Getting The Right Amount of Life Insurance

Life insurance is a valuable investment for your dependants or anyone you have chosen as a beneficiary. If you are a financial support to others, it is imperative you leave behind something when you are gone so that your they will be able to look after themselves in case your gone.

However, it can be a challenge to determine exactly how much life coverage you require to ensure that your loved ones are well taken care of.

A recent survey showed that, while 20% of Americans agree that life insurance should be included as a part of any sound financial planning, only 40% said they would know what to look for in buying a life insurance policy. The same survey indicated that 50% of Americans felt they were under-insured.

Experts recommend at least six times the annual gross income as a good place to start for determining how much life insurance you should obtain.

As you consider the varying options available, always keep in mind that buying life insurance is like buying any other consumer product – your goal is to get the best value for your money.

Before taking out life insurance, it’s smart to speak with an expert to ensure that you understand all the options that are available to you.

And, working with an independent insurance agency ensures you can receive several quotes without having to call several carriers directly. This will help you make an informed decision while getting insurance that is tailored to fit your situation.

Beyond the “six times annual gross income” rule, you need to understand your “life value”. This may sound like an absurd thing to consider, but it is important. After all, you want to be sure that the money you leave behind will take care of your family.

So, do you expect to be earning more in the future? If so, plan for that. Do you take care of things around the house that someone might have to otherwise pay for? Be sure to include that as well.

Likewise, if you have debts, be sure there’s enough insurance to cover those bills as well.

And if you have kids and need to ensure they can go to college, you have to plan for that too… college is expensive and its costs are accelerating.

By taking full stock of your current situation and the impact your death will have, you’ll develop a clear understanding of what your family will really need to survive.

With an effective financial planning process, you will approach purchasing life insurance with an unbiased perspective that will allow you to make a sound decision. (If your life circumstances change, be sure to talk with your live insurance professional right away. Things like buying a vacation home, having kids, or even getting a divorce can impact your life insurance needs.)

We understand that life insurance is a subject most folks try and avoid talking about, yet it is important. It is about protecting loved ones from uncertainty in difficult circumstances. Please reach out to us for resources on getting the most out of life insurance. We’ll be happy to help point you in the right direction and help you explore your options.


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Wrongful Termination

Although many states are fire-at-will states, there may be circumstances that allow legal action to proceed against employers. For example, a firm that appears to adhere to a plan of progressive discipline actions prior to terminating staff members and then terminates an employee while failing to following that plan can be putting themselves in legal danger. In one example of this, the California Appellate Court ruled that the employees claim could proceed even though the company was a fire-at-will company.

Proceedings in other states have had similar outcomes so it is worthwhile exploring what happened in this situation.

The case in question occurred with Barnes & Noble Booksellers and their employee Christine Oakes. Christine began working for B&N starting in 1987 as became store manager in 1989. She also managed the West Valley-Mission Community University Campus location from 2002-2010.

Several times throughout her career with Barnes & Noble, Christine acknowledge she had received and reviewed the B&N code of conduct. She also signed an acknowledgement that she understood she was an at-will employee.

The company’s employee manual also had a disclaimer that it was not a contract and was for reference purposes only. The manual made it clear that they were a fire-at-will company meaning they could let go of employees without prior notice and without cause.

The manual also contained a specific policy of employee discipline, specifying that managers use certain training tools and procedures to progressively discipline their employees. The discipline begins with a verbal warning and progresses through a written warning. The handbook also stated that if a significant offense was taken, the initial disciplinary steps could be skipped. Also, if the infraction was significant, the person could be terminated without any prior disciplinary steps.

Oakes’ received good annual performance reviews until 2009. While she was rated as satisfactory or exceeded criteria in many measurements, she was found to not meet standards in the area of liability, client focus, and interaction.

Barnes & Noble terminated Oakes on June 1, 2010 without prior warning. Likewise B&N failed to leverage the discipline process it outlined in its employee guide.

In April 2012 Oakes sued the company for wrongful termination. This was based on the concept that B&N was in breach of contract.

The company requested a summary judgment in 2013, asking for the claims to be dismissed before trial. They said that she was a fire-at-will employee let go for legitimate reasons. The court approved the motion but Oakes appealed.

