Employee Leave Alphabet Soup.

Let’s say you’re having major surgery. Or welcoming a baby into the home. Or experiencing any number of other health-related issues that might require you to miss a lot of work. How do you avoid losing pay, or even your job?

The federal government estimates that about a quarter of all 20-year-olds will suffer a disability during their working years, and people under the age of 45 are more likely to be disabled than to die. And if disability does strike – even for a limited amount of time – and you can’t work, how will you survive?

Fortunately, you have options, but you do need to understand how these options work to take full advantage of them. To help, let’s take a look at the common employee-leave mechanisms.

  • Basic sick leave. Most employers offer full-time employees some form of basic sick leave to cover times when you’re not able to come to work for a few days. However, this depends on your employer’s specific policies, which can range from no paid sick leave to unlimited paid sick leave.
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA was passed by Congress in 1993 to ensure that an employee is protected from losing his or her job due to the often need to take time off for health reasons. It requires certain employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid “family medical leave” every year. Among the conditions that qualify are serious illness, the birth of a child, and the need to care for a spouse. Be aware that firms with fewer than 50 employees are not required to adhere to FMLA guidelines, and employees must meet certain requirements in order to qualify for FMLA benefits.
  • Short-term Disability Insurance (STD). Unlike FMLA coverage, employers are not required by federal law to provide short-term disability insurance. Under STD coverage, employees receive a percentage of their pay in the event they cannot work for a specified period of time, with the percentage of salary and time period covered by an STD policy varying from provider to provider. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that the median length of short-term disability coverage is 26 weeks, and policies typically provide 60 to 75 percent of an employee’s base pay. STD coverage does not protect an employee’s employment status; it only provides for a certain level of income protection in the event of a prolonged leave.
  • Long-term Disability Insurance (LTD). Like STD coverage, LTD policies provide you with a percentage of your salary for a set period of time. They often work in tandem with STD benefits, but LTD policies usually provide coverage for years, not weeks or months. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, most employers provide this coverage to their employees free of charge, although employees typically must be on the payroll for a certain amount of time before they are covered. Many benefit providers will allow you to elect LTD that covers longer periods of time if you desire.

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