Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Embrace Integration to Benefit From It

By: | December 22, 2015 • 2 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.

Integrated Absence Management (IAM) is defined as one seamless program encompassing disability, leave administration, ADA compliance and workers’ compensation. More advanced programs may include health, wellness and Employee Assistance Programs.


As benefits and risk managers contemplate this topic, the discussion tends to bounce between the ideal world and the realities of IAM. It is often difficult to agree what IAM means for an organization.

The process is not an exact science. Individual departments must work together to define roles and responsibilities. Open, active communication is critical.

For some, integration is the human resources holy grail to manage the complexity of workplace regulation, streamline employee processes and minimize the drain on productivity.

However, others maintain that this path cannot be successful and that to be self-insured and/or self-administered is the only realistic option.

Despite the challenges, companies are integrating more and more. Many carriers and third party administrators work together with great success. Generally, it is the workers’ compensation and overall risk community which struggles to see beyond its own work processes and understand the value of integration.

In many companies, the primary obstacles to success are that benefits and risk teams often work independently and fail to communicate. Some of this is deliberate, rooted in a belief in specialization.

More often than not, however, it is about fear; the fear of change, losing control or possible job loss. That’s a shame, because opportunity beckons.

Significant innovations in the disability and benefits arenas range from technologies that allow employees to report absences via an app; to new understandings of how behavioral health impacts absence; to using wellness as a preventive tool.

In many companies, the primary obstacles to success are that benefits and risk teams often work independently and fail to communicate. Some of this is deliberate, rooted in a belief in specialization.

Maximizing these innovations requires a fresh look at departments that administer absence and disability.

Ineffective communication results when different departments speak different languages with contrasting goals. Risk managers target risk, not employee benefits. Benefits managers are employee-centric and typically do not think in terms of risk.

The ideal scenario is that risk managers see the opportunity to manage risk by lending a hand in leave and disability management.

Certainly, legal liability is a growing concern, given the increased role FMLA, ADA, Employment Practices Liability (EPL), state and even local leave laws play in leave and disability management. Executives and managers need to proactively address the interplay of these programs, rather than communicating only when something “goes awry.”


Successful programs use expertise in FMLA, ADA, and related laws shared among managers of disability, benefits, and risk, while working closely with legal and even public affairs to ensure compliance. They should all be working together to anticipate and participate in relevant policy changes that impact their workforce.

Changes in health care and leave laws represent both risk and opportunity with more change and innovation occurring in the disability and benefits sectors than at any time in recent history.

Every professional (risk, benefits or HR) should be involved in assessing these changes. This can only be achieved when people work together in a systematic and deliberate way. In other words, when disability, leave, workers’ comp and risk programs are integrated.

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]