In a deposition taken prior to the dismissal of the lawsuit, Oakes said that she had been told by B&N’s HR department to use the progressive discipline process outlined in the employee manual prior to letting go of employees. She also noted that if she terminated someone without taking these steps, she was reprimanded by the company.

To support her testimony, two other managers affirmed Oake’s testimony. They said that they were not aware of any other cases where employees had been let go without the handbook’s recommendations being followed.

Does employment agreement match actual practice?

Although California is a fire-at-will state, the appeals court noted that events in an employee partnership can alter that status.

Barnes & Noble had stated that they were a fire-at-will company in their handbook but there was indeed evidence that this policy was not their intent. The court noticed that the company was correct in their ability to be a fire-at-will employer. However they acknowledged the existence of a separate unwritten policy. The court found their actual plan was using progressive discipline before terminating an employer. The appellate court used this information to change the trial courts dismissal of the case and stated that a trial was needed to figure out exactly the terms of the employer’s policies and if Barnes & Noble had breached those terms.

Protecting your business from lawsuits…

An expert guideline in this case is that it is essential to understand that actions do speak louder than words. Although a business may state certain policies and procedures, their day-to-day running of the company may not be followed consistently. Not following policies consistently puts businesses at high risk for lawsuits.

If you have a business with employees, we highly recommend that you take a close look at EPLI or employment practices liability insurance. It helps protect you from claims of things like wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. Because while you may believe you are operating within the law, a court may disagree. Be sure to talk with us about affordable EPLI options for your business.


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Separating Truth From Fiction With Employees

Philip Maltin, who was discussing the ways of spotting liars at the Society for Human Resource Management’s Skill Monitoring Conference & Exposition, began by explaining how we can misread some signs when trying to spot liars in the workplace.

According to Maltin, if someone folds her arms, fails to look you in the eye, and keeps massaging the back of their neck depicting nervousness and stress, it’s not mandatory that they are lying. Maltin feels that body movement of a person is just one of many cues that help us to understand whether that individual is a liar. According to him, an individual might appear worried even when he is looking to tell the truth; that’s because he might believe that people would start judging him after knowing the truth.

Maltin, who is currently a partner with the LA firm Raines Feldman LLP, protects organizations in cases involving employment insurance claims. His other endeavors include helping civil legal delegates in honing deposition skills and teaching district attorneys effective trial strategies. Maltin said that he has met many detectives, police officers, and prosecutors who have the habit of doubting supposed lawbreakers assuming that they have committed a crime. HR experts, who are expected to follow employee management best practices, are also often found to possess a similar tendency.

Maltin played an audio, in which a policeman was heard interrogating ex US Senator Larry Craig hurriedly after the latter was arrested in 2007 for performing vulgar acts at an airport restroom meant for men. Instead of examining Craig carefully and calmly while adhering to the facts, the law enforcement officer maintained an argumentative, accusatory, and confrontational behavior. This, according to Maltin, allowed the policeman to gather little information from the ex senator.

Maltin affirms that people won’t reveal themselves to you just because you are the boss or the head of HR. You will get desired results only upon asking flexible questions, hearing all answers carefully, and staying on track.

Here are a few tips to suss out the truth…

Study well before questioning

Before you question someone suspected of inappropriate behavior or wrongdoing, you must investigate thoroughly. The investigation process might require you to go through the person’s emails, computer history, account details etc. Video monitoring may also be needed. Maltin believes that it’s important to know your witnesses, suspect, and the questioning techniques you will be using beforehand.

Examine your suspect, but always play nice

You must know that accusatory and aggressive interrogation might make your suspect uncommunicative. This might even cause false admissions, which should never be the way to go. You should be irresistible when interrogating. The only way you can gather information is by making the accused individual talk with you. For that, you will have to get along well with the person. Allow the person narrate his story. This will provide you with the weirdest facts. Instead of asking directly about the misdeed you feel the person has committed, you should shoot an open-ended question towards him. For instance, you should begin by asking a simple question like, “How’s life treating you?” and then move your investigation forward based the responses you get.

Evaluate the suspect’s responses

Once your suspect finishes telling his tale, you should assess it. According to Maltin, phonies tend to share tales that are mostly illogical. The details provided by them are filled with uncertainty and discrepancies. He added that liars often use simple constructions for sounding incoherent. They also have a tendency of evading straight enquiries by altering the topic. Sincere individuals, on the other hand, tend to give lots of understandable details in a coherent order. Their narrations are always significantly more meaningful and interactive in nature.

