Mistletoe Mayhem
Dec 13, 2018

Every year the GB Journal brings you the latest warnings and cautions to avoid turning your company holiday party into a comp and liability fiesta. We all know the basic risk equation: employees + spouses + lots of good cheer = comp claims + lawsuits + a multi-year hangover. Optionally, this brew may also be seasoned with pink slips. Our friends over at The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have pulled together a number of recent articles on holiday parties under one electronic roof (membership required—and well worth it). They include:


How About Ditching the Annual Holiday Party?


10 Alternatives to the Office Holiday Party


Firms Lift Morale Without Holiday Parties (from ABC News)


6 Meaningful Alternatives to the Annual Office Holiday Party

The point to all this bah, humbug talk is simple. Company sponsored parties carry a good deal of risk for everyone involved, from rank-and-file employees and their spouses right on up the corporate ladder. Some sixty years ago your humble scribe's grandfather patiently explained that holidays are defined as the days when the amateurs get drunk.

If you must have a party and serve alcohol - nothing says Christmas like booze and cholesterol - consider this short list of basic precautions:


Coordinate everything with HR so you comply with the raft of personnel rules and regs that apply to such events.


Hire professional bartenders and select a venue where the staff knows how to deal with too much cheer. (Don't go cheap and party in your lobby where you're on the hook for everything.)


Make it clear in the invitations that you expect guests to arrive sober and there will be strict limits on drinks - and no BYOB.


Impose a serious dress code and take attendance at the front door; this sends a strong signal that good behavior is expected.


Serve lots of food. Certain foods are especially useful in sopping up excess alcohol. (Google "best foods to eat before you go out drinking"; the list is very helpful and the mere fact that it exists tells you a lot about the art of managing a party.)


Be clear in the invitation that drunken behavior will not be tolerated and may be subject to an HR action.


Watch the time. Start early and stop after two hours. This will not only discourage overindulgence, it will also save your employees money on babysitters.


Be ready to summon Uber, Lyft or your local cab company if anyone is unfit to drive home—and pay for the trip back in the morning so they can fetch their car when they're sober. (How many lives/careers do you have to save to cost justify a couple of Uber rides?)

Above all, remember that the best holiday gift you can give your people is to care about their safety. So what if a few jerks call you a buzzkill or a cheapskate if the booze doesn't flow like water? Defy convention. Love them anyway and start 2019 with everyone whole and still employed.


Terror on the Server Farm

Let's start with a definition.

Cyber 9/11: an event originating as a digital attack that spills over into other aspects of society, causing widespread harm to people and the global financial sector.

That definition is from a report on CNBC late last month which takes a long look at the three major ways in which a serious cyber-attack could cripple the US economy - and the operations of any US-based companies which are not prepared. These three categories are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, but they paint a good picture of the risk that runs through every fiber-optic cable, server, and app that underpins our business.


Physical infrastructure - the most obvious type of attack hits the visible "stuff" that we rely on every day: utility systems, train and airport controls, even sewage systems. (Yes, that happened in Australia when a "disgruntled sewage treatment plant worker" hacked into the control system and... well, let your imagination run riot. Bingo - that's just what happened.)


Financial infrastructure - an attack on the major bank and/or stock exchange systems could trigger a classic "run on the banks" and sow financial chaos throughout the economy. Imagine a day when ATMs and credit cards all stop working.


Data scrambling - the most subtle hack attack is one which randomly changes vital data in major systems. For example, stock and bond prices are changed without notice or corporate balance sheets are scrambled. Suddenly no system can be trusted without elaborate auditing and crosschecking. Commerce at all levels now crawls, when it doesn't stop altogether.

The good news is that companies and groups are working throughout the economy diligently - and quietly - to keep such events from occurring. Sheltered Harbor is one such organization working with the big banks. The question for you is - what are you doing, both in your company and in your industry, to prevent a Cyber 9/11? Just buying insurance protection is not enough if it means that, when the convoy is attacked, your ship sinks last.


Best of All: Robots Don't Party

The folks at Risk & Insurance recently ran two very informative articles about how 21st Century robots intersect the workplace and workers' comp especially.

