Keeping Halloween Parties Safe in the Workplace


This year, Halloween is expected to be celebrated by a frightening number of Americans – 179 million. According to the National Retail Federation, 48% of adults plan to celebrate in-costume. These 18-year-olds-and-older are not just chaperoning young trick-or-treaters, many are also employees with their own collective sweet tooth. If you plan to indulge these kids-at-heart with a voluntary workplace celebration, here are some tips to consider:

Dress Code Updates

Your company’s dress code policy will obviously need some flexibility for the day, but one can still be enforced in an effort to limit costumes or themes that are too polarizing, provocative or offensive. It’s good practice to inform employees that certain dress code policies will be enforced.

“Provide examples of inappropriate costumes, such as costumes that are too revealing or are ethnic-, religious- or race-based costumes,” Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP, an employment and discrimination law firm, said on its blog. “Request that employees avoid political costumes that could be offensive. If an employee shows up in an offensive costume, send the employee home to change into appropriate clothes.”

Safety Hazards

Even when preparing your company’s party, safety should come first. Be sure that anyone involved in decorating and preparations uses proper equipment. It may seem basic, but related workplace accidents can lead to lawsuits and fines. For example, a preschool teacher broke her arm in 2010 while standing on a child’s seat to hang some decorations, and the school incurred a $5,000 penalty for violating OSHA’s safety terms. Decorations should not put any worker in harm’s way or prohibit their ability to do their job.

Fire risks increase during Halloween parties, often due to the combination of candles and the flammability of the decorations and costumes. PropertyCasualty360.com encourages holiday staples like jack-o-lanterns, but suggests using flameless LED candles that are bright enough to illuminate your carving but don’t pose the risks of a real flame. Due to their flammability, the site also dissuades the use of:

  • Dried flowers or floral arrangements.
  • Corn husks or dried corn stalks.
  • Crepe paper garland or other paper decorations.
  • Homemade paper-towel ghosts.
  • Driveway lanterns with real candles.

Food and Drink

It’s not just employees’ sensibilities that are delicate. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 million Americans suffer from an allergy each year. Be sure to have employees report any food allergies to the party planner in advance to ensure no one suffers a physical reaction.

If your business has a liquor license and continues serving a visibly intoxicated person, you may be liable for any accidents they cause. In many states, expanding employer liability is a gray area. Some state laws dictate that an employee’s conduct – even after he or she has left a company-hosted party – can still be traced back to the employer. That means that if, for example, an employee is caught driving while intoxicated and/or causes an accident afterward, an injured party can file a lawsuit against the company. When examining such a scenario based on a 2013 court case, Law360 noted:

Since liability is no longer confined to activities conducted on company property, employers may feel the need to police employees before they leave the premises.

Overall Appropriateness

If you’re still up in the air about hosting a party, then that in itself might be an indication to pass on it in the classic sense. The Society for Human Resource Management suggests reflecting on prior Halloween activities and the feedback received from employees or customers:

If most workers did not participate, this practice might not fit with the company culture. Consider alternative ways to celebrate, such as a company potluck or luncheon.

By following these tips, your company can reduce safety hazards and the risks of harassment, lawsuits and outbreaks. October is also Fair Trade Month. Check out Ben & Jerry’s sweet ways to have a “Fair Trade Halloween.”

Protecting Your Company from Rogue Employees

While employee malfeasance rarely takes down entire companies, it can result in serious fines, sanctions, court judgments, settlements and reputational damage. Big data analytics is one way leading companies are able to mitigate risk, by proactively detecting threatening or illegal behavior.

Traditional ERM Approaches Won’t Do

Compliance officers do their best. They generally work within enterprise risk management (ERM) frameworks to introduce corporate policies and procedures, conduct risk avoidance training and audits, and create inter-disciplinary committees. They work with IT to run compliance auditing software on critical structured data, including financial databases and transactional applications.

By targeting only well-behaved structured data, however, compliance officers can lose sight of one key fact—structured data is a small percentage of organizational data. Data storage analysts report that most organizational data are only 15% to 20% structured data and 80% to 85% unstructured. This leaves a huge volume of data that presents serious compliance risk to IP, especially electronic communications.

While e-mail, instant messaging, texting and social media are ingrained in our culture, traditional auditing software does not focus on communications. These threats often evade notice until the damage is done.

