How Can I Get Disability Insurance?

Image of a man with the question: How can I get disability insurance?Disability insurance is one of the most important forms of insurance for working Americans. The financial expert Dave Ramsey calls it “a necessity.” It has been described as a valuable benefit by NPR while NBC News calls it “more important for singles than just about anyone.”

Having a form of income protection for when you’re injured, ill or pregnant is part of a solid financial plan. But how do you go about actually getting a policy? 

Here are your next steps:

1. Talk to your employer

If you have a full-time job, you may already have access to private disability insurance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least half of U.S. non-government employees have disability insurance. So start by talking to your HR manager. 

Here are a few things you can ask:

  • If they offer disability insurance, is it employer-paid, employee-paid, or a combination of the two? The general rule is, if your employer pays some or all of the premium, then some or all of any benefits you collect will be taxable to you. Your employer may offer a voluntary plan where you will need to pay the entire premium. However, it grants you access to better rates — and any benefits you collect will not be taxed. Ask how much it costs and how you can sign up for it.
  • What is the benefit amount for the policy? It won’t be your full salary, as your employer wants some incentive for you to return to the job. Policies generally range from 40 to 70 percent of your salary.
  • How long will my payments last? A policy will indicate the maximum length of time that benefits will last. Long-term disability insurance may cover anywhere between two years through retirement age.
  • When will payments begin? This will depend on whether it’s short-term or long-term disability insurance. Both types of coverage include waiting periods. A waiting period is the time between when you leave work to have your baby or you are diagnosed with a condition that prevents you from working, and when payments begin.
  • What is the policy’s definition of disability? The definition of disability varies among policies and carriers. Some consider it related to you not being able to perform the duties of your specific job while others take into account your training and experience. You may carry a policy that pays you if you can’t perform your “own job,” “own occupation,” or “any occupation” that reasonably matches your knowledge, training and experience.
  • If you don’t have access to disability insurance at work: Ask why not. You could ask whether they would consider starting a voluntary policy for employees.

2. Talk to your financial advisor

If you aren’t currently offered disability insurance at work, or the amount they are offering won’t cover your basic living costs, consider purchasing individual insurance.

Your financial advisor or insurance agent will be able to help you identify the amount you need, the most suitable amount of time you’d want to receive payments, and which plan makes the most sense for your unique needs.

If you’re self-employed or a business owner, this is definitely something you should consider. (More on that here.)

3. Talk to associations

You can also access more affordable rates for disability insurance through a plan offered to members of a professional society — for example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants or the Freelancer’s Union — or a college alumni association. If you’re already a member of such an association, ask about their disability insurance offerings. 

4. Visit

In the spring of 2018, The Council for Disability Awareness launched a new consumer microsite that unpacks what disability insurance is, why you need it, and how to get it. Visit the site to learn the language associated with various policies, and find useful links. You can also listen to CDA experts discussing the topic on radio talk shows.

5. Talk to our member companies

The member companies of The Council for Disability Awareness formed this nonprofit organization solely to educate consumers, employers, and financial advisors about working adults’ risk to be out of work for a period of time without a paycheck. View the member organizations here.

6. Lock in your coverage

The thing about accidents, illness and injury, is that you have no idea when they will happen. So this is the sort of policy you’ll want to lock in sooner rather than later. Bear in mind that like life insurance, your rates will also be cheaper the younger you are. By securing a policy now, you can relax knowing that a safety net is in place. 

How Many Working American Households Lack Private Disability Coverage?

Image of a house with wording: 50 million households in the US do not have private disability insuranceBy Andrew Melnyk, Chief Economist and Vice President of Research, American Council of Life Insurers

Last week, Fred Schott of The Council for Disability Awareness outlined an approach to answering the following question: how many working Americans have (or don’t have) some form of private disability coverage?

It is an important question because, as we know, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) does not provide sufficient protection for most families. The American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI) can provide another way of answering this question.

