In collaboration with Marie-Claude Chapman, UCTE Labour Relations Officer
The date December 3rd is proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Day of Disabled Persons. It is estimated that some 450 million people live with a mental or neurological disability, which can manifest itself in the form of anxiety, varying degrees of hearing or visual impairment, chronic pain, learning disabilities or cognitive problems.
This year, UCTE has decided to publish this article to inform our members of the important things they need to know in order to get help from their union. In our union, there are three main recurring instances when members should turn to their union for assistance or representation. These are:
SUN LIFE – claims for disability benefits during a period of long-term illness
Firstly, this is for all our members who need to extend a period of sick leave. An employee eligible for this claim will need to use up any paid sick days in their sick bank and then may become eligible to receive benefits equivalent to 70% of their gross salary through the disability insurance plan. The appropriate forms must be completed in order to make a claim once the period of absence makes the individual eligible for benefits.
Eligibility requirement: considered totally disabled as defined in the insurance contract.
How many weeks to apply for forms: 13 weeks of total disability or the total elapse of paid sick days, whichever is later.
Refusal by SUN LIFE can be based on a lack of medical information, the existence of a pre-existing condition, the employee’s condition not having met the definition of total disability, etc. In such cases, the insurance company will provide the reason for the refusal and it will be possible for the employee to forward the required missing information to the file or to appeal the decision if necessary.
Note that it is not possible to grieve the insurance company’s decision to grant income replacement benefits in the event of disability.
Accommodation (The Duty to Accommodate)
In the event that one of our members needs to be accommodated for a disability or medical condition, it is mandatory that the employer ensure that the workplace is inclusive. Also, it must remove barriers that may exist preventing any person from participating fully in the workplace. It must avoid discrimination on a prohibited ground. PSAC has prepared a detailed document for our members to explain the duty to accommodate.
If you are in such a situation and your employer is not respecting your requests, it is important to contact your union and let them know of the issue. This may include making changes to a workstation or tasks, providing special equipment/tools, offering flexibility in working hours, etc. Your union staff and your employer will be able to look more closely at a variety of issues. Each case will be assessed on its own merits and the appropriate action determined.
These demands are your rights. The employee also has obligations in the accommodation process, as they must actively cooperate with the employer. It is also important to be aware that accommodation measures are not necessarily those preferred by the employee. In fact, the employer has a duty to provide reasonable accommodation. So, while the employee, the employee’s doctor, or the union may make suggestions about appropriate measures, the parties must work together, and it is possible that the measures the employer is open to providing may be reasonable ones and acceptable even if they do not meet the employee’s specific requests.
If you have to be absent for longer periods of disability or a disability is or becomes permanent, in such cases, the employer will not be obliged to keep the person employed indefinitely. Full details of this directive can be found in Appendix B 2.2 on the Treasury Board website .
These procedures are initiated by the employer after two years of absence on leave without pay for illness/disability. Normally, after this period the employer will contact the employee to inform them of different options to be considered and ask the employee to choose from these. These options are:
- Taking medical retirement, which will require approval from Health Canada
- Returning to work, normally requiring a medical note stating that the person is fit to work
- Dismissal for medical disability.
Usually these options will be presented in a letter with a deadline to communicate the employee’s desired option. It is very important to respect this date in order to avoid an administrative dismissal for medical incapacity, which the employer will almost certainly apply if there is no response from the employee. If you need to see your doctor after the deadline, you should contact the employer to obtain approval for an extension with justification. (If the doctor anticipates that it would be impossible to return to work in the foreseeable future then the option of medical retirement should be seriously considered.
If the employee expects to return to work in the foreseeable future they will need to provide information to the employer (date of return, limitations, reasons for allowing additional time, etc.) and the employer will likely want to have a fitness for duty form completed by the employee’s doctor or to obtain an independent medical assessment. If the employee’s doctor is able to answer the employer’s questions then there should be no reason for the employer to insist on an independent medical assessment. However, if the employee chooses the medical retirement option, then he or she will need to work with his or her doctor and Health Canada to have it approved. Here are the terms of a medical retirement:
- Employee must have completed at least two years of service
- No minimum age
- No penalty (not reduced)
- The calculation will be based on the number of years of service (depending on whether or not the employee chooses to buy back). The pension is calculated according to the following formula: number of years of service x 2% of the employee’s average annual salary during his or her five consecutive best-paid years. Therefore, if he or she has worked for 10 years, the employee would be entitled to a pension equivalent to 20% of salary.
In short, if you are a UCTE member and feel that you are not being respected, or need support in any of the above situations, the Labour Relations Officers at UCTE will be there to support you in your efforts. You can always contact your RVP for more information on this type of situation.