Risk Scenario

The Man on the Jack

An energy company drops the ball by not making the necessary accommodations for an injured employee returning from documented leave.
By: | August 18, 2015 • 10 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.

On the Muscle

When his supervisor waved to him, Early Hart took one hand off of the jackhammer trigger, plucked the earbud out of his right ear and picked up his head in acknowledgement.

Scenario_ManontheJack

“Whatcha got?” Early shouted to his boss, the clattering, echoing din of the jackhammer coming momentarily to a halt.

“Break time!” shouted his boss. “Put that hammer down and come get out of the sun!”

“Don’t want to break. Wanna work,” Early shouted back at him, smiling.

Early wiped at his brow with a grimy backhand. Sweat was pouring down his face, the bulging muscles of his arms and his burly torso.

“Break!” the boss said as an answer, still smiling back. Early did as his boss said and set the jackhammer down to rest on the pile of broken asphalt he was creating in the middle of Green Avenue.

Early strode confidently to where his boss and a handful of other workers were already gathered under an enormous sycamore. The gate to his boss’ pickup truck was down and the guys were pulling drinks of iced tea out of an enormous orange thermos.

The son of a local alderman, Roger Hart, Early made a name for himself at a young age, as a Gloucester County New Jersey high school football star. College wasn’t for him though, and he thought himself lucky to have landed a job with KMF Energy Solutions, working on a gas line replacement crew for the utility.

Partner

Partner

It didn’t hurt that his boss was his father’s cousin, Frank Walter. Frank eyed Early admiringly as he came forward to join his co-workers under the shade of the tree.

“You’re a strong young man, but if you want to stay strong in this heat you better hydrate!”

Early took the cup of iced tea Frank offered. He had no argument with a cold drink of tea in this heat and humidity.

“It’s all good,” he thought as he sipped his tea. Lowering his cup, he spied his SUV, with two surfboards strapped to the top of it. In two and half hours he’d be in the water.

***

When Early paddled into the surf break, the other nearby surfers gave him plenty of room.

Early had a reputation as one of the best amateur surfers on the East Coast.

Even without knowing his reputation, anyone with sense could deduce that the owner of muscles like those didn’t need to worry about objections over sharing a wave. He could clearly take care of himself or any shoreline disputes that came his way.

The swells that day were big. Some kind of a storm must have been working its way up from the Caribbean.

Early surfed one big wave, then another. He was joyous in the feeling of immeasurable strength that a young man has in taking on the ocean and feeling no fear.

That’s when it happened.

Early knew these waters well, but no one knows everything, and in this case Early’s undoing was a sand bar that had built up where he wasn’t expecting one. A big breaker drove him into it.

The wave flipped Early and he hit the sand bar hard, with his lower body extending over the edge of it and his lower back taking the brunt of the wave’s force.

It was all Early could do to stagger to the beach. He felt crippled.

“Hey! Hey Early!” one of the other surfers yelled.

Early was mobile, but after being examined by a doctor, he was placed on eight weeks of short-term disability with a severely strained lower back.

An Uneasy Feeling

Back at work, Early was under orders from the doctor to take it easy for a while. His injury was expected to fully heal, but for now a dull pain and unfamiliar physical limitations remained for the normally strong and capable man. But Early’s relative Frank Walter knew the way of the world. Frank felt he needed to protect Early and shield his condition.

Scenario_ManontheJack

Frank gave Early lighter duty, but he didn’t formally ask for an accommodation for Early from human resources. Early was given jobs like operating the hose to keep dust down or working traffic control, but his pay rate and job classification remained the same.

Frank walked up to Early one day as Early stood morosely at the edge of the job site, holding a sign that said “stop” on one side and “slow” on the other.

“What’s the matter with you?” Frank asked Early.

“I’m bored,” Early said.

“Be happy you’ve got a job,” Frank said under his breath.

“What do you mean?” Early asked.

“Things are getting tight around here,” Frank said. “I’m hearing some rumors about layoffs.”

Advertisement




One of Early’s co-workers walked by. He was the kind of person who tended not to mind his own business and he liked to start trouble.

“Same pay, lighter duty. Must be nice,” the co-worker said, eyeing Frank and Early malevolently.

