The Latest in MA Paid Family and Medical Leave

By Karen English and Teri Weber

What You Need to Know

In June of 2018, Massachusetts passed a paid family and medical leave policy, making it the fifth state to do so after California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, and Washington, and almost in tandem with D.C. Since then, Massachusetts employers, employees and industry professionals like ourselves have been closely following the regulatory progress and stipulations of this new program.

The Law: A Brief Overview

The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave law provides employees working for a Massachusetts employer with up to 26 weeks of job protected, paid family and medical leave for qualifying reasons, which include but are not limited to:

  • One’s own or a family member’s serious health condition
  • Bonding with a newborn or adopted child
  • Tending to a family member who is an injured servicemember

The law also offers job protection during and after a leave. The nuances of the policy and modifications have been slowly rolled out over the last year. More details about employee eligibility, employer requirements and readiness, and pay allocation can be found here. As with all state-wide legal overhauls, the policy is quite complex.Paid Family and Medical Leave Massachusetts

The program is meant to be funded through employer and employee contributions, with employers using MassTaxConnect to determine contributions and appropriate tax filing.

The Latest

The Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits were set to be available to employees starting January 1st, 2021 for bonding, military exigency and one’s own serious health condition, with a second wave being rolled out on July 1st, 2021 for other available and applicable benefits. To ensure sufficient funding for the program, employers were to start paying paid leave taxes starting July 1st, 2019.

As the deadline approached, however, employers in the state became concerned over unanswered questions and lack of time to prepare. Members of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts sent more than 2,500 messages to Governor Charlie Baker explaining that they lacked the time and clarity to stay on track for the July 1st deadline. Massachusetts lawmakers heard the grievances and acted accordingly. On June 11th, 2019, the state agreed to a three-month delay on paid leave tax collection, which will now begin on October 1st, 2019.

What This Means For Employers

The extension allows us all to get more familiarized with the ins and outs of the law and plan accordingly. Employers will be focused on whether an exemption applies, how the breakdown of corporate tax vs. payroll deduction will work, and what portion(s) of their workforce are eligible for the different benefits outlined. The additional time will also enable employers to effectively communicate the changes. Updated key dates to be aware of include:

  • Required Withholding Now Starts October 1, 2019
  • Contribution Rate Has Been Adjusted from 0.63% to 0.75% of Employee Qualifying Earnings
  • Remittance of Contributions for the October 1 to December 31 Quarter Will Be Due January 31, 2020
  • Timeline Has Been Extended for Required Employee Notices to September 30, 2019
  • Timeline Has Been Extended for Exemption Applications to December 20, 2019
  • PFML Final Regulations Are Scheduled To Be Posted on June 17, 2019 and Become Effective on July 1, 2019

Please get in touch if you have questions about the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave law and how to prepare for the program’s rollout. We have experts in leave management and compliance that are happy to help you navigate this new policy.

 

5 Reasons to Consider an Integrated Workers’ Comp and Disability Program

For employers with robust benefits programs in place, an integrated approach is continuing to become an increasingly popular way to take things to the next level, and for good reason. Although the concept is not new, and our team of experts has been developing solutions for years, certain aspects are getting employers’ attention.

Spring’s 2016 and 2018 employer surveys, led by Spring’s Senior Vice President Karen English, show that the core drivers to developing an integrated program are:

  • Costs savings
  • Simpler administration
  • Upgraded employee experience
  • Enhanced tracking capabilities
  • Improved compliance

There’s a lot more impacting these areas than you might think, so let’s take a deeper dive.

Cost Savings:

Having an efficient benefits program with systems that speak to and work with each other can go a long way for your bottom line. Integration provides greater transparency into your workforce – absence management challenges, productivity, employee health – among other things. This knowledge is an opportunity to create a healthier, more present workforce.

If this sounds like qualitative “fluff”, it’s not. One healthcare client was able to save over $10M in direct and indirect costs through integration. These savings resulted from savings in the following areas:

  • Workers’ compensation
  • Disability
  • Unplanned absence
  • Vacation
  • Other Leaves of Absence

Their program, done in tandem with captive insurance company funding, also yielded risk diversification and stability, as well as further saIntegrated disability managementvings of 10% of premiums.

The graph to the right shows the average levels of employer savings achieved by implementing an integrated program, spanning a range of direct and indirect cost categories.

