Absence Management

Technology’s Role in Managing Employee Absences

Tools are available to help employers improve claim intake, workforce planning, clinical care and return-to-work strategies.
By: | October 5, 2015

The 24th annual National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® and Expo takes place Nov. 11-13 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The conference is produced by LRP Publications, which publishes Risk & Insurance®. For more information, visit www.wcconference.com.

You might not think that an employee’s absence for just a few days could raise concern for an employer. But all absences are not created equally.

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There is workers’ comp, short- and long-term disability, Family and Medical Leave Act, and other types of absences. Some are planned, others are not. Some are paid, some unpaid. Some are associated with job protection benefits, others are not. There are state and federal regulations that may apply.

Employers need to understand when each should be employed and make sure they have fair and consistent practices in administering their leave programs.

“There is a misconception that absence management is easy. It is not,” said Keith Nelson, vice president and head of group insurance program delivery for Aetna Life Insurance Co. “Absence management is very complex.”

As Nelson explains, even a single day of absence may involve multiple types of leave and can impact different components of an organization in many different ways.

“We’ve got state mandated leaves such as those under workers’ comp, and state family and medical leave laws, that run concurrently with FMLA leaves,” he says. “There are now even a growing number of municipal leaves being added into the equation for employers to administer.”

WCconf_24thAnnualNelson will discuss the complexities of leaves and how employers can use technology to improve claim intake, workforce planning, clinical care, and return-to-work strategies.

His session, Technology Tools for Managing Disabilities and Absences, takes place Thursday, Nov. 12 from 10:45 a.m. to noon.

Effects on Personnel

“An employee might be out for one day, but that day of absence could apply to 15 or 16 different benefits,” Nelson said.

“Some have different start dates or end dates. The employee may have been approved for one benefit but denied for another on the same day. In my experience, many key stakeholders don’t fully understand those nuisances. There’s a concurrency component of absence management.”

An employee’s absence may affect people within an organization differently, depending on the role of the person. Each may have a different awareness of which type of leave benefit applies to the employee’s absence request.

“An employee might be out for one day, but that day of absence could apply to 15 or 16 different benefits.” — Keith Nelson, vice president and head of group insurance program delivery, Aetna Life Insurance Co.

“From the employee’s perspective, they don’t know all the benefits available to them or the differences,” Nelson said. “The only thing some of them can say is ‘I’m injured or ill,’ whether it happened at work or not, and ‘I need to be off of work.’”

Absence, he explains, is very personal to each individual. The concerns change from one person to another throughout the company.

“As you go up the organization, the interests are very different,” he said. “For the supervisor, it is ‘do I have a full staff at work?’”

Plant managers, human resources personnel, and the company’s CEO all have other concerns about an employee’s absence. Where one department is concerned about the effects on productivity, another may be more interested in finding out how and why the injury/illness occurred.

“Employers want to protect their employees from injuries or safety incidents. They are really all about mitigating safety risks and putting prevention in place,” Nelson said. “From the economic side of a workers’ comp accident, not only is the employer funding the lost wages for an employee who is away from work, but also likely funding the legal expenses, the medical expenses, and all kinds of claim-related expenses such as temporary labor expenses.”

“Different rules of compensability apply in different states. Moreover, employers may offer different types of disability plans for different groups of employees,” Nelson said. “The same can be said for leave of absence policies that are offered to different groups of employees. The overarching impact is the same: ‘Do I have a full workforce or not?’”

The one common link among each department is the need for information about the absence.

Technology

With technology, each department within an organization has access to information about an employee’s leave in the form best applicable to the needs. Personnel can better understand the overall picture of absences with a good technology platform.

“It enables effective information exchange,” Nelson said. “There is a whole new level of sophistication in the workforce, and employers/providers have a new appetite for information. That’s the big picture of what the session is all about — learning how technology can assist employers to administer effective absence management programs.”

Employers are required to use fair and consistent practices when applying the various types of leaves. Through technology, various facets within an organization can have a clear understanding of the rules and regulations.

“The industry is changing,” Nelson said. “There are new regulations all the time, new types of benefits, emerging paid sick and paid family leave. From a workers’ comp perspective, there is medical only and true lost time claims, but it’s still the same individual. How does it work? How do all constituents stay informed?”

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The privacy aspect of an employee’s absence is another concern that can be addressed through technology. For example, workers’ comp has different protocols for sharing claim information than is routinely used for disability and state or federal leaves. The circumstances dictate what can be shared with an employer.

Failing to ensure fair and consistent practices can lead to regulatory scrutiny, legal action, and other financial liability. Technology can help reduce the complexities of absence management, minimize inconsistencies, and ultimately, mitigate risks.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]