Although the voluntary benefit sector is one of the fastest-growing in America, many employees still don’t have a plan to protect their income if they become unable to work for an extended period of time. When those considerations extend beyond the short term to something that could create a permanently disabling condition, employees not only require income protection, but also a roadmap to return to work. Finding ways to provide both remains among the most significant demands of employer long-term disability plans.

Most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, yet employers continue to seek ways to defer costs, and employees are asked to shoulder a greater share of their benefit costs. In part, that explains why only 30% of the workforce is covered by some benefit, despite the demonstrable need to protect their income in such a climate.

Providers rely on brokers and advisers to help communicate the value of such benefits not only in the face of such a counterintuitive circumstance, but among a multigenerational workforce that comprises various audiences.

“Employers need us to step up out of our box and not just speak to them about disability, but employee engagement,” says Kristin Tugman, vice-president of customer reporting and consulting at Prudential. “How [do we] bridge the gap to retirement in a healthy way as opposed to bridging the gap with disability? Advisers and brokers are really important to us in terms of our ability to directly meet the needs of our employers and get access to our employers.”

Employees are more likely to become disabled in their careers than to die while working, she says. Even if workers don’t experience a disabling event, employers still ought to discover how they can contribute to the workplace, even as their functional capacity starts to erode.

Return to full capacity
Rehabilitation benefits offered by most policies create a financial incentive to return to work because they do not fully offset the lost wages of such an event, says Phil Bruen, vice president of disability growth strategies at MetLife. When coupled with educational and vocational resources, comprehensive long-term disability packages provide the most benefit to both employees and employers when they facilitate a reasonable return of workers to work, even if only in a limited capacity to start.

“If somebody has an injury or an illness they may have restrictions from fully performing their job, but they may be able to perform part of their function with their employer,” Bruen says. “Perhaps they don’t have tasks that they perform initially, but over a period of a few weeks, they perform those tasks in full capacity.”

Employers need us to step up out of our box and not just speak to them about disability, but employee engagement.

When an employee is able to return to work, his or her employer also may need to create workplace modifications in the event of a permanently disabling event. In such an instance, additional resources may be leveraged, such as Social Security.

“A long-term policy should have strong support for helping those totally disabled employees apply for [Social Security] and support them in their process,” Bruen says. “That’s gained importance in recent years basically due to the backlog in the Social Security Administration. There’s about a million claims in process.”

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