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Category: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Sep 07
URGENT: You Must Activate Your HERO Act Prevention Plan Now

hand-sanitizer-4972049_640.pngAll private employers in New York State must activate the airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plans they adopted over the last two months. The action is required under the New York State HERO Act​, which became law last spring. All insurance agencies should activate their plans immediately.

The HERO Act required all private employers in the state to adopt prevention plans that equaled or exceeded the standards in model prevention plans provided by the state Department of Labor. The law required employers to adopt plans by August 5. The plans must be designed to prevent exposure to airborne infectious diseases by employees and the public. They also must forbid retaliating against employees who raise concerns.

While the law required employers to adopt plans, it did not require them to activate the plans unless the state Department of Health designated  an "infectious viral, bacterial or fungal disease that is transmissible through the air in the form of aerosol particles or droplets" to be  "a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health." New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced yesterday that the Health Department has made that designation with regard to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that broke out in China in late 2019. 

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic on March 11, 2020​. That declaration remains in effect. While new cases of COVID-19 declined earlier this year following widespread administration of vaccines, the so-called delta variant of the virus has sent new case numbers soaring countrywide, particularly among unvaccinated members of the population. The Health Department's action appears to be a response to the growth in new cases.

If your agency adopted a prevention plan over the summer, you must implement it now. If you have not yet adopted a plan, do so now and put it into effect. Big I New York offers the following resources for members (log in to this website is required):

​The Labor Department has a HERO Act resource page that includes links to their model prevention plans. Your agency must adopt and implement either the model or one that equals or exceeds it. The model prevention plan largely reflects the precautionary measures that most businesses implemented in 2020, so much of it may be familiar to you.

We will provide updates to this situation in this space and in our newsletters as they occur.

Aug 16
3, 2, 1 with Sue Keegan: Pre-licensing, Cybercriminal Webinar, & Your Summer Reading List

By Sue Keegan, AIC, MBA, Learning & Development Manager


3 Things

Personal Lines and P&C Pre-Licensing begins 09/07/2021.  Life, Accident & Health begins on 10/25. Grab your seat now!

Protect Your Cloud Agency MS Software From Cybercriminals – learn how by attending a presentation this Wednesday, led by Walter Contreras of Motiva Networks.  Free for members!

Shouting out our 15inONE program.  We have had 200 people successfully complete our program.  You should be 201.


2 Ideas

Read this to learn about how to have your vaccine confirmation on you at all times.

Need NY’s Excelsior Pass?  Click here.


1 Question

What have you been reading this summer?  I just finished Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid – one of my best reads of the year!  Next up for me is Later by Stephen King.  Let me know your summer reads  via email at skeegan@biginy.org or post in our Community.  
Jul 07
Employers Must Adopt HERO Act Plans By Aug. 5

mika-baumeister-uz_T7h8ds04-unsplash.jpgP​ho​to by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

All private employers with employees and worksites in the state of New York must adopt an airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan​ by early next month. We urge all of you to begin the process as soon as possible.

The plans are required under the New York Health and Essential Rights (HERO) Act. This is a new law that the state legislature passed and modified last spring; Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the original on May 5 and the changes on June 11. It took effect on July 4.

The law required the New York State Department of Labor, working with the Department of Health, to develop and publish an airborne infectious disease exposure prevention standard and a model airborne infectious disease exposure prevention plan. ​ Both the standard and the model plan were on the Labor Department's website on the morning of July 7; they may have been posted the night before. 

All private employers are required to adopt a prevention plan within 30 days of when the Labor Department published its model. If the model was published on July 6, this means that the deadline for adopting a plan is August 5. However, you are not required to put the plan into effect unless or until the Department of Health designates an airborne infectious disease​ as a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health. ​ To date, the department has not assigned that designation to any diseases, so you are not required to put the plan you adopt into effect right away.

The law gives employers the option of adopting either the Labor Department's model or their own plans that equal or exceed the protections provided by the model. Before you decide what to do, we suggest that you review the model to see if it fits your operations. If it does, you can probably feel comfortable adopting the model as is. If not, you may want to modify it.  Just make sure that any modifications you make protect your employees and the public at least as well as the model does.

The standard and model prevention plan are available for download from the Labor Department's website. They are PDF files of 4 pages and 9 pages in length, respectively. ​

Watch our website and newsletters for future announcements of resources to help you comply with the requirements.