In September 2017, the ACLI issued a report titled Assessing Americans’ Financial and Retirement Security that was based on extensive survey data. The data was gathered with respect to households, and not individuals — the same approach the Federal Reserve takes in its periodic Survey of Consumer Finances. One of the questions asked (but not directly addressed in the report) was whether anyone in the surveyed household was covered by a private disability insurance policy, issued on either a group or individual basis.

What is the definition of ‘household’?

Here’s how ACLI (along with the Federal Reserve and other entities that track consumer data on this same basis) categorizes households:

Per Census Bureau data, there are a total of 125.8 million households in the U.S. Our data indicates about 31.4 million (25 percent) of those are “retired” and the remaining 94.4 million (75 percent) are “non-retired.”  

A handful of “retired” households may still have some kind of attachment to the labor force — for example, a two-person household where one partner works 20 hours per week in a post-career job and the other is fully retired.

Because entering retirement is increasingly a multi-stage process rather than a specific date (i.e. more people are easing into it, perhaps by working part-time), that handful is likely to get larger. But that said, let’s make a simplifying assumption that disability coverage is applicable only to the “not retired” households.

The answer: 51.3 million

Our survey data revealed that less than half (45.7 percent) of “not retired” households have some form of private disability insurance. So, 43.1 million households in that category have at least some coverage. But more than half, some 51.3 million, don’t have access to private disability insurance. The latter number is very much in the same ballpark as what Fred came up with in his post.

To learn more about disability insurance and how it protects your income, visit 

Genetic Testing at Work

DNA strandsDo the rewards of genetic testing of employees outweigh the possible risks it presents to their financial stability?

This article by Carol Harnett, president of The Council for Disability Awareness, was recently published in Human Resource Executive.

I became intrigued with genetics in sixth grade. I still recall being fascinated when Mrs. D’Amato described Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants that allowed him to unravel the fundamental laws of inheritance. Her introduction of the Punnett square, with its dominant and recessive alleles, and monohybrid and dihybrid crosses had me running home to decipher the keys to my ancestry with my parents.

Over time, I discovered that the MC1R gene was responsible for my red hair and freckles, and those traits, in combination with my blue eyes, placed me in the rarest of the ginger categories: a tribe that makes up less than 2 percent of the world’s population.

Genetics continued to grab my interest over the years, but that curiosity started to package itself with concern as more became known about human DNA. The first big pause I took to contemplate the impact of genetic information came when 23andme—one of the first direct-to-consumer genetic-testing companies—invited me to participate in a beta test.

It was 2008 and I was about to attend my first TED conference. The company invited the 1,000 participants to learn about their genetic profiles. I let the 23andme package sit on my desk for about a week. My internal debate revolved around whether I wanted to know if I had a genetic susceptibility for which there was currently no treatment. I finally caved in to my scientific interest, spit in the tube, sealed the envelope and overnighted my DNA to the company.

The results were anti-climactic. It turns out I have a remarkably solid set of inherited “wellness” characteristics. Or, at least I think I do.

The other traits the initial report listed (and still lists over the 10 years of updates) were laughingly off, including that I most likely don’t have freckles or red hair. And this gives me some pause as to whether my reported wellness variables are, indeed, correct.

I began to consider writing a column about genetic testing when someone passed me a copy of a survey of 14 disability carriers regarding whether they would pay the claims of women who underwent procedures associated with testing positive for inherited mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. (Approximately 72 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and about 69 percent of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by the age of 80, while about 44 percent of women who inherit a BRCA1 mutation and approximately 17 percent of women who inherit a BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by the age of 80.) Experts often recommend that women who carry these mutations consider both preventive bilateral mastectomies and removal of their ovaries and fallopian tubes by their mid-30s to early 40s.

There was wide disparity in the carriers’ responses to how they would process claims. Some considered bilateral mastectomies associated with a positive genetic test to be related to a pre-existing condition and, therefore, not payable. Others believed that preventive mastectomies related to a mutation of BRCA12 were elective procedures. As a result, the disability claim was not compensable under the elective-procedure provision. Still others would deny disability associated with subsequent breast-reconstruction surgeries under the elective-surgery and/or cosmetic-surgery provisions.

