Live with Purpose, But Live with Protection (Part 2)

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Live with Purpose, But Live with Protection (Part 2)

Living with purpose certainly characterizes what is at the heart of the profession of social work. Equally as important is to live with protection. Social workers need to make sure that they are buffered from the vast array of risks and threats that often occur in the profession.

The past two months we talked about a recent survey of six major liability insurance carriers with reference to their respective professional liability claims experience and claims adjudication with lawyers nationally that surfaced some valuable tips. (Claims Journal; “Seeing Rise in Malpractice Claims Severity”; 7/3/14)

There is an overwhelming and increasing number of claims arising from client information breached through stolen or lost laptops and devices, and 75% of insurance carrier respondents listed this as the most likely cause of a breach. Beyond this is the second most frequent breach, which is caused by information exchange and the related steps involved regarding information exchange.

Your NASW Risk Retention Group has a low-cost Cyber Device insurance policy and a low-cost suite of Cyber Liability Choice Select breach policies that will protect you.

Let’s put this in a different context in terms of working for a corporation as a social worker. According to Other Voices: The Star- Telegram, August 19, 2015, “Social workers can play a role in corporate setting”, by Cossy Hough; there is an emerging trend for social workers to move into corporate America. Research from both NASW Assurance Services (ASI), and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% average annual growth rate in social worker job growth through 2022.

ASI research indicates that many of these jobs are opening in the corporate world as businesses seek to improve productivity through employee programs augmented by on-staff social workers. One of the largest earnings drivers for corporations is called, “cost take-out”. If employees survive a layoff by their employer, the corporate employer still seeks to improve short-term disability claims and reduce absenteeism by leveraging the benefits of social workers on staff, similar to the healthcare system. That is another “cost take-out” strategy.

These on-staff social workers aid in conflict resolution, improve intra-company communications, and boost employee human behavior. Examples of social workers helping at 3M and Motorola include helping with child care, predictable transportation, financial coaching, and many legal issues such as marriage, custody, divorce, wills, and life choices in concert with the company’s Human Resources department.

The social worker must always be cognizant of the fact that their company employer’s insurance plan places the company as insured first. The social worker following the company rules may not be enough. If you work as a social worker for a company.

  • What happens if your laptop or cell phone or iPhone are stolen with your client records, phone numbers, and names on them?
  • What happens if you entrusted some client employee files to a third party for safe-keeping and they were breached or lost?
  • What happens if you are sued while doing your job at the company and your employer refuses to cover you or to defend you?
  • What happens when claims and lawsuits arise against you after you leave the employer either for another job or retire?

The social worker cannot assume that her/his company employer will assume the liability and that the employer’s liability insurance will extend to the social worker employee. The employer‘s priority is to the employer. That is why it is imperative for the social worker to assess all of the risks and perils, and then buy liability insurance. It is a cheap alternative to being saddled with liability costs arising from working for an employer.

The first thing to look for in any insurance policy offer is the deductible, or sometimes called the “retention”. The policy may look good with a high limit, but you pay the first $2,000 deductible. So there is effectively no coverage at all since most cyber liability claims for practitioners are under $2,000. Many insurance carriers practice this mode of operation but not the NASW Risk Retention Group that covers you from the first dollar.

Not all professional liability insurance policies on the market today cover any or all information breaches and computer device coverage. The few cyber liability insurance policies and endorsements on the market today may not cover all types of breaches and perils. None offer as low a premium as the NASW Risk Retention Group.

This value is reflected in the fact that the policyholders own the RRG which is the insurance carrier, and not owned by a Wall Street traded profit-motivated corporation. NASW ASI created a suite of NASW RRG liability insurance products (backed by Lloyd’s, London and Swiss Re) that serve the social workers well in virtually any situation. Many perils and combinations of risks, including first party and HIPAA requirements, are covered by the RRG Professional Liability policy, and the RRG Cyber Liability suite of Bronze, Silver, and Gold plans, and the RRG Cyber Device plans cover the third party breach damage claims and expanded cyber liability and cyber device losses.

The Federal government and many states have enacted laws with safeguards, notification requirements, and penalties to protect the security and confidentiality of information, and specifically medical information, as it is stored conventionally, electronically, and shared electronically. An example of this aimed directly at the healthcare professionals began in March 2013 when Congress passed the 45 CFR Part 160 HIPAA HITECH Law which became enforceable on many occupations including social workers and the behavioral health industry effective September 2013.

This makes social workers liable for data privacy breach by third-party data management vendors used by social workers. Under HIPAA, and in many states under state law, the social worker is now ultimately responsible for protecting the client data no matter where the data is. The social worker has this duty, and the social worker is liable if the client data is compromised. This includes third-parties who the social worker hires to manage client records that become breached.

Regardless of your status as an employee or sole practitioner, this opens up many liabilities for the social worker in today’s technology driven world. The risks associated with doing business online and storing sensitive information electronically and on paper are increasing.

As a Social Worker How Can I Get Protected?

This fall, 2015, the NASW Risk Retention Group is introducing a new generation of Cyber Liability suite designed and priced affordably because the NASW Risk Retention Group has no public shareholders expecting dividends. The NASW Risk Retention Group exists to only serve its insureds. The suite includes Bronze, Silver, and Gold benefit levels, and also a third party liability Stolen Device Cyber Liability policy for laptops and phones.

Premiums within the Cyber Liability suite start at $59 per year and are guaranteed issue. They cover the major categories of perils with no deductibles, and can be bought stand-alone with custom benefit levels selected by the social worker. First-Party benefit protection for the NASW member social worker and three clerical employees can be added for only $20 per year.

There is no doubt that social work is a noble profession with implicit values of service, social justice, human dignity, integrity, and clinical competence. Despite all of the sincere devotion provided by social workers, and whether or not they are employed with an Agency or by a company, they must thoroughly read their own insurance policies to assess the gaps existing in their coverage.

The NASW RRG Cyber Liability Suite, Cyber Device Liability, Professional Liability, and General Liability insurance products can be purchased separately to plug holes where you are exposed. They provide a well-protected barrier for the social worker against liability aimed at the social worker for the best value, lowest price, and with no deductibles.

Check out our Liability Suite of products at www.www.naswassurance.org/enroll-today

Published November 2015

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