One of the biggest challenges employers face with disability management is handling an employee’s specific health condition. I often hear from employers who aren’t comfortable with the return-to-work process and are curious about outsourced programs.

However, while they’re interested in return-to-work support, many employers are nervous about making a change because they think they would lose control over the process or that a third party won’t understand their organization and its specific needs. These fears are common, as a recent LIMRA study noted that most employers feel there are downsides to outsourcing their return-to-work program.

While employer concerns may vary, the truth is some employers may be hanging on to these return-to-work responsibilities unnecessarily. Not only does managing return-to-work assistance potentially spread them thin and prohibit them from performing other duties, but employers may also not be well-versed in how to make sure an employee’s return to work is successful.

In your counsel during Disability Insurance Awareness Month, consider how you can help employers overcome common concerns about outsourced return-to-work assistance.

Concern No. 1: “A carrier won’t consider all the work we’ve done to date”
Many employers think an outsourced program will start from scratch. This is a common worry, as I’ve heard numerous employers say, “We need to outsource, but we want it to be our program.”

For employers with these fears, it’s important to position a carrier that doesn’t have a “plug and play” approach. Taking the time to learn about an organization’s current process and key players allows a carrier to help create a disability management process that works for each individual employer. Some disability carriers can be incredibly flexible in partnering with an employer and learning all about the employer’s employee population, other employee benefits vendors — such as an EAP — that can provide helpful resources, the employer’s current approach and key stakeholders to keep in the loop.

Concern No. 2: “I won’t know what’s happening with my employees.”
Some disability carriers have consultants who work alongside an employer to coordinate an employee’s return to work. These consultants are experts in their fields (including behavioral health and vocational assistance) and partner with an employer to make sure an employee is getting the support he or she needs to return to work.

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This support often includes connecting with the employee on claim to check in and see when a return to work may be possible; working with the employee’s medical team to discuss restrictions or limitations; and collaborating with the employer on a return-to-work plan and potential accommodation ideas. The consultant’s job also includes documenting the process and keeping everyone in the loop, alleviating any worries your employer may have about being cut out of communications.

Concern No. 3: “If I outsource, I’ll lose touch with ADAAA regulations.”
When complying with the ADAAA, many employers are unsure of how to implement the appropriate accommodations. Even though they’re not confident in their ability to comply with the ADAAA, many are still fearful of outsourcing this aspect as they want to stay in touch with how accommodations are managed.

However, complying with the ADAAA is often the bread and butter of a disability carrier’s operation. Disability consultants can rely on their expertise and years of helping other employers with reasonable accommodations to help guide an employer through the decision-making process. Regardless of what the consultant proposes, the employer will still have to sign off on the accommodation, which will help ensure that the employer isn’t cut out of the process and will know what’s going on with the employee.

Providing your employers with an explanation on how an outsourced return-to-work program could work for their organization can help eliminate many employer fears. Not only does this type of assistance provide important support to an employee who is hoping to return to work after a disability leave, it can also take work off an employer’s plate, allowing them time to attend to other responsibilities within their organization.

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Jeffery D. Smith

Jeffery D. Smith

Jeffery D. Smith is the Workplace Possibilities program practice consultant for Standard Insurance Company (The Standard), and has worked in the vocational rehabilitation field for more than 30 years.