Comcast’s Scott Daniels Details What’s in Store for the Future of Absence Management

New laws and rapidly evolving employee needs are changing how employers execute and deliver disability and leave-of-absence programs.
By: | November 7, 2019

During the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo, Scott Daniels, the senior director of disability benefits for Comcast, tackled the topic of absence management.

In his discussion, “A Futuristic Look at Disability and Absence Management,” Daniels reiterated the challenges of managing absence in today’s regulatory climate. New laws and rapidly evolving employee needs are changing how employers execute and deliver disability and leave-of-absence programs.

According to Daniels, though, emerging leave benefits will redefine holistic absence programs. New programs can even bolster the employer experience and help attract and retain talent.

Here are some of the key takeaways from his NWCDC session.

The Current Landscape

“Absence management is more complicated than it used to be,” Daniels said as he opened his talk.

From the employee to the doctors, TPAs and insurance carriers — employees going out on some type of absence program are immediately immersed into this world of uncertainty.

To demonstrate just how complicated absence management can be, Daniels listed nine areas of leave that are currently available to employees:

  • Short-term disability
  • Long-term disability
  • Workers’ compensation
  • FMLA
  • Parental leave
  • Caregiver leave
  • Workplace accommodations
  • Paid family leave
  • Bereavement

Just looking at the first two, short-term and long-term disability, that’s already two different types of leave with their own set of standards.

Now add in FMLA.

“That really changed the way employees can take leave,” said Daniels. “It built an industry, which was a win for vendor partners and the supplier industry. But it also complicated things. Now we have to determine if it’s disability versus FMLA. Or could [the leave] overlap both?”

Daniels reiterated just how complicated it can be on the employer side as well.

“Every state is starting to launch its own set of laws on these different types of leave,” he said.

“That’s incredibly challenging and incredibly daunting for employers who have business operating out of several states.”

Evolving Considerations

The benefit strategy within companies is shifting, said Daniels. Employers are reviewing several areas within their business in order to update and maintain their absence and disability management programs.

Here are some of those considerations.

  • Health and wellness: Traditionally, employers offered a health plan and called it a day. Now, they are starting to add in items like health and wellness centers. Daniels said this is likely a two-fold effort to 1) invest in employee health and 2) bolster return-to-work programs.
  • Changing workforce: Younger generations are entering into the workforce, and they want different things. “They want different benefits, they want flexibility,” explained Daniels. “Compensation is not the only thing important to our employee-base.”
  • Increased need for compliance: With each new adoption of absence and leave laws, every company is working to stay compliant. But Daniels added that “it’s not just the litigation piece we should be focused on; this can be a public relations nightmare.” He believes this is the number one driver of change in the absence space.
  • Gig economy: Not only are the workers younger, but they are choosing to be their own boss by joining the gig economy. That’s impacting the way employers approach their programs.

What Does the Future Hold for Absence Management?

For Daniels, there are seven areas that are likely to have an impact on the future of absence management:

1) Analytics

“Big data is here,” said Daniels. “Data is trying to tell a business’ story. Analytics companies are being utilized to help tell that story in order to help companies come up with better solutions.”

2) Technology

Daniels specifically talked about on-demand information.

“I expect we will have these educational-types of information so that employees can have what they need when they need it.”

The goal: To have a tool that can explain each disability and leave type and how the laws and rules interact with each other.

3) Communications

“As the leave regulatory landscape becomes harder to navigate, communication has to get easier,” said Daniels.

In conjunction with technology, Daniels believes communication will also become easier.

4) Employee Population

Because leave is such a hot topic, especially when it comes to paid family leave, Daniels said the best advice he could give employers is to prepare to see more usage of leave programs by employees. Where once these employees were taking unpaid time, there are now options available to be paid while absent.

This, he said, is likely to correspond with the employee population within a company. Aging workforce members could potentially have an increase in disability leave. Younger generations may be advocating for longer family leave as well.

5) Health 

Keeping workers healthier, investing in health can both 1) keep them from getting sick or hurt or 2) help get them back to work quicker and healthier. Daniels also expects this to be a big part of absence management moving forward.

6) Business evolution

Businesses are working to keep up with changing times. Daniels used Comcast as an example.

Five years ago, Comcast didn’t have any Xfinity stores. Now, he said, there are 250+ stores across the country. This opened up a big opportunity for Comcast.

“With the advent of these stores, it was an opportunity to bring people temporarily out on leave and place them into the stores as a temporary placement,” explained Daniels. This shifted Comcast’s overall approach to disability absence management and has shown positive results.

7) Paid Family Leave

“This type of leave has been debated for quite some time,” said Daniels.

What complicated paid family leave is how it is funded per state. Some have it entirely employer funded while others have it employer funded by way of additional taxes. Others even have a shared fund.

Added to that, eligibility of paid family leave is expanding. More and more people are being covered under this type of leave.

Yet “despite the complexity paid family leave presents, this is a good benefit,” Daniels said.

“We can spin this benefit in a positive light for our employees. The absence management space can then start to change for employees from this idea of  ‘when do I hire a lawyer’ to ‘my employer really cares about me.’ ” &

Autumn Demberger is the content strategist at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

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