The range of answers and the logic applied by some providers regarding BRCA12 mutation carriers were shocking to me. But, there was a moment of hope when I reviewed a similar question asked about disability claims related to organ donation.

When I first joined the disability-insurance industry in the late 1990s, an organ donor’s disability claim was denied under the elective-procedure provision. Almost 20 years later, all but one carrier stated they would approve an organ donor’s claim—and the one carrier that wouldn’t pay the claim indicated it often made an administrative decision to approve the claim despite the contract.

As genetic testing becomes more common, I believe the carriers will rethink their positions (at least as it relates to women who learn they have genetic mutations after they enroll in disability coverage), or employers self-insured for short- and long-term disability will instruct the carriers or third-party administrators to pay these disability claims.

But here’s the catch that is up for debate: If people find out they carry a genetic mutation before they sign up for life, disability or long-term-care insurance, are they subject to denial of coverage due to a pre-existing condition, even though the genetic mutation may never “express itself?” The answer may be a qualified yes, depending upon the carrier and/or the state in which the person lives.

The Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 prohibits employers and health-insurance companies from discriminating against people due to genetic information. However, when the act was passed, life, disability and long-term-care insurance were consciously omitted. This omission allows life and disability insurers to legally discriminate against people with genetic conditions or risk factors that predispose them to diseases—which brings me back to direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

There is a new trend among D2C companies such as Color Genomics, which wants employers and HR leaders to offer genetic testing to employees as an employee benefit. And while I, like many with my background, see the power of genetics as it relates to precision (or personalized) medicine, I’m incredibly concerned about how employers could inadvertently destabilize their employees’ financial wellness.

If employees do not currently carry individual life, disability or long-term-care insurance prior to participating in genetic testing, and they find out they possess a genetic abnormality, they may never be able to enroll in this coverage in the future. Even if you provide employer-paid life and disability coverage to your workers, if they leave your employment, they may not take their life insurance with them—and their disability coverage is not portable…

To read the rest of this post, please click here. 

Best Disability Insurance Companies for Startup Employees

Startup team

Many people dream of starting a company or joining a startup. It’s your chance to make something of your own or to start on the ground floor of something important and potentially world-changing. It also offers the flexibility and culture many people value.

But there’s high risk with that reward. Startup founders and early employees often come from corporate jobs. They sacrifice pay and benefits for the prospect of building something great. One thing they need to focus on building? Their benefits package, including long-term disability insurance.

Why startup employees need disability insurance

It’s hard to get an exact count of how many startups there are, but it’s safe to say the answer is, “A lot.” AngelList, a company that helps connect startups to funding and talent, has more than 35,600 startups in its database.

As startups become a more popular form of employment, more people will find themselves with jobs that may not provide the financial safety net they need. One in four workers will become disabled before they retire. If you don’t have disability insurance, whether you’re a company founder or employee, you’re putting yourself at risk of not being able to make ends meet and potentially forcing yourself to have to go back to the corporate grind to get yourself on stable ground.

Startup founders

Founders are the lifeblood of any startup. They often set the vision and tone for the company, and take a position of power as the chief executive officer, chief technology officer, chief operating officer, chief financial officer or chief marketing officer. But they often don’t have the salary or benefits those positions come with at a more established company. Every bit of income and protection counts when a company is just getting off the ground.

If a startup founder becomes injured or ill, it becomes hard to keep up with bills. If that happens, they might need to find a job that’s more stable or has higher pay — that means giving up on their dream. With disability insurance, a founder has a financial safety net that will allow them to return to their company when they recover instead of working elsewhere just for a paycheck.

Startup employees

Most early startup employees have invested a lot in their education and development, whether they’re software engineers, product managers or operations managers. They need to protect their future income potential, especially when benefits are at a minimum.

Most startups choose health insurance as their priority benefit, for good reason. That still leaves employees to fend for themselves when it comes to retirement contributions, life insurance and disability insurance.

