What would happen if you had to take a leave of absence at work due to an injury or illness? It’s probably not something you like to think about – but knowing where your options and legal rights stand can put you ahead of the game when it comes to determining the best plan of action.
Here’s what you need to know about taking short-term disability – and what it means for the future of your job.
What is short-term disability?
“Short-term disability is a wage replacement benefit that provides compensation for injuries or illnesses that happen away from the job that renders employees unable to work for a short period of time,” explains Bryon Bass, SVP Disability and Absence Management at Sedgwick.
Short-term disability policies vary depending on the structure of the individual company, but typically, employees who are covered under short-term disability can receive between 40 to 60 percent of their salary for between nine to 52 weeks.
When does it start?
Before you go out on leave, Maureen Crawford Hentz, VP of Human Resources at A.W. Chesterton Company, says you’ll want to ask your HR contact if there’s a “run-off period” or “elimination period” – which refers to the time between when you’re initially unable to work and when your short-term disability salary kicks in. “
“Find out if you have this period, when it begins, how long it lasts and if you can use sick or vacation days to get you paid for that time,” she recommends.
Can I lose my job for taking short-term disability?
While short-term disability offers support in the form of payment during your leave, it doesn’t protect your job from being replaced while you’re out. Fortunately, programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) have been put in place to help. “FMLA prevents an employee from losing their job or benefits, and protects them from retaliation, in the event of a need for a leave of absence from work to deal with a health condition or care-giving responsibility,” Bass explains. “Generally, the law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period.”
As long as you don’t go over the allotted amount of weeks and are able to perform the essential functions of your role when you return, you legally can’t be fired.
What if I have to take more than 12 weeks of unpaid leave?
This is where things can get a bit tricky. If you’re asking for an extension that’s considered a reasonable accommodation to your employer (a few extra days or a week), you can make a legal case for them to keep your job.
However, taking much longer than that is considered an undue hardship for your employer.
If you need to take short-term disability and want to keep your job intact, Hentz says it’s key to plan and communicate with your manager and HR representative throughout the process.
“If your short-term disability is because of a foreseeable event like a surgery and recuperation period, plan for it the way you would plan for any long absence,” she recommends.
“Make sure you leave clear notes on work in progress and a clear calendar of items that might slip through the cracks while you’re gone.”
When you’re ready to return to work, communicate your needs to your manager and work with them on a plan for your return.
“Work with your doctor, the leave provider and your employer on how to best get back to work,” says Hentz. “In many cases, it may be advisable to ease back into the work routine by coming back one day the first week, two days the second week, etc.” Remember to communicate clearly with your employer about any follow-up appointments you will have in your first months back.