Comp: In "5 Ways Robots Reshape (and Improve) Worker's Comp", Michelle Ken surveys new ways in which robots are improving comp. For example, we now have robots providing high-tech massage therapy for soft tissue injuries (bet you hadn't thought of that) or robot assisted exoskeletons which allow injured employees to return to many normal functions, not to mention robot pharmacists handling medications.

But perhaps the broadest impacts are likely to come from new ways to use intelligent agents to radically improve the handling of claims and the legal issues involved. One highly visible part of this development is the new claimant centered communication applications that allow claimants to know what is going on with their claims and to have more effective contact with their adjusters. These smart apps take a good deal of the mystery and subsequent apprehension out of the process for most claimants.

RPA: In a related opinion column, "Meet Your New Workers' Comp Coworker: A White Collar Robot", editor Roberto Cisneros looks at how robot process automation (RPA) is taking the time-consuming, paper chasing bureaucracy out of many routine comp claims processing tasks, to the considerable benefit of adjusters and claimants alike.

RPA is a development that bears watching. It offers the prospect of faster and more accurate execution of the dozens of minor but necessary jobs that go into meeting all the various state regs that bear on comp claims. By taking much of the paper shuffle off the adjuster's desk, RPA frees up time for the adjuster to talk with the claimant, the provider, and the employer to understand the nuances of the claim situation and think through matters like creative work accommodations for faster RTW, a big win for all.

Roberto wisely quotes our colleague, Jeff White, who is not a robot, on the coming impact of RPA, so we know he's right.


Quick Take 1: Oh, Scoot!

The subject is scooters, electric scooters, to be precise. Rental kiosks or "nests" (in scooter lingo) of e-scooters for short term rentals are popping up in cities across the US. Should you care? Yah, ya betcha. The minute one of your employees gets on one of these devices in the course and scope of employment, like scooting across downtown to a meeting, you, your comp plan, and your general liability policies are all on the line.

The good people at EHS just published an article "E-Scooters Create New Headaches for Employers". The subtitle tells all, "As the use of the motorized child's toy by adults proliferates, so do accidents and injuries." The article opens with the author describing an unfortunate tangle with an e-scooter in downtown Austin and proceeds to enumerate the ways in which these devices are causing significant mayhem and ER visits. Our point for risk purposes is simple. If you have a number of employees who frequently have to get around metro area downtowns on business, you need policies on the use of e-scooters. Either proscribe them entirely or require that employees follow common sense rules when they scoot and observe all applicable traffic laws, like wearing a helmet*.

An e-scooter in downtown traffic is not a toy. As the author sagely notes, "Fifteen miles an hour doesn't sound that fast until you bounce your head off something."

*Did someone say "I can't carry a big ol' helmet around"? Tut, tut - there are at least six folding helmets on the market now which fit in a backpack or briefcase pocket. No excuses, people.


Quick Take 2: Do You Speak Safety?

The headline in Material Handling & Logistics says it all: "English-Only Workplace Rules May Be Too Big a Risk." But, but, you say, we need to have everyone speak English, don't we? Well, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in its regulations and published guidance on national origin discrimination, has stated that any rule requiring employees to speak English at all times is simply assumed to be in violation of anti-discrimination laws.

With very narrowly defined exceptions, this rule applies to safety considerations - instructions, handbooks, classroom presentations, and so forth - as well. Your corporate safety program needs to be as multi-lingual as your workforce or prepare to be challenged. The "EEOC asserts that a business necessity for imposing an English-only policy can arise only when English is needed for the employer to operate safely and efficiently, in dealing with customers or co-workers who only speak English, or during emergencies." Other than such instances, English only work rules may well be "ticking time-bombs."

Are your safety programs dialed into that or do you still assume that all of your employees speak - and learn in - fluent English? Most of the business world has dealt with the need to be multi-lingual since Sumerians traded salt for dates with the neighboring Assyrians five thousand years ago. Only in the US has monolingual dealing been the default. No more.

Back in 1914 my Irish grandmother bought a diccionario and taught herself Spanish so she could handle payroll for my grandfather's Californiano teamsters. It's time for all of us to start learning.


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