Startup employees may not be able to get the full disability benefit amount due to lower startup incomes. But if you work with an independent broker (like Policygenius), there may be discounts available if multiple employees sign up for disability policies.



These sample rates are based on a male non-smoker from New York with a degree and income of $100,000. Your exact coverage will vary by your state, income, (or past income, which we’ll get to below) and other factors. You should talk to a licensed broker or agent to find the policy you need.

These policies are also based on a $5,000 monthly benefit, a 90-day elimination period and a benefit period to age 65. They are own-occupation, partial benefit, non-cancelable policies with a future purchase option and automatic increase benefit.

What startup employees need to know about disability insurance

As a startup employee, your income might be lower than what it was at a more established job, but it could also be higher in a few years if your company finds its footing. Still, there are ways to get affordable, comprehensive coverage.

  • Know how much coverage you can get: Your disability coverage is typically based on your income. But if you’re working at a bootstrapped startup, you might not be getting paid that much. How do you get enough protection? Some insurance carriers base the maximum coverage for startup founders on the founders’ previous job or their industry. That means you don’t need to necessarily base your coverage on what you’re actually making when you apply.
  • Have the right documentation ready: Keeping that in mind, it’s important to have the right paperwork to make things easy. To prove your benefit needs, you should have past tax returns or signed contracts ready. This will help carriers know you’re not over- or underinsured.
  • Look for discounts: Getting protected doesn’t need to be expensive. If three or more employees set up policies with the same carrier, you may be able to tap into discounts. This isn’t the same as a group disability policy offered by many employers. Those typically don’t provide adequate coverage, and they’re tied to your job so you lose the policy if you go elsewhere. In this case each person owns their own policy, but a broker can help you save on cost if there are multiple applicants. Think of it like buying in bulk at the grocery store.
  • Choose a future purchase option rider: Long-term disability insurance riders allow you to customize your disability policy so it fits your specific needs. Some come default on policies while others cost extra. An agent can help you figure out which ones you might need. One rider startup employees should consider is the future purchase option. This lets you increase your coverage amount down the line without needing to go through the underwriting process again, “locking in” your insurability. This is especially important for someone working at a startup, since growth can be faster than at established companies, allowing your coverage to keep pace with the potential increase in income.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius. The Council for Disability Awareness is an affiliate partner of Policygenius. 

Family Planning: Daycare or Stay-At-Home?

Jan-childcare-imagePlanning for a family can be an exciting and daunting step, when you think of all the changes having a baby leads to. There’s the rewarding feeling of creating a bond with a tiny little human, even when you’re too tired to see straight. And then there’s the financial drain that comes with an extra person who must be fed, clothed and cared for 24/7. Child care, alone, is often one of the largest monthly expenses for working parents, unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend or relative who can’t get enough of changing diapers. This leaves many weighing the benefits and implications of child care vs. staying home with a new baby.


Those most impacted by this life-changing financial decision are millennials. In 2014, millennial moms accounted for almost 90% of all moms that year, up 50% from a decade ago. According to reports on the average salary for a millennial, in 2013, the median annual earnings for millennial women working full-time, year-round were $30,000, compared with $35,000 for their male counterparts. According to the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, the cost of center-based daycare in the United States can run up to $18,773 a year ($361 a week). With less than half their salaries left over, many millennials have some soul searching to do about what’s best for their families.


Assuming one has some financial flexibility, and can go without what’s left of his or her salary after childcare costs, how does one take on this decision? There are several factors to consider. Are you happy in your career? Are you driven to move your career forward? Do you dread the thought of being away from your child? Ultimately, you need to decide how this decision will affect the well-being of you and your family.


These days, American companies are starting to wake up to the idea that better parental leave is good for business. They are able to compete for a higher standard of employee by offering longer paid leaves. In addition, a new mother or father with an 8-week-old baby is not getting the quality of sleep he or she should, and may suffer at work. It may sound obvious as a parent, but companies are starting to recognize this as a priority benefit. These companies often combine short-term disability leave and paid parental leave, as their parental leave strategy. A few companies even offer on-site child care as a benefit to their employees, offering the best of both worlds.


