Employing the disabled is not just charity work anymore.

Instead, it’s a priority to improve productivity, said Hiroyuki Ishii of Unum Japan Accident Insurance Co.

Japanese companies have typically been quick to lay off workers who become disabled in midcareer, Ishii said. As the first insurance company in Japan to cover long-term disability, however, Unum Japan wants to change this attitude.

In the past, “Japanese companies enjoyed a large work force, so they could just hire a new employee to fill the position” when a worker became injured, Ishii said in a recent interview at his company’s Chiyoda Ward office.

Therefore, “many Japanese employers have not become aware of the way to take advantage of disabled people,” he said. But as the work force shrinks and firms come to depend more on employees’ specialized knowledge, Ishii said, businesses can no longer afford to follow previous practices.

Unum Japan was incorporated in 1994 as a subsidiary of American insurance company Unum Corp. At that time, only short-term disability insurance was available, covering a worker’s losses for just two years after he or she became disabled. Unum Japan’s coverage, on the other hand, covers a worker for as long as he or she remains unable to work.

Japanese nonlife insurers have begun following Unum’s lead by offering long-term disability products. However most cover only lost salary. Unum, on the other hand, is trying to establish a network of health care providers to help rehabilitate workers and get them back on the job.

But Ishii says this has been difficult because Japan lacks a sufficient infrastructure for worker rehabilitation.

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