Penn revises short-term disability policy, making it even more ‘family friendly’

When a Penn employee needs back surgery, a knee replacement, cancer treatment, or goes on maternity leave, he or she will likely make use of the University’s short-term disability policy. It allows full-time weekly or monthly paid Penn staff members to manage their health and still receive pay—plus benefits—even if they can’t work and are out of the office for more than 10 days.

The University has recently revised its short-term disability policy to make it even more “family friendly,” says Sue Sproat, executive director of the Division of Human Resources (HR).  

“There will now be this concept of  a consistent level of benefit that is not dependent on how long you have worked at Penn or how much time you have saved, ” says Sproat, who leads HR’s Benefits Department.

Effective July 1, the new policy allows staff members to be eligible for short-term disability on the first day of the month following their hire date. Should they have an illness or injury that will require them to be out of work for more than 10 days (employees will use accrued sick or vacation time for the first 10 days), Penn employees will receive 100 percent of their base salary for the duration of the disability for a maximum of six weeks. After that, if an employee still cannot work due to disability, he or she will be eligible to receive 75 percent of pay up to a maximum of 18 additional weeks. Staff members with disabilities that are expected to exceed 26 weeks may be eligible for long-term disability benefits.

This means that under the new policy, eligible Penn employees will no longer have to accrue or save up time to use in a period of short-term disability. Under the current policy, for every two unused sick days accrued in a fiscal year, the University adds one day to the staff member’s short-term disability balance, up to a maximum of six days per year.

“With the current policy, employees sometimes run out of paid time before they are well enough to return to work,” says Helena Gibbons, a senior benefits specialist at Penn. “The new policy limits the risk of these cases.”

“Also, under the current policy, an employee is required to use down all the sick and 50 percent of vacation time before he or she will be paid using short-term disability days,” says Sproat. “That was less than ideal, because when mothers would return to work after having a baby, for example, they wouldn’t be able to take any sick time until more days are accrued. This can be problematic if the baby gets sick or needs to go to the doctor.”

The policy changes are for all current and new regular full-time staff, position grades 28 and below. Penn’s current sick leave and short-term disability policies remain in effect through June 30. Leaves that begin prior to July 1 and continue beyond July 1 will be paid under the current policy.

Staff members will continue to accrue sick days, but the new maximum is 24 instead of 90 work days. Employees who have accrued more than 24 sick days before July 1 will retain their balance of unused days. Staff members will also retain their unused short-term disability days that have accrued up to July 1. These days may be used during weeks nine through 26 of short-term disability leave to replace the 75 percent of salary with 100 percent. Short-term disability balances will expire in 2018. 

Heather Frattone, associate dean for professional engagement at Penn Law, who serves on the University Council Committee on Personnel Benefits, participated in the planning and review of the new policy, along with other Council members, HR, and employees across the University. She says she’s particularly proud of how the new policy was created through collaborative efforts.

“We worked together every step of the way to make sure we understood what some of the key decision points were and what the economic impact of it was, as well as the value for employees—what would be a better benefit and how we could get to a point where we felt good as a result,” Frattone says. “The process was a reflection of the collaborative nature of the Penn community.”

There are three scheduled information sessions regarding the new short-term disability policy on Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and on Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 10 a.m. Registration is required for those who would like to attend.

More information is available on the Human Resources’ website.

Short-term disability