Demographics, Regulations Pose Challenge for Absence Management
2015 DMEC panel discussion on Amazon’s leave policy. Photo courtesy of DMEC.
Discussions at last week’s meeting of the Disability Management Employer Coalition in San Francisco focused on the impact of shifting workforce demographics amid current challenges and potential innovative solutions to disability management.
With people continuing to work later in life, four different generations now make up the American workforce, and each has different priorities when it comes to employer benefits and how they are delivered.
This, combined with changes in the regulatory and health care landscape, presents unique challenges for employers and absence management providers. Below are some of the major themes discussed at the annual conference:
The pace of regulatory change remains a constant hurdle for employers. Absences in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act, in particular, have left employers vulnerable to compliance risk.
Prior to June’s Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, employers had to cope with a definition of “spouse” that fluctuated among the growing number of states that had legalized gay marriage.
Initially, couples that lived in states where same-sex marriages were recognized were viewed as spouses under FMLA. Now, there are no location restrictions on the definition of “spouse.”
That is just one example of how quickly regulations can change, challenging employers to keep their policies up-to-date and ensure there is no infringement of employees’ rights.
Employers also consistently struggle with FMLA compliance by miscategorizing leave under regular sick time, or by punishing employees for FMLA-protected absence by discontinuing health insurance coverage or failing to restore him or her to their former position when the leave ends. Some simply fail to educate employees about their rights under the FMLA.
Federal investigations are also intensifying, with the Department of Labor increasingly requesting information on leave use and conducting more on-site visits, according to Jeff Nowak, a partner at Franczek Radelet, PC, and author of the blog “FMLA Insights.”
Companies can strengthen FMLA compliance and reduce their exposure by conducting more self-audits of their policies and implementing internal protocols to make sure requests for leave are properly designated.
While the Department of Labor is working on an FMLA guide for employers, companies can strengthen compliance and reduce their exposure by conducting more self-audits of their FMLA policies and implementing internal protocols to make sure requests for leave are properly designated.
One upcoming regulatory changes to watch is an update to the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.
New legislation is also pending concerning accommodations for pregnant workers, following clashes between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and several companies over the treatment of pregnancy and related conditions as disabilities.
Managing Chronic Conditions
Addressing chronic conditions was a topic touched upon in several sessions. Studies from Liberty Mutual’s Research Institute for Safety show that chronic conditions affect 40 percent of the U.S. workforce.
An aging workforce and high rates of obesity and diabetes will only make chronic conditions more prevalent.
Chronic conditions pose problems because few surefire methods have emerged to manage them. Pre-placement exams can’t predict how a condition will develop over time, and the provision of wellness programs and behavioral therapy has shown no real impact in decreasing absence related to chronic conditions.
Sutter Health was able to cut lost days down by 8,632 in one year using a system that integrated leave management and return-to-work accommodations. The estimated savings impact was $2.75 million.
Training supervisors to facilitate return-to-work and oversee ergonomics improvements was one method that did make a material difference in decreasing lost time days due to chronic issues.
Research from Liberty Mutual showed that a supervisor training program resulted in a 27 percent decrease in lost time.
Providing on-site peer support to arrange care and accommodations for minor complaints also led to a 25 percent decrease in lost time.
Several speakers advocated seeking out methods of care that would address a worker’s injury or condition within the scope of their work environment.
Overall, hastening employees’ return-to-work by focusing more on “whole person care” emerged as a big shift for employers.
Zoning in on a specific injury without considering a worker as a whole ignores the unique interactions between the worker’s personal and occupational health risks, and his or her relationship with the workplace in general.
PG&E presented results from a new health plan built around the concept of treating the whole person, and found that focusing on preventive and primary care over specialty care reduced the number of ER visits and lost work days — saving about $1,918 in medical costs per employee in 2014.
Integrated Disability and Absence Management
While integrating disability and absence management, health and safety initiatives, and return-to-work programs remains a hot topic, most experts concede that widespread integration of those programs remains far off.
The complexity of the different pieces — FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and workers’ comp — make coordination difficult.
