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What If I Get Sick? Sick Leave, and Short-term and Long-term Disability Leaves

By Diane Walsh, Member-At-Large

Sick leave and disability leave provisions in the Collective Agreement help protect KFA members’ rights and serve to ensure people are treated fairly throughout their employment, including during difficult times such as illness.

Our Collective Agreement has a number of provisions that deal with sick leave and disability leaves. (Note: KPU is a part of a consortium of colleges and universities that act together to provide benefit coverage in the Post-Secondary system.) This KFActs article will look at how sick leaves work for regular and non-regular faculty members including those members who are over 65 years of age.

Sick Leave

All regular and NR2 faculty members, including post-65 members, have up to 30 calendar days paid sick leave as detailed under article 15.06(a). These days are paid at full salary and benefits, and faculty members are not expected to make up or reschedule classes or other accountable time activities missed. Different departments have different practices regarding replacement and substitution, so please consult with your chair and/or dean.

During this kind of normal sick leave, the Employer can request a certificate from a medical practitioner to confirm you do need the leave, and a medical certificate can be important in other ways. For illnesses or injuries requiring a lengthy recovery period, the medical certificate determines the start point of the 30 days normal sick leave. Your 30 calendar days are deemed to start on the first day of the illness as reported or as indicated by a medical certificate, and these are continuous calendar days including weekends, stat holidays and scheduled vacation days.

It is very important that if you suspect your illness or injury will necessitate you being away from more than a week, you should begin the application process for short-term disability by contacting HR. If it turns out you do not need the short-term disability benefits, there’s no harm done, and if it turns out that you do need the benefits, everything can proceed smoothly for you with no potential disruption in pay.

Vacation time and sick leave is another area that may cause confusion. If a person gets sick or injured before scheduled vacation time and the illness or disability extends into vacation time, the vacation entitlement can generally be carried forward. This is not the case when a person gets sick or injured during vacation. When a person gets sick or injured during vacation, the 30 days sick leave period begins on the first day of the illness or injury as reported by a physician, even if that is within vacation time. For example, let’s say you go on vacation on May 15th and your scheduled vacation ends July 15th.  However, you get sick on May 30th. Your 30 days sick leave would elapse as of June 13th. You then go on short-term disability (at a reduced salary—please see below), even though you would otherwise have been “on vacation” at that time. The vacation time so lost is not recoverable and you cannot carry it forward.

Sick leave for NR1 faculty members

This is different from sick leave for regular and NR2 members, and is covered under 15.07. There is a specific fund established to cover NR1 faculty sick leave, and members can use this fund to cover sick leave up to 30 calendar days. The sticking point is that the fund is first come, first served and if the fund is exhausted, no further funds are available to cover sick leave for NR1 faculty members during that fiscal year. When you are sick, you must notify the dean’s office, and they should be able to explain how to access these benefits.

Short-term disability

All regular and NR2 faculty members, including members between 65 and 70 years of age, are eligible for Short-term disability coverage. Short-term disability benefits cover illnesses or injuries that require a recovery period of more than 30 days and up to 21 weeks away from work. (As explained below, illnesses or disabilities that last longer than 21 weeks are covered by long-term disability benefits.)

Transition from sick leave to short-term disability: Short-term disability benefits require an application process, and the sooner you start this, the better. When you first become sick or injured, and if there is any chance the illness or injury may require a period of leave longer than 30 days, we recommend you start the application process for short-term disability leave by contacting HR after the first week of your illness. This will help ensure a smooth transition to short-term disability benefits.

Transition from the 30-day sick leave to short-term disability leave can be somewhat complicated. If you return to work after being sick but then find you can’t manage the return after all, and you go back on sick leave, all the days taken on the first sick leave count towards a single 30-day sick leave period. In other words, the clock doesn’t get reset on the 30 days if you come back to work and then take more sick leave for the same or a related illness. It restarts from the number of days you took on the first part of the leave, and resumes counting forward from that point to the end of the 30 days. Short-term disability begins on the 31st day if you are still unwell.

Once a member has passed the 30 days ordinary sick leave, she or he moves into short-term disability provisions. This is described in Article 15.06 and, as referred to in 15.06 (e), the specifics are described in the Manulife Benefits booklet found on the KPU Human Resources website here.

During short-term disability, salary is covered up to 70% of the member’s normal remuneration, and health and welfare benefits continue unchanged. FTE service continues to accumulate as normal, too.

