Archive | January 2015

Winter Power Outage Tips

power outagePower outages tend to happen more in the peak winter months, January being the main one. If one happens in your area, get through it with these important tips:

Before an Outage

  • Check flashlights and battery-powered portable radios to ensure that they are working, and you have extra batteries. A radio is an important source of weather and emergency information during a storm.
  • Have sufficient heating fuel, as regular sources may be cut off. Have emergency heating equipment and fuel (a gas fireplace, wood burning stove or fireplace) so you can keep at least one room livable. Be sure the room is well ventilated.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows to keep cold air out.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide insulation.
  • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.
  • Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to shut off water valves.
  • If pipes freeze, remove insulation, completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold. A hand-held hair fryer, used with caution, also works well.
  • If your water supply could be affected (a well-water pump system), fill your bathtub and spare containers with water. Water in the bathtub should be used for sanitation purposes only, not as drinking water.
  • Pouring a pail of water from the tub directly into the bowl can flush a toilet.
  • Set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings (remember to reset them back to normal once power is restored). During an outage, do not open the refrigerator or freezer door. Food can stay cold in a full refrigerator for up to 24 hours, and in a well-packed freezer for 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-packed).
  • If you have medication that requires refrigeration, check with your pharmacist for guidance on proper storage during an extended outage.
  • Review the process for manually operating an electric garage door.

During an Outage

  • Dress for the season, wearing several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Mittens are better than gloves.
  • Wear a hat; most body heat is lost through the top of the head.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in the extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove any wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages, if the victim is conscious. Get medical help, as soon as possible.
  • Snowdrifts can be used as a makeshift freezer for food. (Be aware of attracting animals).
  • Snow can be melted for an additional water source.
  • In order to protect against possible voltage irregularities that can occur when power is restored, you should unplug all sensitive electronic equipment, including TVs, stereo, VCR, microwave oven, computer, cordless telephone, answering machine and garage door opener.

After an Outage

  • Be extra cautious if you go outside to inspect for damage after a storm. Downed or hanging electrical wires can be hidden by snowdrifts, trees or debris, and could be live. Never attempt to touch or moved downed lines. Keep children and pets away from them.
  • Check with/help neighbors.
  • Continue to stay off streets.
  • Do not touch anything power lines are touching, such as tree branches or fences. Always assume a downed line is a live line. Call your utility company to report any outage-related problem.

Wage & Hour Violations on the Rise – Why Employers Should Be Concerned

The Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor (DOL) recently released its fiscal year 2013 statistics.

In FY 2013, the DOL received 25,628 complaints and concluded 33,146 complaints. The DOL successfully recovered $249,954,412 in back wages for 269,250 employees. This is a marked increase over earlier FY 2009 report.
The majority of recovered wages were for unpaid overtime.

Some of the low-wage industries that have seen the greatest increase in recovered back wages since FY 2009 are: agriculture, restaurants, and hotels and motels.

In addition, the DOL considered over 1,000 cases of child labor violations. “Fiscal Year Statistics for WHD,” (Dec. 2014).

Commentary and Checklist

The DOL and the IRS are working together to find and resolve wage issues.

Employers should ask themselves the following when assessing their wage and hour policies:

  • Are your exempt employees properly classified? Too many employers classify employees as exempt when they are really non-exempt.
  •  Are your non-exempt employees receiving overtime when they work over 40 hours per week? All overtime, no matter how short the time period worked, must be accounted for and compensated.
  •  Are your non-exempt employees receiving proper credit for all their time spent working on your behalf? Employers who do not correctly compensate employee time, especially when an employee is on the employer’s premises, create risk.
  •  Are your non-exempt employees receiving their breaks and other compensated time as required by federal and state laws? Laws differ, but many state laws require mandatory paid breaks during the day.
  •  Are your employees receiving all the wages due to them? Class actions are emerging against employers who unlawfully deduct money from employee checks.
  •  Have you had your risk advisor or employment counsel review your wage and hour practices? If not, now is the time.


New Stuff for Christmas? Time to Update that Home Inventory

Christmas was just a few days ago and your probably acquired some new stuff.  At the very least, your house probably isn’t empty. Thankfully, your homeowners insurance covers some portion of your possessions after a loss, such as a fire or burglary. But how much does it cover, and is it enough to replace your most treasured assets and all the new ones?