“You mind your own business Johnny,” Frank said to him. “Get over there and load the concrete saw onto the truck like I told you to do a half hour ago!”

Johnny ambled off, in no big hurry.

“I’d fire that coyote tomorrow!” Frank said under his breath, for only Early to hear.

But it was Frank who lost his job, the very next day, as part of a KMF management reshuffle.

Early had been back at work only three weeks when he got a new boss, Del Miller. Miller didn’t know Early, but Early’s ginger approach to his work gave Miller a bad first impression, albeit a mistaken one.

“That guy’s just flat-out lazy,” Miller said to himself as he watched Early pick up a single two by twelve at a time instead of two or three like his co-workers did.

“Is there something the matter with you, young man?” Miller asked Early one morning, after they’d been working together for a week.

“No sir, nothing,” Early said, not anxious to be overly candid with a new supervisor he barely knew.

“Mama’s boy,” the troublemaking Johnny said under his breath to Del Miller the next Monday, as Early ducked working the concrete saw and instead picked up a hose and watered the street to keep the dust down.

With KMF’s managers under pressure to cut costs, Early was terminated by the disapproving Del Miller, five weeks after coming back from short-term disability. Del Miller wanted someone who could perform all the requirements of the job.

Lawyering Up

Roger Hart was not the type to baby his son, but when Early was terminated, Roger consulted with a friend, Avery Fischer, who was known as one of the best labor attorneys in the state of New Jersey.

Scenario_ManontheJack

The Thursday after Early was terminated, he had a meeting with Avery Fischer in Avery’s office in Trenton.

“When you got back to work after your injury, did anyone within KMF discuss with you what you were and weren’t able to do within your job duties?” Avery asked Early.

“No sir, they didn’t,” Early said.

“Did the company offer you any kind of accommodation, say a desk job or a job driving where you wouldn’t be called on to do so much physical labor, or an official adjustment in your current job?” Avery asked Early.

“Not officially. After Frank lost his job, I was back to normal expectations on the same job, working as a laborer on the road crew.”

Roger Hart was at the meeting with Avery and Early, and it was at this point in the conversation that Avery turned to Roger with a meaningful glance.

“It looks to me, Roger, that KMF is in clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act here.”

“How so?” Roger said.

“The company initiated no dialogue with Early, made no effort to check in with him, talk to him about his back injury.”

“And?” Roger said, guessing that there was more to it.

“And they made no attempt to determine if a reasonable accommodation would allow him to continue employment. By leaving him on the road crew – in the same job with the same expectations – to get picked off by this new supervisor, they hung an injured man out to dry. That’s a clear violation,” Avery said.

Roger Hart needed to hear no more. KMF had gotten rid of his cousin, who worked for the company for 14 years, and then they’d terminated the apple of his eye, his son Early, who he knew as a hard-working young man, bent on achievement.

“So, what do we do?” Early said, turning to the two older men.

“We sue,” Roger said.

Avery nodded his head in agreement.

“We sue.”

KMF’s defense attorneys, displaying the same inadequate knowledge of the ADAAA as the company’s line managers, decided to take the case to court.

They got hammered.

Avery Fischer argued that KMF Energy Solutions failed to comply with the ADAAA in three substantial ways:

  • The company failed to maintain a dialogue, in fact didn’t dialogue at all with a worker who had a lingering disability, in Early’s case, an injury-weakened back.
  • The company made no attempt to recognize the limitations of their employee and determine whether his current job could be modified to allow him to continue to perform the essential job requirements – or if there was another job within the company he would be qualified for and would be possible within his limitations – a clear violation of the act.
  • The company terminated an employee for performance issues without first reviewing all of the facts to ensure whether the situation was truly a performance issue or if the performance issue was due to a medical condition from his recent and known eight-week short-term disability.

The judge agreed and KMF Energy Solutions was hit with a penalty judgment that ran in the low to mid six figures.

The next one to lose his job was Del Miller.

Webinar – Compliance crossroads: How are you navigating the intersection of ADA/ADAAA and workers’ comp, disability or leave?

Watch Sedgwick delve deeper into ADA/ADAA compliance with our sister publication, Human Resource Executive®.

