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

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.


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.


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]