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Family and Medical Leave Act leave-taking can spur outreach to prevent disability absences
updated July 22, 2013
Employers can use leave-taking under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as an “early warning system” to predict and prevent disability absence, according to a study by the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a benefits research and consulting firm.
Lost productivity costs to businesses due to employees on extended leave include lost revenue, work disruptions, reliance on overtime and the use of substitute workers. These costs are compounded when an employee’s health issue results in a claim on the company’s short-term disability (STD) policy and increase significantly in the event of a long-term disability (LTD) claim, according to IBI's study report, which analyzed data from 161 companies and 520,000 employees.
Early Warnings: Using FMLA to Understand and Manage Disability Absence, suggests that employers have an opportunity to minimize disability costs by developing strategies to connect at-risk employees with existing benefits.
“In many ways FMLA gets a bad rap because of the spotlight on questionable claims, and employers usually focus on trying to prevent misuse of leaves,” said IBI President Thomas Parry. “The data tell a different story of how employees are using it and how there’s an opportunity for employers to prevent disability absence. Employers should consider using FMLA as an early warning system to detect impending health issues among their employees and their families.”
While IBI's findings demonstrate the advantage of early engagement with employees requesting FMLA leaves, "few employers do this—even though the majority undertake comprehensive efforts to engage their workforces as a whole in their own health,” Parry added.
Among the study highlights:
Using FMLA to Manage Disability Costs
To better manage costs, employers should connect employees requesting FMLA leave with resources such as employee assistance programs; discuss stay-at-work alternatives; improve training for supervisors about early warning signs and potential interventions; and better educate workers on the types of absences the FMLA does (and does not) cover, and their rights and responsibilities, according to a panel of experts convened by IBI, as noted in the study report.
The panel recommended the following strategies to better manage costs associated with FMLA leaves:
"Employers can track and analyze FMLA leave-taking data in order to promote healthier workforces and prevent disability absence," Gregory Poulakos told
SHRM Online. Poulakos, senior vice president of financial protection products at UnitedHealthcare, recommended that employers:
Based on UnitedHealthcare data, employers can reduce the duration of disability claims by more than 13 percent through proactive outreach, said Poulakos, who helps oversee UnitedHealthcare’s Bridge2Health program. "For instance, employees who are living with a cardiovascular condition receive additional support and information on filing an FMLA, disability or critical-illness claim," he noted. "The timing and depth of that support is not possible if the employer does not use an integrated approach to employee benefits."
is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Related SHRM Video:
Understanding the Full Costs of Health. Data-based behavioral health interventions can reduce absenteeism and increase productivity, says Tom Parry, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute.
Best Practices Help to Manage Disability-Related Absence,
SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2012
Integrated Disability Management in a Challenging Economy, SHRM Online Benefits, March 2011
SHRM Online Health Care Reform Resource Page
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