DMEC 2017

Shift in Trends Dominates DMEC

The changing landscape of mandated leave laws and increased interest in paid parental leave were top of mind for employers attending DMEC in Anaheim this month.
By: | August 4, 2017 • 4 min read

The integration of workers’ compensation with non-occupational disability and leave programs, although incrementally expanding, is taking a backseat to employer strategies for managing an ever-growing array of mandated leave benefits.


Compliance efforts to avoid running afoul of federal enforcement efforts — which have increasingly leveled discrimination complaints against employers for, say, differences in their occupational and non-occupational return-to-work programs — are helping drive the current trend of integrated absence management.

Employee recruitment and retention strategies in the face of a tightening labor market are also fueling the current integrated absence management trend.

That trend, while often excluding workers’ comp, more typically encompasses integration of all other programs administering employee leaves, including those offered under short- and long-term disability plans.

In addition to helping administer hundreds of state and federal leave mandates, like the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers’ integration efforts help reduce violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Those are the conclusions of several observers attending the Disability Management Employer Coalition’s 2017 Annual Conference held July 31-Aug. 3, in Anaheim, California.

Sophisticated employers have not altogether stopped integrating workers’ comp with non-occupational disability and leave programs.

Terri Rhodes, CEO, Disability Management Employer Coalition

In fact, some workers’ comp third party administrators serving large employers are busy building services that will allow them to help clients integrate workers’ comp, non-occupational disability and leave programs, conference attendees said.

They are doing so as some potential clients are demanding requests for proposal that demonstrate the TPA’s ability to help integrate all of those moving parts.

Yet the integration of workers’ comp with non-occupational disability and leave offerings is occurring only incrementally, said a TPA representative who asked not to be identified because they did not have corporate permission to speak publicly.

Other DMEC conference participants agreed that only a limited number of employers continue to explore combining aspects of their workers’ comp with non-occupational disability and leave benefits in an integrated absence management strategy.

“I think there are still programs that are looking for that level of connection,” said Joanne Archer, national account executive at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Combining workers’ comp “is still a consideration when you are looking at integrated absence management.”

St. Joseph Health, for instance, is currently analyzing its absence management and workers’ comp programs to better understand the potential benefits from integrating, said Judie Tsanopoulos, director of workers’ comp and loss control for the Irvine, Calif.-based integrated health care system.

While doing that, St. Joseph will also evaluate how its other efforts, such as its workplace injury prevention and wellness programs, would play a role in an integration strategy.

“Because if we keep those siloed we are not really getting the full, comprehensive benefit of the approach,” Tsanopoulos said.

Expanding Benefit Portfolios

Overall, employers are giving greater attention to complying with mandated leave laws than to integrating aspects of their workers’ comp program. But mandates are not the only reason employers are integrating leave and disability plans.

Given a tight labor market, some employers are voluntarily bolstering leave offerings, providing paid parental leave, for example, to help recruit and retain valuable employees.

Discussions about paid parental leave previously focused on whether such a benefit was justified, said Abigail O’Connell, compliance consultant and counsel, group protection at Lincoln Financial Group. Now, however, those discussions have shifted to focus on how to provide it.

“There are a significant amount of companies that are putting in paid parental leave,” agreed Terri Rhodes, DMEC’s CEO. It’s a trend Rhodes has seen pick up during the past year.

Overall demand for services helping employers manage absences of all types are expanding, several conference attendees said.

Given a tight labor market, some employers are voluntarily bolstering leave offerings, providing paid parental leave, for example, to help recruit and retain valuable employees.

When Lincoln Financial rolled out an absence management program about four years ago it expected that mostly larger employers would demand the service, said Darla Roche, Lincoln Financial’s assistant VP of absence management.

But now more smaller employers, those with as few as 200 employees, are looking for those services, Roche said.

Employers are also looking to improve productivity while helping employees understand the full array of leave options.


“With the more resurgent economy and the more taxed labor force, employers are really looking to add to their benefit portfolios for employees,” Archer said. “They are looking to also help employees … navigate through all of the complexities of varying leave laws, regulations and policies.”

