor has become a growing source of debate in the gig economy. Companies that misclassify workers as independent contractors could face fines, be forced to retroactively pay workers’ comp premiums, and have no protection in the event of an injury lawsuit.

“If it’s determined you didn’t carry comp insurance [and were required to], you can then be taken to civil court where there are no caps on the amount of money that someone can recover,” Staver said.

The difference between an employee and a contractor isn’t exactly black and white and can come down to the state, legal opinions and factors such as how the work is done, who provides the tools and equipment, and how work is scheduled.

Staver said these new work platforms are increasingly blurring the lines, not only for Uber drivers but for the tens of millions of tech and administrative workers who work remotely from their homes.

“It ultimately comes down to control over the worker, and that’s a big question in many of these new jobs,” Staver said.

Calls for a “Third Class” of Worker

A 2015 study by the Economic Policy Institute found that up to 20 percent of employers in some industries misclassify workers as independent contractors.

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John Rehm, attorney at the law firm of Rehm, Bennett & Moore in Lincoln, Neb., said while misclassification has been common in fields like driving, cleaning and construction, it “seems to be a part of the business model” for many of these new companies.

Uber’s business model is specifically designed to position drivers as contractors by ensuring they use their own vehicles and by allowing them to work when they want through the app. Yet Rehm said many gig economy models leave workers unprotected and companies exposed to wage and hour litigation.

Many experts say the growing on-demand economy calls for a new classification of worker to meet the needs of both business and worker.

John Rehm, attorney, Rehm, Bennett & Moore

Deborah Berkowitz, Senior Fellow at the National Employment Law Project, said the employment model built 100 years ago provided things like pensions, health benefits, Social Security, workers’ comp and unemployment insurance.

Some states are already trying to address the issue. In New York, the state-run Black Car Fund offers workers’ compensation benefits to participating member’s drivers. Uber is now required to participate in the fund and charges an additional 2.4 percent for each fee.

“Workers’ comp benefits work best when it has universal coverage. We actually think many [gig economy] workers are employees for the purchase of worker’s comp,” Berkowitz said.

Portable and Universal Policies

Rehm said instituting a third class of worker could present challenges, including the fact that it would likely lead to more litigation about how workers are classified.

Any policies to cover gig economy workers would also need to be portable and universal to meet the needs of gig economy workers. As many of these workers perform services for multiple platforms, their sources of income can be scattered through multiple companies and across state lines.

“If you are hurt at a part-time job or a gig job, comp only pays you based on the wages for that job. It doesn’t pay you for wages lost in other jobs because of the work injury in another job,” Rehm said.

Deborah Berkowitz, senior fellow, National Employment Law Project

Berkowitz said the Affordable Care Act has already opened up citizens and businesses to the idea of portable benefits, and that New York’s model could be replicated in other states.

NELP recently collaborated with the Roosevelt Institute to produce a paper on worker benefits and said there is growing political support for making universal many benefits once tied to the workplace.

Legislators in Washington posed a bill earlier in the year that would require such platforms and contracting companies to make contributions to a portable benefit fund equal to 25 percent of a worker’s income, or up to $6 per hour.

And the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act introduced in May would allocate funds under the Department of Labor to make grants to state for testing and piloting portable benefit programs.

“We do think there’s a growing need for a third class of worker but there is also a sense that we need to expand the public safety net and think about [other] benefits,” Berkowitz said.

Craig Guillot is a writer and photographer, based in New Orleans. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Insurance Executive

A Leader for Turbulent Times

Lloyd’s CEO Inga Beale is tasked with guiding the venerable insurance market through Brexit and the demands of the fiercely competitive global specialty business.
By: | July 6, 2017 • 12 min read

Underwriters at Lloyd’s are accustomed to taking on complex, even daunting, risks. The company’s leader looks at the world today and sees plenty of opportunity, but also much to be concerned about.

“Political instability is something that troubles me more than anything else because I think there is now more uncertainty across the world than there has ever been,” said Inga Beale, CEO of Lloyd’s of London.

“It feels that all of the norms that I grew up with are being challenged — openness, globalization, acceptance, inclusion — on a global scale.”

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Appropriately, we’re sitting around a table in Beale’s modern glass-fronted office at the top of the Lloyd’s Building — itself a vision from the future — to talk about Brexit and Lloyd’s newly announced Brussels subsidiary.

Add to the mix Donald Trump and the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea, the bombing of Syria and a spate of terrorist attacks across Europe, and it’s clear we are living in the most dangerous period certainly since the Cold War, or possibly ever, believes Beale.

That belief received even more chilling reinforcement when terrorists detonated a bomb at an Ariana Grande performance in Manchester, England on May 22.  Twenty two people, some of them children, were killed and more than 50 wounded in that attack.

Three years ago, it was Beale herself making world headlines with her appointment as the first female CEO in Lloyd’s 329-year history. But now Brexit and other seismic disruptions to world order have taken center stage.

Lloyd’s announced at the end of March that it would establish a new European subsidiary in Brussels in time for January 1, 2019 renewals so it can continue writing risks for all 27 European Union (EU) and three European Economic Area states after the UK exits the EU.

