Cautions and Caveats About Taking Leaves Part II: Unpaid Leaves & Benefit Coverage
By Mark Diotte
If you decide to take an unpaid leave of absence, you should know a few things beforehand. One of the most important of these is your obligation to maintain coverage for certain benefits while you are away from KPU.
To avoid unforeseen complications, you should consult with a KFA Table Officer before taking an unpaid leave of absence. Please also read Panteli Tritchew’s Cautions and Caveats About Taking Leaves Part I which outlines several types of leaves and the implications for seniority, FTE service, compensation, pension, and continuing benefit coverage.
Leaves without Pay—Do I still have to pay for benefits?
In short, the answer to the above question is, yes, you will have to pay for at least some benefits while on an unpaid leave of absence.
Benefit coverage on a leave without pay can be broken down into two groups: those which are mandatory during an unpaid leave of absence and those which a faculty member may opt out of:
- Mandatory benefits: Group Life Insurance, Accidental Death & Dismemberment, Short-Term Disability, and Long Term Disability
- Benefits which can be opted out of: Extended Health & Dental
What does this mean to you?
Practically speaking, this means that if you choose to go on an unpaid leave, you must pay both the employer’s share and your share of the benefit costs for Group Life Insurance, Accidental Death & Dismemberment, Short-Term Disability, and Long Term Disability. If you wish to retain Extended Health & Dental benefits, then you will also need to pay your portion and the employer’s portion for these benefits. In the case of a partial leave, your portion is prorated.
The total cost for benefits during an unpaid leave of absence may be several thousand dollars or more depending on your situation.
Where can I find this information in the Collective Agreement?
The first relevant part of the Collective Agreement is Article 13 – Leaves.
As per Article 13.01 (c)
An employee on unpaid leave may arrange to pay the costs required to maintain benefit coverage in accordance with the provisions of this agreement.
While the phrase “may arrange” makes it sound like all benefits can be either maintained or opted out of, the phrase “in accordance with the provisions of this agreement” means that there are other relevant provisions in play.
Article 13.05 (d) also states that while
“No benefits shall be payable by the employer for faculty members on leave without pay…[i]f a faculty member proceeding on leave without pay makes a prior payment to the Employer of both the faculty member’s share and the Employer’s share…the Employer shall remit these payments to ensure continuous coverage….”
In other words, if you go on an unpaid leave, you are able pay for both the faculty member and employer share of the plan cost to continue your coverage so that you will have benefit coverage while you are away.
That sounds great, but I won’t be receiving a salary, so can I opt out?
The question of opting out takes us back to the phrase “in accordance with the provisions of this agreement.” In the case of benefits, most of these provisions can be found in Article 15 – Health and Welfare.
As per Article 15.02 (a) Group Life and Accidental Death and Dismemberment:
“[p]articipation in this plan is a condition of employment.”
This means that as long as you are employed by KPU, you cannot opt out of this plan—the Life Insurance and Accidental Death and Dismemberment benefits.
Likewise, as per Article 15.06 Disability Benefits
(e) Coverage is by means of a policy issued by the insurance company and benefits will be paid in accordance with the schedule of benefits listed in the insurance carrier’s plan and are subject to the limitation specified in the plan including eligibility requirement.
In short, all members are subject to the eligibility limitations of the Manulife Plan. As per a 2016 addendum to the Manulife Plan, the General Provisions for Disability plans under “eligibility” state that
“Coverage in the plan is a condition of employment.”
This statement means that enrollment in Disability coverage (short or long) is mandatory and faculty cannot opt out of this plan during an unpaid leave.
What about extended health and dental?
Extended health and dental benefits are not conditions of employment at KPU and may be opted out of during a leave of absence. However, we recommend that you continue your coverage because it may be difficult to re-enroll, and you may be required to participate in a medical evaluation and could be denied by Manulife. There is no guarantee that you will be able to resume these benefits upon your return to work if you choose to opt out of them.
What should I do?
Before you apply for an unpaid leave of absence, please connect with a KFA Table Officer. Make sure you also connect directly with Human Resources at KPU—your Dean’s Office may not have the most up-to-date information. In other words, protect yourself in advance by learning about the cautions and caveats about taking leaves.
If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please contact the KFA.
Updated August 2021