ADA Alert

There are five reasons that all hotel members in the United States need to comply with all the new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements before the March 15, 2012 deadline. By acting now, you can save your business countless productive working hours and thousands of dollars in penalties. 

1. The March 15, 2012 deadline is the effective date for the most sweeping changes to the ADA in 20 years.

2. These changes directly affect every hotel owner and operator in the United States.

3. Experts expect that a tidal wave of private lawsuits and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforcement actions will start the day after the deadline, on March 16, 2012, and that it will dwarf the approximately 12,000 lawsuits filed over the past five or six years under the original ADA.

4. Owners and operators are each jointly and separately liable for violations of the ADA, and they both will likely be sued. Most ADA claims are not covered by insurance, but most management agreements will require owners to pay or indemnify operators for such claims.

5. It is much cheaper to prevent lawsuits than to fight them. You can pay a little now to avoid the problem, or you can pay a lot more later to deal with it.

Why act now? It is the law. It is the right thing to do. It is much more cost-effective to prevent lawsuits than to fight them. 

If you wait and get sued or investigated by the DOJ, in addition to the cost of making the property fully compliant, you may get hit with fines, plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs. Some states can award damages as well. In addition, the DOJ can fine hotels up to $55,000 for the first ADA offense and $110,000 for each subsequent offense.

Your general liability insurance carrier will not pay for any of these costs either. The best action to take as a business owner is to hire an ADA expert to analyze your hotel operations and determine deficiencies so you can fix them before there is a problem.

SIA Group can provide you with an insurance policy that provides your hotel with coverage in the event that your hotel is sued for not being ADA compliant, and the cost is very inexpensive, especially considering the possibility of facing fines and lawsuits without having it. Contact Bradley Carroll at bcarroll@siagroup.net or Cliff Patterson at cpatterson@siagroup.net or call and ask for either person at 1-800-682-7741 for more information.

How the New Employee Rights Notice Posting Will Affect You

By April 30 of this year, most businesses in the private sector will be required to place an 11-by-17 poster in their workplaces advising employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act. The poster, available through the National Labor Relations Board website in English, Spanish and 26 other commonly used languages, informs employees about their right to organize and bargain collectively with their employers, and to engage in other protected concerted activity.

The NLRB requires that it must appear in a conspicuous place, where other notifications of workplace rights and employer rules and policies are posted, and be linked to an internal or external website if other personnel policies or workplace notices are posted there as well.

The biggest change employers will notice is that the new rules will reduce the time that they have to respond to union organization petitions by nearly half from the current 42 days to 24 days or less. This already has prompted concerns from one group, hoteliers, about a lack of time to engage employees in open, two-way dialogue about the impact of a unionization vote.

The best defense to this new invitation for disgruntled employees to take advantage and organize opposition to their working conditions is to have good personnel practices in place and help available when you need it. A more favorable work environment will limit such talk from occurring.

A top employee benefit and human resources management consulting firm will work with clients to anticipate the implications of changes in federal regulations for employers and how to adapt to them accordingly. The advisors will thoroughly analyze all the risks an employer faces, whether they are hazard-based, financial-based, operations-based, or strategic-based, identify vulnerabilities and establish a “blueprint” to protect his or her corporate and personal assets. 

Assessing personnel practices is one of the wisest ways for an employer to lower the total cost of risk. This review should occur as soon as possible with professionals experienced in mitigating difficulties faced with complying with new rules, particularly when they can adversely affect a business if not addressed properly and quickly.

If you have any questions about the employee rights notices, contact Bradley Carroll at bcarroll@siagroup.net or Cliff Patterson at cpatterson@siagroup.net or call toll free to 1-800-682-7741.

Photo Credit: Flickr User Batle Group: Mar Hotels, Majestic-Resorts & Lively

Bed Bugs a Nagging Problem for the Hospitality Industry

The old saying “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” unfortunately has real meaning for many travelers in the last decade who have encountered these unpleasant parasites. Small (adults are about 3/8 to 1/4-inches long) and reddish-brown, bed bugs emerge at night from their hiding places in cracks and crevices near the bed or places where people sleep to feed on humans. Bites are most often found on the neck, arm and shoulders, but can occur on legs or ankles as well, and can be quite painful for some victims.

There has been particular concern about the rise of bed bug incidents in many American hotels, including upscale ones. Since bed bugs can arrive on the clothing or in the suitcases of guests from infested homes or other hotels harboring the pests, hotels can be an easy target for bed bug infestations. The difficulty of removing bed bugs at hotels have spurred a number of lawsuits by guests, including one where the plaintiff, a New York opera singer, is suing a Phoenix hotel for $6 million after she woke up with multiple bed bug bites.

