In This Issue


Spring Workshops

Preparing for Winter Weather

Disaster Recovery Planning

Social Media and Municipal Liability

The EEOC and Harassment


Tennessee Trivia

Q. According to The Weather Channel, what is the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state of Tennessee?

Click here for the answer

Message from the President

Dawn

Happy New Year to all! May 2018 bring peace and happiness to everyone.

Most of us have probably heard the old saying, "It's the little things that count."

There are many small things that influence our lives, and ignoring them can sometimes have serious consequences — particularly when it comes to safety. We have all been trained to watch out for the big hazards that could harm us, but the little ones can sometimes cause serious injuries, too.

One entity became very concerned when its accident frequency rate increased significantly over a three-month period. Management began an in-depth check of systems, equipment and materials that are considered to be high-hazard, including heavy machinery, ventilation, toxic substances and machine guarding.

To everyone's surprise, none of these things were the cause of their accidents. Chemicals were properly labeled and stored; machines were in good repair and properly guarded; the exhaust fans, sprinkler systems and respirators were all in good working order. Instead, accidents stemmed from a variety of "little things" that had been ignored until an injury occurred.

For example, they found that serious falls had been caused by:

  • A puddle of oil on the floor. No one had poured absorbent material on the spill because it was "too small to worry about." It wasn't too small, however, to make a passing employee slip and fall when he didn't notice it.
  • A box of supplies that had been left on the floor in front of a shelf, instead of properly stored. It had been walked around dozens of times before someone finally tripped over it.
  • A ladder that was placed in front of an outward-opening door for "just for a minute" to change a light bulb. It was knocked over by another worker coming through the door, and both he and the worker on the ladder were injured.

All these "accidents waiting to happen" had been ignored because they didn't really seem that dangerous to the workers involved. Employees all knew about, and carefully avoided, the major hazards encountered when repairing energized electrical equipment, digging a trench or repairing a city vehicle.

We often intend to report a defective tool, extension cord or stepladder to the maintenance department, but either don't take the time or forget about it. It is important to follow through on our good intentions, since these are just the sort of "little things" that can result in a serious injury to ourselves or to other workers.

Minor injuries left untreated are also "little things" that can cause big trouble if ignored. "Just a scratch" can become infected. A speck of dust in the eye can scratch the cornea and cause severe eye damage if not attended to. Be sure to report even seemingly minor injuries and get appropriate first aid treatment.

Little things do count, and if we take a few minutes to pay attention to all the potential hazards around us, we can prevent serious injuries from happening to ourselves and other employees.

Best Regards,
signature
Dawn R. Crawford
President/CEO

 

Spring Workshops

Employees: Your Most Important Investment

Employment-related claims and lawsuits can be very costly and disruptive to your organization. Investing in your employees, and ensuring that your workplace operates in an ethical and legal manner, are key factors for minimizing the likelihood of employment-related claims.

This workshop will bring awareness to the behaviors and actions that can lead to employment-related claims, outline the exposures, and give participants a clear understanding of what is and is not part of a workplace investigation.

The enforcement guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will guide the discussion on investigations. This course will also help you manage harassment claims related to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Tennessee Human Rights Act.

All supervisors and elected officials are invited to attend. Registration is free and lunch will be provided.

Please note that we have added an additional workshop in Middle Tennessee. If you need to change your registration, please contact Halie Gallik at 800.624.9698 or hgallik@thepool-tn.

What:

Employees: Your Most Important Investment Workshop

Dates / Locations:

March 6 — Bartlett
Bartlett Station Municipal Center
5868 Stage Road
Bartlett, TN 38134

March 7 — Medina
Medina City Hall
201 US-45E
Medina, TN 38355

March 8 — Gallatin
Gallatin City Hall Dining Room
132 West Main Street
Gallatin, TN 37066

March 9 — Franklin / Cool Springs
Belmont – Williamson County Campus
310 Billingsly Court
Franklin, TN 37067

March 13 — Collegedale
Collegedale City Hall
4910 Swinyar Drive
Collegedale, TN 37315

March 14 — Knoxville
City of Knoxville Public Works Complex Community Room
3131 Morris Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37909

March 15 — Kingsport
V.O. Dobbins, Sr. Complex, Douglass Room
301 Louis Street
Kingsport, TN 37660

Time:

9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Lunch is provided
All workshops qualify for 4.5 hours of CMFO credit

Instructors:

J. Michael Billingsly, Esq., City Attorney, City of Kingsport
Michael Fann, Director of Loss Control, Public Entity Partners
George Dalton, Assistant Director of Loss Control, Public Entity Partners

Topics Covered: 

Employment-related lawsuits, identifying your employment
practices liability exposure, how to properly handle a
workplace investigation, legal requirements for handling
employment-related complaints and allegations

Who Should Attend:

Anyone with supervisory responsibilities, elected officials,
city managers or administrators, human resources
administrators, risk managers and other public
administrators

To register, please visit www.PEpartners.org/Workshop.