An expectant mother or father can spend days, weeks or even months trying to figure out what to do. But when that little human comes into the world, everything changes. It’s good to have a plan. But it’s also good to be open to changing that plan. You may find that work is the perfect escape from the trials and tribulations of parenthood.

The Cost of Cancer – Planning for Survival

Jan-cancer-costs-imageNo one plans to have cancer. Aside from the shock and anxiety for the future a diagnosis brings, cancer also presents a financial situation that few people fully consider. Huge medical bills, on top of the typical expenses like college loans, mortgages, and car payments, can leave survivors concerned about their finances. Despite this, there are a variety of precautions and preparations that can be taken to limit the impact of a diagnosis from a financial perspective. The effects of cancer can certainly rear its head in many ways. However, with some additional budgeting, cancer patients can put their minds moreso at ease while heading on the road to recovery.

Types of Costs

Costs associated with cancer can present themselves in a variety of ways. A 2017 study from JAMA Oncology shows that cancer patients tend to spend upwards of a third of their income on medical expenses, in addition to their usual health insurance fees. One of the primary causes of debt is of course the presence of medical bills. From seeing primary physicians, specialists, consultants, and other healthcare professionals, each of these visits and additional tests can add up.

For relatively rare cancers like mesothelioma, finding a doctor that specializes in your specific diagnosis can mean traveling across the country regularly. While the main concern when undergoing treatment is of course seeing the specialist that is most likely to save your life, the costs associated with travel are rarely thought of. These travel expenses, from gas money to airfare, can quickly add up.

Not to mention, hefty prescription drug costs that often come out-of-pocket. As one of the fastest growing sectors of healthcare expenses, cancer patients can spend thousands of dollars for their required prescriptions. These medications come in addition to various treatment methods like chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and surgery. With often lengthy periods of treatment, these medication costs can put a definite financial strain on the patient and their family.

Debt from cancer treatment can also accumulate from a lack of income. If the treatment is aggressive, many patients are forced to leave their jobs to focus on their health and recovery. In a household that is used to having two incomes, the loss of that influx of money can certainly make an impact. If the diagnosis requires extended periods of time away from your profession, the patient may also come back from recovery to find that the work is no longer relevant or is done differently. This retraining period can be another obstacle altogether. In the case of older demographics, this can also deal a significant blow to retirement savings. As a result, cancer patients are around 25 times more likely to declare bankruptcy than those without cancer.

Even after the cancer patient has been through the final stages of treatment and is considered in remission, there are routine check ups to ensure that person stays healthy for years to come. All of the regular medications, treatments, and evaluations to keep cancer at bay will also come with a price tag. While beating cancer is clearly a blessing, this is an additional cost that many do not anticipate maintaining for the rest of their lives.


While it may be difficult to plan for cancer, there are some steps that can make the diagnosis less of a burden on the patient’s finances. Taking precautions with various forms of insurance and an emergency savings can go far to ensure the survivor and their family are protected. Health, life, and disability insurance are all small yet highly effective steps to take when planning for the future. It’s a great idea to establish a Health Savings Account (HSA,) which allows for contribution to a savings store for healthcare expenses directly from the person’s paycheck, before taxes. Even as a young person new to the workforce, taking out insurance and creating an account for health related expenses can be very beneficial and will keep your mind at ease for years to come.

If found in a stressful financial situation due to medical expenses, be sure to consider all of your options via financial assistance programs and debt service providers. There are a variety of professionals that specialize in debt management and refinancing that can help a patient through a difficult time as they start on the path to financial recovery. In the meantime, strict budgeting and monitoring income closely can allow for cutting down on what’s not necessary and saving where possible. Additionally, in certain cases like mesothelioma, the cancer victim may be eligible for compensation in a legal setting with the help of a specialized mesothelioma lawyer. Because this type of cancer develops due to exposure to asbestos, this may be an advisable route to explore if wrongfully exposed in the workplace.

