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    #MeToo: Can insurance save executives in sexual harassment cases? Find out

    Sexual misconduct by a company executive or employee can result in legal claims. These claims often are not only against the accused but also against the company itself. The individual(s) against whom allegations are made can find themselves the subject of criminal proceedings as a result of his actions.

     

    Corporate executives today are under attack from the #MeToo movement, as sexual harassment and sexual assault charges spread virally on social media. Celebrities, artists, politicians, journalists, there is not one profession that has not been affected.

     

    The movement attempts to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. Naturally, allegations fly thick and fast. Given the all-pervasive nature of social media, judgements are passed within seconds, and often the alleged oppressors do not have a chance to defend themselves. Corporate reputations are at stake. Plus, there could be financial repercussions. So, does a Directors & Officers Insurance policy or D&O Insurance policy help in the wake of a sexual harassment charge?

     

    Dial L for Liability

     

    Typically, a D&O cover applies to former, present and future members of the board of directors and the management comprising officers and employees in a managerial or supervisory capacity. The policy normally covers the parent company and, if opted for, subsidiaries. Usually, the policy is designed to operate on an unnamed basis covering all directors / officers and employees of the policyholder. 

     

    Typically, the insurance premium amount is determined by a number of factors, namely the limit of indemnity (say Rs 10 crore), past claim settlement, whether the company is listed or unlisted, and financials. Not just big firms, even small and medium-sized enterprises or SMEs are these taking such policies.

     

    Sushant Sarin, executive vice-president, Tata AIG General Insurance says an allegation of a wrongful act such as sexual misconduct, made directly or through social media against a director, officer or employee (d.o.e) of a company, will trigger the D&O Policy. “When such director, officer or employee defends himself/herself and incurs legal cost and expenses towards the same, these will get paid under the D&O policy,” says Sarin.

     

    Sexual misconduct by a company executive or employee can result in legal claims. These claims often are not only against the accused but also against the company itself. The individual(s) against whom allegations are made can find themselves the subject of criminal proceedings as a result of his actions. Other senior executives may also be dragged in this, if they are alleged to have turned a blind eye, or if they have failed to follow set procedures or properly act on complaints.

     

    When a sexual harassment charge is filed and publicly discussed, the policy enables the director, officer or employee to engage the best defence to protect himself/herself against an allegation, especially if the same is unfounded, baseless or malicious. In case of an actual misdemeanour, if damages have to be paid to the wronged, this too would be covered under the policy, points out Sarin.

     

    What does liability insurance cover

     

    A liability insurance policy can come in form of different variants. They can be covers like a right to defend, coverage for retired directors, employment practice liability, damage to reputation, defence cost, severability, etc. So, how do they work when a sexual harassment charge is filed? Easwara Narayanan, COO of Future Generali India Insurance explains that ‘The right to defend’ condition under D&O policy would mean that in case of wrongful allegations against directors, while the Insured (Directors) have a choice to defend themselves by taking consent from the insurer, the Insurer has a right to take over defence.

     

    The employment practice liability cover protects directors in case of claim against directors on account of wrongful termination, harassment of employees and other employment related malpractices.

     

    The potential for reputational damage caused by sexual misconduct allegations is big. “Damage to reputation costs provides for the cost of hiring public relation services for rebuilding the brand of company and safeguarding the reputation of related directors,” says Narayanan. So, when a trigger event occurs, a crisis management extension of the policy will typically pay for those related costs. This facility is useful if the accusation is wrong.

     

    The D&O policy indemnification is primarily on defence costs. Apart from defense costs, it allows costs of investigations and insurable compensations awarded by court of law.

     

    “Allegations of sexual harassment made against directors by employees is part of employment practice liability cover under D&O policy. Apart from employment practice liability cover, policy also covers similar allegation from third party,” says Narayanan.

     

    Grey area

     

    Some legal experts say that in order to trigger coverage under a D&O policy, the wrongful act should have occurred whilst the person was acting in the course and scope of his or her employment. So, if the alleged misconduct occurred outside of working hours, that can be a grey area. For example, if an employee alleges harassment in a bar, on a Sunday evening during a social event, the insurance company may question whether the manager was on the job during this social event, to determine whether the policy coverage applies.

     

     

    Source: Original article published in DNA, republished in Zee Business

    Oct 22, 2018





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