Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

2016 Outlook: Disability and Absence Management

By: | February 1, 2016 • 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.

The disability and absence management landscape continues to experience rapid change. The driving forces are legal and regulatory and a shift in social attitudes about work-life balance. It can be a challenge to keep up; however, there is also great opportunity for disability and absence management professionals to expand their skills and increase their value.

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Here are five trends to watch for in 2016:

Paid Leave: A True National Issue

If paid family and sick leave were issues in 2015, they will be the issues of 2016.  More large employers will follow the likes of Netflix, Facebook, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Amazon, and other leading companies to implement or expand their own leave policies.

And there will be even more efforts to pass paid leave laws in cities and states, including Washington, D.C. and Maryland. Perhaps as important, the democratic presidential nominee will seek to build on FMLA and make paid federal leave a significant campaign issue.

This means more complex process management, heightened compliance demands, and increased public attention to organizations that come under legal or other scrutiny. 2016 is the year in which large numbers of disability and absence management professionals become leave law experts.

ADA Administration Drives Increased Partnering

As with FMLA, more employees than ever are aware of their rights under the ADA. As a result, growing numbers of employers will look to their current short-term disability (STD), long-term disability (LTD) insurance and FMLA partners to help them manage the ADA process.

There are tools and resources, including automated software systems, to help employers manage the accommodation requests and processes associated with ADA. These tools are increasingly cost effective. We will continue to see an increase in partnering to manage growing employee awareness and the accompanying compliance demands.

Workforce Well-Being Moves Front and Center

The Affordable Care Act has given a large and sustained push to preventing illness. This directly impacts the absence and/or disability that accompanies those illnesses.

From gym memberships as a nice employee benefit to workforce well-being, it has moved to a key tool in controlling health care costs. Disability and absence management professionals are being called on to play a larger role in designing and implementing these programs. That will accelerate in 2016.

In addition, an even larger part of workplace well-being will be an emphasis on behavioral health. More disability and absence management professionals, as well as health practitioners, understand the connection between the mind and body in absence, disability, and overall health.

Depression and other mental health issues are increasingly recognized as topics of major concern when it comes to employee well-being. Attention given to these areas brings lower health-related costs, including those related productivity.

Expanded Professional Opportunities

As leave and health care change, absence and disability professionals are confronted with significant new demands. They need to be aware of laws and regulations and new approaches to minimizing health care costs.

In progressive companies, this translates into organization-wide cooperation that enables disability professionals to collaborate with different departments.

This presents professionals with tremendous opportunities to expand their networks, skills, and credentials. 2016 will see at least one new professional designation.

With it and the continued accumulation of new skills, disability and absence management professionals will add more value to their organizations. The result will be a new level of professional and personal rewards.

Increase in Strategic Enforcement From the EEOC

The EEOC’s interest has shifted from individual violations to more systemic workplace discrimination and this includes pregnancy discrimination. Systemic investigations and cases are effective at addressing workplace discrimination issues on a broad scale in an industry, profession, company, or even a specific geographic area.

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The EEOC issued guidance making clear that failing to accommodate pregnant employees may expose employers to Americans with Disabilities Act claims based on temporary disabilities caused by pregnancy.

So what does this mean for you in 2016?  Employers will need to ensure they are paying attention to policies, practices, and processes for employees taking leave.

Leave has become a political and social issue. It, along with all forms of absence and disability, have caught the attention of many in the “C suite”. That means we will all hear more about these topics in 2016.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]