April 21, 2011

Catastrophic leave program lets employees help each other

by Paula Van Brocklin

Iowa State's catastrophic leave program is one benefit most employees never want to use. But if you experience a debilitating illness or suffer an accident that prevents you from working, it's a nice option. Here's a closer look at the program and how it could benefit you or a co-worker.

What is catastrophic leave?

Catastrophic leave is a voluntary program that allows university employees to donate accrued vacation or converted sick leave to employees who are suffering from a non-work-related catastrophic illness or injury. Employees on catastrophic leave receive their full salaries. The time limit for receiving catastrophic leave is 90 days per incident; there is no limit to the number of incidents.

Why is this policy necessary?

Sometimes employees exhaust all their sick leave and vacation as they deal with a medical condition. Catastrophic leave helps bridge a possible gap between accrued time off and/or the 90-day waiting period employees must meet before they may be eligible to receive long-term disability insurance benefits.

What is considered catastrophic?

A catastrophic illness or injury is defined as a medical condition that will result in a loss of 30 or more workdays, according to a physician. There are no limits on the types of covered illnesses or injuries. If a doctor deems it medically necessary for an employee to be away from work, it qualifies.

Who can donate catastrophic leave?

Eligible donors include all faculty, professional and scientific, and merit staff who:

  • Accrue vacation
  • Are benefits eligible

In addition to their co-workers, ISU employees can give or receive catastrophic donations from other qualified state of Iowa employees, including those who work at the regents universities, the Iowa Department of Transportation or the Department of Human Services, for example.

B-base faculty cannot participate in the program because they do not earn vacation. Graduate students and post docs also are ineligible.

How do I donate my time?

Employees should complete a catastrophic illness donation form (PDF) and give it to their department chairs.

How much time can I donate?

Donations must be given in increments of one hour or more. There is no limit to the amount of donations an individual can give. Contract merit employees who donate vacation or converted sick leave to other contract merit employees do so on an hour-for-hour basis. Supervisory and confidential employees, P&S employees and faculty may make dollar-for-dollar donations to each other and to merit employees. Once an employee returns to work, they will stop receiving catastrophic donations.

How can I receive catastrophic leave?

Employees who answer "yes" to all of the following questions are eligible to receive catastrophic leave. Recipients are allowed to receive donations for only 90 days.

  • Do I accrue vacation?
  • Am I eligible for employee benefits?
  • Have I exhausted all sick leave and vacation?
  • Am I eligible for long-term disability coverage?
  • Do I meet the definition of catastrophic illness or injury?

The next step is to complete a leave request form (PDF), which also needs to be filled out by a physician.

Are the donors and recipients anonymous to each other?

The name of the donor and the amount of leave donated is given to the recipient's department. The recipient may receive this information upon request. If donors wish to remain anonymous, they may request to do so in writing.

Can I qualify for catastrophic leave to care for an ill relative?

No. Catastrophic leave applies only to an employee's personal condition. This policy does not cover an employee's time away from work to care for a family member with a prolonged injury or illness. That type of care falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act policy.

What should I do if I have more questions?

Additional information about ISU's catastrophic illness and injury policy is online. Or, contact Jerilyn Rasmusson, 4-7682, in human resource services.