Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder? The Business of Absence & Disability Management
Have you heard that old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? It definitely makes my heart go pitter-patter. I absolutely love supporting leaders and solving the nuisances in the absence and disability management space.
Conversely, ask any people leader, and I’m sure that you will get a mixed bag of emotions because this is a challenging area to navigate. Unexpected disruptions to the daily operations, a misunderstanding that absence is solely related to medical issues, changing regulations, outdated strategies, policies, procedures, and systems all contribute to making this area a challenge to manage.
Some may think of this area as a pure compliance function, we have to do it, whether we like it or not. As a result, the function may sit in the organization’s Employee Relations or Compliance Areas. Some may think that the function is closely tied to medical, short- and long-term disability and place the function within the Benefits area of the organization.
However, some organizations have no idea where the function should sit, and it may be dropped in an area with the most available bandwidth, such as HR Operations or maybe even Compensation or Learning and Development. That’s a head-scratcher, right?
One thing that makes me gasp every time is when the function is decentralized. I’m dramatically posing with a facepalm as it pains me even to type the word decentralized. I believe that this is the riskiest approach by far. The lack of consistency with a decentralized process is ripe for potential legal issues.
Whatever the case or wherever the function sits, regardless of whether you insource, outsource or co-source, it is essential to ensure that you have a strong team that can support the function and the synergies that exist with other areas of HR in your organization. This will ensure that the process is seamless for the manager and employee. I’ve listed a few items that I believe you should consider as you determine the reporting structure and develop the absence and disability function for your organization:
- Are policies up to date? Is your policy well documented, easy to read, and readily available to all employees?
- Manager and employee engagement? Operations should reflect organizational values and provide a clear roadmap of the process so that both managers and employees know what to expect.
- Compliance? Are you having difficulty interpreting or remaining current on federal and state laws? Do you have sufficient resources to manage the function? Are you having difficulty determining what reasonable accommodations will allow employees to return to work and stay at work?
- How will absences be tracked? What does your data say about the organization? It is vital to track and analyze data for future planning. High rates of absence may be an indicator of deeper organizational issues.
- What is your level of acceptable risk? The level of acceptable risk that the organization is willing to take on will dictate how the function operates and where it ultimately fits in the HR structure. Additionally, it is imperative to have counsel available to navigate complex cases. Keep in mind that this is a critical area and that a misstep in the process may result in significant penalties.
Although there is no cookie-cutter approach to absence and disability management, numerous resources and software options are available to assist employers of all sizes in implementing or improving their absence and disability functions. Additionally, with the ever-changing landscape of this area and potential legal issues, employers can no longer view absence and disability management as an afterthought
ShaunTeah L. Radcliffe, is a subject matter expert in absence and disability management with more than 10 years of professional experience in managing and training professionals to ensure compliance and resolution of complex leave of absence and workplace accommodation requests. ShaunTeah is a contributor to the development of IEA’s newly revamped Certified Professional in Disability Management (CPDM) curriculum.