UPDATE: We have posted a "frequently asked questions" page about the prevention plan requirements in the Coronavirus section of this website. A Big I NY user ID and password are required to access that section. We will also present a Gear Up webinar about the plan requirements on Wednesday, July 14 at 10:00 a.m. Registration is free for members​ and $25 for non-members. 

May 20
A Few Minutes With Tim - A World Without Masks

If your employees stop wearing masks at work, do you have to ask them if they've been vaccinated against COVID-19?

More information at:

CDC Guidance of May 13, 2021

EEOC: What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws

 



Mar 17
N.Y. Employers Required To Give Workers Time Off For COVID Vaccinations

vaccine-5897391_640.jpgA bill signed into law by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last week requires public and private employers to give their employees time off to get vaccinated against the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease. The temporary law took effect on March 12 and expires at the end of 2022. You should be aware of these new requirements and apply them to your employees accordingly.

The measure ​passed the Assembly on Feb. 3 by a vote of ​136-13 and the Senate on March 1 by a vote of 62-0. Its key points are:

  • It protects every employee and applies to all employers, regardless of size
  • Each employee is entitled to a paid leave of absence of up to four hours for each vaccine injection
  • The four-hour leave is a minimum; employers may provide more time if they wish or if collective bargaining agreements obligate them to do so
  • The paid leave of absence must be at the employee's regular rate of pay
  • The employer may not charge the time off against the employee's sick leave​​
  • ​Collective bargaining agreements that specifically reference New York Labor Law Section 196-C may waive these requirements
  • Employers are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against employees who exercise their rights to this time off

All insurance agencies should immediately start granting their employees' requests for time off to get their first or second COVID vaccinations. 

Mar 11
Are Insurance Workers Eligible for the COVID-19 Vaccine?

​​vaccine-5895477_640.jpgQuestion from a Big I New York member: Do you know if insurance workers are eligible for the COVID vaccine coming March 17th? 

Answer: The state's guidance isn't all that clear. The website states: 

Beginning March 17, the following essential workers are eligible:
  • Public-facing government and public employees
  • Not-for-profit workers who provide public-facing services to New Yorkers in need
  • Essential in-person public-facing building service workers

There is no explanation of what that last one means. However, the phrase “public-facing building service workers" sounds to me like custodial type workers. That conclusion is backed up by the news release the governor issued the other day: 

Under this new expansion of eligibility, the following essential workers will now be eligible to begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on March 17:

  • Public-facing government and public employees
  • Not-for-profit workers who provide public-facing services to New Yorkers in need
  • Essential in-person public-facing building service workers

This includes workers such as public works employees, social service and child service caseworkers, government inspectors, sanitation workers, DMV workers, County Clerks, building service workers and election workers - the everyday heroes who have been showing up day in and day out throughout this pandemic.

If I had to guess based on this, I would say that insurance agency workers are not in the category of “essential in-person public-facing building service workers."  Wish I had a better answer for you.
Jan 15
Agency Staff Not Eligible for Early COVID-19 Vaccinations

vaccination-5868322_640.jpg

Some Big I New York members have asked us whether insurance agents are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations in Phase 1b of the distribution plan. The answer appears to be no.

The New York State COVID vaccine web page contains a long list describing New Yorkers eligible for vaccinations in Phases 1a and 1b​. The list includes health care workers; individuals over age 65; first responders; corrections officers; in-person college instructors; those working in schools (pre-school and grades K through 12); grocery store workers; childcare workers; public transit workers; and individuals living and working in homeless shelters. 

It does not appear that insurance agency staff qualify under any of these categories.​

Dec 21
2020 Recap: How We Stood up for You and Your Customers

​​2020 has been a tumultuous year, and the IA community faced many challenges. In a time of crisis, our advocacy efforts on your behalf are crucial. Here’s how Big I New York had your back in Albany and Washington D.C. this year:​

Defeated A Regulatory Power Grab:

Independent Agents Advocacy Day 2020In January 2020, the Governor announced an executive budget which would expand the NYS Department of Financial Services' (DFS) authority to levy fines and penalties against insurance agents and brokers, as well as substantially increases possible fines. Big I NY met with key legislators in the Senate and Assembly, and deployed an aggressive grassroots lobbying campaign, culminating in our Independent Agents Advocacy Day in March. Ultimately, we were successful in blocking all harmful proposals from the final budget.

Stood Up for You and Your Customers During COVID

The effects of the pandemic and the state's ongoing response created an ever-changing and often confusing policy landscape. Big I NY was a constant advocate for common sense policies to help you and you and your customers weather the storm.

