The Disability Management Employer Coalition announced its new CEO at the top of the month: Bryon Bass began his tenure as head of the organization June 1. Bass, a decades-long DMEC member, previously oversaw absence management at Sedgwick, a risk and benefits management company. Terri Rhodes, the outgoing CEO, will facilitate the transition through the end of 2023.
In announcing its change of leadership, DMEC noted Rhodes’ work beefing up the organization’s L&D offerings and supporting employers throughout the pandemic. Rhodes said in a statement her successor’s passion and devotion for DMEC matches her own — “and that is a tall order,” she said. “I look forward to watching [Bass] and the DMEC team take the organization forward to meet the challenges and changes in our industry.”
Since her appointment in 2015, Rhodes has emerged as a key voice in the leave management space, the main area in which DMEC issues employer best practices. She has spoken on the Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc. ruling, in which the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that multimonth leaves of absence should fall under the Family and Medical Leave Act — and that the Americans with Disabilities Act can’t always be justification for perpetual leaves beyond FMLA entitlement.
And yet, HR managers should proceed with caution, Rhodes said, if they are thinking about giving such employees the pink slip.
In 2018, Rhodes, in addressing that year’s DMEC survey findings, highlighted all the challenges HR professionals said they were facing. She pointed to how HR can outsource work during an employee’s FMLA leave (or even their private, employer-provided sick leave) and how one can train supervisors and managers on FMLA compliance.
HR leads still face these questions today, with an increasingly complex patchwork of state family leave laws that aren’t broadly applicable federally; this complicates compliance for fully remote workforces and hybrid employers. While masking requirements and vaccine mandates may no longer be top of mind, reasonable accommodations for long COVID-19 — another issue Rhodes has commented on — is a leading pandemic-era compliance concern.
Alongside it is the question of accessibility amid the return-to-office wave. And as positive marijuana drug tests on the heels of worksite accidents reach a 25-year high, it’s worth noting Rhodes’ comments on cannabis, chronic pain and disability inclusion.
Below are several key HR Dive conversations with Rhodes, whose insights serve as a primer on the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and where disability-related employment law upholds or diverges from these pillars.