The purpose of this Grievance Corner is to discuss issues related to the Long Term Disability (LTD) benefit. We are also introducing a new section that will list current issues arising in the Grievance portfolio to give you some sense of what we are grappling with on your behalf.
A sampling of grievance issues we are currently working on: RTP negative recommendations, Annual Report issues, disability accommodation plans, LTD questions, Continuing Adjunct commuting reimbursement costs, unexpected termination of employment contract, IP ownership, Workload Standard drafting, harassment in the workplace, sick leave processes.
Long Term Disability
The Long Term Disability (LTD) benefit was made mandatory for QUFA members in 2008. This change was made in the best interests of the Membership as QUFA has had to deal with dire situations where Members had not taken out LTD and then desperately needed such extended health leave. You cannot predict a car or skiing accident. You cannot know if you will get Lyme disease and not be diagnosed in time for a quick recovery, or become severely depressed and take a long time to manage this new or chronic reality in your life. Without LTD, those who find themselves in these situations have to take leave without pay if they must be off work longer than 180 days (Sick Leave entitlement is up to 180 days). It can be particularly bleak for those in their 30s and 40s with children and mortgages, and the prospect of retirement and a pension income a long way off. While it is possible to start contributing to the LTD benefit at any time during your employment, starting after the first month of working at Queen’s means that you must undergo a medical examination and the insurer, Great West Life, has the ability to exclude pre-existing conditions from coverage.
The QUFA Benefits Committee is discussing the LTD plan with a view to updating it as it has been the same for many years and may be insufficient given current salaries. In our current plan, the maximum insurable salary (what you make in gross income) is capped at approximately $113,000 and LTD deductions are taken off only up to that maximum salary. Salary earned over and above this amount is not subject to LTD-related deductions. At the maximum insured salary, LTD would pay $5,000 per month. The benefit is indexed for inflation. Because Members pay 100% of the LTD premiums, the LTD payment is not taxed and you should compare the amount you would receive on LTD with your take home pay, not with your gross income. If you make more than $113,000 (gross income), the amount Great West pays you for LTD would still not be more than $5,000 per month.
Going on LTD requires an application which includes submission of medical documentation to Great West, and this is usually done about 3 months into a Sick Leave. You should check with Human Resources to make sure your benefits contributions continue during LTD as some do not automatically continue. If you are on LTD for some time, you will likely get requests for updated medical documentation.
If you apply and do not qualify for LTD for a particular health concern, or if you do not have to go on LTD because you get better by the end of Sick Leave, Great West will not count this against you for future applications.
Returning to work from LTD also necessitates medical documentation and the creation of a plan through Great West Life’s Rehabilitation Services that has as its goal a successful return to work. This service is coordinated in consultation with Return to Work Services at Queen’s. The Return to Work Protocol for someone on LTD benefits specifies that you must be able to resume at least 40% of a combination of the duties that you regularly used to perform before going on LTD, whether you are returning on a graduated and/or modified basis.
If you return to work while on LTD on a graduated basis as part of your Rehabilitation programme, you can be supported partially by LTD benefits and partially by income from Queen’s. In such a case, Queen’s pays your salary for the portion you work (taxable) and Great West pays the LTD benefit for the portion you cannot work (non-taxable). If you have a relapse within a few months of returning to work, then you may return to up to 100% LTD without having to reapply for the benefit. This sort of Great West and Queen’s financial sharing applies to LTD only and not to Sick Leave. When you return to work from Sick Leave, whether because you are able to or because Great West has found you ineligible for the LTD benefit, the percentage of a full-time position you return to is the percentage of income you receive from Queen’s and no payment comes from Great West.
If you return to work within 3 years of going on LTD, to be considered truly back to work rather than still technically on LTD you must be medically able to perform at least 60% of a combination of the duties you regularly used to perform before going on LTD. If you return to work within 3 years of going on LTD, you return to the job you left.
If you are off work for longer than 3 years, then the employer is not obliged to give you back the same job or even a full-time job. For faculty members it is difficult to know exactly what such a job would look like, and we have no precedent as this scenario has not yet occurred at Queen’s.
While it is complicated, having LTD means that Members have some security regarding their income and their job. Those without LTD face incredible obstacles if they cannot work or can work only part time past a Sick Leave. Not only do they suffer salary loss, partial or full, but they also have to contribute more to their ongoing benefits and pension plan. This can wreak both physical and emotional damage that worsens their health situation.
QUFA advises and assists Members with LTD and without LTD. Whether you have LTD or not, accommodation of disability and chronic illness to enable you to do your job is an obligation of the employer and an area where we routinely help Members, so do not hesitate to contact us.
If you would like to review the actual wording of the LTD plan, please contact us.
QUFA Grievance Officers
Ramneek Pooni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Grievance Corner was taken from the May-June, 2012 edition of QUFA Voices..