New York City Mandates Bathroom Access Consistent with Gender Identity

transgender bathroom accessThis week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order requiring city agencies to ensure all employees and members of the public can use the restrooms or locker rooms consistent with their gender identity, protecting transgender and gender non-conforming individuals from discrimination in public facilities.

“Every New Yorker should feel safe and welcome in our city—and this starts with our city buildings,” de Blasio said. “Access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities is a fundamental human right that should not be restricted or denied to anyone. New York City is proud to enforce one of the strongest human rights laws in the country, which protects the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to live freely and with respect.”

Under the new measure, effective immediately, individuals will not have to provide identification or other proof in order to access bathrooms at any city-owned building, including city offices, public parks, playgrounds, pools, recreation centers and certain museums. It does not require agencies to build single-stall restrooms or locker rooms, though as OSHA noted over the summer in its guidelines on provisions for transgender employees, access to single-occupancy gender-neutral facilities is a safe, easy way to ensure compliance with workplace safety and nondiscrimination policies.

Ensuring a safe and compliant workplace for transgender employees is an increasingly urgent concern for risk managers of public entities and private enterprise alike. The OSHA guidelines, executive orders issued by President Barack Obama, and other emerging guidance from labor-related agencies make clear that federal and state governments are issuing more protections for transgender individuals, and the enforcement actions and reputational damage pose significant risk.

As I reported in the September issue of Risk Management, the president’s April executive order banned federal contractors who do more than $10,000 a year in federal business from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Such federal contractors employ more than 20% of the American workforce—28 million workers. The Office of Personnel Management has issued a comprehensive guide for these entities to best ensure that they are compliant and treating all employees with dignity and respect while preventing discrimination in the workplace. OPM also called for all federal agencies to review their anti-discrimination policies as well. In addition to restroom access, other issues addressed—and likely to face increasing scrutiny—include employment practices such as hiring and promotion, and the consistent use of preferred pronouns, the subject of a recent EEOC ruling against the Department of the Army.

“One of the encouraging things we’re seeing is that people are not waiting for the laws to change,” said Victoria Nolan, risk and benefits manager at Clean Water Services, who draws upon both her professional background and personal experience to offer private consulting services on transgender and diversity issues in the workplace. “There are companies that are being proactive. In some cases, for example, companies that are functioning in multiple states realize that it is extremely difficult to have a variety of offices and just comply with state law, so they are starting to look at the probable end results and move in that direction now.”

While many issues regarding transgender rights continue to spark controversy in legislatures across the country, almost all of the nation’s 20 largest cities have state or local laws allowing transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity. As CBS reported, Houston voters debated—though ultimately defeated—an ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people, while just last week, South Dakota’s governor vetoed a bill that would have made the state the first in the U.S. to approve a law requiring transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex at birth rather than their gender identification.

Following our previous coverage, “Developing a Strategy for Transgender Workers,” there will also be a hot topic session of the same name at the upcoming RIMS Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Diego. Led by Victoria Nolan and employment attorney Liani Reeves, the session will take place on Monday, April 11.

Potholes Cost NYC $27.6 Million in Settlements Per Year

potholes infrastructure municipal risk

Earlier this month, the transportation research group TRIP found that more than 80% of the major roads and highways in the New York City and Newark metropolitan areas were in poor or mediocre condition—the country’s seventh worst ranking among cities with more than 500,000 residents. According to the report “Pothole City: A Data-Driven Look at NYC Roadways,” released yesterday by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, this crumbling infrastructure has cost the city’s taxpayers over $138 million in the past six years—an average of $27.6 million per year.

The city’s failure to prioritize and effectively manage repairs of potholes on city roads has resulted in 12,268 property damage defective roadway claims and 5,913 personal injury defective roadway claims between fiscal years 2010 and 2015. Of the claims filed, 1,549 property damage claims were settled at a cost of nearly $1.5 million, while 2,681 personal injury claims were settled to the tune of $136.3 million.

The city’s potholes, Stringer said, are a “persistent and pervasive” problem that “deflate tires, break axles and twist ankles, often at a significant financial cost to the city.” His findings are part of an initiative introduced last year called ClaimStat Alert, which aims to identify patterns in claims made against the city in an attempt to reduce the amount paid in settlements, the New York Times reported.