Those who succeed at streamlining these resources, though, stand to significantly reduce absences and reap savings.
Sutter Health, a nonprofit health system in Northern California, for example, was able to cut lost days down by 8,632 in one year using a system that integrated leave management and return-to-work accommodations. Over the course of that year, the savings impact was estimated at $2.75 million.
Future DMEC conferences will surely feature more employer success stories and pave the way for best practices for marshaling the data, resources and executive support to create integrated programs.
Ten Tips for Leave Management
The environment for leave management has become increasingly complex—and potentially costly to those not in compliance with the growing number of leave laws and regulations. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the myriad of state and local laws have made managing leave, while remaining in legal and regulatory compliance, more difficult and complex.
Leave laws not only create risk. They also create opportunity.
There is good news. A large and growing number of conferences, webinars and other resources are available to help guide risk managers and others through the ever changing leave landscape. DMEC’s recent Compliance Conference addressed many of the issues surrounding leave management and the ever-changing landscape.
During the RIMS annual conference, Karen English of Spring Consulting Group and I offered the following leave management tips at one session.
One: Training is critical. Managers must understand the leave process and their responsibilities under it and the law and uniformly administer leave policies. We don’t expect them to be experts but they need to understand how an employee might evoke their rights under FMLA or ADAA.
Two: HR and other staff must be qualified. Appropriate leave and HR administrators need to be up to date on all absence management programs and be prepared to answer employee questions about their rights for leave and job accommodation.
Three: Collaboration across business units is key. Leave programs across organizational boundaries; HR, disability, legal and other departments need to work collaboratively. Removing barriers between disciplines creates efficiencies and limits liability.
Four: Implement clear and consistent processes and policies. FMLA and ADA policies should be as uniform and applied as consistently as possible across the organization regardless of size or geography, allowing for some flexibility. Stakeholders need to engage with consistent correspondence, tracking, management, decision-making and communication.
Five: Centralize administration of the leave function. Employees and managers should have one source for questions and answers.
Six: Evaluate your program. Inventory the system used, are you tracking or managing your program. If an organization has internal system to manage or track its leave program, it should be regularly evaluated for effectiveness. If you choose a software system or outsource administration make sure that your vendor has ongoing compliance support.
Seven: Outsource if necessary. Outsourcing has increased over the last three years, there are more options than ever, and the list continues to grow. But it doesn’t fit every culture or organization; choose what works best for your company.
Eight: Evaluate your vendor. Just because a company outsources leave management, it does not mean it outsources its legal responsibilities. Even with outsourcing, an organization must establish a process to update its leave programs to meet its changing business and staff needs.
Nine: Measurement, tracking and reporting should be actionable. Key metrics like lost time, costs, return-to-work rates, abuse and productivity are useful to the degree they enable managers to change leave programs to better meet the needs of employees and the organization.
Ten: Create a culture of continual improvement. While legal and regulatory compliance is essential, it is not enough to ensure a leave program helps advance strategic business goals. That requires that managers—and executives–view leave programs as an arena for new investment and training to catalyze change to maximize returns.
Leave laws not only create risk. They also create opportunity.
Planned and implemented in a thoughtful and strategic way, effective leave management can be a competitive advantage in the battle for the best talent. Take advantage of the resources out there and become educated on both the risks and opportunities offered by the new world of employee leave.
When the Going Gets Rough, the Smart Come to Aspen Insurance
Sometimes, renewals don’t go as expected.
Perhaps your company experienced a particularly costly claim last year. Or maybe it was just one too many smaller incidents that added to a long claims history.
No matter the cause, few words are scarier to hear this time of year than, “Renewal denied.”
But new options are now emerging for companies that are willing to tackle their product liability challenges head-on.
Aspen Insurance’s products liability team – underwriters, loss control engineers and claims professionals – welcome clients who have been denied coverage from other, more traditional carriers.
“For our team, we view our best opportunities to be with clients who have specific problems to solve. In these cases, we leverage our deep expertise and integrated team approach to help the client identify root causes and fix issues,” said Roxanne Mitchell, Aspen U.S. Insurance’s executive vice president and chief casualty officer.
