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Posted March 1, 2012

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Catastrophic Illness Donation Program Helps Employees in Need

Those who aren't eligible to participate in the sick leave bank now can help each other during a medical crisis.

Sandra Baca, a bookkeeper for Title I, needed to have surgery, and the recovery period was going to be long. Very long. Which meant Baca was going to miss a lot of work.

She used up her sick leave. Then her vacation time. And her personal days. Still, she was facing several weeks without a paycheck until long-term disability benefits kicked in.

“I didn’t know how I was going to make my house payment and pay other bills,” Baca recalled.

Thanks to colleagues who contributed their own leave through the Catastrophic Illness Donation program, Baca was able to pay her bills, recovered from her surgery and is back at work.

“It really made a difference,” she said.

The Catastrophic Illness Donation program started about a year ago when the APS Human Resources Department recognized that there was a group of mid-management employees who were at risk of losing pay and possibly benefits if they had to take extended medical leave. These are employees who aren’t protected by a negotiated agreement. They include those in computer support, executive administrative support, food service supervisors, management support, professional support and therapist assistants.

These employees may donate, upon approval, annual and/or personal leave hours to another employee who also doesn’t work under a union contract and who has exhausted his or her annual, sick and personal leave due to a catastrophic illness or injury.

Employees like Sandra Baca, who received nearly two and a half weeks' worth of leave from her co-workers after a plea by Human Resources for assistance.

Most APS employees including teachers, educational assistants, clerical staff, principals and others can contribute to the sick leave bank to help pay for medical leave after they’ve used up their sick, annual and personal leave. This is a voluntary program that costs about $5 to $7 a paycheck and covers up to 40 days per eligible condition. Enrollment typically takes place at the beginning of each contract year and during the district’s benefits open enrollment period in the fall.

The Catastrophic Illness Donation program is for employees who aren’t eligible to participate in the sick leave bank.

On average, teachers get about 65.5 hours of sick leave a year (10 days) and administrators – who work more days each year – get 104 hours (about 13 days). Sick leave is actually accrued on a monthly basis, so employees who use up their sick leave before the end of the year and then quit their job could, in fact, have to reimburse the district.

Sick leave can be accumulated from year to year.

“Employees should look at sick leave as a savings account for the future,” said Chris Roybal, FMLA/extended leave specialist for the Human Resources Leaves Office. “None of us plans on getting hit by a bus, getting cancer or breaking a leg. But we see it happen all the time, and employees too often have used up their sick leave to run errands or to go on vacation, and they don’t have it when they really need it.”

For more information on the district’s sick leave policy, the sick leave bank and the Catastrophic Illness Donation program, contact Roybal at roybal_ch@aps.edu or 889-4865, or Loretta Olson at loretta.olson@aps.edu or 889-4858.

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