How to Anticipate the Need for ADAAA Accommodations

You know you want to handle all ADAAA accommodations properly and appropriately, but this goes beyond correctly participating in the interactive process. The process of returning an employee to full-duty should begin before they’ve missed the first day of work associated with a possible absence or require an accommodation. How? The need for a modified work situation or absence is not typically a sudden event but develops over time. You should proactively recognize the effects of presenteeism that are associated with chronic health conditions.

Consider, would you get ahead of the game if you were able to anticipate those employees who are more likely to be in need of some type of accommodation? Your sole focus should not be on just compliance; although, compliance is very important. Absence management should be seen as an opportunity; not an obligation. The process should be about cooperation with the employee; not complication or separation. Let’s ask ourselves three questions; questions whose answers should begin to put you in front of employees’ needs for absence and/or accommodation.

Question 1 - Are employees out on FML, WC, STD/LTD or workers’ compensation more likely to need an accommodation?

Typically, FML benefits are used more frequently when comparing FML with STD, LTD and workers’ compensation. Second to FML is the frequency of disabilities. As can be seen then, non-occupational lost time occurs more frequently than occupational lost time. Significant? Yes! With increasing regularity, disability leave is being considered a reasonable accommodation, subsequent to an FML leave. While not all serious health conditions under the FMLA are disabilities, all disabilities are serious health conditions. Furthermore, the serious health conditions being considered as disabilities are only increasing; take obesity as just one example.

So, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket and focus solely on safety programs in order to minimize workplace injuries. Consider implementation of wellness programs which have the possibility of impacting non-occupational health conditions and the risk of non-occupational injuries. More importantly, employers can’t always rely on what are considered ‘typical’ utilization benchmarks and metrics. A more effective strategy would be to understand your own cost and utilization experience related to these benefits, so that you can implement a more specific strategy based on your own FML, STD, LTD and workers’ compensation data.

Question 2 - Are employees with certain types of health conditions, injuries or disabilities more likely to need an accommodation?

More often than not, productivity is not first disrupted when the employee first leaves work for an absence or requires an at-work accommodation. Depending on the disabling condition, symptoms will begin to present themselves and presenteeism will be manifested before the request for assistance or absence. For example, symptoms associated with allergies are not always sudden but appear gradually depending on the time of year and other factors. In addition, some of the most prevalent conditions are often very subjective in nature in terms of diagnoses. These types of conditions include mental health and strains and sprains, particularly associated with the lower back. Knowing that these are the most frequently occurring conditions, employers can address them accordingly.

One way in which employers can respond to the prevalence of these types of conditions is by relying on analysis of FML, STD/LTD and workers’ compensation claims data that has been assembled in one central reporting and intelligence tool. In this way, either the most prevalent, long-lasting or the most costly conditions can be identified and strategies can be developed to address particular problems. But, this type of tool is greatly enhanced when additional types of data are integrated into the reporting tool because other types of data can identify potential patterns before they are seen in the claims data. What type of data is this? Health risk assessment data is just one example of this type of data which can be used to identify potential risk areas before they manifest themselves as prevalent medical conditions and become more costly.

Question 3 - Are certain demographics characteristics more likely to be associated with an increased need for an accommodation?

Combined with both the benefit types and health conditions are other employee demographics which influence and increase the likelihood of the possibility for absence and/or an accommodation. For example, depending on the age of the employee some conditions are more likely to transition to more permanent disability situations. Examples of these types of conditions include circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal conditions. In all of these categories older employers are more likely to progress to more complicated and lengthy disabilities. Also, another factor increasing not only the likelihood of employees taking FML but those health conditions progressing to disability is industry. Healthcare, manufacturing and telecommunication are examples of three industries that experience higher rates of utilization than others.

Age and industry are just two characteristics impacting the increased need for accommodations. Other factors can include work location, job type and supervisor. Really, without an understanding of your benefits data, employers won’t know the actual characteristics impacting their particular benefit experiences. Having your FML, disability and workers’ compensation data integrated in one reporting tool will help employers identify the characteristics not otherwise seen. A ‘reveal’ that really cannot afford to be hidden!

Don't settle for a second place finish. Reporting and intelligence about your absence and accommodation experience will help your benefits utilization management efforts reach new levels. Not only will you improve the bottom line for your organization, but you’ll build community by providing a better experience for your employees and your benefits department. If you’re not sure where to begin or you need to calculate the current impact of finishing second, then consider a solution based on the new Optis Insights platform.

Optis is pleased to announce the rollout of Optis Insights. For more information, click here.