You should question yourself

It’s true that it’s extremely important that you suspect one or more individuals based on the investigation carried out by you and in-depth evaluation of the responses you receive from your suspect or suspects. However, while suspecting someone else, you must also move a step back for locating loop holes in your own thoughts.

Maltin stated that anxiety might also be an indicator of sincerity. He added that feelings would never be able to tell you what factors are responsible for causing them. It’s impossible to know what has made a person mad or nervous or worried. As a result, an individual who primarily counts on his or her intuitions would not be a good lie detector.

Protect yourself from mistakes

We are constantly on the lookout for great information about employee management best practices and how to manage your business risks. Dealing with employees can be tricky. There are a number of EPLI concerns that can impact insurance risk.

The best strategy is to be sure you have an EPLI policy in place if you have employees. If you are curious about EPLI or If you want to review your current EPLI risk, be sure to reach out to us.


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5 Key Actions in Case of a Ransomware Attack

Imagine this: you are seated at home working on your computer, either answering your email or polishing a work related presentation. Suddenly, a message blinks on your screen. The message curtly demands that you send cash to a certain destination, failure to which you will be unable to access any of the documents stored on your computer. You also discover that your keyboard has become unresponsive. Logically, you decide to restart the computer. The screen comes right back on, but to your shock, you are still unable to access any of your files and folders. It dawns on you that your data has been remotely locked via a device on your network, and that no matter how much you try you cannot access it.

The above scenario clearly illustrates what happens in a typical ransomware assault. This has become an acute problem globally, with the WannaCry attack being the latest ransomware attack to affect the largest number of individuals on a worldwide scale. The victims are usually at a loss on what to do.

You can use a ransomware attack as a learning point, and consequently take measures to enhance your protection against similar attacks in the future. Here are five steps that you can take if you have been a victim:

1. Do not pay the Ransom Money

Internet security experts advise that it would be a disastrous mistake to pay off the aggressors. For one, it is an indicator that you have given up control of the situation to the attacker, and that you trust they will amicably resolve the situation. Honestly, this never happens. The aggressor is only interested in ripping you off. Once you pay the ransom, it is unlikely that they will unlock your documents. If in the unlikely event they do, be certain that they will see you as soft victim and mark you for repeated blackmail attacks. Giving in to the attackers’ demands also gives them the impetus to continue perpetrating further attacks on more victims.

Christopher Budd, a security supervisor for the electronics security firm Trend Micro, emphasized the above point in a business article he wrote last July. In the article, he advised victims of ransomware attack not to pay, but to keep in mind that they are handling bad guys. He reiterated that giving in would not guarantee that, as a victim, you would get back all your documents. It would only help the criminals perpetuate this criminal activity. As a worldwide communications threats expert, Christopher Budd definitely understands the pitfalls of giving in to the aggressors.

2. Use a Backup to Reinstall Your Files

Using a computer back up system comes with numerous advantages. Many people use computer backups to access their data in case the computer breaks down. In the same way, the backup will come in handy in case you fall prey to ransomware attacks. You will be able reinstall all your files and folders from the backup system, without having to refer to the aggressors. For this to be effective, ensure that you have set your system to automatically backup all the data that you handle via the computer. Once the backup system is well set, it will operate automatically and you do not have to keep thinking about it; unless something happens and you need to access the data.

3. Update Your OS and Anti-virus

It is important that you regularly update your OS and anti-virus with the latest versions. Microsoft is quite aggressive in addressing security concerns. Actually, the latest update of Microsoft’s Window 10 is fully secure against WannaCry -the latest global ransomware assault. There are several firms and individuals, however, who still use earlier versions of windows, or do not activate automatic updates on the later versions. These firms and individuals would not be protected in case an attack is imminent.

4. Engage the Services of Your IT Division or an Anti-Virus Firm.

The personnel in the IT department of your company may have the technical expertise to recover your data in case your computers are attacked. Inform them immediately you notice the problem, and allow them to try and salvage the situation. Conversely, you may opt to ask anti-virus companies to assist. There are some anti-virus software that could help, but do not peg most of your hopes on this.