Here are some ways threats can escape the radar of employers that have traditional ERM approaches:

  • Limited ability to analyze unstructured data. The inability to monitor unstructured data leaves the company open to regulatory consequences and other risk.
  • Keyword searching to winnow down data sets often delivers a high volume of false positive results. Filtering techniques such as keyword searches may not be highly accurate and require intensive manual review. The result is higher cost and longer timeframes for manual-review projects.
  • Potential security issues. Communication platforms are rapidly proliferating. Employees might be sharing inappropriate corporate information on social media, yet these mentions often go unmonitored by the company, potentially missing evidence of employee misconduct.
  • Complex regulatory changes. Many governmental and industry regulations are already complicated, and their revisions only intensify complexity. For example, since introducing Dodd-Frank, regulators have written 224 of 400 expected rules and continue to modify existing rules.
  • Case-by-case approaches. Case-centric approaches to litigation, investigations and regulatory compliance matters impede applying learning and attorney work product on these cases to other matters. This inability lengthens legal reviews and investigations and multiplies costs. Case-based discovery also makes it difficult to discover widespread risky communications between employee groups and outside organizations.
  • Geographic and organizational silos. Relevant data is spread across different storage locations and eDiscovery platforms, creating distinct data silos.

A Cautionary Tale

Here is an example of risk that can go undetected until it’s too late, as it did at Wells Fargo. Banker 1 is responsible for reaching high quarterly sales goals. His manager increases his sales goals for the next quarter. Banker 1 emails a colleague complaining about how his goals are impossible to meet. Banker 2 suggests he try a creative process called “pinning,” which consists of a banker enrolling an actual customer in online banking to create a “sale.” The banker fills in the customer’s name and address but puts in a fake email address so the customer never receives banking communications. The banker meets his sales goals—and hopes the customer never finds out.

How Big Data Analytics Can Help

Analytics tools are already omnipresent in eDiscovery and compliance reviews. They include predictive coding, email threading and concept searching. They are highly useful for culling large data volumes to more manageable sizes. They also locate meaningful text and concept patterns so that reviewers can strategically work with high priority documents.

The catch is that these analytics can only filter to a point, and only work on a single-case basis. No matter how the case management software learns from tagging and work product, that learning cannot be applied across multiple matters if it resides on different review platforms or with different vendors. Each time a new case begins, reviewers and their software must start over. This leads to very long and repetitive document review processes, already the single most expensive activity in eDiscovery. Clients and attorneys also risk exposing sensitive information as the matter makes its way between document review platforms and multiple stakeholders.

A big data approach, versus specific analytics tools can continuously consolidate billions of documents into a central repository. It can also apply machine and human learning to enable the reporting of trends, new data relationships, and fresh insights into data across all cases—not just a single matter—for greater efficiency, cost control and risk mitigation.

RIMS Legislative Summit 2017: Focus on Flood

WASHINGTON—The RIMS Legislative Summit kicked off on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. with a panel lead by Congressional office staff.

Panelists included: Democratic Staff in the U.S. House of Representatives; Jason Tuber, Senior Advisor to Senator Menendez (D-NJ); Ed Skala, Deputy Staff Director for the House Financial Services Committee; and Brandon Beall, Professional Staff Member, Office of Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; as well as Lisa Peto, chief counsel for the Financial Services Committee.

The focus was the once-again looming expiration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The program that was set to expire in September, but was saved with a temporary extension now set to expire again on Dec. 8.

The panelists, each of whom began with the disclaimer that these were their opinions and not the opinions of their office, came to a consensus that a new NFIP was critical, that a gap in coverage is certainly not ideal and they acknowledged that their offices were working on a bi-partisan resolution.

Some of the major concerns discussed were:

  • Funding—who will fund the NFIP? If the NFIP expires or ceases to exist would the burden fall on the taxpayer and then ultimately on government anyway? Should excess flood coverage be privatized? There was also discussion on whether mandating states to offer certain protections for flood exposure would help the situation.
  • Accessibility and Affordability—what measures must be included in the new bill to not only make sure flood insurance is available but that it is available at an affordable price?
  • Residential vs. Commercial—The idea was discussed as to whether there should ultimately be two versions of the NFIP that separate residential and small businesses from large commercial businesses. It was noted that large commercial businesses might have flood coverage elsewhere or are better funded to retain some risk and, as such, should have the opportunity to opt out. This would spur new challenges to determine what qualifies a business as small or large (i.e., an online enterprise that generates considerable revenue but operates out of someone’s basement).
  • Risk Mitigation—Should risk mitigation be a part of the final bill? Incentives for both the insurer and the insured would support organizations that practice good risk management. The argument was made, however, that not all residents and not all businesses have the funds for risk management. For example, not everyone has the money in the bank to raise the height of a house or storefront.

