Watch the Webinar: Time for a Captive Checkup?

Most of us stay on top of things like dental cleaning appointments and routine car maintenance without giving it much thought, but we’re afraid a lot of companies aren’t treating their captives the same way. Our team recommends regular “captive check-ups” every few years for a variety of reasons, and have a clear, proven system for taking organizations through this refeasibility process.

Spring Partner and Chief Actuary, Steven Keshner, along with our Senior Actuarial Consultant and property & casualty expert, Peter Johnson, led an educational session on captive optimization through

Captive Optimization

refeasibility studies. With a combined 40 years of experience in the insurance, actuarial and captive industries, the two have a wealth of knowledge to share, and we wouldn’t want you to miss it.

Fill out the form below to view and listen to our webinar, “Time for a Captive Checkup?” which was conducted live in September of 2017. You’ll take away valuable learnings, such as:

  • The importance of refeasibility and the different factors that make it necessary
  • A recommended, step-by-step refeasibility process including suggested strategies, modes of measurement, and how to piece everything together
  • Questions to be answered through your captive check-up
  • Resources for getting started

 

When Was Your Captive’s Last Check-Up?

You’ve had your P&C captive for years and it has continued to perform well throughout. So, what next? How do you capitalize on this success and build on your captive or rebuild an underperforming aspect of it? One word: Refeasibility. Okay, so ‘refeasibility’ isn’t really a word (according to Oxford Dictionary). At least it hasn’t been traditionally, but it is one that needs to be on the tip of the tongue of every captive owner. It is a word that has become somewhat synonymous with captive optimization and very accurately describes what captive owners need to do with an older captive: conduct a new (re)feasibility study.

The Importance of Refeasibility

As with all other business matters, your company’s captive needs and goals are likely to change over time, especially with new and emerging risks sprouting up frequently. Much like your family car, a captive should have a check up on a periodic basis. As a captive matures and companies evolve, captives need to be re-examined to determine if changes should be made to align with current organisational needs. Key reasons for this re-examination include the following:

  • Positive or negative experience
    • Example: unexpected adverse loss experience, such as supply chain interruption, resulting in business income loss not covered by insurance
  • Surplus release or addition
    • Example: surplus growth for the captive has been good and, as a result, there is now opportunity to add/expand coverages insured in the captive
  • Opportunities to add new lines of coverage (that perhaps didn’t exist or weren’t relevant before)
    • Example: Employee benefits or cyber risk
  • Change in the risk profile of various risks
    • Example: Litigiousness is on the rise in the insured’s industry and additional protection is needed
  • Changes in the regulatory environment
    • Generally speaking, regulatory changes have impacted business directly or indirectly, resulting in loss of revenue. This is a leading concern for small business owners.
  • Changes in law (such as those resulting from case law outcomes like the recent Commissioner vs. Avrahami case)

To address all these potential changes, our Spring CARE (Captive Analytical Risk Evaluation) team recommends a captive evaluate its risk appetite and risk exposure at least every ? ve years. Are you still writing the right lines in your captive? Are you still in the right domicile? Would a different structure be more profitable? Would other service providers make a difference? Have your claims changed signi?cantly? Have regulations changed over the years? All this and more can be answered with a good review of your captive by a professional consultant.

Captive optimisation starts with a captive refeasibility study. Every refeasibility study is different to varying degrees; the scope and resources required to conduct the study are dependent on the captive’s current structure, the events (if any) that triggered the study and the goals of the company. That said, through our Spring CARE system, we follow a carefully-constructed evaluation structure when our team works through the process of evaluating captive client’s existing captive. Generally speaking, we follow and recommend the following ? ow process in conducting a refeasabiity study, starting with goals and ending with measurement.

