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It’s the end of a busy week for absence management professionals, who descended on Denver, Colorado for the Disability Management Employer Coalition’s (DMEC) Annual Conference. DMEC celebrated its 30th anniversary this year with co-founder Marcia Caruthers, and a look back at some of the developments that led to the organization’s founding and growth, including innumerable legislative developments (including the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 and the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act of 2008) and the evolution of employer benefit offerings. Today, the organization is focused on education, benchmarking, along with research and resources related to the current challenges that employers face.

Unsurprisingly, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were a focal point of the conference, with insights into the changing nature of the workplace due to the pandemic, and how employers are adapting to new expectations and realities. One such challenge discussed was long COVID. Earlier this year, DMEC convened a think tank to examine the impacts and implications of long COVID for employers. While estimates of its prevalence range, the CDC estimates that one out of every 5 adults in the United States who have had COVID-19 have long COVID symptoms. Disability claims incidence statistics are beginning to reflect this reality, as well as challenging employers seeking to reintegrate impacted employees following their absence.

While mental health and wellness was a focal point for DMEC prior to the pandemic, the last two years have increased both the prevalence of mental health conditions and the urgency associated with identifying solutions to address them on the employer side. While virtual work served to mitigate the risks of COVID to both employee health and employer productivity, it yielded effects like Zoom fatigue, burnout, and isolation which has correlated to an increase in anxiety and depression among these employees. While these employees may know that these may be FML- or ADA-qualifying events, it is critical that employers are not waiting to hear any “magic words” as ReedGroup’s Carla OSullivan—who put on a riveting portrayal of Jack McCoy in the “Law and Order: DMEC Edition” session—puts it, before recognizing when to review for leave or accommodations. As the Department of Labor’s Director of FMLA, Helen Applewaithe, summarized: “The more flexible you are the lower the need for leave. It’s as simple as that.”

The number of states mandating paid family leave continues to rise, a welcome trend for many given that the US is now the only developed nation in the world without a national paid medical and family leave law. Alongside the increase in states examining the issue, many private employers are also looking at their leave policies as a way to attract and retain employees. Amidst the backdrop of the Great Resignation, employees are increasingly identifying leave benefits as among the most important benefits offered by their employer. As Unum’s Ellen McCann and Angel Bennett pointed out in their presentation, understanding the demographics of your workforce can be a critical component in the design of these benefits. While paid parental leave benefits are important to younger employees who may be planning to start or expand a family, paid caregiver benefits can be critical to older workers who may need to step in to care for a family member.

One of the critical pillars of DMEC is to both remind employers of the risk of non-compliance with the various leave and accommodation regulations that exist, while also providing tips to ensure compliance. To that end, FINEOS’ Megan Holstein and Sun Life’s Marjory Robertson provided an update on what has been a busy period for employee lawsuits that awarded sizable damages for failing to be compliant with FMLA, ADA, as well as a number of other federal and state laws. One exception to a wave of both jury and bench trials that were decided in favor of employees is that courts continue to find that employers can require employees to report FMLA-covered absences to both the employer and an outsourced third-party administrator, which enables employers to both address the employee’s absence from a productivity standpoint, while partnering with organizations like ReedGroup that help ensure compliance amidst the backdrop of complexity and constant change.

DMEC once again provided an opportunity for attendees to access a unique array of high-quality educational content and resources to address the absence management landscape. With so many big changes happening in our field within just a few years, these resources are more relevant than ever. We’ll see you all at the next DMEC conference in March 2023.

 

Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic. 

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