When an employee suffers a serious accident or illness, employers often feel there is little they can do to affect the duration or outcome of the disability.
However, employers who identify and intervene soon after an employee is first disabled can help employees return to work 20 percent earlier while saving on disability related costs, according to Sun Life Financial.
According to the findings of a study by Sun Life Financial, early intervention in short-term disability (STD) claims can be highly effective in shortening absences and preventing long-term disability (LTD) claims.
"Understanding the factors that influence when an employee returns to work is essential to helping employers reduce their costs," said Ken Arruda, assistant vice president for disability products. "This study was designed to deepen our understanding about early intervention and its bottom-line impact."
The study examined nearly 1,000 STD claims over a two-year period. These claims represented employees in a variety of professions and from all parts of the country.
Eligible claims were randomly placed into one of two groups -- a study group that received early intervention services or a control group that did not.
Claimants were not required to participate in early intervention in order to receive STD benefits.
Return to work assistance provided to study group claimants included:
- vocational counseling
- employer education
- medical intervention
- claimant and physician coaching
- job site modifications
- identification of viable job alternatives
According to the study, on average employees receiving early intervention returned to work 20 percent faster than expected, or 2.7 weeks sooner, than their expected return to work date.
In the control group, claimants returned to work 1.9 weeks after the expected duration, or 20 percent longer.
The study also found that 47 percent more claimants returned to work during the STD stage with early intervention and 33 percent fewer claims extended into the LTD stage with early intervention.
The findings also convey an important lesson -- that employers who don''t start return to work efforts during STD miss a crucial window of opportunity and risk higher LTD claim costs and longer lost-time absences.
"The results of this study are overwhelming," said Bill Harney, manager of Sun Life Financial''s rehabilitation services. "It validates what the industry has long suspected -- that early intervention can pay huge dividends for any type of disability, not just-work related ones."
These findings can also add up to dramatic savings for employers.
STD claimants in the study received an average STD benefit of $300. By reducing the average claim duration by 2.7 weeks, $810 per claim can be saved in a relatively short time, according to Sun Life Financial.
by Virginia Sutcliffe