There are going to be times when employees need to take leave from work for medical reasons such as a personal illness or injury, taking care of an ailing family member, or having a baby, just for example. In addition to sick leave, many employers provide for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for just such medical situations.
Unfortunately, most people can’t afford to be out of work for 12 weeks without pay. If you’re having a baby, you naturally need time to recover and you no doubt want to bond with your infant during these early months of life. So you’ll be glad to hear that there are measures in place to help you out.
According to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain employers must guarantee 12 weeks of time off for qualifying medical leave. This includes state and federal agencies, public agencies, schools, and employers with 50 or more employees (or who had 50 or more employees for at least 20 work weeks this year or last year).
So there’s no danger of losing your job if you work for such a company and you take protected medical leave when you have a baby. What about pay, though? How can you afford to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave, especially with all the bills associated with maternity and childbirth?
Short-term disability benefits could provide the solution you seek. How do you know if you’re eligible and what do you stand to gain? Here’s a rundown.
Start with Accrued Time Off
Before you can even consider taking unpaid time off or applying for paid disability leave, most employers will require you to burn through your paid sick leave and vacation time. Your HR department should be able to provide you with an accounting of your accrued time off, as well as advise you concerning company policies for short-term disability.
Some forward-thinking companies actually provide paid maternity leave, in which case you would not need to apply for short-term disability. You simply need to check in with your HR department to find out how to proceed.
Are You Eligible for FMLA and other Benefits?
Not every employer is required to comply with FMLA guidelines, and not every employee is eligible. As noted above, employers with fewer than 50 employees need not provide this time off, paid or unpaid.
In addition, employers that are required by law to offer maternity leave need not provide it to employees that have been with them less than 12 months or those that worked fewer than 1,250 hours within the previous 12 months.
Does Short-Term Disability Cover Maternity Leave?
The short answer is yes, in most cases, but only partially. First of all, short-term disability only covers 6-8 weeks of maternity leave, depending on the type of delivery.
In addition, disability pay only accounts for a portion of your full salary (typically half to two-thirds of your regular pay, although in some cases it might be up to 100% of pay) up to a maximum dollar amount each week. Still, any amount is better than leave that is entirely unpaid.
If you’re eligible for short-term disability, benefits generally won’t start until one week after you’ve stopped working or until you’ve exhausted accrued sick leave and vacation time (whichever comes first). Keep in mind that there is a chance you could be taxed on the money you receive, just as with any income, but it depends on where the short-term disability benefits come from.