Currently, it uses its passporting rights to serve EU customers from London, but the expected loss of those rights after Brexit necessitated the establishment of a new subsidiary.

For now though, it’s business as usual, said Beale, with the UK remaining a full EU member for at least two more years. She added, with a reassuring smile, that there will be no immediate impact on existing policies, renewals or new policies written during that time.

“We were campaigning very much to remain in the EU before the referendum because we knew what the likely impact [of leaving the EU] would be on Lloyd’s,” said Beale, whose impressive resume includes stints with GE Insurance Solutions, Zurich and Canopius.

“We rely very much on our licensing network, and being part of the EU means that from London we can write insurance and reinsurance for all of the EU countries with our passporting authority.

“But with the UK exiting the EU, it now means that we lose those licensing powers to offer insurance with immediate effect. To counteract this, we have determined to set up a subsidiary within the EU, meaning that about five percent of our global revenues will have to go through this subsidiary because it is insurance business offered to our EU-based clients.”

Beale and her team also negotiated that most of Lloyd’s underwriting business will remain in London, as will the majority of the transactions and decision-making powers. Meanwhile, the manpower needed to run the new Brussels operation will be in the “tens rather than hundreds,” she is quick to point out.

“It’s not a huge raft of people having to move over,” she said.

“Lloyd’s will continue to do 95 percent of its business as it has always done — it’s only the other five percent that will have to go through a separate legal entity, and we’re not anticipating any further changes to our business model as a result.”

Beale, whose dual role is both supervisor and advocate for the market’s 100-something member underwriting syndicates, says that the franchise board chose Brussels over other locations including Luxembourg, Dublin and Malta because of its “robust and quality” regulatory regime.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that reinsurance existed, but once I discovered it I absolutely loved it.” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

It also provides access to a multilingual talent pool, is near to London, and, most importantly she stresses, is located in a member state with a “very high certainty of staying in the EU.”

“We want people who reflect our customers,” she said.

“The London insurance market is littered with people from all over the world because London is such a global insurance hub, so we need experts here who speak the language and understand the different cultures.”

North American Footprint

Despite its large European market, it’s the other side of the pond where Lloyd’s really thrives. Approximately 46 percent of its business comes from the U.S., mainly California earthquake and East Coast hurricane risks, she said.

Lloyd’s also remains the No.1 excess and surplus lines insurer in the U.S. and the largest non-U.S. domiciled insurer, she added.

“We have done really well in terms of growing our E&S market share over there,” she said.

“That’s our sweet spot; those non-standard risks that are hard to place.”

By contrast, Beale said that reinsurance has become a much more competitive market with new entrants offering alternative types of reinsurance putting a squeeze on prices. As a consequence, Lloyd’s has focused more on insurance, she said.

“We have also done well in Canada and with our delegated authority through our Managing General Underwriters and Managing General Agents,” she said.

“It’s this very local and specialist distribution channel that has been our success story across North America.”

In January, Beale was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire — the female equivalent of being knighted — and is also the Association of Professional Insurance Women’s Insurance Woman of the Year for 2017.

“What concerns us most is not individual risks such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but rather assessing the aggregation of our exposures to financial and liability-type risks with no geographical boundaries.” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

As the person directing Lloyd’s, she is also acutely aware of the shift in power towards emerging economies, with McKinsey recently reporting that 67 percent of commercial insurance growth will come from those markets by 2020.

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In response, Lloyd’s has focused its efforts on Asia and Latin America, transferring more than half of its managing agents to its Shanghai and Beijing platforms; and it was recently granted final approval to open a reinsurance office in Mumbai, she said.

“That’s where the future’s going to be,” she said.

“We know that a lot of the business is no longer coming to London in the traditional way, hence we have set up a Singapore platform and platforms in China, and opened up an office in Dubai as well as in India to be closer to our clients and brokers there.”

Lloyd’s profits last year were flat at $2.7 billion, while GWP was up $3.9 billion.

The market made a profit despite taking a $2.7 billion hit for major claims — the fifth highest such total since the turn of the century — primarily due to Hurricane Matthew and the Fort McMurray Wildfire in Canada.

Although natural disasters are Lloyd’s bread and butter, its real strength is in insuring complex risks, from cargo ships and satellites to political and terrorism risks.

Lloyd’s Role in Cyber

It’s the aggregation of those harder-to-quantify risks such as cyber security that concerns Beale most. Expected to grow to $7.5 billion in global premiums business by 2020, cyber is a big focus for Lloyd’s. It has a 25 percent market share and aggregate limits of approximately $650 million per risk, she said.

“What concerns us most is not individual risks such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but rather assessing the aggregation of our exposures to financial and liability-type risks with no geographical boundaries,” she said.

“We saw that with the financial crisis and the collapse of Fanny and Freddie, and its impact on Greece, but now it’s cyber.

“We have interviewed numerous risk managers and they are telling us that they are only insured against less than 10 percent of the risks that their businesses face on a daily basis. Our challenge is to make sure that we are continuing to adapt as fast as their businesses do and that we are delivering the relevant products that they need.”