An integrated absence management strategy that reduces corporate silos traditionally separating disparate departments managing non-occupational disability and various leaves can help meet those goals, several DMEC conference attendees said.

Integration can also prevent EEOC enforcement litigation by helping assure various disability programs — whether for occupational or non-occupational injuries and illnesses — are consistent across all corporate benefit offerings.

There has been “case after case,” involving the EECO investigating for disability discrimination when employers offer return-to-work programs that differ depending on whether illnesses or injuries are occupational or non-occupational, said Bryon Bass, senior VP, disability and absence practice & compliance at Sedgwick.

“If you have a return-to-work program on the occupational side, it should be similar on the non-occ side,” Bass said. “There should be similar or the same opportunities.”

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 Management

The Profession

As risk manager for a cloud computing and software company, Laurie LeLack knows that the interconnected economy and cyber security remain top risks.
By: | December 14, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

One of my first jobs was actually at a local insurance agency when I was a high school student, before I had any idea I was going to get into insurance. After college, I was a claims analyst at Sunbeam.

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

I fell into it after college, where I studied international business. I had a stack of resumes, and Sunbeam came to Florida from Rhode Island, so I applied. I interviewed with the director of risk management and just stuck with it and worked my way up.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?


Getting a holistic view of risk. Risk managers are understanding how to get all stakeholders together, so we understand how each risk is aligned. In my view, that’s the only way to properly protect and serve our organizations.

R&I: What could the risk management community do better?

We’ve come a long way, but we still have to continue breaking down silos at organizations. You also have to make sure you really understand your business model and your story so you can communicate that effectively to your broker or carrier. Without full understanding of your business, you can’t assess your exposures.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Being on the East Coast, I like Philadelphia.

Laurie LeLack, Senior Director, Corporate Risk and Americas Real Estate, Citrix Systems Inc.

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

Organizations understanding their cyber risk exposures and how this line of insurance can best protect them. Five to ten years ago, people shrugged it off as something just for technologies companies. But you can really see the trend ticking up as a must-have. It was always something that was needed, but people came to their own defining moments as we got more involved in electronic content and social media globally. Cyber risk is inherent in the way we do business today.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

The advent of security and contractual obligations. These are concerns as we all play a part in this big web of a global economy. There’s that downstream effect — who’s going to be best insulated at the end of the day should something transpire, and did we set the right expectations?

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?


I think so. At the end of the day, it’s all about the transparency you’re getting from the people you work with. I think some best practices in transparency came out of the situation, but we were working on a fee basis, so it wasn’t as much of an issue for us as it may have been for other companies.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

I’m cautiously optimistic. We seem to be stable in terms of growth, and I’m hoping that the efficiencies and the economies of scale we achieve through technology will benefit us. But I’m also worried about the impact that could have on the number of jobs globally.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

Robert O’Connor, my former director when I was first on-boarded at Sunbeam, gave me so many valuable tidbits. I’ll call him to this day if I have an idea I want to bounce off him. He’s a good source of comfort and guidance.

R&I: Of what accomplishment are you most proud?

I have two very empathetic, healthy and happy boys. Eleven and soon-to-be 14.

On the professional side, there were a lot of moments during my career at Citrix where we were running a very lean organization, so I had the opportunity to get involved in many different projects that I probably wouldn’t have had in other larger organizations.

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

My favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

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

A place in Santa Barbara called Bouchon.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?


Caverns in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They were interesting. It was cool to see these stalagmites and stalactites that have been growing for millions of years, and then just above ground there are homes from the 1950s.

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

Riding on the back of my husband’s Harley.

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

I like educating people and helping them find their ‘aha’ moment when you highlight areas of risk they may not have thought about. It allows people to broaden their horizons a little bit when we talk about risk and try to explore it from a different angle. I try not to be the person who always says “No” because it’s too risky, but find solutions that everyone is comfortable with given a risk profile.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I tell my kids I protect people and property and sometimes the things you can’t feel or touch.

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]