Goals StageRisk Transfer Vehicles

In this initial stage, it is important to focus on con? rming the goals and objectives of your captive, both new and old. Have the older goals been achieved? How have the goals changed over the years? This is a critical step in laying the groundwork and direction of your refeasibility project. Also critical at this early point is the collection of data. We consider the data to be collected here as not only the stats and facts of the captive, but also the more subjective (non-paper) data that can be gleaned through management interviews and informal stakeholder surveys. Finally, in any good refeasibility study, it is very important to identify changes in your risk pro?le. The risk matrix to the right shows the four classic actions a company can use to handle each of their risks (DeLoach 2000).

Typically,  high probability or high impact risks should be considered for insuring in your captive. Some of the most common risks to insure in captives are listed below . Emerging risks should also be considering in this assessment. For example, A new technology like driverless cars will create both risk and/or opportunities across various industries.

Coverages commonly written into captives:

Employee Benefits Risks Property & Casualty Risks
AD&D Auto Liability
Life/Loss of Key Employee Business Interruption
Long-Term Disability Directors & Officers Liability
Medical Stop-Loss General Liability
Voluntary Benefits Professional Liability
Retiree Benefits Property (deductible or excess layer)
Pension Buy-Outs/Buy-Ins Trade Credit
Workers’ Compensation
Commercial Policy Excluded Risk

 

Impact Stage

You want to be sure you have a clear idea of what you’re looking to accomplish, and to what extent. The Impact Stage of a refeasibility study involves looking at all the different pieces of tCaptive Optimizationhe captive puzzle to determine how they would be affected by the changes you’re considering. A few activities that a professional captive optimizer would look to accomplish in this phase would be:

  • Conducting an analysis of your risk financing optimization
  • Reviewing your current reinsurance levels and optimizing your reinsurance use
  • Stress testing of the captive with reasonable adverse case outcomes

Strategies Stage

It’s important to outline the methods you plan on utilizing in your captive refresh; in this Strategies Phase, a professional captive optimizer would ?rst analyse any additional lines of coverage that could be insured by your captive.

Secondly, a surplus management strategy would be developed. There are various considerations in appropriately managing the capital and surplus levels over the life of a captive, including average cost of capital, retention levels, reinsurance use, taxes and a number of others that a team of actuaries and consultants would review and develop strategy to address.

Structure Stage

Now that you know what you want to do and how, it’s time to take a closer look at how it will all work together in a logical structure. Market changes should give you some food for thought. For example, pure captives are increasingly changing to sponsored entities. In this Structure Stage, it is important to identify investment management best practices as well as the optimal collateral structure.

Measurement

Finally, all sound captive projects end with measurement. This is the time to collect new data and determine to what extent goals were met, and impacts made. A great deal of this stage relieCaptive Refeasibility s on the creation of solid industry benchmarks to measure current and future captive performance against. It is also important in the Measurement Stage for the optimization team to develop implementation plans based on their findings and make actionable recommendations for helping you achieve the goals that were established in the first phase of this project. At the conclusion of the measurement phase, a professional captive optimization team, such as our Spring CARE team, would produce a refeasibility report for your captive. In this report, all of the ?ndings of the refeasibility study are outlined and reviews along with the recommendations developed in this phase. These ?ndings can serve as a base line for measurement.

Conclusion

Regardless of how old or new your captive is, there are a number of internal and external factors that have changed since it was created. With all the changes taking place in the industry, it is a great time to have a professional come in and not only take a snapshot of how your captive is currently performing, but also help you project and strategize where your captive should be in the future. Now is a great time for a captive refeasibility study.

5 Potential Pitfalls of Voluntary Benefits & How to Avoid Them

You already read that Voluntary Benefits Are No Longer Voluntary for Employers. Now it’s time to dig deeper into Voluntary Benefits best practices- program design, what constitutes success when it comes to voluntary benefits and outline tips to prevent an ineffective voluntary program.

The term voluntary benefits was coined long ago when employers fully funded (or significantly subsidized) core benefits and voluntary benefits were an add-on, paid for by the employee through payroll deductions.  As the landscape changed, core benefits evolved to be partially funded by employers and partially funded through payroll deductions. As a result, many benefits became voluntary.

