Number of Employees
Southern California Edison Helps Employees Successfully Return to Work From Disability Leaves
It was an 18-month old disability claim for stress—stemming primarily from an employee-supervisor dispute—that caught the attention of Deborah Jacobs, Manager of Disability Management at Southern California Edison (SCE). After she asked their EAP to work with the pair, the employee was able to return to productive work, and he later thanked her for her help.
Deborah Jacobs, SCE’s disability manager, and her 13 staff members manage all claims for leave of absence from work, except for workers compensation absences. Disability claims are administered by Sedgwick CMS for both short and long term disability.
In 1995, Jacobs worked on a team that partnered with union leadership to change the design of their disability programs to focus financial incentives for employees to return to work rather than stay on long term disability. As a result an in house Return to Work Program (RTWP) was put in for employees that could never return to their regular jobs. The program pays 70% of pre-disability pay for up to 2 and ½ years while the employee actively participates looking for alternate job placement. The program includes providing rehabilitation counseling, training, testing and temporary job assignments to build up job experience.
Previously when employees who were unable to return to the physical demands of their previous job were offered office jobs, many declined due to lower pay. The RTWP now provides reimbursement to help bring them back. Specifically, the disability plan now pays the difference between the lower-paying job and their old higher paid job until the worker’s raises in the office position equals the old job rate. Finally, if a worker himself finds a new job on their own within the company within the first year of the RTWP, he or she receives a bonus. Thirteen years ago SCE had over 500 employees that could not return to their regular job due to work restrictions but they were still off work. Today SCE only has less than 50 employees in this situation and the company typically returns these employees to alternate jobs within the first year.
More recently, Jacobs has noticed that as employees who are temporarily disabled from their own jobs approach their scheduled return-to-work dates, many become stressed and anxious about being back at work, and physicians commonly request extensions for their patients. In addition many employees that do return end up going back off work again within a relatively short time period. Finally she observed a number of the reasons that they did not return to work had more to do with psycho-social issues that they were dealing with rather than their own disability.
To help smooth the return to work transition, Jacobs helped develop a Return-to-Work Job Coach program using her internal staff members, claims professionals from Sedgwick, and their EAP staff to address psychosocial barriers and any employee or supervisor concerns. The EAP works with the claims examiners to train them to identify issues related to behavioral health that may affect successful return to work and initiate referral for EAP counseling and support. In addition, Sedgwick alerts EAP about a month prior to the scheduled return and an employee assistance program (EAP) staff member from Horizon Health contacts both the employee and supervisor to discuss any potential issues that might interfere with a successful return. In some cases, for example, supervisors are coached through conversation topics that may be viewed either as supportive or judgmental by the employee. The coach also calls on the day of the employee’s return and even a short while later to ensure that they are still doing okay. Many times, the coach has resolved employee’s issues by referring them to other company benefits services such as SCE’s life care vendor that provides dependent or elder care resources.
Jacobs has now implemented the Return-to-Work Job Coach program throughout the company. Repeat disability absences dropped from 30 percent to zero in a 6 month pilot and then again in first six months of implemented program. Jacobs has a Master’s degree in organizational psychology. She reports to Susan Heller, MD, MBA, corporate medical director. Jacobs has been an active member and chapter leader of the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), a national professional group which has grown from 35 to 1,500 members in the last 12 years.
Employee Assistance Program
Horizon Health provides Employee Assistance Program services at off-site locations (except for their nuclear energy facility, which is required to have on-site counseling available by federal standards). Employees can receive help for traditional substance abuse and mental health issues as well as financial counseling, legal services, life-care planning, and disease management services. EAP and disability management work together to address return-to-work following extended absence. All family members are eligible for services—even elderly parents living with the employee.
About Southern California Edison
Southern California Edison (SCE) is the largest electric utility in California, serving more than 13 million people in a 50,000 square-mile area of central, coastal and Southern California, excluding the City of Los Angeles and certain other cities. Based in Rosemead, California, the utility has been providing electric service in the region for more than 120 years.
Last updated: December 2008