Canadian Underwriter

One business interruption risk from COVID-19 that your clients may overlook

March 11, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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Will your business get interrupted because people working from home due to COVID-19 cannot log into their computer systems?

“If you are asking staff to work from home, make sure that the technology systems to enable them to do that can handle the extra network traffic that mass telecommuting can mean,” said James Crask, London-based head of resilience advisory consulting at Marsh Inc. on Wednesday during Managing COVID-19’s Continuing Effects, a webcast hosted by Marsh.

The World Health Organization says COVID-19 is officially a pandemic, the Canadian Press reported Wednesday. More than 40 people in Canada are confirmed to have the disease. Although most recover without severe symptoms, the deaths and serious illnesses from the disease have prompted a wave of precautions to limit the spread.

Risk managers need to predict what their organizations might be facing in the next few days and weeks, and what resources they should have available mitigate the risk of business interruption, Crask suggested Wednesday during the Marsh webcast.

“If you need more bandwidth in your (computer and telecommunications) network systems, make sure you can get it now. Because when you move to working from home, you could end up disrupting the business with people not being able to log on,” said Crask.

“The issues we are facing today are partly supply chain related for businesses and partly about the movement of people.”

Crask was asked to identify the most important things risk managers should do now to ensure their organization’s resilience in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would encourage people to think of some of the worst-case scenarios,” said Crask. “For example, what happens if you lose large a proportion of your work force, say 30%, for a temporary period? That could be a result of people getting sick themselves or self-quarantining or even because schools are closed and employees need to take care of children at home.”

Related: Three strategies to help insurance pros deal with coronavirus anxiety

Also on the call was Renata Elias, vice president and senior consultant for Marsh Risk Consulting. Elias was asked how organizations should prepare for employees who need to stay at home to look after their kids.

First ask whether the worker can do their job from home, replied Elias. If not, then ask whether the business can have its workers do different shifts so they can manage their work and family.

“Ask yourself, what are your minimum required staffing levels for those critical business functions that you need to keep going in order to keep operating?”

Then ask whether the employees have enough leave to cover staying at home – and if not consider changing your leave policy so they do, suggested Elias.

If your organization does not pay its employees for time away from work, those workers might return before they should, warned Kelly Thoerig, Marsh’s managing director of employment practices liability.

“I think events over the last two weeks have affirmed that this is a global emergency with significant repercussions for business and the global economy more broadly,” said Crask. “What I found astonishing was how quickly Italy took the decision to quarantine an entire country.”

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