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What’s the Difference Between Short Term Disability and Taking an Employee Leave?

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Whether it is a planned life event, a sudden illness or an injury, an employee may need to take a leave from work. Employees considering taking a leave should understand the commonly confused short term disability (STD) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits.

Short term disability

STD is not an employee leave; rather it is a wage replacement benefit. The benefit can be purchase by the employee through their employer benefits company of through a private vendor. STD benefits act as income replacement when an employee is unable to work for a period of time. The coverage can last for a few weeks to upwards of 52 weeks depending on the employee’s policy. Although STD is a wage replacement benefit, typically employees only receive 40-60 percent of their regular wages.

Unlike other forms of employee leave, STD benefits are not guaranteed job protection and continuing health care coverage is not assured. Eligibility for STD benefits has no impact on eligibility for FMLA leave.

Employee leaves

FMLA is a federally backed job protected leave from work. Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. In order to be eligible, an employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the last year and been employed with the company for 12 months or more.

Employers must restore the employee to the same or comparable position within the organization once the employee returns from leave. FMLA can be used for the birth of a baby or adoption of a child, or to take care of yourself or an immediate family member that has a serious medical condition. Although it is a federally sponsored leave, only employers with at least 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the company must offer FMLA leave for their employees.

Disabled employees can also take leave under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees may need to take ADA leave if they have exhausted or ineligible for FMLA benefits. Unlike FMLA leave, ADA leave times are case specific and determined as reasonable accommodations for the disabled worker. Also, an employee’s benefits do not have to be maintained by the employer during the leave.

To summarize, STD benefits are wages the employee may be eligible for while on leave. STD benefits can overlap with ADA or FMLA leaves but have no bearing on leave eligibility. STD coverage can help ease the financial burden when the unexpected arises.

Justin C Frankel

Written By:

Justin C. Frankel - Disability Insurance Attorney

Justin Frankel is a founding partner of the disability insurance law firm Frankel & Newfield and is a highly skilled litigator and advocate. He has published numerous articles on the challenges facing clients with private or individual disability insurance policies and those who own group or ERISA disability insurance policies.

Learn more about Justin | See Justin’s Publications



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