Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

2017 Forecasts for Absence and Disability

By: | January 25, 2017 • 3 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

Paid Family Leave

2016 was the year of paid family leave. While the chance of change at the federal level is unlikely, paid family leave remains the top absence and disability management trend of 2017. Work-life balance is especially important to younger employees, while the labor market continues to tighten. Thus, increasing numbers of large employers are offering paid parental leave as a central recruitment and retention strategy. We’ll see more of this in 2017.

Even more important, localities and states continue to pass paid family leave laws. New York City and San Francisco already have such laws. In 2016, California, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island were joined by the District of Columbia (D.C.) with paid leave laws. What is especially noteworthy about D.C.’s law is that it is funded by a tax on employers. The millions of dollars in revenue will be used to set up a separate department to administer the paid parental leave law. If this is imitated in other jurisdictions, it could have major ramifications for the “who pays” dimension of paid leave.

Paid Sick Leave

Over the last several years, paid sick leave laws have ranked high as a continued trend in absence management. Five states, 29 cities, two counties, and Washington, D.C. have some form of a paid sick leave law. We believe there are more to come with legislation pending in more than 25 states. Most paid leave laws offer job-protected absences and/or layer on top of other job-protected leaves, which provide a host of administrative issues. The laws themselves often differ in important ways. Those employers operating in a multi-state environment are left with an array of laws and regulations with which to comply. This will be a key issue in 2017.

Outsourcing ADA

Outsourcing absence management has steadily increased over the last several years, with ADA outsourcing now leading the way in growth. Technology has changed the cost equation. According to the 2016 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey, even employers with fewer than 250 employees are outsourcing. The most common outsourced programs are state and federal FMLA. From FMLA, it is a natural leap to look for help managing ADA obligations. Medical information for documentation is similar for both laws. We will see this outsourcing trend continue in 2017.

Vendor Engagement

Vendor engagement emerged as a trend in 2016 and will come into its own this year with growing implementation of vendor summits.  Summits allow vendors to better learn the needs of employers and capabilities of other vendors. All concerned can step out of silos and look at absence and disability management in a holistic way. This can result in more efficiency and improved services. Summits help move relationships from “vendor” to “partner,” and we anticipate more employers will take this approach.

Workplace Mental Health

2016 witnessed both vendors and employers more focused on finding solutions to growing awareness of workplace mental health issues. At the 2016 DMEC Annual Conference, we dedicated a full-day preconference workshop to workplace mental health topics and discussion. 2017 will see even greater efforts to develop and implement behavioral health strategies. We also hope to see less stigma in mental illness.

Absence Management Professionals

Finally, we will continue to experience professionalization of absence and disability management in 2017. This has been and will continue to be driven by the growth and complexity of leave laws.  Adding value in these circumstances requires continuous learning.  Conferences, seminars, and professional designations like the new Certified Leave Management Specialist (CLMS) program give those in the field the tools to excel.

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The labor market should continue to tighten in 2017. That means richer benefits, increased employee mobility and higher costs for employers. Now more than ever, it is important for absence and disability management professionals to learn and use innovative skills and programs to help lower those costs. For those who do, 2017 should be a year of greater professional and personal rewards.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]