Young workers and seniors are particularly vulnerable groups when it comes to situations when they need to take time off work due to an illness or disability, concludes a new report released by The Conference Board of Canada and sponsored by Morneau Shepell (TSX: MSI).

The report, Disability Management: Opportunities for Employer Action, finds that fewer than 50 per cent of workers in these age groups are covered by employer sick leave and disability leave plans.

The study provides advice and guidance for organizations to more effectively manage absenteeism, which cost the Canadian economy $16.6 billion in 2012.

It also highlights that businesses have to assess what their employees need when it comes to designing appropriate disability management strategies and programs.

“There continues to be inconsistency in what is offered by employers in the areas of health and disability management,” said Paula Allen, Morneau Shepell’s vice president of research and integrative solutions.

The study found that only 25 per cent of employees received communications within the past year from their employer regarding their organization’s sick leave and disability programs. More than one half of employees indicated that they don’t know how to access the programs and services provided by their employer to support their physical and mental health.

The report also concluded that although employers have made significant investments in the area of mental health coverage, it continues to lag behind physical disability in the area of back-to-work programs.

The study found that 51 per cent of employees believe their organization provides support to help employees with physical health issues return to work as safely and quickly as possible, compared to 34 per cent who believe that same support is in place for mental health issues.

Toronto-based Morneau Shepell is the largest company in Canada offering human resources consulting and outsourcing services.