5. Reformat Your Hard disk

This is a tough decision to make, because it means you will lose all your data. However, it is a good move compared to the alternative of giving in to the aggressors. So, if all the other solutions are not tenable, go ahead and reformat your hard disk and reinstall the OS. Take the entire ordeal of the attack as a lesson well learnt, and ensure to back up your data once you are back in business.

Importance of Identity Theft Protection

Of course, these kinds of attacks indicate that your computer has been violated. Attackers may have gotten access to important information from your system, in addition to holding it hostage. Just as it is important to protect your computers and devices with operating system updates and anti-virus / anti-malware software, it’s also important to protect your identity. Many carriers offer identity theft insurance endorsements on homeowners or renters insurance policies. Some also offer stand-alone identity theft protection options. If you are concerned about the financial implications of having your identity stolen, be sure to check with us for advice on your best options.


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Dealing With Lead Exposure in Construction

Due to its low cost and stability, lead was commonly used in construction and plumbing until the late 19th century.
As a result, this heavy metal is still found in buildings and construction sites, especially in demolition, salvage, renovation, and even cleaning. The dangers of lead exposure and poisoning are well known and it’s important to protect workers from lead exposure in construction.
There are numerous exposure methods for workers.
* Inhalation of lead fumes or dust is common.
* Lead may even be ingested if it’s present on a worker’s hands.
* The exposure may not even stay in the construction site as lead can dust can easily accumulate on skin, clothes, tools, and vehicles.
Although the dangers of lead are based on how much a person is exposed to at one time as well as the total amount of exposure over time, some people are at higher risk for complications than others. Anyone with asthma or respiratory diseases faces an increased risk of complications with exposure to lead
To limit and prevent exposure, OSHA recommends:
* Always use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and respirators
* Wash hands and face after work and before ingesting food or liquids
* Never eat in any area where PPE is required
* Clothing or uniforms that have been exposed to lead should never be taken home.
* Wash any exposed clothes or uniforms daily using approved cleaning methods
* Watch for any signs or symptoms of lead exposure which may include abdominal pain, migraines, and loss of sensation
* When working outside, stand away from any dust
* Always use ventilation for enclosed work areas
* Always use lead-free products and chemicals when able
* Use dust-collecting equipment to decrease dust exposure
* Whenever feasible, make use of lead-free products and chemicals.
If you’re concerned about lead exposure risk, use these tips to get started and contact us to get expert advice on minimizing exposure. We specialize in helping companies understand their risk and obtain appropriate coverages to mitigate that risk. If you have any insurance related questions please be sure to reach out
to us.

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Americans Surprising Agreement on Inclusion of Mental Health Benefit in Insurance

In the hot debate about healthcare in the U.S. there appears to be one common thread. Research shows that 77% of Americans from both sides of the political divide feel that insurance coverage should cater to psychological wellness.

The research results by the American Psychiatric Organization shows that 76% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans are of the opinion that health insurance should provide mental wellness protection.

The research further clarifies that over 50% of Americans would want psychological health coverage to be part and parcel of any health insurance law. This is irrespective of whether the insurance coverage is purchased on an individual level, or it is part of a federal statutory program like Medicaid and Medicare, or any other bought through a Health Care Exchange.

55% of Democrats and 51% of Republicans perceive that all forms of government provided insurance health coverage must take into account the issue of mental wellness. The findings noted that Boomers are more likely to support this line of thought than Millennials.

Further data indicates that 50% of the respondents were of the opinion that mental health insurance coverage is of extreme importance.

But with that stated, more than 25% of respondents indicated  they did not know the status of their own psychological health insurance coverage!

Once again, this number cut across all demographic groups of age, race, ethnicity, party affiliation and income brackets. However, over 50% of adult respondents indicated that they would know how to access mental health if they required it. It was noted that  50% of women surveyed versus 37% of men had high confidence that they knew how to access mental health care should the need arise.

The research caught the attention of APA Head Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., PhD. She contends that the poll offered crucial insight into the American understanding of the relevance of mental wellness. In her opinion, the poll results showed a strong bi-partisan support for psychological health insurance coverage. However, she voiced her concern about the unusually large percentage of people who indicated their lack of knowledge on the status of their mental wellness protection, and those who showed a lack of knowledge on the best ways to access mental health care benefits.

