Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

The Struggles of ADA Compliance

By: | July 23, 2015 • 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.

Twenty-five years after the passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers still struggle with making reasonable accommodation for employees with qualified disabilities. Making accommodations for employees under the original ADA legislation was easier. The ADA Amendments Act of 2009, however, has changed the process for employers, making it more difficult and time consuming.

Many individuals who were not qualified under the original ADA are now qualified and the law currently allows employees to remain off work (indefinite leave) under some circumstances instead of returning to work, which seems counter to the intent of the law. And employers have yet to see clear guidance on this from the EEOC.

Regardless of employer struggles, the purpose of the ADA is clear. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (“undue hardship”). An interactive process is mandated to determine if reasonable accommodation can be made for an employee with a qualified disability

Yet, here we are, 25 years after the passage of the ADA, and labor force participation by people with disabilities is actually lower than when this landmark law was passed.

Providing people with disabilities better access to transportation, public and private facilities and — above all — jobs, is something everyone should support. Greater job opportunities permit people to earn money to support themselves and thus diminishes their need for public assistance. Equally important, it affirms the dignity and the sense of self-worth that comes from making valued contributions to society.

Yet, here we are, 25 years after the passage of the ADA, and labor force participation by people with disabilities is actually lower than when this landmark law was passed.

Yet only a small proportion of disabled individuals are able to participate in the workforce. According to an online disability statistics data search tool maintained by Cornell University, 30 years ago 25.1 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 64 who had a work limitation were employed. In 1989, the year before the ADA passed, that proportion reached a high of 28.8 percent.

But by 2014, the percentage of people with a disability who were employed had fallen to 12.9 percent according to a Cornell study.

There are many reasons for the declining labor participation rate of the disabled. Overall labor participation has fallen, with especially large declines among older white males. But there is little doubt those with disabilities still face particular challenges in obtaining and maintaining a job.

As disability and absence management professionals, we have a special role to play in helping ensure they do. We need to do even more to educate colleagues and the larger public about disabilities, including those driven by behavioral health factors.

We need to work closer with those in other departments in our organizations to develop effective programs that not only comply with the law, but truly advance the goal of finding and keeping the best person for a particular position. And we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep pace with the creative and effective leave initiatives taking place in workplaces across the country.

Accommodating disabled workers is good for employees. It’s good for employers. And, most important, it’s the right thing to do. Twenty-five years after the passage of the ADA, there’s still a lot of work to do.

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.

Advertisement




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.

Advertisement




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]