After a short hiatus, The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) was able to host their 2022 Annual Conference in-person for the first time since the pandemic started. DMEC is one of the leading organizations in the paid leave industry and their annual conference brings together employers, vendors, government officials, lawyers and more to network and discuss leading trends in the business. This year also marked the 30th anniversary of the creation of DMEC, furthermore solidifying itself as a staple in the world of disability management. It was great seeing so many familiar faces from the industry and learning more about what’s keeping industry professionals up at night. This year’s conference took place in Denver, CO and Spring had the pleasure of both exhibiting and presenting.

Although this year’s conference covered a wide range of topics, I noticed the following three key themes.

1) FMLA & ADA Challenges

Although compliance is often a hot button topic at DMEC, this year there was a specific emphasis on maneuvering around FMLA & ADA challenges. Presenters tackled FMLA & ADA challenges from a range of angles including changes in guidance, a Q&A with federal agency leaders, and a mock trial where the attendees acted as the jury. Some of the of the FMLA & ADA related presentations this year included:

  • Helen Applewhaite, Director of the FMLA Division at the Department of Labor (DOL) was interviewed on employer challenges under these laws and key DOL and EEOC priorities in a session titled “A View from the Top: Current FMLA and ADA Challenges”.
  • In a session titled “Recent ADA and FMLA Trials: Employer Wins and Losses,” experts included interactive polls where attendees could predict jury outcomes from previous FMLA & ADA trials.
  • Lastly, compliance experts from ReedGroup and an Absence Management expert from The Guardian conducted a mock trial titled “Law & Order: DMEC Edition,” where presenters took roles of the judge, plaintiff, defense and plaintiff’s attorneys, and the attendees acted as the jury responding to employers breaking FMLA & ADA regulations.

2) Support for Caregivers and Healthcare Workers

Although COVID has settled a bit in severity, caregivers and healthcare workers are still facing high rates of burnout and overworking, without receiving much federal support. Also, in the past 50 years we have seen the highest rates of children and elderly parents in the home, often requiring some type of care, most often unpaid care by a family member. During this year’s conference, presenters tackled the issue of mental health for employees assuming the role of a caregiver and how employers can offer needed support. Below are some of the groundbreaking presentations tackling this issue.

  • Experts from the Lincoln Financial Group explored solutions employers can adopt to support employees who act as caregivers in their “Caring for the Caregivers: A Key to Employee Retention” session.
  • The Standard’s Dan Jolivet looked at common stressors healthcare workers face that lead to fatigue and turnover in the healthcare industry and brainstormed possible solutions in his “Costs of Care: The Impact of Stress and Compassion Fatigue on Healthcare Workers” presentation.

3) The Future of Leave

As we tentatively look beyond the COVID-19 era, there was a huge emphasis this year on what we can expect from the disability and leave management industry moving forward. During the pandemic many employers adjusted to remote/hybrid leave policies, introduced new mental health resources and navigated changing COVID regulations. But as we slowly move into a post-COVID world, many speakers, such as those noted below, looked at new-age alternative leave policies and what we can expect for the future of leave.

  • Representatives from Unum explained how previous leave programs are not working for today’s workforce and a one-size fits all approach is not suitable for most employees in their “Leave Is Changing: Are You Changing With It?” presentation.
  • Spring’s SVP, Teri Weber evaluated whether flexible time off policies could be a viable replacement for traditional PTO policies in her “Is FTO the New PTO?” session.
  • Leave specialists from Brown & Brown, FINEOS, New York Life Group Benefit Solutions and Spring looked at “How [Employers Can] Harness Market Forces to Meet Future Absence Management Challenges.” Some of these market forces discussed included Instagram, the gig economy and federal paid leave policies.

a) Utilizing Tech & Data

When looking at the future of leave management, we are seeing a giant increase in leave related tech and software, which allows employers to better understand leave trends and preferences within their workforce. Although tech and data collection software are not new in the industry, we are seeing constant updates and an influx of new software that help measure different facets of absence management policies. Below are a few tech & data related sessions we wanted to spotlight.

  • AbsenceSoft’s CSO and CCO showcased how data is key in managing eligibility, entitlement, workflow process and more, as well as common mistakes to avoid when designing a data strategy.
  • One panel  presented on “Improving the Employee Leave Experience through Technology”, in which they reviewed how tech can expedite the collection of medical documents, identify opportunities for wellness programs and more.
  • When it comes to implementing Absence Software, it can be tricky selecting the right program. A discussion including CVS Health and CommonSpirit Health spoke on best practices when selecting and implementing a software-based solution.

b) Moving Past COVID-19

As many organizations slowly move back into the office, employers have been developing and reassessing return-to-work programs and reevaluating leave policies to keep their workforce happy. On a national level, we are seeing changes in COVID-related compliance and a big push to retain talented employees through enhanced benefits packages. Here are some noteworthy sessions related to adjusting to a post-COVID world.

  • In a presentation titled “Life Beyond COVID: New Focuses for Absence & Disability Compliance”, representatives from Jackson Lewis review the long-lasting effects of new leave legislation.
  • Experts from Voya Financial and FullscopeRMS’s Claims Director, Katie Hunt shared recent research to help enhance leave management and return-to-work programs.
  • Another panel including DMEC’s CEO, Terri Rhodes tackled feedback and questions from the audience on challenges for absence management teams, return-to-work programs and ADA accommodation processes.

All in all, being back at the DMEC Annual Conference in-person was a powerful experience! This year I saw so many young and enthusiastic faces which is a good sign for the future of the industry. DMEC never fails to provide innovative insights into the absence and disability management landscape while providing a fun and interactive experience, and I am already looking forward to their next event.