The potential threat of such suits alleging negligence and fraud against an establishment, among other charges, is that they can result in bad publicity as well as monetary damages incurred for lawyers and other defense activities. To prevent such situations, anyone operating a hospitality business should have an emergency plan in place to address them. These plans should include:

It is important to contact a responsible insurance group that offers an emergency plan with these elements and others for handling bed bug incidents. Otherwise, they face potentially catastrophic legal action that appears more likely every day as the bed bug situation remains a nagging irritant for the industry at every level, despite efforts to eradicate it.

In addition to offering hospitality operations general liability and umbrella insurance coverage, SIA Group can help clients make a plan for covering pest control operator costs, as well as costs incurred from negative online reviews. Since SIA Group represents more than 50 percent of the pest control operators in North Carolina, agents can give hotels access to qualified, specialized pest control operators to solve bedbug issues. If you would like to inquire about insurance coverage and bedbug plans for your hospitality operation, contact Cliff Patterson at cpatterson@siagroup.net or Bradley Carroll at bcarroll@siagroup.net or call 910-478-3312.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Gilles San Martin

Meritless Claims Can Still Hurt You

Most every business owner will tell you that they know the possibility of a sexual harassment allegation or employment discrimination claim against their business is out there. However, most would also tell you that they don’t think such exposures really exist in their business – it is, after all, a small business where everyone knows each other, right?

The Problem:  Not only can a business be exposed to a frivolous claim without merit, but also many business owners do not realize they are not protected from claims related to Employment Related Practice Liability.

Some of these claims include:

  • Gender, age and other types of discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Wrongful termination or discipline
  • Negligent compensation
  • Promotion or hiring decisions
  • Breach of employment contract
  • Emotional distress/mental anguish
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Libel/slander

Defending your business against allegations of any of the above errors can be very expensive, regardless of the merits of the claim. If business owners are found to be in the wrong, the accuser may be awarded a sum significant enough to put you out of business. Fully understanding the extent to which an error in your company’s Employment Related Practices policies affect your bottom line leads to placing emphasis on protecting your business.

Most states, including North Carolina, are “employment at will” states. This means that employers can let staff members go without documented reason. Many employers, however, feel that this law protects them from wrongful termination lawsuits. This is not true. Even though your business may be employment at will, it can still be damaged by a wrongful termination suit.

The Solution: Work with your insurance professional to learn about the various Employment Practices Liability insurance products that are available to you to protect your business against such exposures. Generally speaking, the trigger for an Employment Related Practices Liability policy is an allegation. As soon as an allegation is made, notify your agent so that they can be involved with all communications between the parties. Getting involved as early as possible can help mitigate many claims to keep them from becoming full-scale lawsuits. Beyond that, there are many loss-control services that help put systems in place and train employees to avoid errors in the first place.

Our advisors at SIA are focused on providing our clients with the most comprehensive program available, including protecting them against Employment Related Practices Liability claims.

Image Source: ilovememphis

The Importance of EPLI Coverage

The number of retaliatory claims made by dismissed workers has skyrocketed 55 percent since 2000. This figure has jumped 7 percent this past year alone, with an all-time high of 100,000 new claims against former employers. While workers’ compensation and general liability insurance cover most incidents in the workplace, these retaliatory claims are not.

This situation catches many employers off guard and can cause an almost insurmountable financial burden for a business. Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) protects your business beyond the coverage that workers’ compensation and general liability provide.

Why is This Happening?

Industry experts have been able to pinpoint a couple of reasons that this surge might be taking place. Some say that the economy is to blame, and dismissed workers who know they might not be able to find work for a while are looking to get as much from their former employer as possible.

The second possible reason is that in 2008 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was given expanded authorities under the ADA Amendments Act, Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. These new authorities, coupled with increased accessibility to the EEOC, allow for easier filing from employees who feel they have been wrongfully terminated.

Why Do You Need EPLI?

Take this story as an example. A waitress at a restaurant was dismissed for poor performance, all of which was properly documented over the period of a few months. This employee was also pregnant, and she felt that her termination was not due to her poor performance but her condition. The restaurant, which did not have EPLI coverage, spent $100,000 for defense costs in court alone.

Verdicts for plaintiffs in these types of cases can reach upward of $1 million. EPLI coverage can cover your defense costs and help to defer the cost of the award, should the court side with the defendant in a wrongful termination suit.

No insurance can guarantee that an employee who is let go will not turn around and accuse your business of wrongful termination. However, you can prevent their suit from causing your business immense financial damage in order to defend yourself in court. Call your insurance agent today to make sure you have adequate protection.

 

Image: Joelk75