 

Simpler Administration:

All parties benefit from an integrated benefits system. An immeasurable amount of time and effort is saved from not having to go to different platforms for critical information. This will speed up the claims process.

The best integrated programs send notifications and communications, and offer automated triggers, case management and documentation. For managers, results are easier to explain. For employees, access is simpler and more approachable. At the corporate level, you can expect faster turnaround time and greater visibility.

Upgraded Employee Experience:

Employees do not typically understand the nuances surrounding absences, nor the various policies, plans, and processes involved. They simply need time away. By integrating absence to include occupational and non-occupational events, your employees will experience:

  • Fewer points of contact
  • Clearer processes to follow
  • Faster turnaround times
  • Improved information access
  • Increase self-service options
  • Decreased confusion

These benefits lead to an enhanced employee experience including higher engagement, both at the organization and with their health. As all HR professionals know, engagement is critical for recruiting, retention and overall performance. Whether at risk or not, all employees will appreciate a smarter, more robust benefits program and an employer that is looking out for their wellbeing.

Enhanced Tracking Capabilities:

To make sustainable improvements, it is imperative to track your integrated program and mine the data across all absences to investigate patterns and draw predictions. An integrated program allows for metrics across plans and policies with drill-down features such as:

  • Occupational vs. non-occupational
  • Paid vs. unpaid
  • Job protected vs. non job protected
  • Return-to-work vs. stay-at-work
  • Sick, vacation, etc.
  • Self vs. family
  • Continuous vs. intermittent
  • Diagnosis specific

With all these different facets captured uniformly, you have reporting that is comprehensive; supports workforce planning and budget; allows for strategic planning with HR as a business partner; and offers opportunities for prevention; so that your organization can be proactive instead of reactive. These kinds of insights allow employers to move into population health management.

Improved Compliance:

With the hub of intelligence that an integrated program offers, employers have a more reliable way of remaining compliant when it comes to things like the ADA, FMLA and ERISA, as well as any state-specific regulations and policies unique to the company. Automation will make leave requests and absence tracking much easier to manage, and accurate documentation will aid accountability for employers and employees alike.

Ultimately, an integrated workers’ compensation and disability program can have significant positive impact on a company and its employees, especially for larger employers. We have seen great, quantifiable success with integrated programs from our clients. If you are thinking that this process seems too big a task to take on, don’t worry. Any company can start at any point along the continuum shown below, and gradually work their way to a model that facilitates population health management in the workforce.

 

Population health management

 

4 Ways ADA Management is Like Raising a Pre-Teen

The world of absence management is continually evolving and changing, and this is one of the many reasons I love my work.  One component of my role is assisting organizations in managing their disability and leave programs, which includes being compliant with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Amendments Act (ADAAA).  The ADA has pained employers for years due to its regulatory complexity, and although they are making strides and building functional processes to address it, it can sometimes feel like two steps forward and one step back.

I recently conducted a training on the ADA for a large employer team of subject matter experts.   After a challenging week of what felt like personal parental fails, I used an analogy that managing your ADA program is a lot like raising a pre-teen! Truth be told, that wasn’t in the script, but it was top of mind at the time and I knew that most of the audience could relate to both parental and ADA struggles.

If you still aren’t convinced of the overlap, I have outlined four challenges with the ADA (that I also experienced with my 12-year-old daughter).

  1. Everything must be managed on a case-by-case basis

Organizations must have a prescribed process to identify and manage ADA cases to ensure potential accommodations do not slip through the cracks. However, the regulation is clear in that every case must be reviewed based on its own merit.  Employers must consider every request, examine what is needed, and consider solutions that will satisfy the employee’s needs without causing undue hardship to the organization. Key elements of any job must be considered, such as location, essential functions, organizational structure, hardship potential, duration and the like. A simple yes or no is rarely enough. There are often conditions that must be met, including the potential for extensive negotiation, and any decision may be accomp

ADA Management

anied by resistance from different parties.

At home I also take into consideration things like location, duration, hardship to the family unit and every request must be reviewed on its own merits.  Just like with your ADA requests, a yes is always met with delight, but a no will always cause additional work and difficult discussions. That said, that doesn’t mean that you can routinely go the “yes” route just because it’s the path of least resistance.

