Risk Management Service Agency


Published on Apr 14, 2020

RMSA COVID-19 global pandemic coverage impacts and considerations

Contact: RMSA

RMSA members have inquired about COVID-19, how employers should respond to the risk exposure, and how RMSA's various coverages will or won't apply to claims that result from exposure to the virus. View an overview of RMSA COVID-19 coverage. While every situation has different facts and must be evaluated individually, RMSA has some areas of exposure areas of concerns, along with resources to help you.

Specifically, areas we are watching closely are regarding the use of volunteers, PRA/OPMA temporary changes and inadvertent violations, employment practice changes, and cyber risks.

 

Volunteers


An area of potential exposure for members to be aware of is your use of volunteers. Some members have indicated they plan to use volunteers during the pandemic to deliver food or other critical supplies to at-risk constituents following the Governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" proclamation. If you do not report volunteer hours to Labor & Industries, you are not affording your volunteers coverage for bodily injury or illness through workers' compensation, therefore you may have exposure to being sued by those volunteers should they contract COVID-19 while working on your behalf.

Be sure to properly train your volunteers and follow CDC and DOH guidelines for proper hygiene and personal protective equipment for all volunteer workers. Be sure to carefully track names, dates, and duties of all volunteers you employ.

Refer to RMSA's volunteer manual for guidance.

 

open-government-icon-75Public Records Act (PRA)/Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA)


RMSA is proud to be the only municipal risk pool in the State providing you with discretionary defense coverage for violations of the PRA and OPMA. In light of the Governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" Proclamation and required or necessary adjustments to how you continue to comply with the PRA and OPMA, you may be at increased risk of inadvertent violations of these orders and thus future lawsuits.

Please refer to the AWC summary of the Governor's emergency proclamation impacting PRA and OPMA and the Attorney General's updated guidance on following OPMA rules during COVID-19.

Temporary Public Records Act changes – Key takeaways

  • Requirements to respond to a request for records within five days have been suspended.
  • Requirements to maintain office hours for in-person inspection or other business related to public records have been suspended.
  • Agencies must continue to otherwise comply with the PRA during the public health emergency.
  • RCW 42.56.520 details full PRA requirements.

For more information on PRA compliance contact Ask MRSC.

If you need assistance responding to a public records act request or require legal guidance, please contact rmsaclaims@awcnet.org.

Temporary Open Public Meetings Act changes – Key takeaways

  • Agencies are precluded from holding in-person meetings.
  • Agencies may only take "action" on matters that are either (1) necessary and routine, or (2) necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and the current public health emergency.
  • Members of the public must be given telephonic participation at a minimum; video meetings (Zoom, Skype, etc.) may not be used unless a telephonic way to hear the meeting is also provided.
  • Keep in mind Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility requirements when choosing technologies for remote attendance.
  • RCW 42.30.020 details full OPMA requirements.

For more information on OPMA compliance contact Ask MRSC.

 

congregate-icon-75Employment practices


As employers navigate delivering essential services while working remotely and having to apply new and different leave laws, we anticipate employment practices claims for things like discrimination, wrongful termination, and retaliation may increase. Use these resources to lower your risks.

Employment risk and Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) – Key takeaways

  • Agencies may not require employees to provide a doctor's note or other documentation from a healthcare provider (other than the provider's name) or a school notice to request leave under the FFCRA.
  • Notifying employees about potential COVID-19 exposure must be general (for example, identifying a department versus a specific employee) to avoid potential HIPAA violations.
  • Only answer questions with what you know – refer to State and Federal resources or consult an employment attorney before opining on questions for which you do not have a clear answer.
  • Document all correspondence with employees and be sure to develop protocols for retentions that are safe and do not violate HIPPA. Date stamp your advice – guidance is changing on a daily basis and advice may need to be modified as things change.
  • Leverage your resources – you don't need to be the "Coronavirus expert." Bookmark resources to refer to questions.
  • Businesses deemed "essential" may not be required to grant employee requests to use FFCRA leave. Please consult with an employment attorney before denying an employee's request for leave and refer to FFCRA Employee paid leave rights and FFCRA Employer paid leave requirements for more information.
  • Get a copy of the employee rights FFCRA poster you should be displaying in your common work areas.

MRSC
MRSC provides information on local government telecommuting policies in Washington State, including links to regulations, examples, and recommended resources.

EnquironLogoEnquiron
Refer to HR/COVID-19 resources available exclusively to RMSA members through our partner Enquiron, like this article on Emergency preparedness in the workplace – Guide to prepare for COVID-19.

Enquiron will also be hosting 30-minute HR-focused webinars, specifically reviewing any changes to the FFCRA, every other Wednesday at 9 am, the next webinar will be held on April 22.

Prelitigation assistance
RMSA members should take advantage of RMSA's prelitigation program by contacting rmsaclaims@awcnet.org for assistance addressing an issue you think could result in a future claim.

 

Cyber vigilance amidst COVID-19


RMSA empathizes with all our members struggling to respond to the rapidly changing COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on local governments. Unfortunately, this situation is likely to create opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit with so many people working from home.

Here are some specific warnings for avoiding phishing attacks that may attempt to take advantage of you during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Be very cautious of emails that:

  • Sound like they are talking about special government assistance programs related to Coronavirus;
  • Mention some legitimate news story, or a bill passing congress, or a school closing, to try to entice you to click on a link; and
  • Link to some website where you need to register to receive a state government, federal government, or insurance benefit.

Be skeptical of calls

Especially when working from home, you and your employees may be more susceptible to an illegitimate robocall claiming that you need to do something to keep access to your VPN, O365 Email, wireless internet access, etc. or that they've detected suspicious activity on your account that requires investigation. Be sure you and your employees handle all such calls with a healthy dose of skepticism and, when in doubt, call your provider or the company the caller is claiming to work for directly to confirm if the outreach actually came from them.

If you receive a suspicious email or phone call DO warn other staff and elected officials about it. DO NOT forward a suspicious email to others, unless it is to your local IT staff to scan for phishing or viruses.

If you have questions or would like cyber assistance, consider calling RMSA’s new cyber expert hotline, checking out RMSA's online cyber resources, or emailing rmsa@awcnet.org.

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