The Many Uses of Staying at Home
Apr 16, 2020

You can, for example, catch up on your reading while being comfortable and socially distant. Should that appeal to you, try this book: The Butterfly Defect by Goldin and Mathiasan (readily available on Amazon and Kindle). While the book was written in 2014 and based on the experiences of the subprime financial crisis, its lessons are even more applicable to our current situation. As the authors make clear, globalization has institutionalized enormous risks, not just in our supply chains, but in our markets and our financial underpinnings. To some extent, these risks have become so interwoven in our daily practice as to become almost invisible - until something goes wrong on a large scale.

By maximizing efficiencies of all kinds we have also maximized risk. A tight supply system, rigorously optimized financial components, effective market discipline and close-coupled end user relationships make for an ideally watertight, but highly fragile, business model. It's not out of line to suggest that the way COVID-19 has flattened industry after industry calls for a rethinking of risk management. The fact that all of our economies have proven seriously brittle in the current emergency leaves no room for finger pointing, but it does leave a great deal of space for new thinking as we crawl out of the economic pit/ train wreck labeled coronavirus.

Drawing on the latest insights from a wide variety of disciplines, the authors provide some practical guidance for how governments, businesses (that's us), and individuals can better manage globalization and its inherent risks. Their discussion can form a useful rough draft if you want to design a new approach to risk that may leave us all a bit less liable to further solitary confinement. It's a pretty good bet that we will see another pandemic (or another trade war or a natural disaster that takes a supplier country effectively offline). The task is for those of us in risk management to work with what we know now, with new, more powerful analytics, and with our old sense of "it can't happen here, not in the 21st Century" safely locked away, to make certain that COVID-XX can't wreak the havoc* we see today.

*Havoc is a traditional war cry indicating no quarter (mercy) as in Marc Antony's bellow in Julius Caesar: "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!" If the coronavirus had a voice, I'm pretty sure that's what it would say.

 

New Twists on Tele-Everything

After several years of gestation, telehealth is having its moment. Like video conferencing via Zoom, Skype, Oovoo, Facetime, etc., the idea of telehealth is perfect for our new era of social distancing. What's more, regulators are actually getting with the program from sea to shining sea, modifying long standing regs to give telehealth more scope. If you and your comp claims people aren't talking about this, you should be.

Dickinson-Wright, among others, has published a good overview. While most of the reviews we've seen in the last couple of days speak to telehealth primarily from a group health/family medicine perspective, they give you a good idea of what is now allowed and how regulations and their interpretation are changing overall. In short, telehealth is now mainstream. Medicare has waived telehealth restrictions. In perhaps the most dramatic of related developments, the Office of Civil Rights has informed the health care industry that with respect to telehealth it will not impose penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA regulations during the COVID-19 public health emergency so long as the provider acts in good faith in its use of telehealth technology.

What this means for your comp claims in the states in which you operate is a matter you need to discuss with your claims administrator, but keep in mind that telehealth seems almost custom designed for the era of COVID-19 and social distancing as well as facilitating the more efficient use of clinicians' time when there may not be enough of that to go around. We suspect that this may be just one more way in which many COVID-19-related accommodations may become the way business is done going forward. See below for another look or two at how COVID-19 is changing risk.

a woman putting fondant masks on chocolate easter bunnies

 
From the front page of the local newspaper

 

Quick Take 1:
COVID-19 and HR Risk

So what happens when a pandemic runs head-on into a mare's nest of government regulations? Well, risk, for one thing. How does COVID-19 impact how you implement the Americans with Disability Act and its train of related regs during our current plague year? While the primary issue is HR compliance, there are potential spill-overs into risk management, especially in the area of RTW.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued two publications to assist employers and employees in interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the context of dealing with pandemics, one of which is newly issued to address questions arising as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Mondaq has thoughtfully provided a quick overview which is highly recommended as a starting point for addressing this perplexing issue.

EEOC issued on March 28 What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19. This publication answers eight basic questions that clarify what employers may do and may not regarding their workforce under the ADA. For example, can you take the temperature of your employees? What do you do for RTW certification if local medical facilities are too busy to address such mundane needs? The EEOC also provides a broader pandemic guide document to assist with the myriad of "what if" questions that seem to pop up hourly as we all struggle to cope.

These are very helpful, brief, clearly written resources; check them out. After all, they are your tax dollars at work.

 

Quick Take 2:
An Office? I Don't Got to Show You No Stinkin' Office

Your humble correspondent remembers when working from home meant dial up - sort of like glacier watching but noisier. We are hearing a good deal of talk now about a "new normal" developing from the ways we are working now. Clearly remote work, tele-commuting by wire, will be an important, long term part of the post-COVID scene.

Now is when we risk professionals have to make certain that we are part and parcel of mapping out the brave new remote working world and not an afterthought, scrambling to find patches for the risks inadvertently created by applying new concepts a bit too hastily. An article in Forbes takes a thoughtful look at the issues involved in making remote working mainstream.

As the author points out,

     

By now most of us have been on the video call that starts 12 minutes late as everyone slowly figures out how to unmute themselves - not a recipe for happiness and productivity. Employees who are more trusted by their managers also have been shown to have better outcomes when telecommuting, but there has been little time to build this trust in the current situation. If the vast increase in purchases of surveillance software are any indicator, managers are not scoring highly on this dimension of late.

 
In other words, pitfalls abound. System security risks are everywhere. Employees may not keep their computers as secure when they are on the kitchen table as they do in the office. Maybe the kids try to play with the company laptop when Mommy/Daddy aren't looking. So who was watching cartoons on the corporate VPN, eh?

The point: demand a place at the table for risk management now. If you're not invited, party crash. Frankly, the stakes are too high to stand on ceremony.

*If you've never seen The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, add it to your sequestration viewing queue. Best movie of 1948 and one of Bogart's best performances in our book. Also the first major motion picture to be filmed on location.

 

Words to Remember

"National isolation breeds national neurosis."
- Hubert H. Humphrey
Former senator, one time presidential candidate, a politician to be reckoned with over half a century ago.

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