Risk Management

The Profession

Avis Budget Group’s director of risk management, Barbara Vitale, lauds the industry for bringing more women into the fold.
By: | May 4, 2016 • 5 min read

052016_profession_bio
R&I: What was your first job?

I was working as a paralegal for a N.J. insurance company. They provided free insurance classes conducted by the Insurance Institute of America. I wanted to learn about the business, so I received my certificate in general insurance. That came in handy reviewing the insurance provisions of contracts. Eventually I received my ARM. An opportunity came up at a large gas utility, and I expanded my duties as a paralegal working for the VP of risk management. When he retired, I was offered the position of risk manager.

R&I: How has your experience as a paralegal influenced your risk management career?

[It] has been invaluable to my success as a risk manager. I did everything from litigation, contracts, mergers and acquisitions, to preparing SEC filings. I became well versed in the operations and business risks of a public company from a legal perspective.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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We’re focused on understanding how rapidly the world is changing. Risk managers and carriers are making an effort to understand all the risks commensurate with being global companies. Another major change is that women have become a bigger part of risk management over the past 20 years. In fact, my department is all women.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

We need to get more people involved in risk management. It’s so much more than just buying insurance. You can be impactful for your company in so many ways as they come to trust and value you.

Another major change is that women have become a bigger part of risk management over the past 20 years.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

I really loved New Orleans. We’re in the business of dealing with risk and disaster and catastrophe, and the year we were there, it was right after Hurricane Katrina. It was a testimony to risk managers that we wanted to be there. Disaster recovery and continuity are what we’re about.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Having more women in the field is one. Another is the way the industry has become so multifaceted as well as responsive to emerging risks like cyber. Risk managers are much more involved with their companies’ operations, and it’s become more challenging as we keep abreast of rapidly changing issues.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

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We’re all holding our breath on cyber risk. It’s still so unknowable, and anything can happen that you’re not prepared for, even with the coverage that’s out there. This is an area where we’ll have to wait and see how the risk evolves and how products develop. Apple just learned that the FBI could hack into its phones and I bet they never saw that coming!

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

CNA. I can’t say enough good things about them. We have many unique needs, and they’ve stepped up to partner with us on meeting all of them.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We place all our coverage though our amazing partners, Aon and Lockton.

We’re all holding our breath on cyber risk. It’s still so unknowable, and anything can happen that you’re not prepared for, even with the coverage that’s out there.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic, and why?

Very optimistic. We have a lower unemployment rate than we’ve had in many years and more job creation. And let’s not forget about the gas prices!

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My mom was my mentor. My dad died young and she was left raising four kids at the age of 40. She was a businesswoman in the 1960s and taught me the value of standing on my own two feet as a woman. Most importantly, she was the kindest woman I ever met.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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I’m very proud of my excellent team. I’ve spent a lot of time mentoring them and “boring” them with my business philosophy, but I tell them that if I were to get hit by a bus on any given day, they could jump in and do my job on that first, sad day.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

“Madame Bovary.” I met my husband at Rutgers in a French literature class, and we were reading that book at the time, so it’s my favorite.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

It’s a toss-up between Israel and Egypt; the pyramids were so exciting but so was Bethlehem and Masada.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Talking back to the Sisters of Charity; like O’Reilly, I was a bold, fresh article!

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I really admire Pope Francis. He’s trying to be an enlightened pope who embraces all people and religions, and he brings some needed change to Catholicism.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Every day is a new challenge and it never gets boring.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

They think I meet with brokers and carriers and buy insurance and handle big insurance claims and that’s it. If they only knew!




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Absence Management

Establishing Balance With Volunteers

It’s good business to allow job-leave for volunteer emergency responders, whether or not state laws apply.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 7 min read

If 2017 had a moniker, it might be “the year of the natural disasters,” thanks to a phenomenal array of catastrophic or severe events— hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms and floods.

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Combined with smaller-scale fires and other emergencies, these incidents tax the resources of local and state emergency services, often prompting the need to call volunteer emergency responders into action.

But as lean as most organizations are already running, volunteer activities can sometimes cause friction between employees and employers. Handling conflicts the wrong way can potentially lead to legal headaches, harm employee morale and batter a company’s reputation.

State by State Variations

Most employers are aware of the various federal and state leave laws protecting their employees, including family and medical leave, pregnancy leave and military leave. But leave laws that protect the livelihoods of volunteer emergency responders are more likely to fly under the radar of some HR managers and risk managers.

Such laws don’t exist in every state, but more than 20 states do have some type of law in place to protect volunteers including emergency responders, firefighters, disaster workers, medical responders, ambulance drivers or peace officers.

Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management

The laws vary broadly. Nearly all specify that such leave be unpaid, and that employees disclose their volunteer status to employers and provide documentation for each leave. But there is a spectrum of variations in terms of what may trigger an eligible leave. Some, for instance, apply for any emergency that prompts a call from the volunteer’s affiliated responder group. Others may require a government declaration of emergency for the law to be triggered.

While many of the laws do not explicitly require employers to let employees leave work when called to an emergency during a shift, most specify that an employee may be late or even miss work entirely without facing termination or any other adverse employment action.