In February 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a series of steps to try to improve pothole maintenance, including weekly “pothole blitzes,” citywide targeted repaving, an asphalt engineering technology challenge, and an emphasis on impact prevention. Yet the difficult winter proved quite a challenge.  The average time to close a pothole work order in the first four months of FY 2015 was 6.7 days—nearly triple the 2.4 days during the same period in FY 2014, according to the report. The city stated that, while repair times were “atypically high” through the first quarter of FY 2015, they were “returning to normal levels by October 2014.” Stringer’s report did note, however, “to its credit, the DOT filled over 74,000 potholes (arterials and local streets) in the first four months of FY 2015, a 60% increase over the same period in FY 2014.”

The severe winters felt by the whole Northeast have correlated closely with the number of pothole claims—a predictor many cities may need to weigh more heavily when making weather preparations and budgets.

Snowfall and pothole claims

But patching does not present the best long-term investment of city funds, Stringer said. While the city has initiatives to make patching more efficient, the report said “a more cost-effective, long-term solution may be a complete reconstruction of certain city streets.”

Other financial drains due to road conditions include improperly restored streets and intersections following utility work, milled roadways and hummocks. The comptroller’s office recommended several municipal risk management tactics to tackle these potential claims generators, including:

  • Re-evaluating DOT protocols to ensure that restoration work conducted after street work is properly done. While private companies and utility providers such as Consolidated Edison and Verizon are required by the New York City Administrative Code 18 to maintain the area 12 inches around manholes, vaults and plates flush with the road surface, restoration work following construction sometimes does not match that standard. In addition, the NYPD should also perform spot checks to make sure that contractors performing street work in their precincts have proper permits.
  • Roadways are generally paved in a two-step process. A layer of the old roadway is scrapped off (milling), followed by the introduction of a layer of new asphalt. When the street is milled, it presents a hazard to pedestrians and vehicles using the roadway, and yet there is often a delay in repaving roadway. DOT should examine the extent of these delays and modify its procedures to insure that milled roadways are repaved as soon as possible.
  • Hummocks are variations in road conditions where asphalt is pushed up in a wave-like shape. In many cases, parked buses cause this condition on account of their weight and design. Given the trip hazard posed by hummocks, DOT should work with the MTA and private bus companies to explore the feasibility of using different pavement that is less likely to result in hummock conditions where buses commonly park.

For more about the public risk management challenges of roadways and bridges, check out Caroline McDonald’s article “A Bridge Too Far: Repairing America’s Aging Infrastructure,” from Risk Management magazine.

Bloodsucking Bedbugs Back Biting Big Apple

bedbugs nightmare

Along with a new wave of bed bug infestations in New York City has come a lot of reputation damage to local companies. The critters forced an Abercrombie & Fitch store to close up shop. A movie theater in Times Square had to hose down its seats to kill bedbugs living in its seats. And apparently even the mannequins in a Lexington Ave Victoria’s Secret were alluring enough to the little guys that the store had to be shut down.

It’s tough to gauge the exact bottom line impact, but such headaches are becoming increasingly common for stores — particularly now that the bedbug resurgence seems to be widespread and customers are growing increasingly creeped out.

And it is becoming increasingly clear that one major hurdle to eradicating the pests is that no one really knows that much about them, mostly because they don’t actually transmit disease and, thus, don’t pose the same health risks to humans that, says, ticks or lice do.

Bedbug research “has been very limited over the past several decades.”

Ask any expert why the bugs disappeared for 40 years, why they came roaring back in the late 1990s, even why they do not spread disease, and you hear one answer: “Good question.”

The article goes on to explain pretty much all the info that scientists do know for sure about bedbugs in just a few paragraphs.

The bugs are “nest parasites” that fed on bats and cave birds like swallows before man moved in.

That makes their disease-free status even more baffling.

(The bites itch, and can cause anaphylactic shock in rare cases, and dust containing feces and molted shells has triggered asthma attacks, but these are all allergic reactions, not disease.)

