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Posted by Louise Gagne, FICA, FSA, February 15 2016
Management & HR
Managing Disability Cases: Know The Basic Rules


Disability has ranked second, after prescription drugs, in terms of causes of the increase in group insurance costs in recent years. In fact, the direct and indirect costs of absenteeism are worrying many promoters of group insurance plans.

 To ensure better management of your files, speed up employees’ return to work and control costs, it is essential that you adhere to the following simple rules:

1. Keep an up-to-date list of absent employees

All employers should keep an up-to-date list of employees who are absent from work (date of disability, CSST or SAAQ cases, insurer responsible, etc.). This may seem obvious, but it is not always done, particularly when human resources management is decentralized. Yet to manage disability, it must be measured. Such a list is therefore essential in order to monitor the employer’s disability performance, better identify the causes and problems and define an action plan when needed.

2. Preventing rather than curing

With health and well-being programs gaining traction, many employers are making great efforts to put them in place. They constitute an excellent way to help your employees improve their health. The success of these programs depends both on support from management and on concerted and sustained efforts. For more information, refer to the “Entreprise en santé” standard, which will guide you through the implementation of your program.

Training managers on how to recognize and manage mental health problems and promote the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help prevent or shorten absences. Refer to Canada’s “National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace” for information on a series of measures, tools and resources aimed at promoting employees’ mental health.

3. The importance of the first few weeks

After an absence of a few months, the probability of an employee returning to work drops by 50%. Prompt treatment of cases and the implementation of rehabilitation programs early in the process will have a significant impact on your employees’ return to work. Companies whose employees benefit from employment insurance are at a disadvantage in this respect because no management is done before the employee starts drawing on long-term disability insurance.

4. Communication is important

A number of studies have shown the importance of staying in contact with absent employees in order to maintain the relationship that links them to their employer and coworkers. Employees who have been absent for several months will be less apprehensive about their return to work if they have had frequent contacts with their employer (calls from the manager, communications from HR, invitation to the Christmas party, etc.).

Make sure as well that lines of communication are open between managers and HR personnel regarding employees on disability. Cooperation is needed at all levels, both to identify cases and to solve problems and deploy resources that support a successful return to work.

Lastly, stay in contact with the insurer. Notwithstanding the Privacy Act, the employer has the right to know several pieces of information vital to managing its workforce. These include the current status of the case; whether it has been accepted, refused or put on hold due to lack of information, the time horizon for the return to work and whether any functional limitations are anticipated. Good contact with the insurer may even enable you to find creative solutions for helping an employee.

5. A smooth return

Best disability management practices recommend a gradual return to work. As the transition is smoother, the employee has more time to readjust to the faster pace of the job market. Insurers normally grant one week of gradual return for each month of disability. The longer an employee is absent, the harder it will be for him or her to readjust to the work pace; a transitional return makes things easier. Initially prescribed by the doctor, the gradual return to work must be approved by the insurer. However, the employer must also be consulted to confirm whether this situation is viable in its work context. Creative solutions must therefore be encouraged.

In conclusion

Absenteeism is becoming increasingly costly to employers. Efficient management of disability requires prevention, rehabilitation, case management and return-to-work procedures. Be sure to download our memory aid on disability management now.


Louise started her career at Blue Cross before working as a Senior Advisor for a large actuarial firm for more than 15 years. Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, Louise joined AGA in June 2014. She assumes responsibility for training, provides technical support, and supplies advisory activities for the large business clientele. Louise is also lecturer at l’UQAM.
Louise Gagne, FICA, FSA