Although talking about and planning for the future can seem daunting, taking adequate measures to prepare for the unknown can make all the difference when faced with a cancer diagnosis. Taking out insurance, saving for emergencies, and maintaining a tight financial ship will put a patient in the best position to focus on treatment and recovery. Battling cancer is difficult enough without having to worry about each added expense to save your life, but taking these precautions in advance will leave you and your loved ones prepared in case the unthinkable happens.

4 Crucial Retirement Savings Tips

Nov-retirement-savings-imageAh, retirement. The word alone brings to mind carefree travel, spending time with loved ones and putting the stress of work aside to learn an endless assortment of new hobbies. In reality, however, retiring comfortably means starting the planning and saving process early, and making the right moves every step of the way. It’s a lifelong journey, and the sooner you can get serious about it, the more likely it is you’ll be spending your retirement days in comfort, as opposed to worrying about whether or not you’re going to run out of money.


Saving for retirement isn’t always easy, but as one-in-four 65-year-olds today will live past the age of 90, it’s extremely important to focus on. Here are four tips to get you started.

1. Maximize Your Employer’s 401(k)

If you work with a company that offers a traditional 401(k) plan, you’re in luck in terms of retirement planning. A 401(k) allows you to contribute pre-tax dollars, which can come with some serious tax advantages and make it possible to invest extra income without having it noticeably affect your budget. Though becoming more of a rarity with each passing year, many employers do still offer a match on 401(k) contributions, which is essentially free money—take advantage of it by contributing as much as possible to your plan and focusing on what it will mean for your financial future.

2. Don’t Overlook the Roth IRA

While 401(k) plans can certainly be beneficial as retirement savings vehicles, they’re not everything. Indeed, no retirement savings account offers the kind of flexibility and versatility characteristic of the Roth IRA, which is an ideal tool for building your nest egg. Unlike your employer’s 401(k), Roth IRAs are funded with post-tax dollars, which means the money can be withdrawn without having to pay any taxes once you reach the age of 59 ½ (so long as the account has been open for five years). Plus, Roth IRAs offer a number of investment options, making them less limited than most 401(k) plans.

3. Invest Gifts and Inheritances

Money that seems to appear out of nowhere, whether in the form of gifts, inheritances, or even a 20-dollar bill that shows up in your laundry, is often viewed as “fun money,” due to the fact that it materializes randomly. But that’s not to say gifted cash should be spent frivolously. If anything, gifts, inheritances and found money make excellent retirement investments and can help to pad your nest egg with each new contribution.

4. Work with a Financial Planner

As good as some may be with managing a budget, the fact is most people are not financial professionals. There are a great deal of benefits that come along with taking retirement into your own hands, but you can maximize your efforts by working with a financial planner who has expertise in this area. Though it will cost you some up-front, the health of your portfolio and peace of mind associated with knowing that you’re working with a true professional will be worth the investment.


Planning for retirement can be challenging to say the least, but it’s possible to plan effectively by starting early and focusing your approach. Don’t wait around—you’ll thank yourself down the road.

Choosing a New Primary Care Physician

Nov-PrimaryCareDoc-imageFew things are quite as personal in nature as the doctor-patient relationship, and finding the person who is right for you may be easier said than done. While trends in primary care practice have certainly come and gone over the years, one thing has remained constant—you still need to have a good primary care physician (PCP) on your side.


Staying healthy is extremely important—your income depends on it. If you’re not sure where to start on your search, here are just a few jumping-off points to consider.

Figure Out Who is “In-network”

As it goes, insurance coverage plays a major role in choosing who many of us are able to see for medical care. With most health plans, you’ll pay far less out-of-pocket by choosing physicians that are listed as being in-network. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting hit with a surprise out-of-network charge, and it’s on you to ensure that the doctor you choose is fully covered by your insurance plan. Be sure to call the number on the back of your member ID card and confirm coverage before booking any appointments.

