By Louanne Haugan
Paid Short-Term Disability (STD) benefits are provided through Employment Insurance (EI). Every employee pays EI premiums and would therefore be eligible to qualify to receive EI benefits, subject to the requirements of the program.
Paid LTD benefits are provided through the National Canadian Baptist Group Benefits Plan (provided by Great-West Life), so all active members on the plan would be eligible to qualify to receive LTD benefits, subject to meeting the definition of “disability” according to Great-West Life.
STD / Sick Leave Policy:
Minimum employment standards do not require employers to provide any sick leave pay to their employees. According to human rights legislation, employees cannot lose their position, be terminated or treated differently, for being away due to illness or disability. However, employers are not required to pay them during their absence. So, in short, the minimum requirement is zero. However, in practice, most employers make some provision for reasonable absences due to sick leave, and possibly for special circumstances and/or extended illness. Since employers set their own policies, these can vary widely, but in general, a typical amount of sick days may be in the range of 10-15 days per year. Depending on the policy, unused sick time may be lost or carried forward. It is generally never paid out (either at the end of the period or on termination, unless specified by the policy), and policies that allow for carry-forward sick time often impose a cap on the amount. For example, an employer provides its employees with 15 paid sick days per year (1.25 days per month) and allows unused days to be carried forward up to a maximum of 85 days (this equals the 17-week waiting period for LTD). There is no pay out of unused sick time. It is always the best practice for employers to have a written sick leave policy in place (as part of the employment agreement and/or HR manual), in advance of any situation that may arise.
If an employee takes time off from work due to an illness or disability for what is at least a short-term leave, but could potentially develop into a long-term leave, and after using accumulated sick days, we usually recommend churches utilize the STD (EI) and LTD (GWL) programs as follows: On the last day the employee is at work, the employer should issue a Record of Employment (ROE) using the reason code “D” illness or injury. The employee can then take the ROE to Service Canada to apply to begin receiving EI Short-term Disability Benefits. There is a two-week waiting period for EI, and then STD benefits are paid for a maximum of 15 weeks. (If an employee has accrued vacation or sick time, they may want to have a portion of this paid out on their last pay, in order to bridge the two week gap before EI starts.) The STD benefits will terminate at 17 weeks from date of disability, which is the point at which Long-term Disability benefits (provided by GWL through our Group Benefits plan) will begin. If an employee on a short-term medical leave anticipates that they may not be able to return to work when their STD expires, they should begin applying for LTD benefits as early as possible. Assuming the criteria of LTD is met, the employee will continue to receive LTD benefits until they recover and are able to return to work, or reach age 65.
Eligibility for STD Benefits:
The qualification for (paid) STD is that an employee (who pays EI premiums) is unable to work due to an illness or disability, and has been issued an ROE from their employer with the reason code “D” illness or injury. The amount of the benefit they receive will be based on the salary they were paid for the previous certain number of insurable weeks, and subject to the applicable maximums.
Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Plan (SUB Plan):
In addition, we recommend employers register a Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Plan with Service Canada. This allows the church to top-up the employee’s EI income during sick leave up to 95% salary without penalty to the recipient. A number of CBWC churches have submitted SUB plans as a way to encourage and support their pastors during sick leave.