 

  1. There is a constant demand for “things”

Regardless of whether the request is for Instagram or a sit-stand desk, the requests just keep rolling in!  Giving a simple “no” just isn’t going to work. You must engage with your employee (or child) by asking questions, digging into the details, justifying your rationale and following documented policies and regulations (or family rules). Why do they need what they are asking for? Examine both sides of the argument.

With accommodation requests, a simple “yes” is rarely the optimal solution.  The key is to really understand what is needed versus what is requested, as there are often gaps in between.  The dialogue and documentation need to support what the employee can do and what will ensure they are able to do the essential functions of their job with or without accommodations.  Simply approving their request for something may not actually yield a successful solution.  Instead as the employer you need to find an accommodation that suits not only the employee but as many stakeholders as appropriate.  I recently worked with a client surrounding parking accommodations which were on the rise and extremely challenging given their various office locations and distances to sites.  It highlighted how a simple “yes” doesn’t always  work.  Instead great care needs to be taken with each request and each potential accommodation.

With my daughter it started with an iPod and grew to the iPhone, which has now turned into social media requests.  Just saying yes doesn’t work for me – I need to dig in and see what I can provide her that might satisfy her need to fit in without creating an undue hardship for me. And if I do say yes, you can bet there is going to be a social meeting

agreement (similar to an accommodation agreement) to hold us both accountable! .

 

  1. Your voice is drowned out by others

Employees requesting an accommodation typically have resources to work with at an organization.  They may be working with a disability or workers’ compensation partner, their supervisor, HR, benefits and even occupational health resources.  All those voices become noise in the ADA process.  Even with the best of intentions, those s

ources put pressure on the situation that may drown out the voice of the accommodation team. Some parties may be encouraging return to work too aggressively or not aggressively enough. Silence from those resources may be perceived as lack of support the same way that vocalization may be viewed as intimidating. How do you find the right balance?

The key is to manage expectations within the ADA process and bring the stakeholders together by giving them a seat at the table.  The interactive pr

ocess is a very critical part of accommodation reviews; it cannot be avoided in a compliant process.  Instead of dreading that part of the process, try to embrace it.  Use it to get to the best solution for the employee and the stakeholders and then make a firm decision on what can be implemented.

All parents understand that our children aren’t always listening to us even though we may think every word we utter is critical and wisdom-filled (just like a strong HR professional). Further, what they hear from us may differ from what they hear from their friends, friends’ parents, teachers, or even your spouse. But regardless of the frustration or eye rolls, the ultimate decision related to our children rests with us.  They may try to change our minds or tell us all the reasons why other opinions should be valued, but we determine the best solution and do our best to implement it at home.

 

  1. The goal post is hard to see, but it’s there in the distance

An organization cannot be compliant with the ADA, or appropriately manage absence, unless they are dedicated to developing an accommodation program and following through with clear processes and documentation. With that said, it is a long game – a marathon, not a sprint.  Most employees and supervisors will not be singing your praises immediately. At first, they will feel like you are making it “too easy” for employees, or “rewarding” employees who are abusing the system.  At the same time employees may think you are “asking too many questions” or “forcing them to pay more money to get paperwork completed.” On any given day all those things may be true, but you are also working to provide a compliant work environment that accommodates employees fairly. You want a solution that returns employees to productive work, processes that are in good faith and interactive and a way that documents what steps were taken and what was agreed to.  All of those are beneficial to your organization and to the individual as well.

I was recently working with a client that learned the hard way about documentation. They had a healthcare resource that was given an accommodation around not performing CPR as it was not viewed as an essential function. This employee was transitioned to a new role where CPR was required but the knowledge of her accommodation and lack of ability to perform this function was missed during transition. Unfortunately, this placed an unanticipated strain on the organization, which could have been avoided with greater documentation. Instead, the involved parties were working to solve the immediate need without thinking about the long-term impact on the employee or the organization.

As you focus on return to work and accommodations, try to aim for incremental change toward the most successful program possible, keeping the long-term vision in your view. Start with your policies and procedures, ensuring they reflect the type of program your organization needs.  Consider them as living documents that will require revisions as your accommodation program matures.  Build an efficient process around those policies, doing your best to move toward that pre-defined, distant goal post.

