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3 Emerging EPLI Risks in the Digital Workplace

While this highly connective and interactive virtual environment produces productive conversations and important discussions, it also can introduce employment practices liability insurance risks to your business.
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3 emerging epli risks in the digital workplace

Our increasingly digital world offers flexibility and balance, but it also gives employees new ways to connect, express themselves, compare their experiences and mobilize their colleagues to address issues with their employer.

While this highly connective and interactive virtual environment produces productive conversations and important discussions, it also can introduce employment practices liability insurance risks to your business.

Here are three emerging digital EPLI risks to consider:

1) Online harassment. The #MeToo movement brought new awareness around workplace harassment and now it's not just in-person actions that can be considered harassment. With a work-from-home model rapidly accelerated by COVID-19, employees' personal devices and home networks introduced new risks into their corporate environments as traditional meetings moved to virtual platforms and the lines between home life and work life became blurred.

The digital space has opened new and often unmonitored avenues for harassers to exploit, including emails, texts and other digital communication channels. Of women who experience sexual harassment at work, 42% have experienced some or all of the harassment online, according to a 2021 survey conducted by British charity Rights of Women.

2) Wage transparency. One of the latest workplace trends is discussing salary details with colleagues or other professionals. This practice allows people in similar lines of work to compare their incomes and determine if their salaries are fair or below market levels.

Job-related websites like Glassdoor and Monster enable this practice by providing tools that allow people to calculate and compare their salaries based on job title, company size, location, years of experience and education level, among other factors.

While this practice may promote openness about salaries, it may suggest trends or other factors that could impact an employee's compensation, which could include discrimination.

Local and state governments are looking to increase wage transparency with new laws, according to Foley & Lardner LLP. Rhode Island is set to be the next state to implement new wage transparency laws, according to SHRM. Starting in 2023, Rhode Island employers will be required to disclose wage ranges and are prohibited from asking for an applicant's wage history in the process of applying for a job. The law also mandates that companies take proactive steps to remedy unlawful pay practices.

3) Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) and employee activism. ESG has set a new standard for organizations of all sizes. While companies are being criticized in the headlines for certain ESG practices—or a lack thereof—their competitors are learning from these mistakes and evaluating their own actions. If an organization falls short in how it is perceived to handle ESG, it risks scrutiny and hostile work environment lawsuits from current and former employees.

A large amount of the debate around ESG is happening on social media. Both employees' and corporate social media accounts are platforms where perspectives on environmental and social issues are commonly shared. Employees, in particular, are responding to these posts, declaring whether they believe their companies are doing enough in the ESG space and whether they are genuinely committed to positively impacting society or acting under pretense.

This, and other forms of employee activism, appear to be on the rise. In the same respect, it is becoming a defining feature of today's workplace and another potential cause of hostile work environment claims.

Helping Clients Manage Digital Risks

Active risk management is one key to handling these evolving digital risks. Many small businesses don't have internal human resources teams or risk management leaders to address today's digital EPLI risks effectively. This puts addressing and mitigating these risks primarily on company leaders, who, at small businesses, often wear multiple hats. One way agents can support these overburdened teams is to help them understand and actively monitor digital EPLI risks.

Here are four ways you can assist your clients:

1) Conduct a risk assessment. Recommend that your client undergo an executive risks assessment. This helps to identify and explain a client's EPLI risks and enables you to provide guidance and advice on their coverage needs.

2) Advise clients to update their policies and procedures. Companies should maintain clear policies and procedures that address employee workplace conduct, including policies related to social media, wage transparency and employee activism during work hours. A company's ability to set clear expectations with its employees around what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior relating to in-office and remote work conduct can help mitigate EPLI liability.

3) Offer resources. Handbooks, reports and online guides can all be useful tools for keeping current on the latest EPLI and digital risks. By staying informed, agents can better advise their clients on these risks and what coverage options are best for different scenarios.

4) Continually monitor risks. Actively monitoring EPLI risks enables agents to adapt and advise accordingly as their client's business changes or issues arise. As with most of today's risks, EPLI risks now include a digital component that requires actively managing the company's digital footprint on a real-time basis.

Patrick Mitchell is executive risks lead at Coalition Inc., the world's first active insurance provider designed to prevent digital risk before it strikes.

Monday, October 17, 2022
Employment Practices