An important note is that the faculty member must be under the care of a licensed medical practitioner during short-term disability leave, and Manulife reserves the right to review claims by a committee of three doctors. Doctor #1 on the committee is chosen by the claimant, Doctor #2 is chosen by Manulife, and Doctor #3 is chosen by Doctors #1 and #2.

The maximum end point for being able to claim short-term disability benefits is age 65. There is one small wrinkle in that, though. If a member has a short-term disability claim in effect as of her or his 65th birthday, benefits continue through the 21st week of the disability or until the disability ends, whichever comes first.

Exclusions and limitations: There are specific exclusions and specific limitations to benefits. According to the Manulife booklet,

No benefit shall be payable for:

  • a disability resulting from substance abuse, including alcoholism and drug addiction, unless you are participating in a recognized substance withdrawal program;
  • a disability resulting from participation in the commission of a criminal offense;
    the portion of a period of disability during which you are imprisoned in a penal institution.

The short term disability plan does not cover a disability or illness resulting from:

  • war, insurrection, rebellion, or service in the Armed Forces of any country after the commencement of this plan;
  • voluntary participation in a riot or civil commotion except while you are in the course of performing the duties of your  regular occupation

Third-party liability: If the leave is due to an injury involving third-party liability, such as an automobile accident, the pay received is repayable to the Employer upon receipt of a settlement.

Rehabilitation: This is one of the important considerations for short-term disability leave, and the joint KFA-KPU Disabilities Management Rehabilitation Committee (DMRC) works together with the insurer to ensure a rehabilitation plan is made for the individual faculty member to take into account each individual’s circumstances and the nature of the illness or injury. The representatives serving on the committee are listed here.

Long-term disability

All regular and NR2 faculty members, excluding members past the age of 65, are eligible for long-term disability coverage. If the illness of disability lasts longer than the 21 weeks, the faculty member enters into the provisions of long-term disability. Just as you had to apply for the short-term disability benefits, you also must apply for long-term disability benefits. This is covered under Article 15.06 and in the Manulife Benefits booklet, as for short-term disability.

During long-term disability, salary is covered up to 70%, and like short-term disability, FTE accrual and health and welfare benefits continue unchanged. The maximum end point for long-term disability payments is age 65 or earlier, if you retire before 65.

Eligibility: Under the terms of this plan, there are a couple of additional wrinkles around eligibility. To remain eligible, one must be considered to be unable to return to work in your original occupation for a period from the qualifying period plus 2 years. After this 2 year period, “your ability by reason of education, training or experience to perform the duties of a gainful occupation for which the rate of pay is not less than 75% of the current rate of pay of your regular occupation at the date of disability will not be considered totally disabled and will therefore not be eligible for benefits under this long term disability plan.” Also, a member must be resident in Canada. The benefits booklet states:

“No benefits are payable if you reside outside Canada for any period exceeding 90 consecutive days or a total of 180 days in any 365 day period, unless:

  1. you have previously notified and received approval in writing from Manulife Financial; and
  2. you remain under the regular care of a licensed physician deemed appropriate by Manulife Financial; and
  3. proof of the ongoing disability can be determined on evidence satisfactory to Manulife Financial in English or French within 30 days of request.”

Rehabilitation: This is an important aspect of long-term disability and the goal, of course, is that a person on long-term disability leave would be able to return fully to her or his original work. The DMRC, the same joint committee that works with people on short-term disability leaves, works to create plans for faculty members on long-term disability leaves. In some cases, rehabilitation may involve a gradual return to work, so as to test the ability to return but not overwhelm the faculty member and set back her or his recovery. For example, a person might return to work at 25% of a full workload. In this case, the faculty member would be paid at normal salary for the 25% return to work and continue to receive long-term disability benefits for the remaining portion. During this time, the partial return to work would be assessed by the medical practitioner, and a further increase of the return or a reduction of the return might be indicated. The main consideration is to ensure the health of the person affected remains stable and the recovery is not jeopardized.

Exclusions and limitations: The same exclusions and limitations apply to long-term disability as described for short-term disability.

Pension and short- and long-term disability

Both short- and long-term disability are considered pensionable service, but the contributions are waived under the terms of the College Pension Plan. In other words, pension contributions are not deducted from the disability benefit you would receive, but they are still pensionable under the College Pension Plan regulations. The thing to keep in mind is that they are pensionable at the level of the disability benefit, not at the level of the faculty member’s normal salary.

If you have any questions or comments about this article or this topic, please contact me.

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