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.
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.
- 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.
This 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.
- 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.
- 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 that 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Returning 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!