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

Risk & Insurance® partnered with Sedgwick to produce this scenario. Below are Sedgwick’s recommendations on how to prevent the losses presented in the scenario. This perspective is not an editorial opinion of Risk & Insurance®.

1. Appoint your experts: When compliance is on the line, someone in your organization needs to be well-versed in ADA/ADAAA and the interactive process. This may not be your front line managers. Appoint someone to be responsible for triggering the accommodation process and engaging appropriately when employees return from a workplace injury, a non-work injury or illness or another medical need.

2. Document, document, document: Companies need to make sure that standard procedures regarding leave or accommodation under the Family Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act are in place, up to date and triggering interactive process review – as well as clearly communicated to employees and supervisors. A robust information management platform is key to supporting the process and necessary documentation.

3. Alternative options: If you are able, offer a chance for those in need of accommodation to be reassigned to another job, even temporarily. Sometimes time off from work may be the best or only option; although the goal of ADA/ADAAA is to keep people at work and every effort should be made to meet an accommodation request, supervisors need to keep in mind that there may be cases where an accommodation within someone’s current position isn’t possible or advisable due to the nature of their job or the significant hardship it would place on the business.

4. Consistency: Different injured employees with debilitating conditions should be treated with consistency under the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of whether their need for accommodation is due to a work-related injury, a non-occupational injury or illness or for another medical need. Don’t treat employees differently based on whether they need temporary vs. permanent accommodation, based on their type of leave or based on personal feelings.

5. Medical review: Make sure you request and document medical reviews of any request for accommodation as part of the overall interactive accommodation process.

Additional Partner Resources

ADA Accommodation Services

White paper: Managing the new ADA

edge magazine: Keys to compliance

Sedgwick Connection Blog

LeaveLink / ADALink




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

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Exclusive | Hank Greenberg on China Trade, Starr’s Rapid Growth and 100th, Spitzer, Schneiderman and More

In a robust and frank conversation, the insurance legend provides unique insights into global trade, his past battles and what the future holds for the industry and his company.
By: | October 12, 2018 • 12 min read

In 1960, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg was hired as a vice president of C.V. Starr & Co. At age 35, he had already accomplished a great deal.

He served his country as part of the Allied Forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy and liberated the Nazi death camps. He fought again during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. He held a law degree from New York Law School.

Advertisement




Now he was ready to make his mark on the business world.

Even C.V. Starr himself — who hired Mr. Greenberg and later hand-picked him as the successor to the company he founded in Shanghai in 1919 — could not have imagined what a mark it would be.

Mr. Greenberg began to build AIG as a Starr subsidiary, then in 1969, he took it public. The company would, at its peak, achieve a market cap of some $180 billion and cement its place as the largest insurance and financial services company in history.

This month, Mr. Greenberg travels to China to celebrate the 100th anniversary of C.V. Starr & Co. That visit occurs at a prickly time in U.S.-Sino relations, as the Trump administration levies tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods and China retaliates.

In September, Risk & Insurance® sat down with Mr. Greenberg in his Park Avenue office to hear his thoughts on the centennial of C.V. Starr, the dynamics of U.S. trade relationships with China and the future of the U.S. insurance industry as it faces the challenges of technology development and talent recruitment and retention, among many others. What follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.


R&I: One hundred years is quite an impressive milestone for any company. Celebrating the anniversary in China signifies the importance and longevity of that relationship. Can you tell us more about C.V. Starr’s history with China?

Hank Greenberg: We have a long history in China. I first went there in 1975. There was little there, but I had business throughout Asia, and I stopped there all the time. I’d stop there a couple of times a year and build relationships.

When I first started visiting China, there was only one state-owned insurance company there, PICC (the People’s Insurance Company of China); it was tiny at the time. We helped them to grow.

I also received the first foreign life insurance license in China, for AIA (The American International Assurance Co.). To date, there has been no other foreign life insurance company in China. It took me 20 years of hard work to get that license.

We also introduced an agency system in China. They had none. Their life company employees would get a salary whether they sold something or not. With the agency system of course you get paid a commission if you sell something. Once that agency system was installed, it went on to create more than a million jobs.

R&I: So Starr’s success has meant success for the Chinese insurance industry as well.