For questions, contact Halie Gallik at 800.624.9698 or hgallik@thepool-tn.

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Preparing for Winter Weather

Frozen water pipes are more than just an inconvenience. They can be very costly to repair and cause extensive damage at your facilities.

To reduce the likelihood of frozen pipes, leave a faucet dripping and cabinet doors open. Also ensure that heating systems stay on overnight and weekends, and that employees know what to do if they suspect a pipe may be frozen.

The entryways and exits to and from your facilities can be very dangerous during cold and wet weather. You have a legal duty to ensure that all entrances and exits to and from public buildings are clear of danger — including ice and snow. Make sure that employees know whom to report slippery parking lots, entryways and sidewalks to so that they can be cleared of snow or treated with salt.

Are your employees prepared for cold weather? Having the proper clothing is a necessity for anyone who must work outside during the frosty winter months. Hats, gloves and warm clothing are more than just for comfort; they can also be an important part of injury prevention.

Extreme cold can lead to shivering, loss of coordination, fatigue, and even confusion or disorientation. Employees who must work outside should always wear clothes that are meant for cold, wet and windy conditions. This means dressing in loose fitting layers, hats, gloves and appropriate footwear.

Talk with your employees so they understand the warning signs for hypothermia. Visit the Safety Talks section of our website for a short training talk to share with employees about the importance of proper clothing for cold weather. Also check out these resources from OSHA to prevent injuries in winter weather.

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Disaster Recovery Planning

Have you thought about what will happen when a disaster hits? Do you know where you will get gasoline to power chain saws to clear road debris? Do you have the equipment you need to pull citizens from damaged buildings? Where will you set up a command center or temporary office if a tornado rips through your city hall or your police station?

Most local governments think of disaster recovery only in terms of public safety, but what will you do if city hall is damaged and cannot be occupied for an extended period of time? Have you thought about disaster recovery in terms of overall service continuity for your citizens?

Did you know that if you purchase property coverage through Public Entity Partners, you are provided with a free membership to Agility Disaster Recovery as part of that property coverage? One component of your disaster recovery plan can be the services provided through Agility Recovery.

What do members receive with their Agility Recovery Membership?

  • Pre-disaster planning tools through the myAgility platform and mobile application
  • Emergency computer hardware
  • Mobile office recovery solutions
  • Backup power and generators
  • Backup communications

Office Space

If your facility is damaged and you need temporary office space, your Agility Recovery membership provides access to a fully independent mobile recovery unit that can be deployed in 48 hours or less. These units are 100 percent self-sufficient, regardless of the condition of your local infrastructure, and can function as office space, even if local communications and power are interrupted. They include all interior furnishings, restrooms and the necessary IT equipment to ensure all your employees can return to work uninterrupted.

Backup Power

60 to 70 percent of all disasters to which Agility Recovery responds involve power recovery. Agility Recovery provides access to generators from 20 kW up to 2 MW, along with consistent maintenance and guaranteed access to fuel. In the event of a disaster, backup power for key facilities provides more than just the ability to get back to work. It can help ensure that your emergency shelter is heated or cooled, or that your response team has a place to take a break. The membership provides more than just access to generators — Agility Recovery can also answer all your emergency power questions.

Computers / IT Equipment

As an Agility Recovery member, you have access to over $40 million of IT hardware and infrastructure elements. In the event of a disaster, Agility Recovery will quick-ship the office IT equipment needed for whatever recovery scenario you have, including switches, routers and multifunction copy/print/scan devices. Transportation costs for delivery and return of the equipment are the only expenses incurred by members who utilize Agility Recovery’s IT equipment.

Agility employs a multitude of means to speed recovery time, including:

  • Intel-based dual-core processor desktop PCs with 4 GB RAM and 120 GB hard drive
  • Intel servers with 2x quad-core processor, 8-16 GB RAM, 300-500 GB hard drive and 2 GB Ethernet ports (upon deployment, servers will have the operating system pre-loaded
  • Multifunction printers
  • Tape drives, switches, routers, etc.
  • Custom shipping containers (allows for quick deployment, safe handling and reduces “box” management on site)
  • Multiple delivery options (Agility works directly with members to determine timeframes and delivery speed, utilizing access to multiple delivery partners)

Communications

During a disaster or emergency, your phone and Internet connections are usually two of the first things to be affected. Agility Recovery can help you get your office back up and running to answer calls, update your website, or communicate with vendors through satellites using two redundant teleports. When available, Agility can also provide low-cost, high-bandwidth Wi-Fi capabilities through cellular carriers.