Jim McIntyre, RIMS Washington, D.C. counsel and chair of McIntyre & Lemon stated, “It is probable that we’re looking at another extension come December. Unfortunately for the National Flood Insurance Program, bills regarding trade, healthcare and immigration will take precedent at the moment and [the NFIP] might have to wait a bit longer.”

On Day two of the summit, about 50 RIMS members descended on Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional leaders. The goal was to share RIMS priorities for a long-term National Flood Insurance Program.

How Small Businesses Can Prepare for the Next Natural Disaster

As we have witnessed these past two months, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated many parts of the south coast and the economies of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The damage from the storms is expected to halt U.S. GDP by an entire percent. Recent estimates put the costs of recovery at around $85 billion and $59 billion for Harvey and Irma respectively.

While larger businesses have the resources to rebuild and recover, many smaller businesses do not. They will likely struggle to account for the cost of repairs, and even lose their companies in the process. According to FEMA, nearly four in 10 small businesses struck by a natural disaster are forced to permanently shut down. With more storms expected in the coming weeks as hurricane season persists through November, it is vital that small business owners prepare in the meantime.

The first step for any small business is to prepare internally. Here are three best practices that small-business owners can adopt to prepare for a future hurricane or any other natural disaster.

  1. Establish a recovery plan: Often, disaster recovery plans fall to the bottom of small-business owners’ to-do lists, especially if their business is located in an area that doesn’t typically experience high-risk weather. However, no business is immune from a harmful storm’s impact. So disaster preparedness starts with a formal plan that’s comprehensive and allows the company to quickly restore its normal operations following an emergency.
  2. Discuss your plan with all employees: It is crucial for your entire staff to be on the same page when it comes to what your disaster plan involves in order for it to be effective. So once small-business owners have a plan in place, they need to ensure that their employees know what’s included and what their responsibilities are should a natural disaster strike. Owners can share this information by emailing a copy to all employees and discussing the plan in detail at the next all-hands meeting.
  3. Back up your business’s data: Small-business owners should ensure their data is backed up both virtually and physically in a secure location. Doing so can prevent a natural disaster from turning into an even worse data loss debacle.

While following these steps can get small businesses on the right track toward hurricane preparedness, no company can be fully protected without insurance. With a plan in place, the next step is finding the right hurricane insurance plan. But there is often confusion over what proper hurricane coverage looks like.

Small businesses should take into account the specific rules and regulations of their industry when choosing an insurance plan to protect against hurricanes and other natural disasters. That said, there are two policies that are essential to businesses that need a defense against hurricanes.

Commercial Property Insurance is a policy that helps cover some of the cost to repair damages or restore your business property should a natural disaster cause harm. It is important to note, however, that many commercial property insurance policies only protect damages caused by hurricane winds, not flood damage resulting from rising water. If your business is located in an area prone to hurricanes, ask your insurance provider about “riders” (also known as endorsements), which can be added to your policy for more complete coverage.

Business Interruption Insurance is a policy that helps companies deal with the extended time (and business) they may lose as a result of hurricane damage. Often, this forced, lengthy pause in operations is what causes small businesses to permanently close, due to the high costs they incur and their inability to generate the revenue required to cover those costs. Business interruption insurance helps small businesses through by providing the funds for necessities such as taxes, loan payments, rent and salaries. Again, it is key to ask your provider exactly what a policy covers before purchasing it. Typically, business interruption insurance only protects your business if the circumstance that forced you to shut down is already covered by your commercial property policy.

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has already been deemed the third worst on record. With more than a month to go, small businesses can ensure that they’re protected from damages through internal company policies and a thorough insurance plan. As far as hurricane insurance coverage goes, it’s crucial for businesses to do their research and find the policies that will provide the best protection. Although developing these plans will take time and effort, the risks mitigated and money saved as a result will be well worth it in the long run.