9 Disability Management Services to Help Employees Return to Work

Cindy Danielson

By Cindy Danielson

January 26, 2022

So you're an employer that learns an employee (let's call her Emily) is going off work due to an injury or illness. Research says that prolonged absence from one’s normal roles, including absence from the workplace, is detrimental to an employee's mental, physical, and social well-being. Check out these services to learn what you can do to help Emily return to work quickly and safely.

Depending on the circumstance of Emily's absence, the amount of time you have to prepare for it may vary. You could have no warning at all, be given a few days, or have months to prepare. As an employer, your first concern is for the overall well-being of Emily, but soon after, reality sets in and you realize you've got to figure out how to maintain her workload while she's absent. Your customers and/or staff rely on her to do her job and contribute to the overall success of the organization. Her absence is felt by those that work with her so you hope she's not off any longer than necessary. But, you can do more than hope - you can plan!

The Impact of Employee Absence on Business

From a business perspective, Emily's absence creates a gap in the organization leaving you with many questions to answer, including:

  • Do I need to backfill for Emily for the short-term or the long-term?
    • Depending on her condition, it could be either and you may not know for certain, so you have to plan for both.
  • How do I backfill?
    • Can I reassign her workload to other colleagues?
    • Do I need to hire a temporary or contract worker?
    • Do I need to hire a permanent employee? If I hire a permanent employee, then if/how can he/she transition to other responsibilities if Emily returns to work?
  • How long is this all going to take?
  • How is this going to impact my business?
  • What is it going to cost?

Quick Tip: As employers try to plan for and adapt to an employee's absence, some health insurers provide resources to employers/managers to support them in the process. One of our insurance providers Beneva (La Capitale) offers the Manager Assistance Program (Map) to every employer group that offers long-term disability coverage through them (for no additional charge). MAP provides support services for managers and union representatives and is designed to help managers tackle unique challenges like crisis management, training and coaching, and employee assistance.

The Impact of Disability for the Employee

From Emily's perspective, she has questions of her own:

  • How will I financially support my family when I'm off work?
    • As an employee, Emily is likely eligible for sickness benefits through Canadian Employment Insurance. Canadian Employment Insurance offers income replacement of 55% of her compensation to a maximum of $638 per week (minus taxes) for no more than 15 weeks (after applying for EI, she'll also have 1-week of unpaid income and need to wait about 28 days after applying to receive her first payment). No matter her compensation, this is a financial hit to Emily and her family. If she's lucky, she may have an employer-sponsored short-term disability (aka weekly indemnity) policy with the potential of a higher income replacement than EI but no matter what, being off work is a hit to the pocketbook. 
    • Furthermore, if Emily is off work longer than 15 weeks, then that's typically when an employer-sponsored long-term disability policy kicks in. Many LTD policies replace up to a maximum of 66 2/3% (non-taxable LTD) of an employee's compensation with various maximums to benefit length and occupations. It's important that Emily knows what, if any, LTD coverage she has through her group benefits plan.
  • Who will do my job when I'm away? What will it be like when I return? (disorganized chaos? mounting tasks?)
  • How quickly can I return to work? 
  • Will I be fully physically and/or mentally able to return to work to full duties? Partial duties?
  • What does going back to work look like?

No matter if you're the employer or the employee, there are lots of questions that you may or may not have the answers to. It's a stressful time that can impede Emily's recovery, which is exactly the opposite of what both the employer and Emily want.

Questions

What does this all mean?

It's in the best interest of both Emily and her employer that she returns to work as soon as she's well enough and it's safe enough for her to do so.

According to the Canadian Medical Association: The Treating Physician's Role in Helping Patients Return to Work After Illness or Injury, prolonged absence from one’s normal roles, including absence from the workplace, is detrimental to a person’s mental, physical, and social well-being.

Prolonged absence from work is detrimental to a person's mental, physical, and social well-being.

Work provides many of us a purpose in life beyond the financial reasons of employment. So how do you help Emily return to work as soon as safely possible? This is where disability management programs and services can help.

9 Disability Management Services That Help Employees Return to Work

In the context of this blog, reference to disability management services is a broad reference and may include programs available through Canada's healthcare system, programs available through the insurer underwriting an employer's short and/or long term disability policy, third-party disability management, rehabilitation and/or wellness providers and employee and family assistance programs.