The myAgility Planning Platform

The myAgility Planning Platform allows Public Entity Partners’s members to store, view and update pertinent recovery planning information using a secure, password-protected Web portal.

With the myAgility Platform, PE Partner members can:

  • Send alerts and notifications to employees, customers and more via email or text
  • Upload and store critical documents such as insurance policies, product warranties, data backup procedures and more
  • Upload emergency vendor contracts and agreements
  • Specify resource needs at the time of recovery
  • Develop an internal communication strategy
  • Input, update and store fixed-asset inventory information

The portal also has an extensive amount of disaster recovery planning checklists and templates to help jump start your planning process.

Agility membership is provided free-of-charge to members who purchase property coverage from Public Entity Partners.

Please contact our Member Services Department if you would like to access your myAgility portal or have questions about the Agility Disaster Recovery membership.

Wayne Anderson
wanderson@PEpartners.org

772.473.4243

Callie Westerfield
cwesterfield@PEpartners.org
800.624.9698

Celeste Taylor
ctaylor@PEpartners.org
731.514.5994

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Social Media and Municipal Liability

In many respects, social media has become a part of everyday life for many. As a result, it has changed the ways in which individuals, businesses and local governments communicate. Unfortunately, the lines between official and private use of social media can be difficult to discern.

For this reason, local governments must put policies in place to address:

  1. The official use of social media as a communication tool
  2. The inappropriate personal use of social media
  3. Property details

Many municipalities and local governments utilize social media to communicate with citizens. Applications such as Facebook and Instagram can be excellent methods for distributing information and promoting activities, but it is also very important that control of the released information is maintained.

Social media postings can create liability for a governmental entity. Every employee and named volunteer is an agent of the organization, and any statements they make can attach liability, regardless of whether or not those statements were sanctioned.

In addition, some Tennessee local governments have been challenged with how to deal with social media comments that may be critical of local government operations. It should be noted that deletion of these comments may be a violation of free speech. However, there are legal reasons to delete some comments, including racially discriminating comments, profane language, comments that are commercial or political in nature, or comments unrelated to the topic.

Public Entity Partners recommends that our members adopt a social media policy addressing posting, along with maintenance of and deletions from social media sites. In addition, we recommend ensuring that any deleted social media comments are printed with a notation that explains why they were deleted, and that these printouts are saved in a folder.

Other social media concerns include violations of privacy rights or constitutional rights. These concerns should all be weighed carefully before introducing a social media page for your entity or a particular department.

Where to Begin

Before you begin using social media for local government purposes, it is important to determine who will have access to posts. It is important that anyone who posts official communications on your local government’s social media page understands the potential liability that he or she can create for your entity. Designating specific individuals to post content allows you to have more control over the content, and also helps ensure that these individuals receive proper training on what is and is not acceptable to post.

In many local governments, different departments maintain their own social media pages. While this is an acceptable practice, it is important that each department follows the overall social media policy of your local government. Concerns over privacy, free speech and open records impact departmental use of social media just as much as they do a city or local government as a whole.

Social Media Comments, Protected Speech and Open Record Laws

Did you realize that social media use by public entities is considered a public record? Please be advised that content posted to a local government’s social media site is subject to public records laws and the open records act. Any postings that are deleted or removed from a local government-sponsored social media forum should be printed and kept as a record, or stored electronically. It is recommended that each social media forum the local government utilizes includes the entity’s social media policy or a link to the policy. Social media content, just like all other public records, should be addressed in your record retention manual, authorized in TCA 10-7-702.

Did you realize that comments made on social media sites may be protected by the First Amendment? If you give individuals the ability to post on your social media page, it becomes a public forum where, generally speaking, comments are protected under the First Amendment. Censoring or deleting those comments could be a violation of an individual’s constitutional rights. A police department or governmental entity generally may not delete derogatory comments posted on social media, nor any comments with which the agency does not agree. Such language would generally be protected as First Amendment free speech.

