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Insurance & risk implications: What to consider when making a COVID safe return to the office

By Andrew Saville on

With Australia making remarkable steps toward supressing the community spread of Coronavirus, many businesses with non-essential workers are pondering, or have already returned to the workplace in some capacity.

To guide you on the important implications from an insurance and risk point of view, we have included some essential considerations below…

Things to consider when it comes to your insurance:

Property Insurance – are your premises occupied once more?

At the onset of the pandemic when Australia’s social distancing laws came into play, we saw the forced closure of many businesses, and a mandate for non-essential workers to operate from home. As a result, countless commercial buildings became classified as 'unoccupied'.

For property owners, this had implications for insurance cover, because insurers see unoccupied premises as posing a higher risk, due to the increased likelihood of break-ins, fire, vandalism and water damage.

Under the Duty of Disclosure section of the Insurance Contracts Act (1984), if a property is left unoccupied over a certain period of time, it becomes the insured's duty to disclose to the relevant insurer(s) anything that may increase or change the risk at the property - e.g. the property being unoccupied. If there is a failure to disclose, insurance claims lodged could potentially be declined.

Fast forward 6 months…do you need to update your insurer?

With cities opening up once more, and buildings starting to see the return of occupants and businesses, it is essential to inform the insurer if:

  • a building goes from unoccupied to being occupied and / or
  • the business activities of the companies tenanting your property have changed

If the points above apply to you, it is classified as a change in risk at the property. As the insured, it is your Duty of Disclosure to inform the appointed insurance broker and/or the property insurer to avoid coverage issues in a claim.

Are your business activities up-to-date on your insurance policy?

In 2020, many businesses found themselves in a state of flux. Some struggled to keep up with demand e.g. pharmaceuticals or toilet paper! Others weren’t so lucky. Many businesses were forced to pivot, to ensure their goods or services were still in demand, often introducing new business activities as a result. An example of this may be a distillery producing hand sanitiser, or a high end restaurant offering delivery services.

Regardless of how your business morphed during 2020, if you have changed, removed or added any business activities it is essential to inform your insurance broker (or insurer). Under the Duty of Disclosure section of the Insurance Contracts Act (1984), the insured must disclose to the relevant insurer(s) anything that may increase or change the business risk.

Business activities listed on your insurance schedule must reflect your actual business activities. If it doesn’t, insurance claims lodged could potentially be declined, as the insurer was unaware of the change in risk.

Managing the risk to your business:

There are a number of risks to consider and manage when returning to the office in a COVID safe way. 
(Note: the list below is not exhaustive)

1. Brand reputation risk

The way businesses handle themselves in 2020 has seen some thrust into the spotlight when they or even an employee was alleged to have done the wrong thing. Think nursing homes and a certain Adelaide pizza parlour… 

Preparation is essential. It is important to consider the risks of reopening, or returning to work, and have a robust, COVID safe risk management plan in place to minimise the chances of something going wrong. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that this virus can pop up when least expected. Consider formulating a PR Crisis Management Plan to help ensure your reputation remains intact if reopening goes awry, and your business name is inadvertently splashed across news sites.

2. Regulatory & health risk

Australian State and Federal Governments have imposed strict guidelines businesses must follow to operate in a ‘COVID safe’ way. It is important to consider these in your daily operations to keep staff and customers safe and healthy, but to also avoid being hit with fines or legal action. 

Manage this risk by considering the relevant state and federal regulations:

Federal

Australia-wide: click here

State-based

ACT

Public health directions – click here

Business Resources Kit – click here

SA

Emergency Declarations & Decisions – click here

Restrictions & responsibilities – click here

NSW

Public health orders – click here

Business Resources Kit – click here

TAS

COVID-19 Resources – click here

Worksafe Framework Tasmania - click here

NT

Public Health Officer directions – click here

COVID19 Safety Plan Checklist – click here

VIC

DHHS Restriction Levels – click here 

Business Victoria Guidelines – click here

QLD

Public Health Officer directions – click here

Work health & safety plan for COVID-19 – click here

COVID Safe checklists & factsheets – click here

Business Queensland - Industry COVID Safe plans – click here

WA

State of Emergency Declarations – click here

Business tools and information - Click here

3. Workplace relations and health risks

There are significant workplace relations and health risks to consider upon a return to business premises. Below we have included a document outlining key FAQs on employer rights and obligations, provided by insurance law firm Gilchrist Connell. An example of the questions this document seeks to address are:

  • If an employee or their family member is sick with COVID-19, what do I have to do?
  • What happens when my employee cannot attend work because they are delayed or quarantined on or after an overseas trip? Do I have to pay them?
  • What steps should I be taking to protect my workforce?
  • Do I have to allow employees to work from home? What are my obligations to employees when working from home?

For more information click here to download this document.

Developing a COVID Safe Risk Management Plan

There is a mountain of information out there, but to help you tackle the risk management planning process, we have provided a link to the COVID safe business planning template provided by Australia’s National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board (NCC). 

Click here to access the My Business COVIDSafe Plan template.

 

Whitbread are here to support you with important insurance advice throughout this unpredictable time and into the future. For guidance on achieving the most effective outcomes for your business, please get in touch with one of our specialists:

E info@whitbread.com.au        T 1300 424 627 

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This insight article is not intended to be personal advice and you should not rely on it as a substitute for any form of personal advice.  Please contact Whitbread Associates Pty Ltd ABN 69 005 490 228 Licence Number: 229092 trading as Whitbread Insurance Brokers for further information or refer to our website.

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