Some states mandate a maximum number of unpaid leave days that a volunteer can claim. But others may place more significant burdens on employers. In California, for instance, employers with 50 or more employees are required to grant up to 14 days of unpaid leave for training activities in addition to any leave taken to respond to emergency events. For multistate employers, keeping on top of what obligations may apply in each circumstance can be a challenge.

Significant Risks

Large or mid-sized employers may rely on absence management providers to keep them in compliance. For smaller employers though, it may be as simple as looking up a state’s law via Google to find out what’s required. However, checking in with the state department of labor or the company’s attorney may be the best way to get the correct facts.

“I would caution that just because you don’t find something [on the internet], it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” said absence management and employment law attorney Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management.

For example, Cardi said, an obscure Texas law provides job-protected leave for volunteer ham radio operators called into service during an emergency.

Cardi said employers should task HR to investigate the laws in each state the company operates in, and to ensure that supervisors are educated about the existence of these laws.

“If a supervisor is told by one of his or her employees, ‘Sorry I’m not coming in today … I’ve been called to volunteer firefighter duty for the [nearby region] fire,’” she said, you want to be sure that the supervisor knows not to take action against the employee, and to contact HR for guidance.

“Training supervisors to be aware of this kind of absence is really important.”

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An employer that does terminate a protected volunteer for responding to an emergency may be ordered to pay back wages and reinstate the employee. In some cases, the employee may also be able to sue for wrongful termination.

And of course, “you don’t want to be the company in the headlines that is getting sued because you fired the volunteer firefighter,” she added.

If an employer bars a volunteer from responding, the worst-case scenario may be a third-party claim. Failure to comply with the law could give rise to a claim along the lines of “‘If you had complied with your statutory obligation to give Jane Doe time to respond, my loved one would not have died,’” explained Philadelphia-based Jonathan Segal, partner at law firm Duane Morris and managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute.

“That’s the claim I think is the largest in terms of legal risk.”

Even if no one dies or is seriously injured, he added, “there could still be significant reputational risk if an individual were to go to the media and say, ‘Look, I got called by the fire department and I wasn’t allowed to go.’”

The Right Thing to Do

What employers should be thinking about, Segal said, is that whether or not you have a legal obligation to provide job-protected leave for volunteer responders, “there’s still the question of what are the consequences if you don’t?”

Employee morale should be factored in, he said. The last thing any company wants is for employees to perceive it as insensitive to their interests or the interests of the community at large.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” — Jonathan Segal, partner, Duane Morris; managing principal, Duane Morris Institute

“How is this going to resonate with my employees, with my workforce, how are people going to see this? These are all relevant factors to consider,” he said.

There’s an argument to be made for employers to look at the bigger picture when it comes to any volunteer responders on their payroll, said Segal.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” he said. “Think about the case where’s there’s not a specific state law [for emergency responders] and you say to a volunteer, ‘No, you can’t leave to deal with this fire’ and then people die. You as an employer have potentially played a role, indirectly, because you didn’t allow the first responder or responders to go,” he said.

The bottom line is that “it’s the right thing to do, even if it’s not required by law,” agreed Cardi.

“I feel that companies should have a policy that they’re not going to discipline or discharge someone for absences due to this kind of civic service, subject to verification of course.”

Clear Policy

While most employers do strive to be good corporate citizens, it goes without question that employers need to guard their own interests. It’s not especially likely that volunteer responders will try to take advantage of the unpaid leave allowed them, but of course, it could happen.

That’s why it’s important to have policies that are aligned with state laws. Those policies could include:

  • Notifying the company of any volunteer affiliations either upon hire or as soon they are activated as volunteers.
  • Requiring that employees notify a supervisor as soon as possible if called to an emergency (state requirements vary).
  • Requiring documentation after the event from the head of the entity supervising the volunteer’s activities.

If at some point it becomes excessive – someone has responded to emergencies five times in nine weeks, then it’s time to examine the specifics of the law and have a discussion with the employee about what’s reasonable, said Segal. It may also be time to ask specifics about whether the person is volunteering each time, or are they being called.

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In some cases, the discussion may need to be about finding a middle ground, especially if an employee has taken on an excessively demanding volunteer role.

“We encourage volunteers to pick the style that best fits their schedule,” said Greta Gustafson, a representative of the American Red Cross. “Disaster volunteers can elect to respond to disasters locally, nationally, or even virtually, and each assignment varies in length — from responding overnight to a home fire in your community to deploying across the country for several weeks following a hurricane.

“The Red Cross encourages all volunteers to talk with their employers to determine their availability and to communicate this with their local Red Cross chapter.”

Segal suggests approaching it as an interactive dialogue — borrowing from the ADA. “Employers may need to open a discussion along the lines of ‘I need you here this week because this week we have a deliverable on Friday and you’re critical to that client deliverable,’” he said, but also identify when the employee’s absence would be less critical.

No doubt there will be tough calls. An employer may have its hands full just trying to meet basic customer needs and need all hands on deck.

“That may be a situation where you say, ‘First let me check the law,’” said Segal. If there’s a leave law that applies, “then I’m going to need to comply with it. If there’s not, then you may need to balance competing interests and say, ‘We need you here.’” &

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