Disability Coverage

Retaining talent and staying competitive in an employees’ job market

By Jeffery D. Smith

In today’s employee-favored job market, one of the biggest challenges facing employers is attracting and retaining top talent. With the unemployment rate consistently hovering near 4%, it’s important that employers do whatever they can to differentiate themselves. This can be through pay or — of significant interest to brokers — through benefits.

Since job seekers are at an advantage, it’s easy for them to take their talent elsewhere when they are unsatisfied with their pay or benefits. Today’s workforce also has a broad range of benefits needs and demands, leaving many companies struggling to keep up. One of these key struggles is disability management.

A recent study conducted by The Standard found that disabilities and absences are particularly challenging for companies to manage. Of over 500 HR managers surveyed, nearly two-thirds (64%) scored a C, D or F for how they manage disabilities in the workplace.  These below-average grades suggest employers are out of touch with their employees’ benefits needs, which can be attributed in part to poor disability management programs.

Having formal return-to-work programs in place can help manage employee health conditions and leads to lower absenteeism, and better employee retention, workplace morale and productivity. All of these advantages for an organization should also be considered in the context of a fluctuating business environment, especially if it looks like the chances for a recession appear likely.

Only 42% of employers said they felt their senior leadership was committed to helping employees with disabilities. Instead, what’s likely more often on a CEO’s mind is a recession. A recent survey by The Conference Board found that CEOs said a recession was their No. 1 external concern in 2019. If an organization has a firm handle on its workforce needs, it stands less of a chance to be impacted by a recession, since it likely won’t have to make as many personnel adjustments to accommodate workers.

As a result, brokers have an opportunity to highlight the numerous advantages of a comprehensive disability management program to their clients. The following insights can help bolster your clients’ disability management strategies and keep them from losing out on talent.

 Formal disability programs support employees in many ways

Each employee may require a different mix of accommodations and assistance for their health condition. Additionally, with four generations of employees in the workforce, what each employee requires for better disability and absence management is more varied than ever before. A disability carrier can help support employees in the following ways:

  1. Provide return-to-work support

When disability management is left unaddressed, employees may experience increased absenteeism, lower productivity, decreased morale or even require a disability leave. Since fewer than half of employers have formal return-to-work and stay-at-work strategies in place, this is a great place to start with your clients. Some disability carriers have consultants who work alongside a client to coordinate employees’ return-to-work plans and get them back to work sooner. These consultants are experts in their field and partner with an employer to make sure an employee is getting the support he or she needs to return to work. 

Explain to your clients how this support can include monitoring an employee’s progress and providing recommendations on potential job modifications as well as providing emotional and behavioral support, and coordinating benefits from other programs. Knowing what to say and do to help support an employee who is returning to work after a disabling condition can be challenging. This approach helps ensure an employee is getting the assistance they need, ensures the whole person is taken care of and improves their overall return-to-work experience.

A comprehensive approach may help an at-risk employee stay at work and may also allow an employee with a disabling condition to return to work more quickly in a safe and productive manner. Inform your clients how costs may be lowered when an employee can return to work more quickly, be productive upon their return and not require subsequent treatment for the same issue.

  1. Manage accommodations

One struggle your clients likely face is knowing how to provide the appropriate resources to returning employees. Be sure to highlight how a disability carrier can help alleviate some of an HR manager’s workload regarding return-to-work plans. HR managers are often left to accommodate their employees alone, reaching far beyond their area of expertise. But finding and implementing accommodations — for either a stay-at-work or return-to-work plan — doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

The responsibility of managing employees’ accommodations doesn’t have to fall solely on your client’s shoulders. A comprehensive disability management program will help identify the right accommodations for each employee’s unique situation, helping to keep them both healthy and productive at work.         

  1. Comply with legal regulations

When it comes to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), many employers are unsure of how to implement the appropriate accommodations that meet regulations. What’s more, 61% of employers in a 2017 survey conducted by The Standard said that constantly changing disability laws and guidelines make it difficult to properly support employees.

While disability carriers do not replace the employer’s responsibility to comply with the ADAAA, they can offer valuable assistance in helping employers meet compliance obligations. Disability consultants can provide expertise to guide clients through the decision-making process to determine reasonable accommodations that meet their employees’ needs and align with ADAAA regulations. 

Return-to-work programs get results that work

For those employers that successfully navigate employees’ health challenges and lead the industry in best practices, the benefits are numerous. Employers who have formal disability management programs in place reported greater success in boosting employee engagement and retention, such as:

  • 32% of employers reported lower absenteeism
  • 37% reported better employee retention
  • 34% reported better workplace morale
  • 31% reported better workplace productivity

Introducing a disability approach that includes return-to-work and stay-at-work support is essential for employers who want to ensure the health and well-being of their workforce. It’s also important for companies that want to stay competitive in retaining talent in an employee-focused job market. Often, the costs of searching for a new employee to replace one that is departing are higher than the cost of the actual stay-at-work support programs. Today’s diverse workforce is expecting and demanding more when it comes to benefits, so it’s essential you share these insights with your clients to help them recognize the value of having proper disability management programs in place.


Jeffery D. Smith, a member of the Cal Broker editorial advisory board, is a disability and productivity consultant for The Standard and has worked in the vocational rehabilitation field for more than 30 years. In his role, Jeff is continually looking at ways to improve the Workplace Possibilities℠ program to provide new and better stay-at-work and return-to-work services for both employers and employees. He shares the benefits of the program with new and existing clients, creates white papers and writes case studies to help make a difference for employers who are looking to be more successful in managing employee absence and disability.