For today’s employees, it’s not as simple as core and voluntary; it’s about choice.  Employees need to balance what limited disposable income they have for all benefits, regardless of what they are labeled. Even still, the concept of core and voluntary resonates with employers as an industry norm, so it’s important to identify ways to avoid common pitfalls of voluntary program implementation:

  1. Think holistically
  2. Don’t forget about ERISA
  3. Consider enrollment options as a critical component in overall design
  4. Remember that education is key
  5. Help employees get the most from their plan

Think Holistically About Voluntary BenefitsVoluntary Benefits Tips

Many employers think offering voluntary benefits is like checking a box – something that can be done quickly and without much deliberation. However, programs without thoughtful preparation are rarely successful in terms of education, enrollment and satisfaction.  Voluntary benefits should be considered an integral part of the overall benefits package.  A strong offering should take into account various factors, including but not limited to:

Current population:

Although a one-size-fits-all approach does not and should not exist, employee demographics can help you pinpoint which products would be most sensible for your collective audience.  Generally speaking,                  those that are starting out in their careers have different priorities than those nearing retirement, and employees falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum will have their own set of benefits needs as                well.  For example, accident insurance is more popular for families than for singles or empty nesters, while student loan repayment is more relevant for those in their 20’s and 30’s than for older employees.

Current benefit offering:

When considered in tandem, voluntary benefits can serve to protect employees and reduce their risk or perceived risk for various physical or financial troubles.  For example, introducing a high deductible                   health plan offering complementary voluntary products (i.e. hospital indemnity, critical illness, accident insurance) can help decrease the financial burden on employees.

Don’t Forget About ERISA Considerations for Voluntary Benefits

Voluntary Benefits Best PracticesVoluntary benefit programs may or may not be subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), depending on how they are structured and supported by the employer.  ERISA provides important protections but can also pose constraints for employers and employees.  Assuming you do not want your voluntary programs to be covered under ERISA, you must be careful to manage enrollment and administration separately from your core benefit programs.  If you would like your voluntary plans to be subject to ERISA, then coordinating administration and enrollment will not be problematic; however, understand the potential impacts.  ERISA compliance and your potential fiduciary duties should never be an afterthought.

Consider Enrollment Options as a Critical Component in Overall Design

Our research affirms that employees better understand the offering and have higher enrollment when they participate in group meetings or individual meetings.  In addition, vendor partners are often willing to offer more competitive pricing and waive enrollment requirements if they can meet with employees directly or send them some type of material in the mail.

While some employers welcome the “free” education and enrollment, others are concerned about aggressive selling or having employees using work hours to meet with potential vendors.  If you think of voluntary benefits as part of your holistic offering, then leveraging work hours will be less of an apprehension when voluntary is an element of your complete attraction and retention tool.

The key is to think about the enrollment process as an essential design component of your voluntary program.  Ensure that decisions surrounding enrollment fit with the overall program strategy and make sense for your population.  Providing comprehensive enrollment with core and voluntary may be a best practice for your group.  This allows employees to make coordinated decisions regarding their contributions and programs.  It also enables you to offer complementary plans for optimal plan selection.  While that structure works for some, other employers feel employees have too many decisions to make during annual enrollment and prefer to stagger voluntary enrollment to allow more time for thoughtful decision making. There’s no right or wrong answer – each company and population is different.

Remember that Education is Important

Decision support tools have continued to evolve, providing employees with strong advocacy for traditional plans and voluntary benefits alike.  Although voluntary benefits are designed to be less complex and easier to understand, for some employees the language is new.  Summarizing the program(s) and sharing scenarios to help employees understand the products is often the best way to introduce a new plan.Voluntary Benefits Enrollment

Regardless of who funds the program, as the employer it is important that you educate your employees on the available offering.  Employees should not elect a benefit they do not understand and employers should not offer benefits that are not valued by employees, or that employers themselves cannot explain effectively.  Every dollar spent on voluntary benefits is money your employees are not spending on other necessities like monthly bills, student debt, groceries, emergency savings, or even 401k contributions; make sure they are knowledgeable about what they are buying and ensure that it’s a competitive product in the market.

