Please note that the information below is only intended as a guideline. If you are faced with a prolonged absence from work as a result of a non-work-related illness or injury, we encourage you to ask for guidance from your departmental human resources practitioner or an ACFO Labour Relations Advisor.
Being absent from work for an extended period due to illness or injury can be challenging and stressful, but that stress can be mitigated if you know what to do and what to expect. The following is a roadmap for navigating your options if faced by a prolonged illness or injury.
If you anticipate your illness will last longer than your paid sick leave days, it’s important to be proactive by applying for benefits under your Disability Insurance Plan (Sun Life) or Public Service Management Insurance Plan and Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits as soon as possible so you will have the financial support you need throughout your recovery.
If you are eligible for long-term disability benefits (LTD), the insurer will provide a 70% income replacement of your insurable earnings. Benefits will start 13 weeks (91 calendar days) after your initial disability claim or once you have exhausted your paid sick leave, whichever comes later.
If you don’t have enough paid sick leave days to cover the 13-week waiting period or if you don’t qualify for LTD, you may be eligible to receive Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits, which provide temporary financial assistance for up to a maximum of 15 weeks.
You must apply for benefits at least two months before you become eligible. Given the current delays through the pay centre due to Phoenix, ACFO encourages members to apply for benefits as soon as you believe you will be going on extended sick leave.
It’s important to note that one of the most frequent reasons long-term disability claims are denied is incomplete medical information. Your departmental human resources or disability management practitioner can guide you through the process of correctly submitting your claim to the insurer. You can also contact an ACFO Labour Relations Advisor for information and assistance at any time during the process.
Leave without pay
If you have exhausted your paid sick leave credits and cannot return to work, you should request sick leave without pay by submitting a written request and supporting medical information to your manager. Sick leave without pay may be granted for a period of two years. During that time, your manager will regularly re-examine the conditions of your leave to ensure that it is still supported by up-to-date medical information. If you need to exceed the initial approved sick leave, you will have to submit a request for an extension of your leave without pay and get appropriate authorization.
Before going on leave without pay, you will need to make important decisions and arrangements for the continuation of your group insurance coverage, public service pension plan and supplementary death benefit plan. Disability insurance premiums are waived while on leave without pay, but contributions and coverage to maintain group insurances (i.e. life insurance, health care plan, dental care plan) will automatically continue. You may opt out of the Public Services Health Care Plan for the period of leave without pay.
Similarly, your public service pension plan contributions will be deducted automatically for the first three months of sick leave without pay. You can stop your contributions after that period, but in that case you will stop accumulating pensionable years of service. You can instead choose to delay your pension plan contributions by making contributions through: a lump sum payment within 30 days of returning to work; payroll deductions for a period that equals to twice the period of leave without pay; or a combination of a lump sum and payroll deductions.
If after a period of two years, you are not able to return to work and your disability prevents you from returning to work for the foreseeable future, you may have to consider medical retirement or resignation due to incapacity. Medical retirement is subject to approval by Health Canada and eligibility for disability insurance coverage.
Return to work
If, after being absent for a long period of time, you are fit to return to work either on a full-time basis or with special arrangements, you should carefully plan your return with the assistance of your treating physician, your manager, your departmental human resources practitioner, your disability case manager and your ACFO Labour Relations Advisor.
You are responsible for providing management with information regarding your functional abilities and any type of workplace accommodation you will need. Your employer is required to make every reasonable effort to accommodate you by removing barriers and implementing the necessary measures to allow your reintegration into the workplace, subject to undue hardship. You must participate in the process of finding accommodations and accept reasonable solutions.
I hope this blog helps you in providing a roadmap when absent from work for a long period of time due to a non-work-related illness or injury. However, if you find yourself in such a situation you should ask for advice from your departmental human resources practitioner and don’t hesitate to contact me at SRochon@acfo-acaf.com or another Labour Relations Advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org for information, advice, representation and technical assistance on all issues related to workplace health and disability.
Labour Relations Advisor