Bats are sources of rabies, Ebola, SARS and Nipah virus. And other biting bugs are disease carriers — mosquitoes for malaria and West Nile, ticks for Lyme and babesiosis, lice for typhus, fleas for plague, tsetse flies for sleeping sickness, kissing bugs for Chagas. Even nonbiting bugs like houseflies and cockroaches transmit disease by carrying bacteria on their feet or in their feces or vomit.

But bedbugs, despite the ick factor, are clean.

There is plenty of speculation about why they disappeared for around four decades (DDT perhaps) where they come from (foreign travelers, say pest control companies) and how to get rid of them (gun powder and even Zyklon B were tried in the old days), but there is very little concrete information to rely on.

So it seems that those companies that have been affected, particularly in these 15 most-infested cities, have nowhere to turn for help. And according to this article, the current remedies are not only unreliable — they are ungodly expensive.

The cost of treating a single hotel room is estimated at $6,000 to $7,000. The problem is even worse if a customer alerted the hotel to the problem: Given the danger of a bedbug stigma, hotels often go to extremes to ensure that customers are pleased with their attentiveness. According to an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, one Las Vegas hotel’s standard procedure for bedbug complaints is to move customers to new rooms, dry clean all their clothes, and replace their luggage with new, uninfested bags.

What a nightmare.

(See what I did there?)

Willis to Sponsor Brooklyn Nets Arena; Joe Plumeri Looking Forward to Working with Jay-Z

Just days after Aon officially unveiled its new, marque sports sponsorship, rival insurance broker Willis has announced one of its own. OK, it hasn’t aligned with the most popular soccer team in the world like Aon. But Willis has partnered with the arena that will soon be home to the worst team in the NBA …

… so there’s that.

All kidding aside, though, partnering with the the Nets future home, the Barclays Center, should be a good move for Willis.

Sure, the New Jersey Nets finished with the worst record of any professional basketball team last season, but they are on the rise and will soon be moving to Brooklyn (likely by 2012). For a company that has been reinventing itself and quickly expanding its reach over the past few years — first with a game-changing acquisition of HRH in 2008 and then in buying the world-renowned Sears Tower in 2009 — this is just another targeted get-the-name-out-there move.

New York is the world financial capital and, now, Willis will have a presence alongside what is sure to be a major headline-grabbing organization for years to come. When it comes to the big three professional sports leagues in the United States (the NFL, MLB and NBA), there hasn’t been a new franchise in the city since the New York Mets were founded in 1962. And Brooklyn hasn’t had its own team since the Dodgers left for California in 1958. Although there is some major opposition to arena that Willis will be putting its name within (mostly due to a corporate, revenue-seeking stadium being put square in the heart of the borough and displacing many long-time residents), there is little doubt that the NBA team that plays there will also be embraced by many others. Within its first few weeks there — even if the team is not great — the Brooklyn Nets will become one of the toughest tickets to get in all of New York. There will be buzz aplenty about the Barclays Center.

So it’s no wonder that Joe Plumeri is excited to team up with the Barclays Center, the future home of the Nets.

“Brooklyn is a great global brand that’s reaching new heights with the Barclays Center. The borough has earned a storied place in sports mythology, from the heroics at Ebbets Field to being the birthplace of legends such as Vince Lombardi, Joe Torre and Joe Paterno,” said Joe Plumeri, Chairman and CEO of Willis. “Willis helps manage the world’s most complex risks, and we look forward to both helping the Barclays Center through its multi-faceted construction process and, when the arena is opened, to working with Mikhail Prokhorov, Bruce Ratner, Brett Yormark, Jay-Z and their team to carry Jackie Robinson’s legacy forward and bring a new generation of champions to Brooklyn and New York.”

Yes, that’s right.

Plumeri is looking forward to working with rap mogul Jay-Z, who is a minority owner of the team. It seems fitting, then, that just a few years after we published an article about Jay-Z’s enormous endorsement power, Joe is now signing on to sponsor a team Jay (sorta) owns. Maybe he can get Mr. Z to rhyme a few songs about insurance broking?

Crazier things have happened.

Jay-Z-Prokhorov-BluePrint

Along with minority owner/rap legend Jay-Z and real owner/Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, Willis is joining the Nets Brooklyn blueprint for greatness by partnering with the Barclays Center that will become the team’s home.