Education can be facilitated in many ways including traditional employee meetings, brochures, benefit fairs, and onsite sessions with vendors.  At Spring we have also assisted clients with quick videos that provide the highlights of a program and generate interest.  These videos have been well received and employees are able to retain the information from a creative video more easily than a detailed presentation.  Videos are also shareable and can be viewed by family members who may be a critical part of the decision-making process.

Help Employees Make the Most of the Plan

Voluntary Benefits Vendors

After you have implemented a voluntary program and educated your membership it’s important that you continue to monitor the program and assist your employees in optimization.  Sometimes employees forget about the benefits they have available to them and continue to make monthly contributions to plans but they neglect to file claims because they don’t remember what they have elected.  A few simple actions can help your employees make the most of the plan:

  • Send a quarterly newsletter to all employees, or just those enrolled in voluntary benefits. This will give you the opportunity to remind them of the program benefits.  It can also help facilitate changes (i.e. enrolling spouses, children) and provide an opportunity to ask questions.
  • Partner with your vendors. For example, if you have a purchase program in place, they often run specials and send postcard reminders.  Take advantage of those specials!  Perhaps you could run a joint wellness campaign linked to specials on health equipment.  Ask if they would be willing to raffle off something like a treadmill or vacation to align with your wellness strategy.
  • Remind your employees to file claims. Even if you cannot leverage actual data, you can send a reminder at the midpoint of every year for wellness visits with a link to the claim form.  For example, most critical illness and accident plans offer a wellness rider – find out how many employees use that benefit and try to increase that percentage.
  • Ensure the program remains competitive from a pricing and design standpoint. Employees should feel assured that the benefit they’re purchasing through their employer remains is top tier.

Taking the above factors into account will help you establish a voluntary benefit offering that is accessible and relevant to your employees and that is well worth the effort on your part. Today’s workforce has come to expect more than just the basics when it comes to benefits, and voluntary products allow you to diversify your benefits package, keeping you competitive with market standards without any significant cost increase.

However, it is not enough merely to offer voluntary products and services – they need to be the right ones for your population, they need to be communicated effectively, they need to be readily understood, they need to account for regulations like ERISA, they need to be fully utilized and they need to be rolled out in a way that makes sense for your organization. By covering these bases you’ll be able to avoid the most common pitfalls and successfully offer a valued voluntary benefits programs.

Spring Spotlight: Alex Huang

Is an Actuarial Analyst’s favorite hobby making spreadsheets? We had to find out, so we sat down with Alex.

Top Actuarial Firm

Title: Actuarial Analyst

Joined Spring in: August of 2016

At work: Alex plays a key role on our actuarial team, working on pricing, reserving and financial projections and analysis for client projects.

Outside-of-work: It turns out his spare time is not spent making spreadsheets. When not at the office, Alex enjoys reading, watching TV and/or movies and jogging.

Favorite season: Alex likes spring the best because it’s not too hot, and not too cold. It’s juuust right.

Favorite flower/plant: Bamboo.

Favorite food: Chinese. The authentic kind.

Favorite part about working at Spring: “The supportive, interactive and collaborative work environment.”

Currently jamming to: Jack Johnson & the like – mellow, acoustic music.

 

Spring to Lead “Is Your Leave Program Compliant?” NEEBC Session

The landscape of employee leave is ever-changing, with new regulations frequently popping – both at national and local levels. As an employer, it’s your duty to understand what it means to have a compliant leave program, and how to keep it that way. It’s no easy task, though, which is why we’re leading an educational session on the topic, in partnership with the New England Employee Benefits Council (NEEBC)Leave Law Compliance

Spring Partners Karen English and Teri Weber will be presenting, “Is Your Leave Program Compliant? Getting and Staying Ahead in this Constantly Changing Landscape” on Tuesday, October 10th from 12-2PM at 800 Boylston Street in Boston. Karen and Teri have helped many clients of varying sizes, industries and geographic locations navigate this complicated employer area, and are looking forward to sharing their advice and best practices with session attendees.