Consider Your Needs

Remember that when it comes to your health, your needs come before those of anyone else. There are a great deal of different types of PCPs out there, many of which have their own unique specialties and areas of expertise. If you have a particular health condition that require close management by a knowledgeable professional, you’ll want to voice this need in your search for a new primary care physician. Because working with a PCP is so personal, age and gender preferences may also come into play in making a decision.

Get Referrals

Whenever choosing to work with a professional of any kind, it’s always best to start with a referral if at all possible. You’re likely to feel much better about working with a doctor if a good friend or co-worker vouches for their abilities, especially when compared to pulling a random person’s name out of an Internet directory or phonebook. Talk to friends or acquaintances about how they feel about their current PCP, and don’t hesitate to ask at least a few different people for recommendations.

Meet in Person

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to three or four potential PCPs, it will eventually become time to meet the physicians yourself to find out who is the best fit. While getting a sense of each doctor’s personality and bedside manner is extremely important, you’ll also want to ask a series of questions about your primary concerns and have a genuine conversation regarding the physician’s approach to healthcare. There are no wrong questions when it comes to getting to know a physician, so be as thorough as you feel necessary.


Finding the right PCP isn’t an overnight process, but the time and effort are worth it when it comes to choosing the person who will be looking after your health for many years to come.

5 Tips for Boosting Employee Health

Nov-PilatesBall-imageLooking for creative and sure-fire ways to boost employee health? Whether you’re looking to decrease sick days or increase office morale and loyalty, don’t miss these smart and healthy ideas.


Ditch the Chairs

A new comprehensive study out from the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals that prolonged sitting, even if you exercise regularly, increases risk for early death – specifically sitting for 60 to 90 minutes at a time. If your employees spend most of their time during the day at a desk, find ways to reduce the amount of time they actually spend sitting. You might think about:

  • Investing in standing desks that mechanically rise and fall to allow for more standing work
  • Taking conference meetings on the go – do laps around the building instead of sitting around a table in a conference room
  • Offering stability balls for working on instead of chairs
  • Requiring 5 minute stretching sessions intermittently throughout the day
  • Moving the water cooler/snack area further away so it requires a longer walk


Reimburse for Fitness

Whether your company offers health benefits or not, you might also think about reimbursing for fitness expenses. This latest trending perk is especially hot with millennials and may be just the motivation your employees need to seek out regular exercise. Reimbursement might come in the form of a gym membership, payment for a class like yoga or SoulCycle, or even sponsoring an employee in a charity run. Routine physical fitness, roughly 30 minutes a day for adults, has been shown to strengthen the immune system and lower risk for everything from high blood pressure to diabetes and even Alzheimer’s.


Limit Vacation

This tip might seem antithetical – vacation is important to employee stress management and health right? Absolutely. In fact, one study even found that risk for heart disease increased 30% in men who didn’t take a vacation for five years vs. those who took one week off a year. Regular vacations help boost office morale, make people less likely to quit, and keep them happier and more engaged with their jobs.

The problem with the trending employee perk of “unlimited vacation,” however, is that research is showing employees are less likely to take vacation when they don’t have a set number of days allotted to them out of concern about taking too much vacation. Tips for addressing this type of unintended consequence include:

Set up a FAQ to provide a framework for an unlimited vacation policy so your employees feel more reassured about their choices
Higher level employees and CEO’s should take vacation as well to set an example for the rest of the team
Avoid letting people take “working vacations” where they are off but still plugged in and on tap for work, this negates the benefits of what a vacation can offer


Modify Work Environments for Disabilities

Complying with ADA regulations comes with it’s own legal obligations, but modifying the office environment for temporary disabilities like an employee with a broken leg is different. Not only does going the extra mile (by moving their work area closer to the door and clearing trip hazards like waste baskets and cords from common walkways) show the employee that you recognize the difficulties and want to help, but your entire team will notice as well.

For employees on crutches or using a knee scooter for a lower leg injury, for example, you might even purchase helpful accessories like crutch bags, a knee scooter basket, or cup holders that make their work day that much easier.


