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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Managing the costs of absenteeism

By Jack Kazmierski
Special to the Toronto Sun

Recent statistics show that companies are paying out billions of dollars annually in compensation to employees on short or long-term disability. With so many zeros in this dollar figure, it's no wonder getting employees back to work is a priority.

The costs associated with absenteeism are rising, and having a key employee off on disability for weeks or months at a time hampers a company's ability to keep the corporate machine running smoothly. But having someone else manage absenteeism allows a company to get back to work and focus on their business.

Founded in 1993, Acclaim Ability Management Inc. is a Canadian firm that helps employees return to work in the shortest period of time, without compromising safety.
Staff at Acclaim Ability Management Inc. helps companies manage absenteeism by helping employees who are off on disability leave return to work in the shortest period of time, without compromising safety. (Photo, Acclaim Ability Management Inc.)

With an army of experts on staff, including registered nurses, social workers, registered rehabilitation professionals, psychologists, pharmacists, kinesiologists and physical and occupational therapists, Acclaim takes a team approach to getting employees back on their feet.

"We're able to give our customers monthly reports to give them an idea of how many employees are off, what trends are evolving, days of absence, and more," says Coula Nitsopoulos, quality assurance manager for client relations, Acclaim Ability Management. "The other big picture has to do with privacy -- medical information is not shared with employers right now. So having a third party [track absenteeism due to medical conditions] is usually much safer for the employer, and they're able to separate performance and medical issues when it comes to the workplace."

If an employee is going to be off for the next six weeks because of a broken leg, for example, Acclaim doesn't usually get involved with the case because it's clearly black and white -- a bone is broken and it will need a specific amount of time to heal.

However, there are a number of grey areas where early intervention is a must.

"If someone sprains an arm, there are medical guidelines and timelines as to when that person should recover," Nitsopoulos says. "But if we see that it's not happening as it should, we normally go to the employee to find out if there are other things happening, i.e.: Are they maybe using their arm instead of resting it? Are they maybe not following treatment, or doing something at home that's injuring them?"

If a person is off for stress-related reasons -- depression, anxiety and bereavement, to name a few -- Acclaim is there to find out if something is going on in the workplace or at home that's preventing the employee from returning to work. These are the types of investigative situations where an Acclaim physician needs to be involved, working with the employee's family practitioner to find out what has to be done.

"When we have someone who is off work and we feel, for example, that there's a non compliance issue, or there aren't enough medical reasons to support their absence," Nitsopoulos says, "there is a suspension of benefits that could happen."

Conversely, if Acclaim's investigation leads to the conclusion that the absent employee rightfully needs long-term disability, they'll make that point clear to the employer, thereby giving the employer the peace of mind that comes from a third party's impartial justification of the long-term disability benefits.

At times, absenteeism is not the fault of the employee, but of the work environment.

"If we find that many employees are off for [the same reason], perhaps it's due to the ergonomics of their workplace," Nitsopoulos says. "In this case, we go to the employer and give them training sessions and educate the employees, showing them what to do if they have a back injury, how many breaks to take, types of stretches to do, and other strategies they can employ at the workplace to keep them at work."

Without an impartial third party looking into specific cases of chronic absenteeism, it's difficult to avoid finger pointing. The employer may think a lazy employee is fleecing the company; the employee may think his boss is unsympathetic and overly demanding. When a company like Acclaim, through it's own network of impartial physicians and specialists, looks into the matter, it's easier to get to the truth and find a resolution.

(Jack Kazmierski ( is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.)

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