The discussion will involve a deep dive into leave laws, including but not limited to FMLA, ADA, PFL and PDL and then explanations on how to keep up with compliance through all of these different policies and nuances. So if you’ve ever found yourself scratching your head over a new regulation, or worry about your leave program’s compliance status, be sure to join us on October 10th. Questions are welcome and lunch will be served!

For more information on registration and professional education credit, click here.

DMEC Recap: 5 Employer Policies to Consider

After every conference I attend, I try to take time to reflect on the core themes that popped up. In fact, this is one of the primary ways that I can stay on top of industry trends and employer needs. As an advisory board member for the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), I am wholly familiar with the organization and have been attending their events for many years. To this day, each conference leaves me with new knowledge gained and something(s) unexpected.Employee Absence Management

DMEC celebrated its 25th anniversary and welcomed over 700 professionals in the absence and disability management fields to its summit in Anaheim from July 31st to August 3rd.  With summer having winded down I’ve finally had time to put my thoughts together on the event. So if you didn’t have a chance to make it to the conference, or could merely use a refresher, here are the highlights from my perspective, organized into policies for employers to consider.

 

  1. Parental & Family Medical Leave

With states such as New York and Washington having recently passed paid family leave laws, it’s no wonder this topic was prevalent throughout the conference. Each year, there is something new to discuss on this topic – if not several.

Paid Family LeaveThis year, speakers from MetLife discussed the challenges of striking a balance between productivity, compliance and retention when it comes to leave management. A panel including Mary Chavez of Levi Strauss & Co. and Dianne Arpin of T-Mobile spoke about how and why employers in the US, the only developed nation without a standardized leave policy, are still going above and beyond what is legally required. Robyn Marino from Cigna led a session on where the current White House administration stands on paid leave and how it relates to employer mandates and decision making. On Wednesday afternoon, speakers from Aetna discussed the relationship with Family Medical Leave and Short-Term Disability – how the former often leads to the latter, and what to do about it.

Ultimately, many employers are determining how to best to structure their policies with regard to paid leave, whether or not it’s legally required of them.

 

  1. Drugs in the Workplace

While the topic only played a key role in two of DMEC’s education sessions, they were both strong in emphasizing the crisis. With an uptick in awareness and new laws being passed in states like Massachusetts around the legality of marijuana, it is definitely a topic worth noting.

One session did a deep dive on how to navigate marijuana in the workplace – how does legislation affect workplace policies? Does this change employer drug testing? If marijuana is legal, does that mean it should be allowed in the workplace?

Further, Michael Coupland of IMCS Group got serious when presenting on opioids in the workplace. As the opioid crisis continues to sweep the nation, the session provided employers with guidance on how to stay ahead of the issue and steps to intervene and mitigate problems should they arise.

 

  1. Getting Ahead of Mental and Behavioral Health Issues

Having long been a “taboo” issue, it’s great to see mental health continuing to get more attention and being spoken about openly. In fact, the pre-conference was incredible and gave so many real-time examples Employee Behavioral Healththat many of us in the audience were beside ourselves, and wanting to do more. The question “Are you okay?” has taken on a new meaning for so many of us as a result, and will no doubt prompt us to work on increasing awareness and making tools and resources available for those struggling. This also includes offering benefits or EAP programs that align with tackling mental and behavioral health problems.

On the second day of the conference, a presentation led by Broadspire highlighted ways to identify different types of mental health issues – what are the red flags? How can they be addressed early on? They also discussed how and when it’s appropriate for an employer to intervene, and encouraged the audience to help de-stigmatize mental health. As one in five of your employees is suffering from a behavioral health problem, it’s important to learn how to motivate them and help them get better.

 

  1. ADA and Compliance Challenges

Keeping up with regulations and compliance requirements is very difficult in this industry; new regulations are sprouting up across different regions of the country every day. Luckily, several presentations at DMEC helped attendees come to grips with these challenges.

