If you were like me, you did not care about short-term disability — until you realized your company did not offer any parental leave and your only options consisted of FMLA, short-term disability and vacation days. While short-term disability can be helpful, this benefit (or lack thereof) can be manipulated to negatively impact employees and protect employers.
I wasn’t thinking about having a significant surgery, adopting a child or needing to worry about a disability, until one day, I observed my colleague busily making notes on a calendar. When I asked what the notes were for, he said they were his calculations of how much time he could afford to take off for an upcoming surgical procedure. I was shocked that he was writing a small novel, and said, “why are you worried? Don’t we have a short term disability policy that covers a percentage of our pay for six weeks?”
I quickly learned that while we do, there is a dirty little secret that is known as the "elimination period." It is also referred to as a "deductible period" or "waiting period." This waiting period starts when an employee is eligible for short-term disability and ends when payments are made to the employee.
How bad could the waiting period be? Well, some employers delay payments for as long as 20 business days. 20 business days is four work weeks that you are ineligible to receive payment that's a percentage of your salary. A six-week short term disability policy that initially seems great is quickly reduced to only two weeks of pay at two-thirds of your salary! This is not a benefit to the employee, but rather a benefit to the employer who avoids paying you for your time out of the office.
But wait, I’m required to use all my vacation before short-term disability makes payments. That’s a good thing, right? Wrong! If you are a new parent, then you return from your leave with no vacation time and a child in daycare. Not only will you be sick as a dog for every month of your child’s first year thanks to all the germs that come home, but you are much more likely to lose your job because you are too sick to work, have no vacation days and no sick days because most employers got rid of that benefit a long time ago.
Unless you have a supportive manager, you’re not only sick all the time, but stressed out about being fired. You go to work sick and infect all your co-workers, which is bad for business. This is a no-win situation that negatively impacts anyone who is forced to use short-term disability for the birth or adoption of a child.
What’s really sad, however, is that few people realize up front they need to take the time to understand these policies prior to medical procedures. Not all companies have short-term disability policies with 20 business-day waiting periods, but given that it is 2017, the time has come to revisit these corporate policies. Businesses should be realizing these policies have too many unintended consequences and are no longer benefits, but hindrances that cause undue stress to employees.
The purpose of sharing my experience is to provide awareness of how critical short-term disability can be to your livelihood. This is so important that it’s worth asking about on your next job interview. Employers will only change these policies if they have to answer to an informed public.
If more people were educated on how short-term disability policies favor employers, 20 business day waiting periods would be few and far between; no one would want to work for those companies. If I had grasped how poorly short-term disability policies were (and are) administered, I would have negotiated differently, but I lacked the education.
It’s time we put a stop to our employers abusing policies that are meant to enhance the health and well-being of employees, not the bottom line of our employers.
This author requested to write under a pseudonym to protect her employment status.