When employees at Edmonton-based utilities company EPCOR Utilities Inc. get sick, they simply call the company’s reporting line where a case manager offers to connect them to the employee and family assistance program. This first step is part of a streamlined process at the heart of the company’s win for best absence management program at Benefits Canada’s 2016 Workplace Benefits Awards last week.

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“Day four really gets to the case manager understanding what the needs of that employee are, following up if there’s any type of resourcing that’s required and really trying to be proactive in having those earlier supports so that employees can maintain and have better health and have sustainable return to work,” said Karen Kristensen, EPCOR’s senior manager of pensions and benefits, at the awards event in Toronto last week.

Read: Who are the winners of the 2016 Workplace Benefits Awards?

The organization doesn’t require a doctor’s note for minor ailments like colds and sprains because it realized that might require an employee to take additional time off, just to get an appointment with a physician. But on the fourth day of a sick leave, the employee will work with a case manager to decide whether a medical evaluation is necessary and whether the person will be back to their job within 10 days. If not, the employee will go on short-term disability leave.

To ensure confidentiality, a third party, rather than EPCOR, assess and audits cases. And in the case of a denial of an employee’s short-term disability claim, a doctor from the third party will speak with the employee’s doctor before making a final decision.

Read: St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton wins health and wellness award

Besides the reduction of short-term disability claim denials to less than two per cent since 2013 from seven per cent in 2010, the company saw a seven per cent decrease in absences of one to three days in 2014. EPCOR also reports 91 per cent satisfaction from all employees and 93 per cent satisfaction from managers with the program.

Overall, EPCOR considers its absence management program as a wellness tool, rather than an administrative one. “Rather than simply tracking absence, the goal is, firstly, to return absent employees to work as soon as they are able by providing them with the mental and/or physical support they need and, secondly, to help them limit absence by enabling employees to develop good coping skills and better overall wellness,” Kristensen wrote in the organization’s entry.

A significant component of that is encouraging use of the employee and family assistance program. About a quarter (24 per cent) of EPCOR employees used it in 2015, which is nine per cent higher than the average for the utilities industry.

Read: Rogers wins benefits communication award by practising what it preaches

To ensure staff get the help they need as soon as possible, the employee and family assistance program includes treatment targeted towards mental-health problems, such as depression, substance abuse and, soon, anger management. The services also include help with relationships, caregiving responsibilities, legal problems, financial problems and nutrition.

EPCOR is also developing policies to ensure it provides a psychologically safe workplace by, for example, providing easy access to its employee and family assistance program. It hopes its efforts will help prevent mental-health problems and reduce absenteeism.

Read more about the winners of the 2016 Workplace Benefits Awards

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Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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