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FMLA, Short and Long Term Disability: Your Umbrellas When Disaster Strikes

It’s open enrollment time around these parts and I personally had a lot of questions about FMLA, Short and Long Term Disability.  So I sat down with our HR lady to discuss options and possibilities.

In a previous position I did hold short term disability insurance but let it lapse because I had a lot going on at the time and didn’t think to call the company to have them take it out of my bank account instead of my paycheck because I was leaving.  Shame on me.  In my new position, we have of course, FMLA and Short Term Disability but no Long Term Disability.

I questioned whether it was necessary for me to even get short or long term disability because hey, I’m young and healthy and didn’t foresee anything happening that would take me out of work for three months.

That’s when my HR lady said:

Ahh, it’s usually the young people who think nothing will ever happen to them and end up having to use their leave time, FMLA and then nothing.  Short Term Disability covers the part after you’ve exhausted your leave time because FMLA is largely unpaid unless you’re utilizing leave time during FMLA“.

She’s right.  I really hadn’t given much thought to short and long term disability needs.  She’s like a big sister with great insight and HR knowledge (well, she is our HR lady!).  But our conversation gave me a few things to think about:

When would I use FMLA?  Does FMLA conflict with Short Term Disability?  What about Long Term Disability?  When does that kick in and is that a separate policy?  Can I obtain that on my own or is it something I can only get through my job?  Here’s what I came up with:

What Is FMLA And When Does It Kick In?

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that applies to employers with over 50 employees.  Therefore if your workplace employs less than 50 people then this would not apply to them.  In a nutshell the law protects your job in the event you, partner/spouse or immediate family member(s) become ill.  You’re alotted time to leave work and take care of them, though this does not mean that you will be paid during this time.  Still, most employers allow you to use leave time (sick/vacation) during your time away from work.

FMLA would kick in once you’ve notified your employer that you need the time away from work to attend to taking care of any personal or family illness.  It all depends how you arrange it with your employer in tandem with state leave laws.  For example, you can exhaust your leave time (sick/vacation) and then go out on FMLA or vice versa.  Some employers even allow for sick time to be donated by other employees in the event your run out.before or during FMLA.  The arrangement of using leave time in tandem with FMLA and short term disability is dependent – again – upon your company policies and state leave time.  Please check with them to make sure that you’re in line with their requirements.

Here’s the official breakdown from the Department of Labor:

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to:

  • Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:
    • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
    • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
    • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
    • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
    • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or
  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).   – DOL

Can Your Employer Fire You While On Maternity Leave?

Though I don’t have kids, I’ve always dreaded having that conversation with my employer.  The “I’m pregnant” conversation.  I’ll be honest, depending on who you work for – thoughts around “will she come back or ditch us once she’s used all of her paid/maternity leave?” or “will she become lazy and exhaust her leave days during the pregnancy?“.  As a director where I work, I’ve never had those thoughts around pregnant staff members but I have heard statements to that effect from my male colleagues in various settings.  The answer I’ve come up with is no one knows until the baby is born.  In my younger days I thought I’d go back to work after the requisite 6 weeks but as I gave more thought to it I now think I want to be home as much as I can but I don’t know that until the time comes.

There’s a stigma associated with being a working pregnant woman and it sucks.  Still, I can understand that many organizations need to keep things moving during and after the pregnancy. I personally and professionally have low tolerance for people that manipulate the system to short change their workplace during this time.

To answer the question:  let’s just say they’d have to make sure that all Ts were crossed if they chose that route.  So the answer is yes.  Your employer is under no obligation to keep you as an employee while you’re on maternity leave, but they cannot fire you because you are pregnant.  Note the difference.  This can get tricky, so it’s best to check with an attorney if you feel this is the case or concerned that you may be fired while on maternity leave.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of my findings around Short and Long Term Disability.  Does Short Term Disability conflict with FMLA and when do they kick in?  After or during FMLA?

What questions do you have or information can you share about your experiences with FMLA, short and long term disability?

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