Coming Back to SFU from Long Term Disability: Critical Issues
August 10, 2023
When Kendry* returned to work from a serious health issue, she’d been away from the University for nineteen months. Kendry spent thirteen of those months on Long Term Disability (LTD), an important benefit available to APSA continuing members as part of their total compensation.
As per policy (AD 10.07, 5.01, clauses h. and i.), the University isn’t obligated to retain a given member’s continuing position if their prognosis indicates that they will be away from their role at SFU for more than one year. While there are some nuances to the conditions under which an employee such as Kendry may be permanently replaced in their position, Kendry’s job at SFU was posted per the policy I noted above. Kendry remains an employee of the University, just without a home position.
The terrible difficulty for members such as Kendry is when they return to work from LTD after a longer absence. They not only don’t have a position to return to but until the University finds them one (as it is also obligated to do), they not only go unpaid but are faced with covering the costs of their insured benefits package (about $500 per month), if they wish to continue to receive them without interruption. SFU has offered employees in similar situations to Kendry’s flexible repayment options when it comes to paying the benefits amount, but without a salary, even such repayment can be challenging. In short, loyal and hard-working employees like Kendry too often return to work from a difficult illness to a salary-less limbo: no pay and likely having to cover the costs of their own insured benefits package.
“It shocked me,” said Kendry, “I have no money coming in, and the University is asking that I cover the cost of my benefits. It wasn’t like LTD was bringing in my full salary either, like only about 70%. I had [a serious illness] for a year, and now I come back to no money? I’m a single mom. How am I supposed to survive while SFU finds me a new job?”
The situation is often a dire one for those in Kendry’s position. Most of our members in similar cases can’t live without their salary, let alone cover the cost (or a portion of the cost) of their insured benefits. I’ve had members like Kendry call me in tears and tell me that they must sell their house, declare bankruptcy or worse.
In Kendry’s situation and similar cases for other members, while SFU is obligated to find them a new job if it hasn’t done so within twelve months, it must pay them severance pay: “…four weeks (4) for each full year of service at the University to a maximum of fifty-two (52) weeks).”
These noted LTD issues might be minimally tolerable if the University had a solid record of placing members like Kendry in new roles in a timely manner. Based on our team’s experience with returns to work from longer LTD leaves, members in such cases often go without a salary for up to a year while SFU attempts to find them a position. When the University hasn't, it ends their employment by paying them up to a year’s severance.
“It’s been six months since my doctor said I could come back to work,” said Kendry. “SFU hasn’t placed me yet. I’m beyond broke. I don’t know what to do.”
It’s a policy we in APSA are lobbying to change to prevent and fix situations like Kendry’s. If you find yourself in a similar situation or have any other questions about your LTD benefits, please do come see us for a confidential consultation.
*Name and details have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
This article was revised on August 21, 2023 to include additional information received from the University. We're pleased also to report that our follow up meeting with SFU on the matters raised in the article have been productive.