However, there are circumstances under which a governmental entity may act to remove or delete comments posted on social media. If a comment reflects one of the following types of messages, it is generally permissible to remove it:

  1. Comments not topically related to the post
  2. Comments in support of or in opposition to political campaigns or ballot measures
  3. Profane language or content
  4. Content that promotes, fosters or perpetuates discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, age, religion, gender, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation
  5. Sexual content or links to sexual content
  6. Solicitations of commerce
  7. Information that may compromise the safety or security of the public or public systems
  8. Content that violates a legal ownership interest of any other party

Social Media and Police Departments

Positive ways in which police departments utilize social media include promoting the services provided to the community, department statistics, public safety tips and announcements, and department or officer honors and awards. However, police departments should be cautioned about posting arrests on social media. While it is not necessarily illegal or prohibited, it can increase the department’s liability for civil rights or constitutional violations, or invite claims of libel or malicious prosecution. If your police department does post information on recent arrests, it is important to weigh the public benefits derived against the potential for claims and/or litigation arising from the postings and the information conveyed therein.

In addition to content that the police department itself may post, it is important to take into consideration the impact an officer’s online presence may have on potential cases. If an officer makes inappropriate or discriminatory comments online, a defendant may be able to find that content and utilize it as a way to impeach the character or credibility of the officer.

Social Media and HIPAA

Medical information is protected information under the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Employees of local governments that provide medical services, including paramedics and emergency medical technicians, should become well-versed in the regulatory requirements of HIPAA. Putting information or pictures on social media can be a HIPAA violation. Local governments that provide medical services are encouraged to have written policies addressing employee use of social media and annual HIPAA compliance training.

While law enforcement agencies and most school districts are not subject to the provisions of HIPAA, it is still important to caution employees on posting sensitive medical information online.

Social media has become an integral part of society and, in all likelihood, is not going anywhere. Ensuring that your entity has a measured approach to how it uses social media will help protect your entity from unnecessary liability lawsuits.

If you have questions about the liability surrounding social media use, please contact your casualty loss control consultant.

Judy Housley
jhousley@PEpartners.org

Chester Darden
cdarden@PEpartners.org

Paul Chambliss
pchambliss@PEpartners.org

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The EEOC and Harassment

Local governments, like all employers, face claims of harassment from employees. Unfortunately, these types of claims are all too common and negatively impact the culture of affected entities, as well as the bottom line. In Fiscal Year 2016, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received over 28,000 harassment allegations. Nearly 13,000 of those allegations were for sex-based harassment.

In January of 2015, the EEOC created a Select Task Force to study harassment in the workplace to, in part, evaluate if employee harassment training has been effective in reducing or eliminating harassment in the workplace. Sadly, when looking at national statistics, something is missing from the efforts to reduce harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Since Fiscal Year 2010, the number of harassment allegations received by the EEOC has climbed from just over 27,000 to more than 28,000 allegations.

For PE Partner members, the statistics for harassment allegations align with the national data. Over the past decade, we have continued to receive close to 50 claims per year alleging harassment or discrimination. For the past several years, we have focused on training member employees on the importance of establishing a positive workplace culture to stop workplace harassment before it starts. Simply focusing your training efforts on minimizing legal liability does nothing to actually stop harassment.

Another key training element is helping employees understand their obligation to not tolerate harassment and to report any harassment to the appropriate channels. The final report generated by the EEOC highlights the importance of workplace civility and bystander intervention training. All employees must be empowered to play a role in stopping all types of harassment.

We encourage you to take some time to read the recommendations and findings from the EEOC committee. Review the checklist for employers offered in the report that covers four key areas in preventing workplace harassment — Leadership and Accountability, Anti-Harassment Policy, Harassment Reporting System and Investigations, and Compliance Training. In addition, make sure that you familiarize yourself with the risk factors that increase the likelihood of harassment in your workplace. As an employer, it is up to you to take proactive steps to minimize harassment and actively foster a culture where harassment is not accepted.

As you evaluate your efforts for preventing harassment in your organization, we encourage you to take advantage of Public Entity Partners's workshops to be offered in March. These workshops will train supervisors on their responsibility for not tolerating harassment, and their legal obligation to report and/or respond when he or she has reason to believe that harassment may be taking place. Please visit Public Entity Partners’s website for more information and to register for our spring workshop, titled, “Employees: Your Most Important Investment.”

If you have any questions about the steps you have taken to prevent harassment, or if you are just not sure where to begin, please reach out to your regional loss control consultant. Public Entity Partners’s casualty loss control consultants can help make recommendations for your entity based on industry best practices that can help prevent or reduce harassment.

Judy Housley
jhousley@PEpartners.org

Chester Darden
cdarden@PEpartners.org

Paul Chambliss
pchambliss@PEpartners.org

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Tennessee Trivia

Q: According to The Weather Channel, what is the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state of Tennessee?

A. -32 degrees