A panel including Adrienne Paler from Sutter Health discussed the importance of integrating and accounting for Workers’ Compensation as it relates to federal laws like the ADA and the FMLA. A later session addressed obscure or difficult-to-manage FMLA requests and how to best handle such claims. Representatives from Aetna talked about how oftentimes a family medical leave will turn into a disability leave, and let employers know what to watch out for, providing research-based stay-at-work strategies for at-risk employees. A different presentation went over ERISA regulations and, lastly, a Thursday morning session covered how to use mobile apps and platforms to improve FMLA and overall leave compliance, providing employers with more efficient and modernized solutions to respond to an evolving workforce.

 

  1. Returning to Work

It’s not uncommon for employees to realize that coming back to work after some sort of leave is a great hurdle. It’s important for employers to recognize that the transition isn’t easy, and provide ways to mitigate anxiety and make the shift run as smoothly as possible for employees.

Return to Work ProgramReturning to work has been a hot topic for years, but with each passing year there are new challenges to overcome and new strategies to help do so. A group of representatives from Guardian discussed the positive impact of vocational rehabilitation, while another panel explained how to proactively get in front of leaves and how to retain employees, happily and healthfully, upon returning to work.

Spring partner and my close colleague, Teri Weber, led a Thursday morning session with Memorial Sloan Kettering that looked at return to work from a broader perspective, that is accommodations overall. She emphasized the difference between merely doing what’s legal vs. doing what is best for your employees. The group recommended expanding the stakeholders involved in return to work strategies to include those who work in areas like health and safety, recruiting and diversity. They presented the client’s methodology and showcased how it’s helped in communication, compliance and record-keeping in a timely manner.

Overall, the 25th annual DMEC conference exceeded my expectations. I always enjoy going and seeing familiar faces, as well as meeting new ones. The topics covered at the event were informative, grounded in research, relevant and diverse. Beyond that, DMEC always does a great job organizing activities and networking opportunities throughout the course of the conference, and I caught my first Angels game!

If you have questions about any of the topics above, feel free to reach out. I’d love to chat about your disability and leave management goals and challenges – any time!

Natural Disasters & Employee Benefits: Legal & Moral Considerations

Making Natural Disasters Less Disastrous for Your Employees

With the recent hits of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and José as well as the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that hit Mexico and the ongoing wildfire problems in the Western United States, many are left wondering what they’re supposed to do in the face of such tragic, unprecedented damage caused by natural disasters.

This goes for everyone – if you’re a victim, how do you cope, and get back on your feet? If you’re lucky enough to be far away from destruction, how can you help? If you work in politics, what is the plan for disaster relief? However, working in the space that we do, we’d like to weigh in on the employer perspective: what benefits and leave allowances your employees are legally entitled to in the midst of a natural disaster and what employers might want to consider, while not required, in order to alleviate the burden for their employees.

natural disasters employee benefits

FMLA & ADA and Natural Disasters

What’s Required

When it comes to FMLA and/or ADA related leaves of absence, there’s essentially no real change in process in the face of a natural disaster, at least in terms of the law. There are, however, a few factors to consider, even if you’ve no plans to make a policy change:

  • A bad storm or earthquake may heighten the severity of any pre-existing conditions your employees might have. A spike in FMLA or ADA leave requests is not uncommon in the aftermath of a natural disaster; someone with an exiFMLA Accommodationssting nervous disorder may be dealing with stress-related conditions, blood pressures may be on the up-tick, people may need time to care for relatives who didn’t fare the storm well, etc.
  • It is possible for a natural disaster to spur a new condition or injury, such as backpain from home repair, stress-induced migraines, or anxiety over destroyed property.
  • Employees who are members of the National Guard and are called for disaster-related duty are not necessarily protected under USERRA, but certain states do protect such absences.
  • Even in face of a natural disaster, the FMLA does not account for absences due to things like tending to flood damage, home repair, or looking for missing relatives after a storm. For these situations, employees would need to take personal or company leave to take care of such matters.
    • Absences that are protected by the FMLA that might arise would include the onslaught of an existing condition or a new one brought about by the natural disaster (as mentioned above), as well as the need to care for a spouse, child, or parent who cannot tend to their own medical needs. For example, perhaps a relative is diabetic and they need help managing their medication, which needs to be refrigerated, as they’re now without power.
  • If your office is impacted by a natural disaster and you need to shut down business operations, or if employees are not expected to work, FMLA entitlement days should not be counted for any employee during that time.
    • If an employee is on FMLA leave at the same time that the office is shut down, you need to treat them (in terms of pay, benefits, etc.) as if they are on non-FMLA leave according to your organizational policies.
  • A natural disaster can very well be considered an “extenuating circumstance”  that might prohibit an employee from completing the requisite claim and eligibility paperwork by the original deadline. See below.