At home, incremental change is necessary as well.  Do I want a clean room, laundry done, dishes finished and homework perfect? Yes.  But I will settle for incremental change toward a successful and productive member of society.  This may mean taking things one step (or chore) at a time or placing more focus on the achievements compared to the gaps.

So next time my daughter tells me I am “annoying” and “all the other kids have Instagram” and “I don’t know what it’s like,” I will remind myself that on any given day those things may be true, but I’m trying to raise a healthy, happy kid and building this foundation is necessary to create long-term success.  Right now, it’s hard for me to see the goal post but I know it’s there.

 

Regulation around the ADA is complex, like my pre-teen, but it’s important to remember that it is built on the core premise of avoiding discrimination and pushing employers to do what is right.  It sometimes forces a difficult dialogue between employers and employees, but the goal is optimal for both parties.

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

The Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Listening Sessions

Spring attended the listening sessions in Boston and Springfield where employers and their advocates provided constructive feedback to the proposed Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave (“MA PFL”) regulations, a draft of which was released in late January.  We gained a lot of insight into the proposed plan, its gaps and possible hurdles to its approval, and we wanted to share with industry professionals who were unable to join.

To set the tone, those sharing their questions and identifying areas that require clarification were thoughtful and balanced in their approach.  Many voiced their concerns after an introduction that included appreciation for the core tenants of the statute.  Top-of-mind was a struggle with the lack of guidance around the exemption process, clarification on definitions and administrative complexities.  As an advisor in this field, who has worked with employers to implement paid leave in other states, multi-state employers were definitely highlighting provisions that have proven to be an ongoing challenge with other state paid leave programs. Paid Family Leave

At each session approximately twelve individuals submitted verbal commentary.  Although the Boston commentary was primarily from attorneys representing smaller employers that are struggling to implement the regulation, the Springfield representatives were primarily from employers and represented groups of all sizes.  The representatives from the Commonwealth were in listening mode, diligently taking notes and occasionally asking for clarification on the comments.  Feedback could be summarized into five primary categories, which we will further elaborate on:

  1. Definitions
  2. Exemption process and impacts
  3. Certification process, including retaliation and appeals
  4. Coordination with employer policies
  5. Taxation and cost considerations

Definitions

  • Organizations were looking for additional clarification on the definition of domestic partner, qualifying reason and increments of time.  The goal was to refine them to be more specific and, where possible, more in line with the federal regulation.  Similarly, for any time tracking (i.e. 90 days for certification, 6 months for retaliation) employers are seeking more specificity around when the clock begins.
  • Within the regulations there is a reference to providing information related to an employee’s position; clarification was requested on what that represents.  For example, will a job description suffice or will physical demands be required?
  • When considering the exemption process, employers want to better understand the definition of equivalency.
  • The regulation leverages 1099’s as a point of reference for “employees”, however many spoke about 1099’s not being the best assessment and the need for additional consideration to be given to defining employees.
  • The group was curious as to how the look back provision will work in the first year.

Exemption Process

  • Employers are anxious for more information related to the exemption process, especially private plan requirements.  Questions centered around how vendors will be approved and leveraged, what reporting will be required, and what will the bond process entail.  The timeline of the process was also discussed with particular interest in what happens to contributions from July 2019 – January 2021 (assuming exemption if approved) for exempted employers.
  • The sharing of wage information was of concern to many speakers, including both process and timelines.

Certification Process

  • The certification process prompted dialogue around expanding the list of who can certify time.  In addition, extensions on certifications were identified as administratively complex under the draft regulations, as notice requirements may be compromised if employers are waiting for employees to see their provider before certifying an extension.
  • Given the timeline for certifications, employers raised concern over protecting time before an actual approval is made.  Similarly, when no claim is filed, how and when can an employer take action?
  • The retaliation provision was an issue for many.  Advisors and employers are seeking additional guidance in order to limit their potential liability.
  • Although appeal details are unclear, it is believed that an appeals process will exist in the final regulations.

Coordination with ER Policies

  • In the current state, employers are required to allow employees to continue to earn time while on leave; however, if earned time off is based on hours worked, what will be the requirement?
  • Some employers questioned how this leave will coordinate with complex policies related to time off.  For example, if an employee must work the day before a holiday and/or the day after a holiday to receive holiday pay, how will that impact employees that leverage MA PFL?  Will employers be able to maintain those provisions, or will MA PFL not allow for those constraints?
  • Coordination with workers’ compensation was highlighted as an area needing additional thought.  Similarly, how the regulation would impact an employer’s ability to explore restrictions and accommodations during leave could be negatively impacted.
  • Employers noted that a feature of the FMLA that could be transferred to MA would be to ensure employees that have no intent to return to work are not given paid time arbitrarily.

