Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Top 10 Signs That Your Disability Management Program Needs an "Extreme Makeover": If These Signs Seem Familiar, Your Company Is Probably Spending Much More Than Necessary on Disability

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Top 10 Signs That Your Disability Management Program Needs an "Extreme Makeover": If These Signs Seem Familiar, Your Company Is Probably Spending Much More Than Necessary on Disability

Article excerpt

In today's competitive market, businesses can't afford anything short of a fully productive work force. When workers are out of work due to a disability, the corporate impact is significant. Direct and indirect absences, which add up to nearly 18 percent of payroll costs, are forcing many employers to seriously think about their current disability management programs. Whether your program requires a slight nip and tuck to help boost productivity, or a complete redesign to better suit your disability strategy, here are some clear-cut signals that change is needed:

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1. Employees generally wait a week or more before reporting a disability.

Although a week doesn't seem like a long time, (especially when you're on vacation), waiting this long to report a disability can dramatically impact an employee's time away from work. For example, recent research by CIGNA Group Insurance found that employers whose short-term disability claims were reported within seven days of when a disability began, experienced short-term disability durations that averaged 10 days less than those of employers whose claims were reported an average of 15 days or more after the day of disability.

Early claim-reporting is an important and often over-looked step of the return-to-work process. Prompt reporting of a disability claim gives disability case managers more time to work with the employee's treating physician on the best case management approach, and more time to collaborate with the employee and employer to arrange a suitable transition back to the workplace.

2. There's no apparent "return" on your return-to-work program.

One of the most effective tools in disability management is a strong return-to-work program. By bringing disabled employees quickly and safely back to work, employers can greatly minimize the costs of disability.

Contingency planning, which establishes return-to-work options even before claims are filed, should be an important piece of any program. This includes developing a comprehensive database of full-time jobs and transitional positions that match workers' functional capabilities. Such a database allows case managers to begin return-to-work efforts the first day an employee reports a disability. Equally important are processes that help keep employees on the job once they are returned to the work force. There is no long-term benefit of bringing an employee back to work, only to have them back on disability because of poor transitional or return-to-work planning.

Your program should also have sophisticated triggers that identify those disabled workers who could benefit from case management. Examples of triggers include anticipated length of disability and treatment plans. Without these triggers, workers can easily languish on workers' compensation or long-term disability, further escalating costs.

3. Transitional return-to-work duties are rarely explored or pursued by disabled employees.

This is a common, yet serious issue. Many managers feel that transitional work assignments are pointless, designed simply to get employees off disability claim, and don't result in valuable contributions to the business. When designed appropriately, this is far from true. Productive transitional work assignments are both possible and necessary in a good disability management program. The goal is to move employees as appropriate from part-time or transitional work to full-time employment, as they are recovering and able to take on more responsibilities.

Managers must be made aware of these viable job alternatives, and encourage ill or injured workers to take advantage of them. Likewise, employees should know about, and be motivated to take on, transitional or accommodated work assignments.

4. Supervisors and/or human resource managers don't do enough to communicate with disabled employees.

Clear and timely communication is key in creating more responsible and empowered employees; it can also save your company money. …

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