Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Five Leading Trends in Managing Leaves of Absence

By: | March 7, 2017 • 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.

I have said this before, but will say it again. The way employers manage their obligations under state and federal law is changing, and it is more complex than ever before.

Federal programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been joined by state, county and city leave laws that overlay federal programs with paid sick leave and paid family leave requirements.

The good news is that employers are meeting the challenges these complex regulations bring and, in many cases, using them as an opportunity to implement deeper enhancements to their programs to both increase employee productivity and lower absence and disability costs.

These efforts are highlighted in the “2016 DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey.” This broad picture of positive change can be seen in the top five leave management trends found in the report.

Outsourcing. Satisfaction with outsourcing is high, as employers believe it improves compliance, customer service and efficiency. More employers are outsourcing FMLA management, while ADA accommodation outsourcing is still in its infancy. Many employers are turning to their existing vendor partners to integrate short-term and long-term disability with FMLA, and an increasing number of employers are also including employee assistance programs (EAPs) in this integration.

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Training. Even as employers are better able to manage leaves, they believe more training is necessary. Mandatory manager training and more online tools are preferable solutions. Respondents also believe training and other resources should be extended to legal staff, consultants and third-party administrators.

Uniform Policies. Uniformity and centralization, which continue to increase, move employers to a more total absence management approach. Legal resources to achieve uniformity and centralization are provided in-house for large employers, while smaller employers (fewer than 500 employees) are more likely to use external legal counsel. These types of activities improve an employer’s preparedness for U.S. DOL and EEOC inquiries.

I have said this before, but will say it again. The way employers manage their obligations under state and federal law is changing, and it is more complex than ever before.

Technology. Employer use of automated systems for FMLA management continues to grow. A slowly increasing number of employers are using data feeds rather than manual updates to their HRIS, time and attendance, and payroll systems. Employers believe automation reduces the time and resource burden, and provides much needed regulatory expertise. Reports are easier to produce and provide more useful and actionable data.

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Paid Leave. Employers are constructing leave programs more generous than required as they rely on external legal counsel to guide them. For those employers that currently offer paid family care leave, the overwhelming majority (78 percent) have paid leave programs that include both parental leave and other family member leave, and 77 percent of respondents apply paid leave to all employees in their organizations.

Employers increasingly view paid leave as an important way to attract and keep talent, especially in a tightening labor market. While it certainly has a compliance element, it is also increasingly viewed as a competitive advantage and tool to help drive deeper changes in absence and disability management practices.

While a federal paid leave law is not on the immediate horizon, employee leave will continue to influence employers, HR, absence, and disability management professionals as well as legal strategies.

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.

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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.

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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]