4 in every five American adults acknowledge the link between mental wellness and  total health. (The majority are clearly  concerned about their families’ general health.) However most individuals indicate a lack of trust in Washington policy makers to understand the importance of psychological health as a top priority. Indeed, 69% of the respondents were of the opinion that the policy makers did not prioritize mental wellness protection.

The APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin said, ‘We have actually made progress in the broadening of Psychological health protection.’ He added that the proposed American Health Care Act would eliminate insurance coverage from a large number in the general population, in addition to curtailing the Medicaid expansion that was established by the Affordable Care Act.

The research was conducted online by ORC International CARAVAN Omnibus Survey on behalf of the American Psychiatric Association. It was conducted countrywide with a survey pool drawn from 1,019 adults, between April 20th and April 23rd 2017. It has a +/-3.1% margin of error.

While there are differences of opinion on the best way to handle health care in the U.S., it is clear that mental wellness protection is important.

If you have questions about the current law (The Affordable Care Act) and the proposed changes offered by the American Health Care Act, please reach out to your health insurance specialist.

And for other questions about insurance topics that can impact your pocketbook, please explore our past articles. Please know that we’re committed to helping you get the most out of your insurance protection. And if you have any insurance related questions, please be sure to reach us.


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Think Carefully Before Imposing English Only Rules in The Workplace

A clothing store recently restricted three employees from speaking Spanish in the workplace. In turn, they sued stating that it was a violation of their civil liberties as well as discriminatory behavior.

The complaint says that the company’s human resources department was detached and dismissive to the worker’s concerns. They ignored phone calls, voicemails. They failed to take any action on behalf of the employees.

To make matters worse, the employees in question were told they would lose their jobs if they continued speaking in Spanish. They also faced other disciplinary actions.

The store’s parent company denies having an English-only requirement. Sadly, their store’s actions tell a different story.

So what does the law say?

At the Federal level the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission takes a dim view of “Speak English Only Rules.”

  • A rule requiring employees to speak English at all time including breaks and lunches will rarely be justified
  • English-only rules must be limited to ensure safety or operational efficiency.
  • The ability to take disciplinary action against employees violating English-only rules is limited.

States have their own rules as well.

For example, California state law allows employers to limit language used while employees are on duty. This is only permissible as long as such a requirement is warranted by necessity.

In other words, the company must have the ability to clearly demonstrate that a language restriction has “an overriding reasonable business purpose”. Such purposes are limited in scope. One purpose could be to ensure safety. Another purpose could be to ensure proper corporate procedures are followed.

Companies seeking to implement an English only language plan must be able to clearly defend it. They have to demonstrate that it comes from more than a simple choice for English in the workplace.

For example, a hospital could make the case that having a common single language is required for a couple of reasons:

  • To ensure the safety of all team members as well as patients.
  • To ensure hospital procedures are reliably executed.

If a business is thinking about embracing English-only policies, it needs to be able to demonstrate necessity of the policy. It also must have a solid implementation plan that is well vetted to ensure it doesn’t cross the line into discrimination. Talking with legal counsel that specializes in this area of law is necessary.

According to Tyler Paetkau of the law firm Harnett, Smith, &Paetkau of Redwood City, CA, his comment was simple. “Typically, the suggestion is proceed with caution.”

If a company is determined to embrace an English-only policy, it must ensure that there is accompanying worker training and that workers clearly understand what disciplinary actions they may face if violating the rule.

And be mindful that a more flexible policy may be appropriate. For example, a company may require retail staff members to speak in English on the sales floor. But if a patron requests help in Spanish and the sales rep speaks Spanish, the employee would be allowed to conduct business in Spanish for the purpose of that specific transaction.

Where English-only rules tend to run into issues is when they are overreaching. For example, insisting that workers speak in English while on breaks or when making personal calls. This is a clear violation of Federal statute.

The issue here is liability and making sure the company isn’t exposed to claims of discrimination.

Having a well-constructed policy built with the help of legal council is clearly critical. But we also recommend you consider EPL insurance. (Also called EPLI or Employment Practices Liability Insurance. It offers critical coverage to employers. It’s designed to protect the company against claims made by employees alleging things like discrimination (based on sex, race, age, or disability), harassment, wrongful termination, and other employer-employee related issues.

For further thoughts on managing all forms of your corporate risk and adequately protecting your company, be sure to reach out to us.


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