Prepare for Cold and Flu Season

When it comes to helping employees stay well and make it into work regularly, most challenges will present themselves during cold and flu season. Roughly 5 to 20% of the population may contract the influenza virus each year, with outbreaks peaking between December and February according to the Centers for Disease Control. Protect your office from the flu by:

  • Encouraging employees to get the flu vaccine by reimbursing them for it
  • Stocking the office with hand sanitizer and tissues to prevent germ spreading
  • Tracking flu outbreaks in your area with apps like FluView from the CDC
  • Allowing employees to telecommute if they feel under the weather


Final Considerations

It goes without saying that one of the best ways to influence employee health in a positive way is through the nutrition offered at the office. Salty, sugary processed snacks from a vending machine have no place in an environment where you expect mental clarity, focus, and productivity. Offering weekly catered lunches with healthier options, or simply stocking healthier snacks like fresh fruit, granola bars, whole grain crackers, guacamole, hummus, and veggies in the break room can make a big difference in achieving your team’s health goals.

Unseen Employee Disability Costs, Part 3: What Can You Do?

8-16-unseen-costs-imageIn August, I wrote about how the non-occupational disabilities covered under salary continuation or disability insurance plans are more common than the occupational disabilities covered under workers’ compensation. I suggested your benefits team should be as focused on managing the costs of non-occ disabilities as your risk management team is on keeping WC costs in line.


Last month, I wrote about the “opportunity costs” of disability and how you could estimate how much they were taking away from your bottom line. Research suggests these costs can amount to nearly 40% of absent workers’ wages for the U.S. workforce as a whole.


For the final post in this series, let’s answer the question most employers ask once they’ve taken a look at their cost of disability-related absence: “What can I do about it?”


Return to Work (RTW) Programs


RTW programs have long been a fixture of workers compensation programs. Their focus is to return a disabled worker to the workplace as quickly as possible, in a medically safe manner. They can include a variety of strategies such as:

  • Part-time work
  • Remote work
  • Light/restricted duty
  • Workplace or work process modifications to accommodate employees’ recovery

They’re widely recognized as having measurable benefits for employees, employers, and the community in general.


More and more employers are offering RTW programs for non-occupational as well as occupational disabilities—a smart move, given how non-occ disability cases are more prevalent than occ cases.


Stay at Work (SAW) Programs


In the 1990’s, I worked at a large multi-line insurer whose coverage offerings included WC; I was part of the unit that did WC loss control for the company’s own employees. We realized many of the same workplace accommodations that helped people return to work after a disability could alsoi keep them from going out on disability in the first place. So, we developed what we called an “early intervention” program.


Nowadays, this kind of program would be styled a “stay at work” program. And it’s not uncommon to see SAW and RTW programs combined into a single bundle.


Sources of Guidance and Expertise for SAW/RTW Programs


SAW/RTW programs cover a lot of ground and can have many moving parts. But the good news is you can draw on many helpful sources of guidance and expertise when setting up and running such programs:

  • You can start with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Check out ODEP’s Return-to-Work Toolkit for Employees and Employers here.
  • Another great resource is the Job Accommodation Network, a technical assistance center funded by ODEP. JAN not only provides resources on setting up RTW (or SAW) programs, but also provides a comprehensive toolkit for workplace accommodation.
  • Your peers—other employers who are looking to control the hidden costs of disability—can be a valuable source of practical insight on tools and tactics for SAW/RTW. The Disability Management Employer Coalition is a premier organization for providing education, networking, and related resources in this subject area. (The Council for Disability Awareness is a DMEC affiliate partner.)
  • And finally, insurance companies and third-party administrators that sell or service group disability benefits are a valuable source of expertise on RTW, SAW, and related matters. If you provide group STD or LTD benefits on a fully-insured basis (or if you rely on a carrier or TPA to administer a plan that you self-insure), you should make your vendor an essential partner in your efforts to keep those hidden costs of disability from sinking your business.