Another area where Lloyd’s has seen an uptick is political and terrorism risk, said Beale.

The U.S. standoff with North Korea, Brexit and a swath of ISIS terrorist attacks across Europe have only exacerbated the problem, heightening fears among those countries’ citizens and tearing whole communities apart.

“We would love to get to a stage where a client can track something being quoted or a claim being paid, just like you do with a package being delivered [to your home].” — Inga Beale, CEO, Lloyd’s of London

Just witness the anguish of the victims and families in the Manchester concert bombing.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in demand for these types of products because of the political instability everywhere at the moment, particularly for companies that are trading cross border with countries where governments can suddenly intervene at a moment’s notice,” she said.

“Similarly, businesses are looking to protect themselves against the ever-growing threat of terrorism, which is where Lloyd’s can step in to give them the confidence to keep on trading.”

Reforming Lloyd’s

Within Lloyd’s itself, Beale has been at the forefront of trying to modernize the aging institution. Despite its modern metallic and glass exterior, inside Lloyd’s there’s still very much what some might term a stuffy “old boys’ club” culture.

Men are required to wear a tie and women weren’t allowed into the underwriting room until 1972. Brokers still walk around with leather slipcases crammed full of paper.

The Lloyd’s headquarters on Lime Street.

Beale’s predecessor, Richard Ward, tried to modernize Lloyd’s but left plenty for Beale to address in that respect.

Beale committed $700 million over the next five years to upgrade Lloyd’s aging computer and IT systems, with the end goal of achieving one-touch data capture to speed up the premiums and claims process.

“It’s about following that data all the way through the process from the client to the intermediary and the underwriter, and the processing of the premiums and claims,” she said.

“We would love to get to a stage where a client can track something being quoted or a claim being paid, just like you do with a package being delivered [to your home].”

Another area Beale is keen to shake up is diversity within Lloyd’s itself. Currently the market is two-thirds male, while only 11 percent of the whole London insurance market are non-UK nationals — a damning statistic that Beale is all too aware of.

“The Lloyd’s market doesn’t reflect the demographics of the whole of London and we are very conscious that we’re not tapping into all of the available talent that’s out there,” she said.

“We need to cut out the old ideas, try to challenge the unconscious bias and create an environment that is welcoming for people who are a bit different.”

Beale has also been pushing the [email protected] initiative, currently in its third year, and in September Lloyd’s will host the third annual Dive In festival to promote diversity and inclusion in the insurance industry.

In addition, 95 percent of the Lloyd’s market has already signed up to its Diversity & Inclusion charter to improve diversity, she said.

“To attract the best talent we need to modernize and look at how we can change our working practices and hiring decisions for the better,” she said.

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“There’s a vast amount of work that we are actively doing to encourage people to be more open and seek more diverse talent.”

On a personal level, Beale readily admits that she was late to the leadership game, and it was only her mentor, Annette Sadolin at GE, who convinced her to take her first promotion.

That lack of confidence is something that, as a leader, Beale has witnessed in her own team and she is keen to help overcome.

“Annette became very much a mentor for me throughout my career, so whenever I have had to make key decisions I would always ask her view,” she said.

“The key lesson that I have learnt from her is that things move so quickly and you need to take opportunities when they come along that give you exposure to something new, even if they don’t seem like a natural career path at the time.

“For me, being a leader is all about inclusion and being passionate about the people you work with because you need to inspire and motivate them. But there is also nothing more rewarding than watching people progress their careers.”

A Truly Global Journey

Beale, who initially harbored ambitions of being an architect, admits that she “fell into reinsurance,” starting as a trainee international treaty reinsurance underwriter at Prudential Assurance Company in London in 1982. But once she had a taste there was no turning back.

“At the time, I didn’t even know that reinsurance existed, but once I discovered it I absolutely loved it,” she said.

“I fell in love with the global nature of the risks that came to London; one day you could be looking at a piece of business from Chile, the next from Australia.”

But, back then, working in a male-dominated industry where she was the only woman among 35 men, Beale struggled to fit in. So she quit and went travelling for 10 months.

It was during her time as a receptionist at the BBC in Sydney, Australia that Beale worked under her first female boss, a formidable woman, she said.

Inspired by her boss’s strong work ethic, Beale decided to return to the insurance business.

She soon landed a job with GE Insurance Solutions in Kansas City, where she held various underwriting management roles, before being appointed president of GE Frankona and head of continental Europe, Middle East and Africa for GE Insurance Solutions in Germany.

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After 14 years at GE, Beale moved to Switzerland with Converium as group CEO in 2006.

Two years later, she joined Zurich Insurance Group as a member of the group management board in Zurich before being appointed global chief underwriting officer, prior to her appointment as group CEO at Canopius in 2012.

The breadth and depth of her experience makes Beale a natural fit for the demands of the Lloyd’s top job.

There’s no doubt she’ll be drawing upon every ounce of that expertise and experience to keep Lloyd’s at the cutting edge of this harrowing new world we live in.

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]