In 2015, the Wellesey Institute carried out a series of interviews
to record the feelings of a sample of employees moving from
short-term disability (STD) to long-term disability (LTD)
leave. Most participants told the researcher that going onto
LTD leave caused them a lot of stress and anxiety. As one inter-viewee
said, “The LTD process says that I am not worthy, that I
cannot go back to work again.”
There is a problem here. This “disability mindset” can be an enor-mous
challenge for employers and disability case managers. Add
to that the fact that disability can also result in a substantial and
sustained decline in life satisfaction. With this decline, employees
often lose the will to work and convince themselves, reasonably
or not, that they are no longer capable of being in the workforce.
If the attitude is that LTD and permanent disability are one
and the same, then the potential for returning to work decreas-es.
As one study said, “Disability does not operate in isolation, but
has tremendous consequences for well-being, health and everyday
The risk is that, in some cases, the psychological gap between
STD and LTD is too great. The change in benefits signals a false
permanency. In one survey, 68 per cent of employees said that dis-ability
would keep someone out of work for a year or longer, and 31
per cent believed a disabled employee would never return to work.
DISABILITY MANAGEMENT AND TRADITIONAL
No employer wants to see its employees absent from work. An ab-sent
employee, hired as a good fit for their role, will often leave a
noticeable gap when their experience and skill are removed from
the workplace. The burden of financial cost to the employer also
increases in line with the duration of time away. Because of this,
many employers today offer STD benefits. To work to their best
potential, STD programs usually have hands-on case manage-ment.
In most workplaces, this means disability case managers use
processes actively aimed at engaging the person in a goal-oriented
process and returning them back to the workplace. They measure
success by reducing the total time the employee is away.
STD management programs focus on proven best practices.
These include adjudication, early intervention, treatment, recovery
and return-to-work planning. If managed well – and combined
with workplace health promotion programs – the cost reduc-tion,
time away from work and increase in productivity can be
Employers also have a legal responsibility to return an injured
worker to work. In Canada, labour and human rights statutes
protect injured workers from dismissal based on disability. Some
provinces, such as New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario, have
Closing the Disability Gap
MEDIUM-TERM DISABILITY COULD SOLVE SIGNIFICANT ISSUES AROUND LTD
By Liz R. Scott, Ph.D.
HRPROFESSIONALNOW.CA ❚ JUNE 2017 ❚ 35