Know the Top Causes of Disability Leave to Provide Needed Support

Injury prevention and return-to-work programs should target employee needs

Stephen Miller, CEBS By Stephen Miller, CEBS June 14, 2018
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In planning disability coverage as well as health and safety strategies, it's important to understand the top causes of disability absences.

Cancer is the No. 1 reason for taking long-term disability leave, while pregnancy tops the list of reasons for short-term claims, according to a May 2018 report by Unum, a provider of disability benefits.

Joint disorders, however, were the third-highest cause of short-term disability and fifth among long-term claims.

By understanding the top causes of disability leave in general—and the top drivers of disability absences for your particular workforce—employers can determine whether they need better targeted interventions for certain populations.

For instance, "As people work longer and later in life, we're seeing the effects of an aging workforce," said Greg Breter, senior vice president of benefits at Unum. "Joint disorders and musculoskeletal issues are especially prominent among Baby Boomers, who represent over half of all long-term disability claims," he noted.

For those who may not need surgery, employers may want to take a fresh look at the employee's workstation and other factors that may contribute to back and muscle issues. For those who require surgery, vocational rehabilitation programs can help individuals successfully re-enter the workforce.


Return-to-Work Programs

Employers can put in place absence management programs that integrate wellness promotion, disease management and vocational-rehabilitation services to meet the needs of employees returning to work.

As employees on disability leave make the transition back to work, accommodations can include:

  • Clearly defining work expectations and limitations.
  • Treating a flexible or reduced work schedule.
  • Codifying workstations to avoid having to stand or sit for too long.
  • Allowing extra time for breaks, to combat fatigue.
  • Coaching and providing feedback on performance.


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