With federal workplace laws becoming increasingly complex and state mandates continually changing, employers are looking for ways to establish a consistent leave of absence approach across the organization. This RIMS 2021 session offered clarity on leave of absence and accommodation details and best practices.
- Shawn Johnson, Managing Director, Workforce Absence Solutions, Sedgwick
- Adam Morell, Director, National Technical Compliance, ADA Accommodations, Sedgwick
The Difference Between ADA and Return-to-Work Programs
An ADA accommodation is when you provide an employee some revised method, tool(s) or resources that will allow them to accomplish the essential functions of their job. Accommodations could be within the job, within the leave of absence and within a job reassignment assignment. In contrast, a return-to-work program helps employees return to work as soon as possible after an illness or injury. This includes transitional, light or modified duty. Often, if the return-to-work program is successful, it eliminates the need for an ADA accommodation at all. A return-to-work program is finite and has a defined end date, whereas an ADA accommodation does not.
Benefits of a Return-to-Work Program
- Cost reduction by not having to replace employees.
- Increased employee engagement and moral.
- Studies show employees heal faster when they return to work, rather than sitting at home.
How a Return-to-Work Program Operates
One size does not fit all. Generally, the light-duty assignments last for 60-90 days within a 12-month calendar period for each employee. There is usually a 30-day check-in period each month to see how the plan is working. This is where you can uncover if the employee is healing quicker than anticipated and if they do not need the full 90-day assignment. Alternatively, there can also be a 30-day extension if additional time is needed. It is important to pay the employee the same rate they were paid before the return-to-work program. This keeps them engaged. If after the 30-day extension the employee is still not ready to return at 100%, that is when the ADA would kick in and it is time to have an interactive dialog to determine next steps.
How a Return-to-Work Program Succeeds
First, you need executive buy-in for your program to succeed. This should be easy because, generally speaking, it should align with key organizational initiatives like increased productivity and decreased cost. Once you get that buy in, it is important that your program is communicated well throughout your organization. Explain how it aligns with goals and how your managers are important advocates.
You can also utilize your TPA as a resource for many elements of your program. They can help make sure all employees are getting consistent experiences and, thus, consistent opportunities to return to work as safety as possible. They can serve as the gatekeeper to ensure that each individual is being recognized for return-to-work opportunities. They can also ensure that the proper administration process is being followed and documented.
How to Navigate ADA
ADA is 30 years old and continues to evolve. Employees are becoming more aware of their rights, so the importance of accommodating employees is more important than ever. It provides a consistent approach to minimize perception of unfair treatment and, thus, your legal exposure.
Often it is hard for someone who deals directly with employees to provide a consistent approach. Some choose to outsource ADA management to have a neutral party in this role making objective decisions based on a medical standpoint, rather than a performance standpoint. This also provides a single system of record to document every interaction. If needed, this system helps provide a defensible case to prove to the courts that you acted in the employee’s best interest and all steps were followed. Finally, outsourcing provides a knowledgeable party that can offer best practices that evolve with ongoing ADA changes.
Top Accommodation Trend
Remote work has easily become the most-requested accommodation. The pandemic forced many work-from-home situations that overwhelmingly proved that companies could run successfully with remote employees. It is going to be harder than ever to prove that it does not work. Attitudes have changed and it is not going to be as easy to dismiss or deny this accommodation option when it comes up.