If your clients' employees areexperiencing problems, be sure to remind them of any voluntarybenefits you offer that might help them. (Photo: David PaulMorris/Bloomberg)

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In the days and weeks following a disaster like Hurricane Florence, your clients and theiremployees may encounter legal and financial matters as they beginto recover and rebuild from its aftermath.

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Related: The role of EAPs in the wake of naturaldisasters

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Help your clients support their employees and the challengesthey're facing by sharing these five tips with them.

1. Know your rights-–and your responsibilities-–regardingproperty damage.

After a disaster, you may have issues with your home andproperty ranging from determining who is responsible for cleaningup to knowing when to keep making rent or mortgage payments. Statelaws and individual insurance policies vary, so be sure to checkwith your homeowners or renters insurance company or localauthorities to know what applies in your situation.

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However, in general, you can assume if you're a homeownerthat:

  • You're responsible for clean-up and disposal.
  • Your insurance company may be obligated to pay for clean-up andremoval if fallen limbs or other debris cause damage to your home,fence or driveway.
  • If debris came from your neighbor's yard, you're stillobligated to pay for clean-up unless you can prove that yourneighbor's negligence led to the damage. In general, yourneighbor's policy covers his/her house and property, and yourpolicy covers your house and property.
  • If you lease and don't own the property, your landlord is mostlikely responsible for repairs but is not liable for any personalinjury or property damage resulting from a natural disaster.

2. Watch for consumer scams.

Many times after a disaster, it's possible that price gouging,refinancing schemes or home repair scams will pop up. To help guardagainst these incidents, make sure you:

  • Never pay any money without reviewing and signing acontract.
  • Ask for references, proof of insurance and licensing asrequired by your city and/or state.
  • Resist any pressure to make quick or uninformed financialdecisions.
  • Don't let anyone convince you to borrow more money than youknow you can afford or make false statements on a loanapplication.
  • Research all lenders, contractors, appraisers, etc. with theAttorney General's Office or Better Business Bureau.

3. Protect against identity theft.

If your home was severely damaged, your belongings misplaced oryou were required to leave your residence, you may be at risk foridentity theft. Consider placing a fraud alert on your creditreport so creditors will follow specific procedures before openingnew accounts in your name or making changes to existing accounts.To activate a fraud alert, call one of the three main nationwidereporting companies at the numbers listed below or use the link tosubmit it online.

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Equifax: 800-525-6285 Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)TransUnion: 800-680-7289

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A fraud alert is a federal right for victims of identity theft,and there's no cost to you to activate one. It allows creditors toget your report information as long as they take steps to verifyyour identity.

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To place an initial fraud alert, contact one of three creditbureaus and let them know you believe you're a victim of identitytheft. Confirm that the bureau you speak to will share the alertwith the other two (it's the law that they do) and know that theinitial alert will be active for 90 days.

4. Avoid a contractor dispute.

If your home or property was damaged, chances are you'll beworking with one or several contractors. To help make sure thingsgo smoothly:

  • Make sure a contract is in place before work begins — and haveit reviewed by an attorney beforehand.
  • Ensure the contract itemizes all costs for labor as well assupplies, along with a defined timeline for completion.
  • Choose a reputable contractor who can furnish references,licensing and proof of insurance.

Before choosing a contractor, you'll also want to watch forcommon red flags, including:

  • Door-to-door solicitations.
  • Estimates that are much lower than competitors.
  • Contractors that require immediate decisions.
  • Answering service only: no direct contact with contractor.
  • Contractor not from your area.
  • Entire payment required upfront.
  • No insurance or references.

5. Manage insurance disputes smoothly.

You'll probably be working with a combination of insurancecompanies (home, auto, medical, etc.) to get your life back inorder. Filing claims and getting reimbursed for lost or damageditems can be a lengthy and frustrating process. To help you workthrough it:

  • If possible, review your policies so you are familiar with theterms, deductibles and provisions.
  • Make sure you track the times and dates of all phone calls, whoyou talked to and the subject.
  • Save all emails and documents you receive.
  • Respond quickly to all written and electroniccorrespondence.
  • Do your best to remain patient and informative.

If your clients' employees are experiencing problems, be sure toremind them of any voluntary benefits you offer that might helpthem, such as legal insurance, which can connect them withattorneys who can provide advice and representation.

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Nothing can make the stress of recovering after a hurricane,flooding or natural disaster go away, but these tips will ensurethat employees know their rights and don't add to their financialand legal stress.


Ann Cosimano([email protected]) is ARAG's generalcounsel and directs the company's legal, regulatory, compliance andattorney relations departments.

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