Managing Disability Challenges
Employer interest in integrated disability management programs is on the rise. But despite the interest, many professionals are unsure where to start.
Making it more complicated is the fact that such programs can take many different forms, depending on a company’s needs and pain points.
“If you think of a big software or internet provider, what’s driving lost time there is very different from what’s driving costs for a manufacturing company,” said Phil Bruen, vice president and practice leader, disability and absence growth strategies for MetLife.
“The exposures are different, the workforce is different; there are different skills in different environments.”
Age factors in as well. In a tech company, there may be a higher proportion of millennials, for example. That could mean less frequent or severe injury claims, but more requests for maternity or paternity leave.
With an aging workforce, on the other hand, employers can expect more chronic conditions and musculoskeletal injuries. Duration of leave may be longer, and effective return-to-work planning will be more critical.
“The skills those folks have are so hard to replace, the employer is going to focus on how to get those people back to work quickly, on a temporary basis if necessary, or through other accommodations,” Bruen said.
Raytheon and Textron, two distinctly different companies, recently detailed their respective integrated disability programs during a webinar. While there were some key similarities in execution, the company programs had different structures.
Raytheon, a technology company specializing in defense, civil government and cyber security, with 61,000 employees worldwide, focuses on unifying and streamlining the disability management process across four distinct business units, which recently was consolidated down from seven.
Previously, each unit had a different management model in place — some were nurse-run, others were driven by human resources, still others a mix of the two.
With the consolidation, the company shifted to a nurse-run model, said Tina Romain, Raytheon’s human resource absence manager.
Romain worked with MetLife to build claims teams assigned to each unit to handle short-term and long-term disability benefits.
Under Romain’s direction, Raytheon also assembled a “Lost Time Intervention Team,” composed of the company’s absence management team, representatives from either MetLife (their disability insurer) or Liberty Mutual (their workers’ compensation insurer), and the company’s health care vendor.
The team regularly studies all open cases and identifies possible return-to-work paths for each employee, as well as available services that the employee can utilize, such as wellness programs.
“The skills those folks have are so hard to replace, the employer is going to focus on how to get those people back to work quickly.” — Phil Bruen, vice president, MetLife
The increased emphasis on safe return-to-work planning resulted in 26 percent of all employees who returned to work in 2014 doing so with some type of modification or accommodation.
Compliance with Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act — with their web of regulations that seems to grow more complex each year as amendments are discussed and court cases set precedent — was a critical focus of the program overhaul.
The implementation of a centralized data tracking and reporting system made it easy to track and categorize all claims correctly, ensuring each received the attention it required, and keeping data easily available for audits.
That system also generates monthly reports on wellness program participation, health clinic utilization, total accommodations made for short-term disability and workers’ comp claim trends.
Plus, a single HR dashboard provides an easy interface for employees to request leave or an accommodation, submit an appeal, or check on the progress of their claim.
“Open communication helped by one centralized system ensured that no one falls between the cracks,” Romain said.
The “focused and aligned partnerships with vendors saved 1,227 days [and] $323,000 in 2015 through June, over the same period in 2014,” according to Raytheon.
Textron launched its integrated program slightly differently. The $13.9 billion multi-industry company consists of aircraft, defense intelligence, industrial and finance businesses. Textron Aviation is the only segment to tackle an integrated disability program thus far, although the company hopes to expand the program to other units.
MetLife’s Bruen said that a “pilot program” approach is a good way to develop best practices before attempting to integrate disability management across an entire company.
The occupational risk profile for its 11,000 employees worldwide differs from Raytheon’s non-manufacturing business. In addition, half of its workforce is over 45 years of age, a population that constituted 67 percent of the company’s disability claims.
“On the workers’ comp, occupational side, we’re very good,” said Penny Gilbert, manager of health services for Textron Aviation. “We’ve increased our focus on the non-occupational side in 2009, and we’re getting better and better.”
Similar to Raytheon, Textron Aviation created an integrated reporting dashboard that tracks and generates reports on frequency, severity and cost for both occupational and non-occupational claims. Those metrics are benchmarked against Textron’s other business units and against wider industry trends.
“Open communication helped by one centralized system ensured that no one falls between the cracks.” — Tina Romain, human resource absence manager, Raytheon
Open and regular communication on open claims and return-to-work opportunities is also key, among the integrated disability management team, corporate representatives, vendors and a corporate medical consultant.
A decision to formalize the return-to-work process led to the utilization of functional capacity evaluations, which offer “a clearer understanding of the physical demands and limitations,” Gilbert said.
Since 2009, the integrated program has achieved a 60 percent reduction in lost time days, reduced average length of short-term disability claims by four days, and average costs per claim that are 56 percent lower than the national average.
Targeting Unique Needs
According to Bruen of MetLife, building an integrated disability strategy depends on a company’s specific drivers of lost time, and the unique “constellation of resources available are different for every company.”
As with any major organizational change, leadership buy-in is critical. Any goals of an integrated disability program — whether it is reduced cost per claim, fewer claims overall or faster return to work — must align with executives’ broader goals and priorities for the organization.
“Organizational silos are also a barrier,” Bruen said. “Sometimes structure can get in the way.”