As the scale of the impact of the pandemic in NY became evident, we called on the DFS to adopt several measures to protect independent agents' ability to assist their customers, including suspending the auto photo inspection requirement (Regulation 79), and creating a grace period for continuing education (CE) and license renewal. Ultimately the DFS concurred, allowing agents to renew their license without CE in place, and waiving in-person monitoring requirements for CE classes and licensing exams. Recently, the elimination of the in-person monitoring requirement was made permanent.

When the Governor first announced occupancy restrictions, Big I NY successfully called for insurance agencies to be deemed essential.

Following Executive Order 202.16, the DFS issued an emergency regulation imposing a moratorium on cancellations and non-renewals for non-payment, as well as establishing a grace period for premium repayment. Initially, the regulation contained an extremely burdensome requirement that producers notify all of their customers by mail of the new changes. Big I NY successfully urged the department to change course, and allow these notices to be provided electronically and without prior consent. We also called for the policyholder protections to be extended to all excess policies, but this was ultimately unsuccessful.

Congressman John KatkoBeginning in March, Big I NY launched a grassroots advocacy campaign which successfully opposed devastating state and federal retroactive business interruption coverage mandates. This campaign involved dozens of virtual meetings between member agents and state and congressional representatives, as well as meetings with legislative leadership and chairs of the Senate and Assembly insurance committees. This issue remains a key legislative priority for 2021. Big I NY members urged our state's congressional delegation to help small businesses by supporting the federal Business Continuity Protection Plan.​

Looking Forward: What's on the Horizon for IA's?

With two highly effective vaccines now approved, there is light at the end of the COVID tunnel; but we are unlikely to return to any sort of normalcy until mid-2021 or later. In the meantime, we are in the midst of a second surge, and New York faces a massive budget deficit.

In the immediate future, we are likely to see a host of new “revenue raisers" put forward by New York elected officials. We are prepared to oppose any efforts to expand fines, fees, and penalties on independent agents, and expect to continue the fight against misguided business interruption bills. We are also optimistic that the coming year will bring new interest in eliminating outdated and burdensome regulations, such as the photo inspection regulation and anti-arson application.

If 2020 taught us one thing, it's that you never know just what the future holds. But there's one thing you can be sure of: no matter what, we'll have your back. ​


Dec 08
A Few Minutes With Tim: "One of my employees got COVID ... What do I do now?"

​This video is a companion to my Dec. 7 blog post​. I discuss in general the basic steps an insurance agency needs to take if/when a staff member tests positive for the coronavirus. Some of the resources I mention in the video:

​​

 



Dec 07
On the 1st Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me ... COVID

pexels-miguel-á-padriñán-3936421.jpgOver the last few work days, we've gotten a number of calls from members reporting that at least one staff member has contracted COVID-19. I spoke on Friday with the principal of a five-person agency who (test results pending) suspected as many as four people had the virus. ​Our office coordinator has reported a lot of calls coming in. Jim Lombardo, our education czar, has been on the phone with a member about this already this morning.

Folks, if this didn't feel real to you before, it should now.

That's why I strongly recommend that you all review this blog post​ from Affinity HR Group about what to do when an employee tests positive. There's a lot of good advice here, but this part about when a COVID-positive employee has worked in the office recently is particularly relevant:

Notify other employees as soon as you know of a possibility of exposure; do not wait for a confirmed test result, which may never come. Inform employees, especially those who had regular and sustained contact.

Advise employees of where the sick employee was and on what date so they can determine their risk of exposure and, if necessary, self-quarantine for 14 days to see if they exhibit symptoms.

There​ is also good advice about cleaning and cordoning off areas where the infected employee was known to work.

In addition, there is this from the New York State government​:

​An individual who screens positive for COVID-19 symptoms must not be allowed to enter the office and must be sent home with instructions to contact their healthcare provider for assessment and testing.

Immediately notify state and local health departments of confirmed p​​ositive cases.​


Check the website of your county's health department for contact information. 

The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a thorough Frequently Asked Questions page​ for employers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases among their staffs. Much of it echoes what is in the other resources I've mentioned, but there is detailed information about cleaning protocols.

The infection rates are climbing in New York and elsewhere. The most recent report from the governor's office​ is that 47 out of every 1,000 people tested were positive; four weeks ago, that number was 29 out of every 1,000. That's a 62% increase in less than a month. This is a very dangerous time for our world, our country, our state, our businesses, and our people. My colleagues at Big I New York and I cannot urge you strongly enough to take this threat seriously and to do whatever is necessary for you to avoid or contain it.

Stay safe everyone.

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