“The result is a much improved product or manufacturing process and the start of a new business relationship that we can grow for many years to come.”
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved. We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it.”
— Roxanne Mitchell, Executive Vice President, Chief Casualty Officer, Aspen Insurance
Of course, this specialized approach is not applicable to all situations and clients. Aspen Insurance only offers coverage if the team is confident the problems can be solved and that the client genuinely wants to engage in improving their business and moving forward.
“Our robust and detailed problem-solving approach quickly identifies pressing issues. Once we know what it will take to rectify the problem, it’s up to the client to make the investments and take the necessary actions,” added Mitchell. “As a specialty carrier operating within the E&S market, we have the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to unique and complex problems.”
For clients who are eager to learn from managing through a unique, pressing issue, and apply the consequential lessons to improve, Aspen Insurance can be their best, and sometimes only, insurance friend.
The Strategy: Collaboration from Underwriting, Claims and Loss Control
Aspen offers a proven combination of experienced underwriting professionals collaborating with the company’s outstanding loss control/risk engineering and seasoned claims experts.
“We deliver experts who understand the industries in which they work, which is another critical differentiator for us,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell described the Aspen underwriting process as a team approach. In diagnosing the causes of a specific problem, the Aspen team thoroughly vets the client’s claims history, talks to the broker about the exposures and circumstances, peruses user manuals and manufacturing processes, evaluates the supply chain structure – whatever needs to be done to get to the root of a problem.
“Aspen pulls from every resource we have in our arsenal,” she said.
After the Aspen team explores the underlying reason(s) and root cause(s) producing the client’s problem in the first place, it will offer a solution along with corresponding price and coverage specifics.
“We have a very specific business appetite and approach,” Mitchell said. “We don’t treat products liability as a commodity.”
As noted, a major component of Aspen’s approach is that they seek to work with clients who are equally interested in solving their problems and put in the work required to reach that end.
Mitchell cited two recent client examples of manufacturers of expensive products that could endure large claim losses but had some serious problems that needed to be solved.
A conveyor systems manufacturer had a few unexpected large claims and lost its coverage in the traditional insurance market. The manufacturer never managed a product recall in the past, and Aspen’s loss control engineers dug into why several systems failed. Aspen also helped the company alert customers about the impending repairs.
Another company that manufactured firetrucks had three or four large losses, when telescoping ladders collapsed, resulting in serious injuries. The company’s claim history was clean until this particular product defect. When Aspen researched the issue, it found that the specific metal and welding used to make the telescoping ladders didn’t have the required torque to keep the ladders from collapsing.
Both companies worked with Aspen to correct the issues. Problem solved.
“It is so important that our clients are willing to actively engage in finding out what is causing their losses so they can learn from the experience,” Mitchell said.
Apart from the company’s problem-solving philosophy, Mitchell said, the willingness to allow qualified clients to manage their own claims is the second biggest reason companies come to Aspen.
“We are willing to work with clients who have demonstrated the expertise to handle their own claims — with our monitoring — rather than hiring a TPA,” she said. “It is a useful option that can save them money.”
Mitchell explained that customers who stay with Aspen for the long-term can be confident that Aspen will help them – whatever the challenge. For instance, if they need a coverage modification for a new product that they bring to market, Aspen can help make it happen. Mitchell noted, “We pride ourselves on the ability to develop custom-tailored solutions to address the complex and challenging risks that our clients face.”
Aspen’s desire to help solve difficult client problems comes with a caveat, but one that benefits both Aspen and the insured: It wants to move forward as a true partner – one with clear long-term relationship potential.
In a nutshell, Aspen’s products liability worldview is to partner with a manufacturer who is facing a difficult situation with claims or coverage, help them solve that problem, and then, engage in a long-term, committed relationship with the client.
“We want to work with insureds as partners, long after a problem has been resolved,” she said. “We seek clients who are going to stick with us, just as we will with them. As the insured’s experience improves over time, pricing will improve with it. This partnership approach can be a clear win-win.”
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.