Hank Greenberg: That’s partly why we’re going to be celebrating that anniversary there next month. That celebration will occur alongside that of IBLAC (International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council), an international business advisory group that was put together when Zhu Rongji was the mayor of Shanghai [Zhu is since retired from public life]. He asked me to start that to attract foreign companies to invest in Shanghai.

“It turns out that it is harder [for China] to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

Shanghai and China in general were just coming out of the doldrums then; there was a lack of foreign investment. Zhu asked me to chair IBLAC and to help get it started, which I did. I served as chairman of that group for a couple of terms. I am still a part of that board, and it will be celebrating its 30th anniversary along with our 100th anniversary.

Advertisement




We have a good relationship with China, and we’re candid as you can tell from the op-ed I published in the Wall Street Journal. I’m told that my op-ed was received quite well in China, by both Chinese companies and foreign companies doing business there.

On August 29, Mr. Greenberg published an opinion piece in the WSJ reminding Chinese leaders of the productive history of U.S.-Sino relations and suggesting that Chinese leaders take pragmatic steps to ease trade tensions with the U.S.

R&I: What’s your outlook on current trade relations between the U.S. and China?

Hank Greenberg: As to the current environment, when you are in negotiations, every leader negotiates differently.

President Trump is negotiating based on his well-known approach. What’s different now is that President Xi (Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China) made himself the emperor. All the past presidents in China before the revolution had two terms. He’s there for life, which makes things much more difficult.

R&I: Sure does. You’ve got a one- or two-term president talking to somebody who can wait it out. It’s definitely unique.

Hank Greenberg: So, clearly a lot of change is going on in China. Some of it is good. But as I said in the op-ed, China needs to be treated like the second largest economy in the world, which it is. And it will be the number one economy in the world in not too many years. That means that you can’t use the same terms of trade that you did 25 or 30 years ago.

They want to have access to our market and other markets. Fine, but you have to have reciprocity, and they have not been very good at that.

R&I: What stands in the way of that happening?

Hank Greenberg: I think there are several substantial challenges. One, their structure makes it very difficult. They have a senior official, a regulator, who runs a division within the government for insurance. He keeps that job as long as he does what leadership wants him to do. He may not be sure what they want him to do.

For example, the president made a speech many months ago saying they are going to open up banking, insurance and a couple of additional sectors to foreign investment; nothing happened.

The reason was that the head of that division got changed. A new administrator came in who was not sure what the president wanted so he did nothing. Time went on and the international community said, “Wait a minute, you promised that you were going to do that and you didn’t do that.”

So the structure is such that it is very difficult. China can’t react as fast as it should. That will change, but it is going to take time.

R&I: That’s interesting, because during the financial crisis in 2008 there was talk that China, given their more centralized authority, could react more quickly, not less quickly.

Hank Greenberg: It turns out that it is harder to change, because they have one leader. My guess is that we’ll work it out sooner or later. Trump and Xi have to meet. That will result in some agreement that will get to them and they will have to finish the rest of the negotiations. I believe that will happen.

R&I: Obviously, you have a very unique perspective and experience in China. For American companies coming to China, what are some of the current challenges?

Advertisement




Hank Greenberg: Well, they very much want to do business in China. That’s due to the sheer size of the country, at 1.4 billion people. It’s a very big market and not just for insurance companies. It’s a whole range of companies that would like to have access to China as easily as Chinese companies have access to the United States. As I said previously, that has to be resolved.

It’s not going to be easy, because China has a history of not being treated well by other countries. The U.S. has been pretty good in that way. We haven’t taken advantage of China.

R&I: Your op-ed was very enlightening on that topic.

Hank Greenberg: President Xi wants to rebuild the “middle kingdom,” to what China was, a great country. Part of that was his takeover of the South China Sea rock islands during the Obama Administration; we did nothing. It’s a little late now to try and do something. They promised they would never militarize those islands. Then they did. That’s a real problem in Southern Asia. The other countries in that region are not happy about that.

R&I: One thing that has differentiated your company is that it is not a public company, and it is not a mutual company. We think you’re the only large insurance company with that structure at that scale. What advantages does that give you?