How much have you thought about your insurance protection? If you have purchased or inherited valuables over the years, or even if you have not taken a recent inventory and assessed the replacement value of your daily use items, maybe it’s time for a review.

Questions for Property Owners
As you’re determining whether your current coverage is adequate, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How do I determine whether or not I have enough coverage?
  • In terms of personal property, what is covered? What isn’t?
  • What should I do if I have to file a claim?
  • Have I made any large purchases lately?
  • Having answers to these key questions will give you peace of mind if the unthinkable should happen to your home.
  • Do you have enough personal property insurance?
  • Does Your Homeowners Policy Include Contents Insurance?
  • Your homeowners insurance policy comes with contents coverage based on the overall value of your personal property and up to approximately 50 to 70 percent of the amount of coverage on your home’s structure. For example, if you have coverage on a $200,000 house, your policy may include approximately $100,000 in personal property coverage.

However, if you have lived in the house for a few years and are a collector or have acquired valuables (such as diamond jewelry or a work of art), your basic homeowners insurance policy may not cover the replacement value of these items if they are destroyed or stolen. In this case, you may need to purchase a rider on your homeowners policy to cover these special items. Your local Trusted Choice member agent can help to go over these items and the contents insurance needed to cover them.

Be sure to discuss coverage for all possessions of value, such as your new iPhone, furs, golf clubs and carts, computers, fine art, china, musical instruments or expensive sporting equipment. You may even want special coverage for that elk’s head above the fireplace or other taxidermy.

Taking Stock of Your Personal Property for Insurance
This is a key component of the personal property insurance process. Your inventory should be extensively documented, noting any valuable item that is irreplaceable (such as heirlooms). Document your possessions by taking pictures of your home’s contents, including your antique armoire, diamond collection or firearms.

It is a good practice to provide detailed descriptions with each photograph, such as serial numbers or brand names when appropriate. Alternatively, you can scan each room of your home with a video camera and narrate each item included in your home’s inventory of contents.

Be sure to keep your inventory as current as possible, and store it in a secure place, such as a fire safe. If you need to file a claim, a current inventory will help streamline the process. Not only will you not have to sit and think about everything you lost, but you’ll be relying on records, not memory.

Does a Home Policy Cover Personal Property in Your Car?
Surprisingly, in the event of theft or flood damage, automobile policies usually do not cover personal property in a vehicle.

However, homeowners insurance policies generally consider all personal property from the home, even if it is temporarily located or stored in the vehicle. So, an item in your car is considered to be personal property covered in your homeowners policy. Be sure to discuss the details of your policy with your agent to ensure that your important possessions are covered.

Actual Cash Value vs. Replacement Cost
It is important to understand these terms and how they apply to your policy, especially when it comes to contents insurance. In the event that you have to file a claim due to fire or burglary, your independent agent can help you determine the most optimal fit to suit your needs.

“Actual cash value” accounts for an item’s original cost minus depreciation. This type of coverage is standard.
“Replacement cost” refers to the actual cost of replacing a lost item. For example, the actual cash value for an older appliance may be $800, but the current cost of replacing your appliance may be $1,500. Thus you can potentially receive the amount of compensation needed to buy a replacement item at its current cost if you have this kind of home and contents insurance. Note that getting appraisals for very expensive items is an important step in making sure they will be covered in a loss.

Be sure to discuss these two options with your agent and decide which type of coverage is best for your needs. Replacement cost coverage will most likely cost about 10 percent more, but it may be well worth it, given how quickly some items depreciate in value.
Filing a Contents Insurance Claim
The claims process is much easier if you have a complete and accurate inventory of your personal property. First, with your detailed inventory on hand, note the claim date, reason for the loss – such as burglary or fire – and provide detailed item descriptions. Provide this information and an item photo, if possible to your agent, who can work with you to quickly complete the claim process.

How to Get a Contents Insurance Quote
Contact your agent if you want to shop for the best coverage at the best price, or you know you need more personal property insurance.

Because independent agents can access multiple insurance companies and policy types, they have the ability to compare policies and quotes and customize affordable rates based on your needs. Your agent also can assess how much coverage you need for your specific items of value.

Protect the Property that Makes Your House a Home
Your home – and its contents – give comfort to your family and make your house more than just a roof over your head. Your belongings and treasures transform your house into your home and provide the quality of life you are accustomed to. Many of us don’t stop to assess the value and importance of our belongings until something happens to them. Be prepared, and don’t let unexpected events derail you financially.