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Short-Term Disability Leave of Absence Explained for Employers

Employees can request a leave of absence from work for any number of reasons, such as an injury, an illness, or a disability. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offer unpaid leave and job protection for certain qualifying conditions, they don’t provide paid time off for a disability.

Employees may be able to take a short-term disability leave of absence through their employer’s short-term disability insurance plan.

Here’s how a short-term disability leave of absence works, and how it compares to disability leave through FMLA and the ADA.

What Is Short-Term Disability Insurance?

A short-term disability plan is a type of insurance plan that covers employees who are unable to work for a period of time because of a disability. In that sense, it has more in common with workers’ compensation or unemployment insurance than FMLA.

Short-term disability insurance is offered as an employee benefit, rather than a program that’s administered by the state. Employers may choose to offer a self-funded disability plan, or contract with an insurance company to provide it. Both the employer and the employee may be expected to pay a share of premiums.

Many states don’t require employers to have a disability policy at all, but those that do, such as New York and California, set minimum coverage requirements.

Short-Term Disability Insurance Eligibility

What conditions are covered by short-term disability insurance, and who is eligible for a short-term disability leave of absence? In general, STD insurance covers accidents and injuries that aren’t work-related, as well as some illnesses and medical conditions.

Since each STD insurance plan is different, employees should check with their human resources department to confirm which conditions are covered. Some STD insurance programs may cover pregnancy and mental health conditions, and others may not. Self-inflicted injuries and pre-existing conditions are often excluded.

Employees can’t submit a disability claim on their first day on the job: there’s typically a waiting period before employees can access short-term disability benefits, and in most cases only full-time employees are eligible.

Short-Term Disability Insurance Benefits

What benefits does STD insurance offer? Most plans offer wage replacement of 50-70% of an employee’s wages. Benefit periods range from a few months to a full year, with 26 weeks and 52 weeks among the most common.

There’s often an “elimination period” between filing a claim and receiving benefits, but employees may be able to use up any accrued sick time or vacation time before their disability insurance benefits kick in.

Short-term disability insurance doesn’t offer job-protection; however, some disabilities may be covered by the ADA or the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Short-Term Disability Leave of Absence vs. FMLA

Short-term disability leave of absence: injured person reading a document

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that entitles employees to 12 weeks of leave for certain qualifying conditions. Since some of these conditions overlap with the criteria for short-term disability leave, they may apply concurrently.

However, FMLA covers some conditions that short-term disability doesn’t, and it has a different set of eligibility requirements. Here’s how the two programs compare:

1. FMLA has stricter eligibility requirements.

FMLA leave is only available to a limited set of employees. To be eligible, they must work for a “covered employer,” which includes schools, government agencies, and private companies with at least 50 employees.

Additionally, the employee must have worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months, with at least 1,250 hours of employment within the past year.

Employers who have recently started a job or who work for a small employer may be eligible for short-term disability leave without being eligible for FMLA.

2. FMLA covers a wider range of situations.

Short-term disability leave only applies to an employee’s own serious health condition, while FMLA allows an employee to take time off for any of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child
  • The injury or illness of a family member
  • A qualifying exigency related to military service

An employee may be eligible for 12 weeks of parental leave under FMLA, even if their short-term disability insurance doesn’t cover paternity or maternity leave.

They can also take time off to bond with a foster child or adopted child, care for a sick family member, or care for a military service member.

3. FMLA offers more job protections.

FMLA leave doesn’t offer wage replacement, so in some ways, it’s less comprehensive than short-term disability leave. But it does offer several key benefits, including the right to reinstatement, and the right to maintain employer-based health insurance.

This means the employer can’t get rid of the employee’s job while they’re on leave or refuse to reinstate them when they’re ready to return to work.

Disability insurance doesn’t offer the same protections, and an employee can be fired while on a short-term disability leave of absence if other laws don’t apply.

Short-Term Disability Leave of Absence Best Practices

Navigating a short-term disability leave of absence can be challenging for employers and employees alike. Here are three tips to streamline the process:

1. Consider all relevant regulations.

Just because an employee qualifies for one type of leave doesn’t mean they’re ineligible for another. An employee might request FMLA leave for a medical emergency, only to develop an ongoing condition that qualifies them for short-term disability leave.

If an employee is unable to return to work after the leave period is up, they may still be eligible for an extended leave as a “reasonable accommodation” under the ADA.

If an employee won’t be able to perform any job for the foreseeable future, they may be eligible for long-term disability insurance if your company offers it.

2. Track leave balances accurately.

FMLA leave and short-term disability leave have their own eligibility requirements, and full-time and part-time employees may be eligible for different benefits. Employees may want to use their accrued sick leave or personal leave when going on disability leave, making it important to keep track of their total leave balance.

By tracking employee attendance using leave management software, you’ll be able to determine how much leave an employee has remaining, and which employment laws apply at each stage of the leave period.

3. Have a clear return to work process.

Both FMLA leave and short-term disability leave require documentation of the process, starting with a medical certification to confirm the employee’s health condition. You may also need a fitness-for-duty certificate when it’s time for the employee to return to work, or a recertification if they need to extend their leave of absence.

When you digitize the return to work process, you can eliminate paperwork and allow employees to upload their own documentation using a self-service portal.

Navigate Short-term Disability Leave With Ease

Man using a computer

Short-term disability leave is an insurance program that offers wage replacement for up to a year when an employee experiences an illness or injury. The amount and length of coverage depends on the employer’s disability benefits program. Employees may also be eligible for leave under FMLA or the ADA for certain qualifying conditions.

By fielding leave of absence requests in a central leave management system, you can streamline the approval process and ensure you comply with relevant regulations.

Pulpstream makes it easy to set up your own leave management workflow with our cloud-based HR automation platform. Use our drag-and-drop interface to create a customized LoA rules engine without having to write a single line of code.

Contact us today to request a free demo and learn more!