Taxation and Cost

  • Although the cost of the program including staffing and health care premium dollars were mentioned, we do not expect any sweeping changes. However, there may be an opportunity to add language that specifies if any costs can be recouped, especially if employees do not return to work.
  • A handful of people spoke about the need for clarification surrounding how the contribution will be calculated.
  • Taxation of the contribution as well as the earned income was a worry and requires resolution.

 

The Commonwealth seems to be setting a strong foundation by openly seeking feedback from its constituents and giving themselves a long runway, which we hope and expect will assist in a smoother roll out than experienced by other states.  In addition to the listening sessions there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes develop the infrastructure.  In February, they will be seeking feedback on digital tools they are developing to help employers understand the impacts of the law.  It is expected that this will also include contribution calculators and other tools.

Employers who did not attend the sessions should feel welcome to attend a session in the future submit written comments for consideration.  Written presentations may be sent to MassPFML@Mass.gov.  The Commonwealth will be used to refine the next draft of the regulation.  Although responses can reference the statute, changes to a passed statute are unlikely; however, the regulations supporting that statute and providing further details can provide necessary clarification to ensure the MA PFL can be managed with limited ambiguity.  Spring will continue to follow the MA PFL; if you would like to submit commentary please contact us at teri.weber@springgroup.com or karen.english@springgroup.com.

5 Times Inclusivity Took the Stage at DMEC

As a national sponsor of the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), Spring has been involved in the organization and its events for over a decade. Each year the team

DMEC

looks forward to the Annual Conference, among other DMEC events and initiatives. This year it took place in the fun city of Austin, and we made sure to do some sightseeing while we were there.

This was my first DMEC conference and I was amazed at the wealth of knowledge present. There was an obvious eagerness to learn that hung in the air, and learn we did. Over 700 professionals specializing in areas like occupational health, disability management, FMLA/ADA, claims management, HR and more gathered to share best practices and experiences. The resulting 40+ educational presentations and workshops did not disappoint.

Spring attends and sponsors a range of events throughout any given year. After each one, we take the time to reflect on key takeaways and then share them with our peers (like you!).

The name of the game in Austin this year was inclusivity. Here are five featured topics that explain why.

  1. “Impactful Diversity and Inclusion Strategies for the Workplace”

    This session highlighted the importance of workplace diversity and the trend towards it as a corporate goal. The presenter walked the audience through the different types of diversity, including the more obvious such as race, sexual orientation and gender, as well as the areas of diversity often over-looked: veteran status, education, tenure, full-time vs. part-time status, etc. We learned that these different demographics may have varying degrees of stress, pain, or health issues based on that one facet alone. Generational differences in things like returning to work and communications tendencies and preferences were also discussed.

  1. “Neurodiversity: Driving Innovation from Unexpected Places”

    A small team from EY led this discussion around neurodiversity, which is not a term you hear every day. The session focused on the importance of including autistic employees and understanding their specific needs from an employer. A shockingly low 32% of autistic adults are engaged in some form of paid work, a statistic which needs upward improvement.

  1. “Tools, Techniques, and Technologies for Creative Inclusive Workplaces”employee disability

    Anne Hirsh and Deb Dagit started out this presentation by opening the audience’s eyes to “Five Signs of Inclusion”: ethos, public relations/marketing, policies and practice, physical accessibility, and technical accessibility. They then walked through several tools and platforms that can help employers exhibit all five signs of inclusion.

  2. “Disability and Fitness for Duty in Transgender Employees”

    Brian Hurley, a medical doctor and expert in addiction and mental health, led an interesting session that educated attendees on sex development, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, and gender dysphoria. He helped raised awareness around issues in the workplace, citing that 90% of transgenders surveyed reported experiencing harassment at work, and ended with an outline of model employer practices pertaining to transgender employees.

