Best Practices for Tracking and Managing Incidental Absences Identified by Joint Liberty Mutual, DMEC Study

Aug. 18, 2009
The best practices for tracking and managing incidental absence were revealed at the Disability Management Employer Coalition’s (DMEC) 2009 Annual International Conference. These practices help human resource (HR) and benefits professionals better control the significant cost of incidental absence (i.e., any unplanned time an employee misses from work.)

Such absences affect between 3 million and 5 million employees each day and cost employers almost $40 billion per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

HR and benefits professionals can review these best practices – together with other materials on managing the bottom line impact of incidental absence – at . The tools and information at this site are based on findings from the 2009 Leadership Series – Best Practices in Tracking and Managing Incidental Absence, the fifth annual symposium cosponsored by Liberty Mutual and the DMEC.

The Leadership Series brought together more than 100 HR professionals in online and regional meetings to discuss the best ways to track and manage incidental absences. As part of these meetings, large companies such as Comcast, Hannaford Brothers, Nationwide Financial Services, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Textron and USAA reviewed how they successfully manage incidental absence.

“This year’s series explored incidental absence because it’s the most challenging component of employee absence,” notes Nazneen Vimadalal, vice president for Marketing and Product at Liberty Mutual Group Benefits. “While employee absence covers all the reasons an individual is away from work, incidental absence deals with unplanned employee absence lasting from minutes to days. When we published a white paper on the best practices for managing employee absence in March, HR and benefits professionals urged us to dig deeper into one of the key drivers of the total cost of employees being away from work: incidental absence.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge in managing incidental absence is defining it, according to Joe Wozniak, vice president of administration for DMEC. “Incidental absence means different things at different companies – depending on each firm’s business, structure and culture. Some companies take an expansive approach, including everything from sick time and jury duty to workers compensation and disability. Others narrowly focus their efforts.”

Regardless of the scope, effective incidental absence management efforts share five common elements. These best practices are:

  • Define incidental absence – Detail the specific events included in your incidental absence program: from federal and state family medical leave to vacations, from jury duty to paid time off.
  • Develop tracking tools – Develop ways to track all incidental absences across employee levels, business units and locations. As a first step, be sure to decide who is covered by your incidental absence program. While salaried employees may have been exempt from such a program in the past, the trend is for employers to track incidental absence for all employees.
  • Understand the variables – Identify those factors that can affect the smooth tracking and management of incidental absence, such as local, state and federal regulations; collective bargaining agreements; and acquisitions, mergers and reorganizations.
  • Weigh in-house versus third-party administration – Explore the most efficient and effective ways to manage all the ingredients of your incidental absence programs. You may choose to manage some internally and outsource others to third parties. Look at the facts and build a detailed business case.
  • Engage employees at every stage – Tracking absences can lead to employee fear, suspicion and resentment. Make sure employees at all levels understand the goal is to better manage costs, ensure compliance with all regulations, and help maintain a positive work/life balance.

Beyond a white paper outlining the best practices for managing unplanned incidental absence, also features a webinar on those practices and links to other sources of information on key absence management, disability management and return to work issues.

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