Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Five Leading Trends in Managing Leaves of Absence

By: | March 7, 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.

I have said this before, but will say it again. The way employers manage their obligations under state and federal law is changing, and it is more complex than ever before.

Federal programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been joined by state, county and city leave laws that overlay federal programs with paid sick leave and paid family leave requirements.

The good news is that employers are meeting the challenges these complex regulations bring and, in many cases, using them as an opportunity to implement deeper enhancements to their programs to both increase employee productivity and lower absence and disability costs.

These efforts are highlighted in the “2016 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey.” This broad picture of positive change can be seen in the top five leave management trends found in the report.

Outsourcing. Satisfaction with outsourcing is high, as employers believe it improves compliance, customer service and efficiency. More employers are outsourcing FMLA management, while ADA accommodation outsourcing is still in its infancy. Many employers are turning to their existing vendor partners to integrate short-term and long-term disability with FMLA, and an increasing number of employers are also including employee assistance programs (EAPs) in this integration.

Advertisement




Training. Even as employers are better able to manage leaves, they believe more training is necessary. Mandatory manager training and more online tools are preferable solutions. Respondents also believe training and other resources should be extended to legal staff, consultants and third-party administrators.

Uniform Policies. Uniformity and centralization, which continue to increase, move employers to a more total absence management approach. Legal resources to achieve uniformity and centralization are provided in-house for large employers, while smaller employers (fewer than 500 employees) are more likely to use external legal counsel. These types of activities improve an employer’s preparedness for U.S. DOL and EEOC inquiries.

I have said this before, but will say it again. The way employers manage their obligations under state and federal law is changing, and it is more complex than ever before.

Technology. Employer use of automated systems for FMLA management continues to grow. A slowly increasing number of employers are using data feeds rather than manual updates to their HRIS, time and attendance, and payroll systems. Employers believe automation reduces the time and resource burden, and provides much needed regulatory expertise. Reports are easier to produce and provide more useful and actionable data.

Advertisement




Paid Leave. Employers are constructing leave programs more generous than required as they rely on external legal counsel to guide them. For those employers that currently offer paid family care leave, the overwhelming majority (78 percent) have paid leave programs that include both parental leave and other family member leave, and 77 percent of respondents apply paid leave to all employees in their organizations.

Employers increasingly view paid leave as an important way to attract and keep talent, especially in a tightening labor market. While it certainly has a compliance element, it is also increasingly viewed as a competitive advantage and tool to help drive deeper changes in absence and disability management practices.

While a federal paid leave law is not on the immediate horizon, employee leave will continue to influence employers, HR, absence, and disability management professionals as well as legal strategies.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

In the Fast-Paced World of Retail, This Risk Manager Strives to Mitigate Risks Proactively and Keep Senior Leaders Informed

Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

Advertisement




R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

Advertisement




R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at kdwyer@lrp.com.