DMEC 2018

5 Reasons Employers Say DMEC Is a Must-Attend Event

Employers look to the DMEC conference to share real-world problems and solutions with their peers in the trenches.
By: | August 8, 2018 • 3 min read

The Disability Management Employer Coalition, or DMEC, annual conference draws faithful followers who return year after year while also attracting a steady stream of new participants.


DMEC’s annual conference has grown from 110 attendees in 1996, when it first launched, to the nearly 800 who gathered August 6 through 9 in Austin, Texas. A few employers in attendance know exactly why this conference is a must-see every year.

1) DMEC Offers Learning Opportunities

Employer compliance requirements keep growing increasingly challenging as state and local governments pile on more and more family and medical leave type laws.

Add in the Americans with Disabilities Act and employers need a place to learn about the most recent legislation, court decisions and regulations they’re required to stay on top of.

“It is really, really confusing and really difficult for employers to manage all of that,” said Kimberly N. Mashburn, national accounts practice lead, group benefits at The Hartford.

“One of the hallmarks of DMEC is making sure we keep employers up-to-date on changing legislation for leave management, Family and Medical Leave Act and now all of the municipal leaves, the state leaves and all of the paid family leaves coming into play,” added Mashburn, who is also a DMEC board member.

2) Great Place to Share Ideas That Work

Compliance isn’t employers’ only concern with so many leave and disability regulations. Maintaining a productive workforce is challenging when the laws allow employees so much time away from work.

Which brings us to a second reason for DMEC’s popularity. The conference provides an employer forum for sharing ideas on what strategies work for managing all those leaves and the disabilities that cause absences.

“I am the only one who does what I do where I work,” said Jenny Haykin, integrated leaves & accommodation program manager at Puget Sound Energy in Washington state.

“So having the opportunity to connect with other people in different organizations trying to accomplish the same things I am trying to accomplish, and hearing about what they have done and what works and what doesn’t work — that is all fantastic,” Haykin said.

3) Topics Are Relevant for an Employer’s Day-to-Day

DMEC chairwoman

Marcia Carruthers, co-founder and board chairwoman, DMEC

A third reason DMEC’s annual conference appeals to disability management professionals: the attendees and speakers keep it real, addressing tangible topics that commonly concern employers.

“What I really like about DMEC is this is where you meet all the worker bees, the people who really make it happen,” said Gary Anderberg, senior VP, claim analytics at Gallagher Bassett. “They have disability dirt under their fingernails. They know what they are doing. These are the people I like to listen to. These are people who are talking about real things happening to real people.”

This year’s conference topics included the complexities of reasonable accommodation, predicting and reducing disability absence, and the changing workforce and benefit design.

“We have far less talk about theory and far more talk about what worked and what didn’t, the results, and ‘this is how we did it,’ ” Anderberg explained.

4) DMEC Has a Willingness to Lead on Topics Generating Employee Disabilities 

A stigma around mental health prevents many employers from talking about the topic, even though it’s a costly employee disability driver. DMEC has long been at the forefront of educating employers on helping employees cope with mental health issues that cause absences and productivity distractions.


Mental health challenges are a huge cost driver for employers, so DMEC continually educates on the topic, said Marcia Carruthers, DMEC co-founder and board chairwoman.

“We keep pushing it and keep pushing it out and pushing it out,” she said.

This year’s conference, for example, included a session titled “Mental Health in the Workplace: The Invisible Disability Now Visible.”

One in four employees experience a mental health issue during any given year, presenter Rachael A. Shaw, president of Shaw HR Consulting Inc., told DMEC. Employees suffering from depression, she added, miss 27 days per year due to absenteeism or presenteeism, meaning they are not focused on the job when they are at work.

5) Networking

Last, but certainly not least, attendees include a good mix of employers and service providers and the space for problem-solving discussions. &

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Focus: Workers' Comp

Do You Have Employees or Gig Workers?

The number of gig economy workers is growing in the U.S. But their classification as contractors leaves many without workers’ comp, unemployment protection or other benefits.
By: and | July 30, 2018 • 5 min read

A growing number of Americans earn their living in the gig economy without employer-provided benefits and protections such as workers’ compensation.


With the proliferation of on-demand services powered by digital platforms, questions surrounding who does and does not actually work in the gig economy continue to vex stakeholders. Courts and legislators are being asked to decide what constitutes an employee and what constitutes an independent contractor, or gig worker.

The issues are how the worker is paid and who controls the work process, said Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney specializing in workers’ compensation law with a client roster in the trucking industry.

The common law test, he said, the same one the IRS uses, considers “whose tools and whose materials are used. Whether the employer is telling the worker how to do the job on a minute-to-minute basis. Whether the worker is paid by the hour or by the job. Whether he’s free to work for someone else.”