  1. Resources & Support - Navigating the healthcare system can be tricky and if Emily can be informed of and receive relevant and timely services, both through Canadian health resources and her employee benefits, Emily will get the care she needs to make a full recovery. An insurer's disability management services are an excellent resource to help Emily navigate and access the support she needs. One of Simply Benefits' insurers Empire Life, partners with a healthcare navigation provider Medical Confidence which provides group benefits plan members who are on disability leave with a personalized healthcare navigation service. Through this service, plan members are able to receive specialist care sooner, which can accelerate recovery and return to work. Learn more about Empire Life's Medical Confidence.
  2. Case Management - as mentioned above, navigating the system and available resources can be overwhelming so it makes sense that insurers and disability management providers (see vendor list below) offer case management services to provide Emily with one point of contact for her disability claim. With this support, Emily doesn't need to figure out who and where she should seek treatment as she is guided by professionals that know the system and can help - helping to reduce her stress and improve her chance of a full recovery.Mental Health
  3. Mental Health Services - If Emily is off work for a physical condition, it's easy to assume she needs support for her physical ailment; however, having a positive attitude and maintaining good mental health is equally important (especially during COVID as most everyone's mental health is already suffering). Providing Emily with mental health support contributes to her overall well-being so it's important she has access to help from a psychologist through paramedical coverage from your benefits plan or an Employee & Family Assistance Program.
  4. Rehabilitation / Paramedical Services - As recommended by Emily's physician, she may require the services of a paramedical professional commonly covered under employer-sponsored benefits plans which may include physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, speech therapists, and beyond. When Emily is off work, it's important her employer (or her insurer will if she has disability coverage) reminds her of this coverage and encourages her to use it to achieve a faster recovery. 
  5. Employee & Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) - when Emily is off work, there may be additional stresses on her and her family which can prevent her from taking the time she needs to rest and recover. If she's worried about how to pay the bills, care for her kids/aging parents or support her spouse, it's hard to relax and focus on her. This is where EFAP's can be helpful as they provide extensive services including counseling, financial education, concierge services (e.g. finding childcare) and so much more. Oftentimes, EFAPs also offer comprehensive disability management services. Simply Benefits' EFAP provider is HumanaCare which provides financial and legal counseling, nutrition and wellness counseling and so much more! Personally, I'm a big fan of EFAPs and have used them many times over the years. Read 10 Reasons Why EAPs Rock! A User's Perspective.
  6. Wellness Programs & Services - an increasing number of employers now offer workplace health and wellness programs to employees. Oftentimes you think those programs are available just to actively working employees; however, common wellness programs like challenges, mental health resources, nutrition education, stress management can also be helpful for employees off work (providing their physician approves). Simply Benefits' wellness partner HEAL provides educational health-related webinars (convenient for those employees at home) and corporate wellness challenges at preferred pricing.
  7. Assessments - Before Emily returns to work, she will likely be assessed by her physician and/or undergo more in-depth assessments such as cognitive screenings, physical assessments and/or other risk assessments. Assessments help Emily, and her employer, determine her health state and if she is truly ready to return to work. This assessment is an integral part of the return to work plan.
  8. Return to Work Plan - depending on Emily's recovery, she may be able to return to work before she is 100% recovered. This can be accomplished through a reduced work schedule, an adjustment to duties and/or work environment. The coordination of return to work programs can be managed through the employer's LTD insurance provider, a third-party disability provider or in-house as part of a company's Human Resources and/or Occupational Health & Safety Department.
  9. Employer Support - While employer support isn't a 'traditional' disability management service, I have to mention it. Emily's employer plays an important role in her recovery. Oftentimes, when an employee is off work, the employer leaves them alone to recover; however, I believe this is a missed opportunity. Emily wants to know that her employer sincerely cares about her well-being and wants to support her through her recovery process by checking in, being empathetic, and keeping her informed of any work-related matters (within reason and if Emily wants updates). Emily may be out of the office but she's still part of a team and wants to continue to know that she's missed, valued, and welcomed back when she's ready and able to return. 

In a Nutshell

Nobody wants to be off work due to a medical condition - it impacts an employee's mental, physical and financial health while negatively impacting the business. As an employer, it's your opportunity to help an employee recover quickly and return safely to the work environment so everybody wins. 

Employer Interested in Providing Disability Coverage for Employees?

Contact your Benefits Advisor or Simply Benefits and we'll refer you to one of our knowledgeable advisor partners.

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Benefits Advisor?

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Canadian Disability Management Providers

Most insurers provide disability management programs so be sure to contact yours; however, if/when you need to seek the assistance of a third-party disability provider, check out these companies (sorted alphabetically):

Your benefits advisor can likely recommend a third-party provider too so be sure to ask.

Other Helpful Resources

About Simply Benefits

Simply Benefits is a Third Party Payor (TPP) that provides Employee Health Benefits 100% digitally through our Canadian Advisor partners. Our all-in-one digital solution provides three portals that enable Benefits Advisors to digitally manage all client plans online, Employers to efficiently administer employee coverage, and Employees to view, update and use their benefits 24/7 via desktop or smartphone app.

We help ENGAGE Employees Anytime, Anywhere, SIMPLIFY the Benefits Experience, and EVOLVE an Advisors’ Benefits Business.

Connect with us at simplybenefits.ca or on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Employee Benefits Made Simple. 

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