Hank Greenberg: Two things. First of all, we’re more than an insurance company. We have the traditional investment unit with the insurance company. Then we have a separate investment unit that we started, which is very successful. So we have a source of income that is diverse. We don’t have to underwrite business that is going to lose a lot of money. Not knowingly anyway.

R&I: And that’s because you are a private company?

Hank Greenberg: Yes. We attract a different type of person in a private company.

R&I: Do you think that enables you to react more quickly?

Hank Greenberg: Absolutely. When we left AIG there were three of us. Myself, Howie Smith and Ed Matthews. Howie used to run the internal financials and Ed Matthews was the investment guy coming out of Morgan Stanley when I was putting AIG together. We started with three people and now we have 3,500 and growing.

“I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.” — Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co. Inc.

R&I:  You being forced to leave AIG in 2005 really was an injustice, by the way. AIG wouldn’t have been in the position it was in 2008 if you had still been there.

Advertisement




Hank Greenberg: Absolutely not. We had all the right things in place. We met with the financial services division once a day every day to make sure they stuck to what they were supposed to do. Even Hank Paulson, the Secretary of Treasury, sat on the stand during my trial and said that if I’d been at the company, it would not have imploded the way it did.

R&I: And that fateful decision the AIG board made really affected the course of the country.

Hank Greenberg: So many people lost all of their net worth. The new management was taking on billions of dollars’ worth of risk with no collateral. They had decimated the internal risk management controls. And the government takeover of the company when the financial crisis blew up was grossly unfair.

From the time it went public, AIG’s value had increased from $300 million to $180 billion. Thanks to Eliot Spitzer, it’s now worth a fraction of that. His was a gross misuse of the Martin Act. It gives the Attorney General the power to investigate without probable cause and bring fraud charges without having to prove intent. Only in New York does the law grant the AG that much power.

R&I: It’s especially frustrating when you consider the quality of his own character, and the scandal he was involved in.

In early 2008, Spitzer was caught on a federal wiretap arranging a meeting with a prostitute at a Washington Hotel and resigned shortly thereafter.

Hank Greenberg: Yes. And it’s been successive. Look at Eric Schneiderman. He resigned earlier this year when it came out that he had abused several women. And this was after he came out so strongly against other men accused of the same thing. To me it demonstrates hypocrisy and abuse of power.

Schneiderman followed in Spitzer’s footsteps in leveraging the Martin Act against numerous corporations to generate multi-billion dollar settlements.

R&I: Starr, however, continues to thrive. You said you’re at 3,500 people and still growing. As you continue to expand, how do you deal with the challenge of attracting talent?

Hank Greenberg: We did something last week.

On September 16th, St. John’s University announced the largest gift in its 148-year history. The Starr Foundation donated $15 million to the school, establishing the Maurice R. Greenberg Leadership Initiative at St. John’s School of Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science.

Hank Greenberg: We have recruited from St. John’s for many, many years. These are young people who want to be in the insurance industry. They don’t get into it by accident. They study to become proficient in this and we have recruited some very qualified individuals from that school. But we also recruit from many other universities. On the investment side, outside of the insurance industry, we also recruit from Wall Street.

R&I: We’re very interested in how you and other leaders in this industry view technology and how they’re going to use it.

Hank Greenberg: I think technology can play a role in reducing operating expenses. In the last 70 years, you have seen the expense ratio of the industry rise, and I’m not sure the industry can afford a 35 percent expense ratio. But while technology can help, some additional fundamental changes will also be required.

R&I: So as the pre-eminent leader of the insurance industry, what do you see in terms of where insurance is now an where it’s going?

Hank Greenberg: The country and the world will always need insurance. That doesn’t mean that what we have today is what we’re going to have 25 years from now.

How quickly the change comes and how far it will go will depend on individual companies and individual countries. Some will be more brave than others. But change will take place, there is no doubt about it.

Advertisement




More will go on in space, there is no question about that. We’re involved in it right now as an insurance company, and it will get broader.

One of the things you have to worry about is it’s now a nuclear world. It’s a more dangerous world. And again, we have to find some way to deal with that.

So, change is inevitable. You need people who can deal with change.

R&I:  Is there anything else, Mr. Greenberg, you want to comment on?

Hank Greenberg: I think I’ve covered it. &

The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]