Legal challenges have occurred, starting with lawsuits against transportation network companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft. Several court cases in recent years have come down on the side of allowing such companies to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors.

Those decisions are significant for TNCs, because the gig model relies on the lower labor cost of independent contractors. Classification as an employee adds at least 30 percent to labor costs.

The issues lie with how a worker is paid and who controls the work process. — Bobby Bollinger, a North Carolina attorney

However, a March 2018 California Supreme Court ruling in a case involving delivery drivers for Dynamex went the other way. The Dynamex decision places heavy emphasis on whether the worker is performing a core function of the business.

Under the Dynamex court’s standard, an electrician called to fix a wiring problem at an Uber office would be considered a general contractor. But a driver providing rides to customers would be part of the company’s central mission and therefore an employee.

Despite the California ruling, a Philadelphia court a month later declined to follow suit, ruling that Uber’s limousine drivers are independent contractors, not employees. So a definitive answer remains elusive.

A Legislative Movement

Misclassification of workers as independent contractors introduces risks to both employers and workers, said Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust.

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered.”

Misclassifying workers opens a “Pandora’s box” for employers, said Richard R. Meneghello, partner, Fisher Phillips.

Issues include tax liabilities, claims for minimum wage and overtime violations, workers’ comp benefits, civil labor law rights and wrongful termination suits.

The motive for companies seeking the contractor definition is clear: They don’t have to pay for benefits, said Meneghello. “But from a legal perspective, it’s not so easy to turn the workforce into contractors.”

“My concern is for individuals who believe they’re covered under workers’ compensation, have an injury, try to file a claim and find they’re not covered in the eyes of the state.” — Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

It’s about to get easier, however. In 2016, Handy — which is being sued in five states for misclassification of workers — drafted a N.Y. bill to establish a program where gig-economy companies would pay 2.5 percent of workers’ income into individual health savings accounts, yet would classify them as independent contractors.

Unions and worker advocacy groups argue the program would rob workers of rights and protections. So Handy moved on to eight other states where it would be more likely to win.


So far, the Handy bills have passed one house of the legislature in Georgia and Colorado; passed both houses in Iowa and Tennessee; and been signed into law in Kentucky, Utah and Indiana. A similar bill was also introduced in Alabama.

The bills’ language says all workers who find jobs through a website or mobile app are independent contractors, as long as the company running the digital platform does not control schedules, prohibit them from working elsewhere and meets other criteria. Two bills exclude transportation network companies such as Uber.

These laws could have far-reaching consequences. Traditional service companies will struggle to compete with start-ups paying minimal labor costs.

Opponents warn that the Handy bills are so broad that a service company need only launch an app for customers to contract services, and they’d be free to re-classify their employees as independent contractors — leaving workers without social security, health insurance or the protections of unemployment insurance or workers’ comp.

That could destabilize social safety nets as well as shrink available workers’ comp premiums.

A New Classification

Independent contractors need to buy their own insurance, including workers’ compensation. But many don’t, said Hart Brown, executive vice president, COO, Firestorm. They may not realize that in the case of an accident, their personal car and health insurance won’t engage, Brown said.

Matt Zender, vice president, workers’ compensation product manager, AmTrust

Workers’ compensation for gig workers can be hard to find. Some state-sponsored funds provide self-employed contractors’ coverage.  Policies can be expensive though in some high-risk occupations, such as roofing, said Bollinger.

The gig system, where a worker does several different jobs for several different companies, breaks down without portable benefits, said Brown. Portable benefits would follow workers from one workplace engagement to another.

What a portable benefits program would look like is unclear, he said, but some combination of employers, independent contractors and intermediaries (such as a digital platform business or staffing agency) would contribute to the program based on a percentage of each transaction.

There is movement toward portable benefits legislation. The Aspen Institute proposed portable benefits where companies contribute to workers’ benefits based on how much an employee works for them. Uber and SEI together proposed a portable benefits bill to the Washington State Legislature.


Senator Mark Warner (D. VA) introduced the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Pilot Program Act for the study of portable benefits, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D. WA) introduced a House companion bill.

Meneghello is skeptical of portable benefits as a long-term solution. “They’re a good first step,” he said, “but they paper over the problem. We need a new category of workers.”

A portable benefits model would open opportunities for the growing Insurtech market. Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit, estimates the gig economy to be about 34 percent of the workforce in 2018, growing to 43 percent by 2020.

The insurance industry reinvented itself from a risk transfer mechanism to a risk management mechanism, Brown said, and now it’s reinventing itself again as risk educator to a new hybrid market. &

Susannah Levine writes about health care, education and technology. She can be reached at [email protected] Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]