Absence Management

In Search of New Absence Management Strategies

DMEC attendees shared their experiences with integrating absence and disability management programs, as well as wellness and employee assistance offerings.
By: | August 15, 2014 • 3 min read

Corporate silos separating workers’ compensation departments from the non-occupational disability management side of the house prevail at most companies, although some sophisticated employers are finding efficiencies by coordinating aspects of the two.

Those employers are integrating employee lost-time data, coordinating claims tracking, and transferring best practices from one side of the house to the other.


They are doing so to reduce overall costs, understand employee leave and absence drivers, and to increase productivity, several large employers told the recently held Disability Management Employer Coalition’s annual conference.

PepsiCo, for example, is three years into a program overhaul to eliminate unaccounted for absences, eliminate overpayment of benefits or salaries, and mine its data to learn whether its benefits drive workers to choose between pursuing either workers’ comp or non-occupational disability benefits.

The company traditionally maintained a strong workers’ comp program for managing claims and a solid disability leave management program, said Barbara LaRocque, benefits director at PepsiCo unit Frito-Lay.

“The problem was we had no overlap,” LaRocque said. “One never had anything to do with the other. Instead there was a lot following through the cracks.”

Consequently, the employer was not efficiently returning workers to their jobs even after leave times expired. It required duplicate medical forms to satisfy workers’ comp, disability and Family Medical Leave Act needs, and the company’s human resources department and managers struggled to track employees on leave.

But extensive changes began in 2011.

Among other measures, PepsiCo — with 250,000 workers worldwide and about half of those in the United States — centralized employee reporting through a leave and claim center providing a single point of contact for cases leading to time away from work, whether a workers’ comp claim, disability or leave of absence.

“Our mantra at this point was one phone number to call, one place to go, and one person to talk to who can talk about all aspects of your leave, your pay, your benefits, your employment rights, your status with work comp or disability,” LaRocque said.

The centralized intake helps tightly control the determination of benefits eligibility and the notification of managers and human resources of an employee’s leave status, among other advantages.

Other PepsiCo changes have included clearly defining the responsibilities of employees, managers, and human resources. For example, human resources must now stop an employee’s pay if they do not call to report a leave.

The company has also outsourced and leveraged its use of technology. Third party administrator Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.’s claim system, for instance, serves as PepsiCo’s “system of record for all leave activity,” helping the employer track employee time away from work.

The progress has also allowed PepsiCo to collect an abundance of data it plans to use to learn more about how its leave changes are impacting cost savings and productivity, LaRocque said. It will also use the data to help determine whether its benefit offerings and other factors drive employees with injuries to select between filing workers comp claims or disability claims.


Several other large employers told DMEC’s conference, held July 27-30 in Las Vegas, of their efforts to integrate aspects of various programs including wellness and employee assistance offerings and programs for managing short term disabilities, long term disability, workers’ comp and FMLA administration.

TPA Broadspire announced at the conference that it will help further such efforts by adding STD, LTD, and FMLA leave management to its portfolio of products.

Broadspire’s employer clients have increasingly asked for her company expand into providing disability and absence management services to compliments its workers’ comp offerings, said CEO DanielleLisenbey.

There are several factors driving demand for outsourced disability management programs, Broadspire said. Those include an aging workforce expected to increase absences and disability leaves and growing employer responsibility for following state and federal regulatory mandates.

Roberto Ceniceros is senior editor at Risk & Insurance® and chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. He can be reached at [email protected] Read more of his columns and features.

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]