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.