Many employees and employers live with some form of disability, whether it is physical, mental or emotional. Advisers who handle clients with disabled employees can assist them by offering a strong support system that not only educates employees and employers on what goes into a short- and long-term disability benefit, but also making sure employers can accommodate the employee upon return to the workplace.

Brian Kost, director of the Workplace Possibilities Program at The Standard, says the first and most important rule when offering disability assistance in the workplace is ensuring a strong partnership with the disability carrier. Having that strong partnership, he says, will lead to better communication among all parties.

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“One of the best ways for [a broker] to really be involved with their specific customer is to understand the employer’s pain points when it comes to employee disability,” Kost says. “If they can bring their customer into understanding what those pain points are and work directly with the disability carrier, then there will be a large communication opportunity where now employers understand when their employees are coming back to work and what their employees need to stay at work.”

Krista Wayland-Smith, director of claims operations for MetLife Disability, echoes Kost’s advisement on having a strong return to work program that will allow employees the necessary accommodations to continue to do their job. “If the employer is looking to help their employees from a holistic standpoint, it would be helpful for them to offer some form of EAP to help them with needs such as emergency childcare or confidential healthcare,” Smith says. “This will allow them to have an avenue to obtain the needs they require.”

Smith added that employers could pre-emptively offer assistance to employees with disabilities before the need to use their leave even arises, such as offering work stations that allow the employee to stand up or sit down while working.

“The approach we tend to take is to work with the employer to determine how they can help the employee either stay at work or return to work with accommodations their disability restrictions require,” Smith says.

Employee vulnerabilities
While long- and short-term disability are considered traditional benefits, many employers are offering employees the chance to substitute their disability benefit for something else, such as additional vacation. These alternatives have generally been accepted by millennials who do not already suffer from a disability that may require leave. As a result, this leaves the employee vulnerable in the event that an accident should occur causing injuries that may require the use of disability leave, which Kost says is the time programs like this need to assist with bringing the employee back to work.

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“It is in my opinion [employees] should continue [disability] programs because once they enroll in the benefit, we can be more proactive and we can work with employees who are still at work,” Kost says. “One of the unique things The Standard does is that we can buy adaptive equipment for the employee to help them stay at work, which could be a huge perk for not just the employee who can get the expertise through their carrier, but also a huge perk for the employer as well.”

Smith says one way to assist employees with understanding what is offered in their short- and long-term disability benefits is to offer stronger communications as to what is entailed when receiving the benefit.

“Sometimes employers might have the services in place but employees are either unaware or do not know how to use these services,” Smith says. “When employers have stronger communication and these services become more visible they tend to have more success with return to work programs.”

Smith advises that employers offer more detailed information as to what disability services are when the employee is first brought on board and annual follow-ups with employees on how these services work would only assist with the retention of this knowledge in the event the services are needed.

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