U aims to return staff to work faster

by Molly Moker

Older faculty members can be a fountain of knowledge for students and sometimes a huge cost for the University.

Because of the University’s older-than-average work force, the school recognizes chronic illnesses and disabilities might mean more lost time and productivity, and more use of benefits. To counteract this, the University said it wants to implement a new service that will better manage sick leave and bring employees back to the workforce faster.

The Integrated Return to Work/Work Retention program would be a “one-stop shop,” where employees could get information about returning to work in a timely manner, Disability Services Director Roberta Cordano said.

Many times, employees take longer to return to work because they don’t realize there are other ways to do their jobs, she said.

For example, employees might miss work because of pain from carpal tunnel syndrome, she said. Such employees could come to the center and be advised on how to do their work without having to type on a computer.

“There are voice-activated machines that they could use instead,” Cordano said. “We would use that knowledge to have an employee come to work and do their job and not type.”

The University has more older employees than many national corporations, which could increase the likelihood of having to spend time away from work because of sickness and injury, Cordano said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of the national workforce in 2004 is 40.5. At the University, the median age of all employees is 45; for faculty members it’s 50.

Last year, Disability Services worked with approximately 600 employees who were mostly experiencing nonoccupational injury or disabilities, Cordano said.

Such problems would include arthritis, back and joint problems, heart conditions and diabetes, she said.

Currently, employees who have work-related injuries go to workers’ compensation for help, and those who have nonwork-related injuries go to Disability Services.

“We want to align and combine the return-to-work function,” she said. “The only thing that will happen is there will be one one-stop shop that will manage the return to work.”

This will speed up the process so employees will know where to go for help when they return to the University, reducing company cost, she said.

The program has saved corporations 25 percent to 60 percent of their workers’ compensation-related costs, including litigation, according to a report provided to the Board of Regents by the Disability Management Employer Coalition, a national organization of employers and insurers.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has used the Return to Work program for 20 years.

Jane Ryan, the program’s section head, said the program is a huge success and has eliminated almost all litigation costs associated with workers’ compensation and disablitiy.

She said the program has also been healthy for the organization’s employees.

“People generally recover faster if they can be back in the work place and not staying at home,” she said. “Most people prefer to be productive. When they come back and contribute to the work place, they feel better, and obviously it’s a win for us because they’re doing work for the organization.”

Ryan said the University would greatly benefit from having this program.

“It promotes good will and we retain employees who we’ve invested time and money in to train,” she said.

General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said he could not say if the University would see a dramatic impact from this program.

“We don’t actually have a great deal of costly litigation in that area,” he said. “We have a very fine disabilities program right now and the extent that this relates to that is not really clear.”

If the program is implemented, the University will be the first school in the Big Ten to have this program, Cordano said.

The Board of Regents will hear a presentation about the program today at its monthly meeting.