What Some Employers Are Doing, “Just Because”

As a high-category hurricane or powerful earthquake are no doubt devastating both materially and emotionally, many employers are doing their best to show empathy and support for their employees during such difficult times. A few ways they are doing so are:

  • Allow more time for claims.
    • For example, we have clients in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey who are allowing employees an additional 30 days to meet any claims requirement – whether STD, FMLA or any other kind. Keep in mind that if people have been evacuated, relocated, and/or are experiencing a power shortage, they should not be expected to meet the same deadline. They may not receive a certification form in the mail because they haven’t been at their home address, and without power and internet they might be unable to complete any such documentation online.
  • Consider those in FEMA-designated disaster areas.
    • Individuals in these areas may need unique assistance and, depending on the damage, there could be cause for a temporary process change on a case-by-case basis.
  • Expand or discount any available medical services.
    • We have a clients who, as a benefit, offer telehealth services to their employees. Some organizations, in the aftermath of a natural disaster, allow employees to access this service for doctors’ visits and consultations completely free of charge, regardless of their health insurance plan.
  • Remind employees of support services.
    • In times like these, employee assistance plans (EAPs) can be essential. Whether it’s providing updates to community situations, arranging access to local services or offering a counselor to talk to, employers are reminding employees how to contact the EAP and in many cases extending access to be 24/7, rather than restricting it to regular business hours.
  • Take your employees’ word.
    • If an employee requests FMLA leave while you suspect they might be using the time for something like assisting an elderly parent with their flooded home, it might behoove you to simply allow it and take their word for it.

As with all matters relating to employee benefits, there are things that employers legally have to accommodate for, and things that are just nice for them to do. It is important to understand the difference and come to an agreement as to what kind of plan will be put in place, if any. Further, if your organization has not yet been faced with a serious a natural disaster, there’s never a better time than the present to start developing a system should the need ever arise (and we certainly hope it doesn’t).

Technology Opens New Leave Management Program Options

As leave law complexity continues to increase, the interaction of all these laws has also become more involved.

We have federal, state, and local Family and Medical Leave Acts plus other leave laws, and their interaction with disability, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and even workers’ compensation is constantly evolving.

Gone are the days when experience professionals can work off a spreadsheet and feel confident that they are achieving full compliance with the myriad of laws. Instead, they are finding ways to boost their certainty, either through relationships with external vendors or by using more sophisticated tools.

Whether an employer takes an outsources, co-sourced, or insourced approach to managing its leave program, technology is somewhere in the mix of supporting daily operations. Many technology solutions go beyond providing a common place for documentation to offering confidence in compliance, ease of use for all parties involved, and data that can be used at many levels of the organization.

The Spectrum of Employer Options

Over the six years that DMEC and Spring Consulting Group have collaborated on the annual DMEC Employer Leave Management Survey, some trends have become apparent:

  • more employers are outsourcing leave management to third-party administrators (TPAs) or carriers;
  • the concept of co-sourcing is maturing and now feasible for more employers; and
  • employers that still insource acknowledge their need to increase their use of external tools.

Technology is undergirding all of these options; it has probably had more impact that any other factor in providing this broad range of options for employers to choose from.

