Short-Term Disability CoveragePublished: Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Does the federal government have short-term disability coverage? That's what several readers have asked me. The short answer is no. It doesn't have it and never has. While proposals to add such coverage have been floated for years, they never make progress.
Before rushing ahead and telling you what the government does have available to help you, I think it would be a good idea to define our terms. So here goes. A short-term disability is a physical or mental condition that causes you to be unable to perform your job for any period of time that is less than one year. If your disability is expected to last a year or longer and you have at least 18 months of service under FERS or are a CSRS employee, you can file for disability retirement. Note: If you are a CSRS employee you have, by definition, the five years of service needed to qualify for disability retirement.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a short-term disability, you'll have to make use of the provisions that do exist. Each of them is available to you regardless of the amount of time you've been working for the government.
As a federal employee, you earn both sick and annual leave every pay period. If you have a short-term disability, you can always use the sick leave you've accumulated. If you use that up, you can use any accumulated annual leave. If you run out of that, your supervisor may have the authority to grant you advance both sick and annual leave. The maximum amount of sick leave that can be advanced is 104, if you are a full-time employee. The maximum amount of annual leave that can be advanced is the amount you would be able to accrue to the end of the year.
Leave without pay
If you run out of leave and your supervisor has advanced you all the sick and annual leave that he or she can (or doesn't have the authority to grant you any), your supervisor may be able to grant you periods of LWOP. Some agency policies allow that even if you haven't yet exhausted your sick or annual leave.
Leave transfer program
Under current law, employees may donate annual leave to you to ease your financial hardship if you have to take extended leave without pay. If you receive such donations, every hour will be paid at your usual hourly rate of pay until the medical emergency ends or the donated leave runs out.
If your disability was due to a personal injury or disease sustained while you were performing your job, you may be eligible for workers' compensation. Workers' comp payments begin when you first experience a wage loss; in other words, when your leave runs out.
While these alternatives aren't a match for a well-designed short-term disability program, it'll have to do for now. There aren't any signs that the Congress is interested in creating such a benefit for federal employees at this time.