  3. “Get Explicit About Implicit Bias Using Compassionate Dialogue”

    In this presentation, more indirectly related to inclusivity as some others, a woman led an interactive discussion around implicit biases and the fact that we all have them. These are involuntary, inherent attitudes and stereotypes that we may not know we have. This of course can be problematic in the workplace, so audiences were given “debiasing” techniques to prohibit their implicit biases from interfering in fair and compliant practices.

absence managementWith over three full days of educational presentations, there were plenty of other hot topics such as mental health, return-to-work strategies, FMLA and ADA issues, and data and technology trends. The Spring team partnered with clients to present “Implementation Done Right”, where they highlighted best practices and tips for top-notch absence management programs.

All in all, the event was a valuable learning experience. But it wasn’t all business – we hosted an “extracurricular” activity at a local Austin brewery to relax and mix things up, and there were all sorts of networking opportunities throughout. We are already looking forward to next year’s conference.

2018 IBI Annual Forum: An Overview

The Spring team has been involved with the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) and its events for quite a few years now. The organization provides valuable resources for employee benefits and absence management professionals, and their annual forum is a great opportunity for industry experts to come together and share their experiences and strategies.

For these reasons and more (such as escaping winter in Boston), I was excited to head back to San Francisco earlier this month for the 2018 IBI Annual Forum. Over the course of the three days, I joined over 500 employers and service providers in helping each other advance our professional knowledge and capabilities. Acquaintances were made, colleagues were reunited, lessons were learned and cocktails were had. I even had the chance to join some clients on a panel to speak about, “Evolving Your Absence Management Strategy: Let’s Talk Best Practices.” In the spirit of shared learning, I like to relay what I found to be the most significant topics at a given conference.

So if you missed the IBI forum this year or lost your notes, here’s a brief overview:

1. Data
This was probably the biggest buzz word at IBI this year. Big data, small data, data of all kinds. In 2018, this is not surprising.Specifically, Dr. Bruce Sherman from Case Western Reserve University emphasized the importance of HR professionals incorporating health-related statistics into their strategy, and treating well-being as a means to improve business performance. Then on Monday afternoon, folks from UPMC discussed the power of Big Data, demonstrating their use of an integrated platform that ties in all sorts of metrics and allows employers to view customized reports from which they can act upon. Along the same lines, representatives from Aon and PSEG explained how PSEG was able to tap into data to increase employee safety and risk, productivity and well-being while decreasing absence. Lastly, another session entitled “Unlocking Data to Analyze, Benchmark and Diagnose Absence Drivers, Culture and Impacts on Outcomes” demonstrated how to use qualitative and quantitative data to better inform absence programs. The panel discussed the ability to use this data to modify plan design, improve administration, optimize plan expense, minimize plan liability and more.

2. Change
By this I mean that words like “innovation”, “new” and “revolutionary” were commonly heard at IBI 2018. This is to be expected, since many attend the event to hear the freshest ideas and trends, and they weren’t let down this year.Gary Earl presented on the rise in chronic diseases over the past several decades. He urged the audience to sway from the status quo by modifying systems, behaviors and environments to make positive changes in health. Then, a team from Morneau Shepell explained their innovative approach to a “total health strategy”, which looks at employee health at the individual level and demands dual-accountability from both employer and employee for better outcomes in the areas of physical and mental health as well as productivity.In “Work is Changing and Reshaping Return to Work”, Dr. Glenn Pransky of Liberty Mutual outlined the changes we are seeing in the American workforce: more automation, more remote workers, the incorporation of artificial intelligence, the emergence of the gig economy, the trend toward later retirement and so on. These changes, Pransky argued, warrant an aligned shift in return-to-work tactics through the use of more digitally-friendly systems in particular. This was a nice segue into a later presentation on virtual healthcare, which emphasized the efficiency and effectiveness of telehealth through actual case study results. A representative from Walgreens then spoke on a panel about the importance of employee engagement in their whole health program, which aims to make services more convenient.Lastly, as mentioned above, I spoke with colleagues from Robert Half, Guardian Life Insurance, Adventist Health System and Chevron about the need for organizations to evolve their absence management programs. Our focus was on offering results and experiences that exhibit how to identify trends within your company and within the market, how to choose and work with different vendors, the importance of gathering feedback post-implementation from all stakeholders, and the ways in which metrics can help inform all of these integrations.