In an outsourced environment, technology is enabling TPAs and carriers to improve the employee experience by obtaining real-time information about the employee, automating their eligibility decisions, and communicating status and other useful information back to employees, managers, and corporate representatives.

In a co-sourced setting in which the employer conducts some of the administrative activities and the TPA or carrier conducts others, technology is critical to sharing timely and accurate information about each claim and in the aggregate across both parties.

In an insourced capacity, the most current technology solutions not only offer employers a place to document activities and record pertinent case management information but also guide their leave decisions in a compliant way.

All may offer self-service portals or mobile applications for initial leave reporting, status updates, and reports with access level determined by security levels within employer groups.

Leave Management Technology

Technology solutions providers range from new companies to older companies, smaller firms to larger firms, and those that focus exclusively on leave or offer a broader range of insurance or other human resource administration services. A handful of technology companies are organized to upgrade capabilities for the 20 or more insurance carriers and TPAs that help employers outsource their leave management programs today.

These technology companies are primarily focused on leave and have purposely built their software to embed the numerous regulations employers need to follow as business rules and update them constantly to keep all users current. They are very much like the “Intel inside” that makes the leave management process faster, stronger, and more effective for all parties involved.

To support this intelligence, most TPAs and carriers retain in-house legal experts who regularly monitor the laws and ensure products and systems are updated accordingly. The majority of carriers and TPAs also customize their leave management technology, so their programs are unique, even if they are built on widely used platforms.

Employers that co-source or insource can get a dedicated leave management technology package, or can turn to modules included in payroll, timekeeping, or human capital management systems. In either case, employers can pay an annual or monthly fee for sophisticated cloud-based technology (i.e. programs accessed over the Internet) to ensure their compliance needs will be met.

They can use the system to initiate a leave, calculate eligibility, create and push communications to employees and their supervisors, document “accept” or “deny” decisions, then continue their workflow through return to work, accommodations, and ultimately claim closure. They can rely on the system to produce day-to-day management reports as well as aggregate reports that provide trend information about their company’s experience.

Fine-Tuning Your Delivery Model

With technology constantly adapting to today’s increasingly complex leave environment, the pieces are in place for compliance – but also for employers to miss important policy or process mandates if they aren’t working with external experts to prompt them.

If you outsource your leave management administration to a TPA or carrier, you should ask:

  • Are we getting the most from our leave management partner?
  • Is the process customized enough to our unique population?
  • Are there new features on our partner’s technology roadmap that we could use?

If you are in a co-sourced arrangement, you should ask:

  • Are there aspects of our carrier or TPA partner systems that we can better leverage?
  • Can we access their system to enable our documentation?
  • Do we need to pursue an additional tool for our in-house use?

If you insource, you need to assess your program in the light of these questions:

  • Are our current tools doing enough to ensure compliance?
  • Does the functionality exist to help us achieve our desired process?
  • Is it time for a technology upgrade?

Employee Experience

Compliance is a core reason for upgrading your organization’s leave management program, but it doesn’t stand alone.

Reduced costs, easier administration, a better experience for employees, and enhanced tracking and reporting are additional advantages employers cite in fine-tuning their leave management programs.Overall, your organization needs to know if employees feel supported or penalized by the leave management process. Because the ultimate goal of leave management is for the employee to return to work and stay at work, employee confusion or dissatisfaction with the leave process may translate into longer time away, declining employee morale, or mounting litigation. To help avoid this, many organizations make a satisfaction survey part of the closing process for leaves and track employee engagement on a broader level that ties back to leave.

Leave Management Technology

Conclusion

Leave management program functionality includes compliance but also looks beyond it to address employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the overall employee experience. The better the program delivery in the eyes of the employee, the better the chances for a positive experience and improved return to work. Therefore, the functionality that is afforded to your program through the latest and greatest technology warrants your time and consideration. If after a comprehensive review you determine that gapes need to be filled, it is time to cast a broader net and take a look at what the sophisticated technology firms have to offer.

 

References
1. Spring Consulting Group. Integrated Disability, Absence and Health Management Employer Survey, 2016