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COVID-19 a top cause of disability for U.S. workers

Insurance Forums Staff

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of short-term disability for U.S. workers in 2020, according to internal data from Chattanooga, Tenn.-based workplace benefits provider Unum.

For manufacturing workers, COVID was the top cause of disability.

2020 was a record year for disability and leave requests according to Unum, which said it handled over a million short-term disability claims and leave requests last year. Experts at the company attribute the spike in volumes to the pandemic, as well as the growing need for financial protection and leave management assistance.

“The pandemic made disability a reality for many,” said Chris Pyne, executive vice president of Group Benefits at Unum. “It reminds us of the importance of preparing for life’s unexpected health events.”

Mental health at an all-time low

More people filed behavioral health claims with Unum than ever before. Behavioral health—which includes mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, substance use disorder, stress and resiliency management—represents 6% of total claims and rank as the fifth-leading cause of disability. Over the last decade, claims for behavioral health have increased 21%, according to Unum’s internal data.

Unum research also shows half of workers struggle with mental health issues, and 57% said they missed work last year because they felt mentally unwell. Depression and anxiety in the workplace cause lost productivity on the job and unplanned absences.

“COVID-19 further exacerbated the mental health crisis that we were already in, but it also helped normalize the need for mental health support,” said Swapnil Prabha, vice president of Digital Offerings at Unum who spearheads the Unum Behavioral Health solution for employers. “Now more than ever companies should see meaningful returns from investing in employees’ mental health.”

Top causes of disability

Even the younger workforce is at risk of disability. The Social Security Administration estimates that one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67. The top causes of short-term disability in 2020, according to Unum, were:

  1. Pregnancy (25%)
  2. Injury (10%)
  3. COVID-19 (10%)
  4. Joint disorders (7%)
  5. Behavioral health (6%)

In 2020, Unum paid $6.2 billion in benefits in the U.S. and helped over 900 companies manage more than 100 leave laws, including leave related to the Family Medical and Leave and state legislation.

For more information about leave and absence management in a post-pandemic world, download the Future of Leave guide.



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