3. Paid Leave
As more and more states are passing paid leave laws and regulations, and more employers are implementing their own policies whether or not they are mandated to, I was glad to see that this was one of the hot topics at IBI this year.One session included a case study from Norwell Health, a New York based organization with 60,000 employees who recently developed a new paid parental leave program. The presentation provided guidance on how Norwell Health considered things like benchmarks, predictive cost and productivity analysis, competitive advantage and measurement. On the second day of the conference, Michelle Jackson of Unum and Kristi Stormer of American Family Insurance provided an overview of several organizations who have implemented a paid family leave policy. They presented  on the business case for such programs as well as the time and funds needed to establish a PFL benefit.

4. Mental & Behavioral Health
Eliminating the stigma and getting to the core of mental health problems has been a core focus over the last couple of years, both within and outside of the workplace. The 2018 IBI Annual Forum helped continue and advance the conversation.One panel highlighted the importance of creating an understanding workplace environment where anxiety and depression are treated as normal issues and are allowed to be discussed and recognized. The speakers explained how creating such a culture will help an organization’s morale as well as its bottom line. During “Mental Health in the Workplace. Challenges. Strategies. Opportunities!” further addressed the problematic stigma of mental illness, citing that while 20% of the US workforce suffers from it, only 1/3 will seek help or treatment, for fear of prejudice. This presentation, led by on mental health specialist, one employer and one ADA attorney, focused on ways to increase access to education and support for mental health at work, including EAP programs and other accommodations. On the last day of the conference, a mental-health related session drew from the experiences of The Home Depot and Comcast in their efforts to destigmatize the issue. Specifically, speakers illustrated the role that sleep can play in mental illness and therapeutic solutions. Sleep is so often the answer, isn’t it?

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the 2018 Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) Annual Forum. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions about employee benefits, disability and absence management, or anything else related. Lastly, keep an eye out for a similar write-up regarding the 2018 Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) 2018 Annual Compliance Conference at the end of April.

 

 

 

Spring to Lead “Is Your Leave Program Compliant?” NEEBC Session

The landscape of employee leave is ever-changing, with new regulations frequently popping – both at national and local levels. As an employer, it’s your duty to understand what it means to have a compliant leave program, and how to keep it that way. It’s no easy task, though, which is why we’re leading an educational session on the topic, in partnership with the New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC)Leave Law Compliance

Spring Partners Karen English and Teri Weber will be presenting, “Is Your Leave Program Compliant? Getting and Staying Ahead in this Constantly Changing Landscape” on Tuesday, October 10th from 12-2PM at 800 Boylston Street in Boston. Karen and Teri have helped many clients of varying sizes, industries and geographic locations navigate this complicated employer area, and are looking forward to sharing their advice and best practices with session attendees.

The discussion will involve a deep dive into leave laws, including but not limited to FMLA, ADA, PFL and PDL and then explanations on how to keep up with compliance through all of these different policies and nuances. So if you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head over a new regulation, or worry about your leave program’s compliance status, be sure to join us on October 10th. Questions are welcome and lunch will be served!

For more information on registration and professional education credit, click here.

DMEC Recap: 5 Employer Policies to Consider

After every conference I attend, I try to take time to reflect on the core themes that popped up. In fact, this is one of the primary ways that I can stay on top of industry trends and employer needs. As an advisory board member for the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), I am wholly familiar with the organization and have been attending their events for many years. To this day, each conference leaves me with new knowledge gained and something(s) unexpected.Employee Absence Management

DMEC celebrated its 25th anniversary and welcomed over 700 professionals in the absence and disability management fields to its summit in Anaheim from July 31st to August 3rd.  With summer having winded down I’ve finally had time to put my thoughts together on the event. So if you didn’t have a chance to make it to the conference, or could merely use a refresher, here are the highlights from my perspective, organized into policies for employers to consider.

 

  1. Parental & Family Medical Leave

With states such as New York and Washington having recently passed paid family leave laws, it’s no wonder this topic was prevalent throughout the conference. Each year, there is something new to discuss on this topic – if not several.

Paid Family LeaveThis year, speakers from MetLife discussed the challenges of striking a balance between productivity, compliance and retention when it comes to leave management. A panel including Mary Chavez of Levi Strauss & Co. and Dianne Arpin of T-Mobile spoke about how and why employers in the US, the only developed nation without a standardized leave policy, are still going above and beyond what is legally required. Robyn Marino from Cigna led a session on where the current White House administration stands on paid leave and how it relates to employer mandates and decision making. On Wednesday afternoon, speakers from Aetna discussed the relationship with Family Medical Leave and Short-Term Disability – how the former often leads to the latter, and what to do about it.

