PITFALLS? Does Your Employer Cover YOU?

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

PITFALLS? Does Your Employer Cover YOU?

Are you willing to risk your money when working for your employer?

Like virtually all employees, probably not…and rightfully so.

That’s what you could be doing if your employer’s professional liability policy does not cover you, or even not adequately. Why? Because you will be paying the liability costs from being under-insured.

Your employer’s professional liability insurance policy may not cover you because it was purchased by the employer to protect the employer, and not you. Your employer is liable for your actions, but only within the scope of your employment with that employer, and most probably, only to a limited extent.

At the heart of the noble profession of social work is living with a purpose… to provide a helping hand to people. Equally important, is for you to live with protection. Social workers need to make sure that while giving a helping hand to people, that they are buffered from the vast array of risks and threats that very often occur in the social work profession. Insurance malpractice claims experience shows that aggressive plaintiffs will stop at nothing to win a lawsuit, either for the money, and/or to exact revenge on the social worker, and often on another defendant such as a divorcing spouse. We live in a very litigious society, and lawsuits are a weapon.

Some employers provide professional liability coverage for employees, but not all. Moreover, many choose coverage that is inadequate. For example, policy limits may be too low, the limits will be diluted because they are shared with other employees, there may be deductibles, certain perils may be excluded such as legal defense costs, claims related to divorce litigation, misdirected patient information transmissions licensing board related defense costs, fines, depositions, the costs of providing expert witness testimony, and lost wages. Certainly, you will not be covered for your part-time work on non-employer related cases and your volunteer work. Moreover, you may not be covered at all if the claim against you is filed after the employer’s coverage ends upon your termination from your employer.

That’s a lot of dangerous gaps you fall into!

Regardless of your work setting, for your own protection, buy your own professional liability insurance policy.

Having your own NASW Risk Retention Group Professional Liability insurance policy benefits you:

  • You will not be underinsured.
  • You will have legal representation with your interests in mind, not those of the employer.
  • The policy is portable, and you will still be covered if you change jobs or start your own business.
  • You will be covered for new cases and for past cases provided that you bought the policy at that time.
  • You will be covered for accidentally transmitting patient information to the wrong receiver. That is an automatic Licensing Board violation that no other carriers cover.
  • You will be covered from lawsuits arising from divorce litigation, which other insurance carriers virtually exclude.

The NASW Risk Retention Group’s Professional Liability policy premium typically costs far less per year than a defense lawyer’s one-hour billable work rate.

According to Other Voices: The Star-Telegram, August 19, 2015, “Social workers can play a role in corporate settings”, by Cossy Hough; there is an emerging trend for social workers to move into corporate America.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 4% average annual growth rate in social worker job growth through 2022. Many of these jobs are in the corporate world as businesses seek to improve productivity through employee programs augmented by on-staff social workers. Employers also seek to improve short-term disability claims and reduce absenteeism by leveraging the benefits of social workers on-staff, similar to the healthcare system.

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.

This is all well and good, however, the social worker must always be cognizant of the fact that their company employer’s liability insurance plan places the company as first insured. The social worker simply following the company rules may not be enough.

The social worker cannot assume that her/his employer will assume liability and that the employer’s liability insurance will extend to the social worker employee. The employer‘s priority is to the employer, as is the employer’s liability insurance policy. That is why it is imperative for you, the social worker, to assess all of the risks and perils, and then buy your own professional liability insurance. When you do the risk analysis of your practice activities, you may learn that you also need General Liability and/or Cyber Liability insurance coverage as well as Professional Liability coverage.

The insurance licensed professional staff at NASW Assurance Services will help you decide. The NASW endorsed NASW Risk Retention Group insurance plans are made for social workers and fully vetted and overseen by social workers. They are A.M. Best “Excellent” insurance rated and backed by Lloyd’s London and Swiss Re, the two largest reinsurers in the world.

You have Peace of Mind. None of the other competitors’ liability insurance policies offer as low a premium, nor cover the wide variety of perils that the NASW Risk Retention Group’s liability insurance suite covers.

Published May 2018

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