Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Paid Leave Gets More Complicated

By: | September 25, 2017 • 4 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.

Earlier this year, I forecast the five absence and disability management trends for 2017.  One of them was paid family leave. What I didn’t know at the time was how many employers were working on developing and implementing company programs.

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DMEC has hosted several local chapter meetings in 2017, showcasing employers who recently implemented a paid family or parental leave program. At the DMEC Annual Conference, we also devoted a morning to this same topic.

The exciting thing to see was that many of these companies were not Silicon Valley or household-name employers, who typically lead the way in enhanced benefit packages. While some were large companies with well-known brands, the message was not about the size of the organization but rather the reasons for implementing a paid family leave program in their organization. These companies have a desire to do the right thing, to ensure their programs reflect their company culture, to attract new employees and retain existing employees.

According to Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans support paid leave for an employee’s own serious health condition and 82 percent support paid maternity leave, while 69 percent support paid paternity leave. And 67 percent also support paid leave to care for a seriously ill family member.

Without a national law, states, localities, and regulators continue to weigh in with new leave mandates and interpretations on how paid programs must be offered.

Some states have recently legislated paid family leave and there is more to come. Employers are grappling with the difficulties that come with continual changes in paid leave laws and regulations. This was confirmed in the latest DMEC Paid Parental Leave Pulse Survey, conducted with The Standard.

While the vast majority of employers want to implement or expand their paid family leave programs, costs and complexity create barriers. The difficulties and limitations are largely due to the lack of a federal mandate. In a 2014 study conducted by the International Labour Organization, Papua New Guinea and the United States are the only two countries, out of 185, without a national public policy for paid maternity leave. 78 of those 185 countries have a mandated paternity leave.

Without a national law, states, localities, and regulators continue to weigh in with new leave mandates and interpretations on how paid programs must be offered. For example, the EEOC recently sued Estee Lauder because the company does not provide new fathers with the same paid leave as new mothers.

In addition, state and federal FMLA laws have different regulations on who is considered a “covered family member,” and many family units now vary beyond a “one mom, one dad” structure.

All of this makes it important to define the terms as companies look to build their paid leave programs.

Paid Family Care Leave: This is defined as paid leave to care for a family member as defined by policy. This typically refers to immediate family (spouse, domestic partner, child, step relationships and parents), though it may apply to grandparents, grandchildren or in-laws depending on the policy.

Paid Parental Leave: This is defined as paid leave for new mothers, fathers, adoptive parents, primary or contingent caregivers.

Primary Caregiver: A primary caregiver is a parent, family member or guardian who has self-identified as the person who has primary responsibility for a child.

Contingent Caregiver: A contingent caregiver is a parent, family member or guardian who has self-identified as the person who supports or partners with the primary caregiver to care for a child.

Below are some other issues you should discuss if your organization is considering rolling out or upgrading a paid leave program.

Gender Equality: Social attitudes about the relationships among men, women and children continue to change. Rather than “mothers” and “fathers” with distinct roles, many people now think in terms of “parents” with shared and overlapping rights and responsibilities. The increased reality and visibility of same-sex parents has helped to accelerate this trend. As the EEOC case noted above indicates, treating people equally is always a safe route to reduce risk. It’s also increasingly important to attract top talent in a tight labor market.

Extent of Coverage: Will paid leave cover just managers? If it covers everyone, will management and non-management employees receive different types of paid leave? Again, while each organization is different, uniform policies always reduce risk (and administrative costs). They also communicate a less rigid organizational structure, and play an important part in attracting top talent in today’s competitive hiring environment.

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Full or Partial Pay: While more employers provide full paid leave, many still pay a percentage of an employee’s salary. This is almost always an affordability issue. As the labor market tightens, these costs are increasingly weighed against the need to attract and retain desired employees. More generous paid leave programs communicate a commitment to work-life balance. This can sometimes be even more effective than higher base pay in attracting skilled and dedicated workers.

These are just a few of the issues around implementing an effective and compliant paid leave program. Even though external conditions continue to evolve, there are best practices that are working in today’s market. Learning what peers are doing is a good way to reduce risk and maximize the competitive advantages of this increasingly important employee benefit.

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]