Ultimately, many employers are determining how to best to structure their policies with regard to paid leave, whether or not it’s legally required of them.

 

  1. Drugs in the Workplace

While the topic only played a key role in two of DMEC’s education sessions, they were both strong in emphasizing the crisis. With an uptick in awareness and new laws being passed in states like Massachusetts around the legality of marijuana, it is definitely a topic worth noting.

One session did a deep dive on how to navigate marijuana in the workplace – how does legislation affect workplace policies? Does this change employer drug testing? If marijuana is legal, does that mean it should be allowed in the workplace?

Further, Michael Coupland of IMCS Group got serious when presenting on opioids in the workplace. As the opioid crisis continues to sweep the nation, the session provided employers with guidance on how to stay ahead of the issue and steps to intervene and mitigate problems should they arise.

 

  1. Getting Ahead of Mental and Behavioral Health Issues

Having long been a “taboo” issue, it’s great to see mental health continuing to get more attention and being spoken about openly. In fact, the pre-conference was incredible and gave so many real-time examples Employee Behavioral Healththat many of us in the audience were beside ourselves, and wanting to do more. The question “Are you okay?” has taken on a new meaning for so many of us as a result, and will no doubt prompt us to work on increasing awareness and making tools and resources available for those struggling. This also includes offering benefits or EAP programs that align with tackling mental and behavioral health problems.

On the second day of the conference, a presentation led by Broadspire highlighted ways to identify different types of mental health issues – what are the red flags? How can they be addressed early on? They also discussed how and when it’s appropriate for an employer to intervene, and encouraged the audience to help de-stigmatize mental health. As one in five of your employees is suffering from a behavioral health problem, it’s important to learn how to motivate them and help them get better.

 

  1. ADA and Compliance Challenges

Keeping up with regulations and compliance requirements is very difficult in this industry; new regulations are sprouting up across different regions of the country every day. Luckily, several presentations at DMEC helped attendees come to grips with these challenges.

A panel including Adrienne Paler from Sutter Health discussed the importance of integrating and accounting for Workers’ Compensation as it relates to federal laws like the ADA and the FMLA. A later session addressed obscure or difficult-to-manage FMLA requests and how to best handle such claims. Representatives from Aetna talked about how oftentimes a family medical leave will turn into a disability leave, and let employers know what to watch out for, providing research-based stay-at-work strategies for at-risk employees. A different presentation went over ERISA regulations and, lastly, a Thursday morning session covered how to use mobile apps and platforms to improve FMLA and overall leave compliance, providing employers with more efficient and modernized solutions to respond to an evolving workforce.

 

  1. Returning to Work

It’s not uncommon for employees to realize that coming back to work after some sort of leave is a great hurdle. It’s important for employers to recognize that the transition isn’t easy, and provide ways to mitigate anxiety and make the shift run as smoothly as possible for employees.

Return to Work ProgramReturning to work has been a hot topic for years, but with each passing year there are new challenges to overcome and new strategies to help do so. A group of representatives from Guardian discussed the positive impact of vocational rehabilitation, while another panel explained how to proactively get in front of leaves and how to retain employees, happily and healthfully, upon returning to work.

Spring partner and my close colleague, Teri Weber, led a Thursday morning session with Memorial Sloan Kettering that looked at return to work from a broader perspective, that is accommodations overall. She emphasized the difference between merely doing what’s legal vs. doing what is best for your employees. The group recommended expanding the stakeholders involved in return to work strategies to include those who work in areas like health and safety, recruiting and diversity. They presented the client’s methodology and showcased how it’s helped in communication, compliance and record-keeping in a timely manner.

Overall, the 25th annual DMEC conference exceeded my expectations. I always enjoy going and seeing familiar faces, as well as meeting new ones. The topics covered at the event were informative, grounded in research, relevant and diverse. Beyond that, DMEC always does a great job organizing activities and networking opportunities throughout the course of the conference, and I caught my first Angels game!

If you have questions about any of the topics above, feel free to reach out. I’d love to chat about your disability and leave management goals and challenges – any time!