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Chapter 18: Disability Management

Every supervisor will be faced with many challenges regardless the size of the work unit. Among the most complex of management's responsibilities is addressing absenteeism. Disability due to illness or injury is probably the most common reason given by employees who are absent from work. Although it is reasonable for employees to be excused for occasional absences due to illness or injury, the challenge is to manage absenteeism so that the departmental goals are still achieved. The goal is to create a work environment where employees are motivated to return to work as soon as medically possible because they feel supported and they know their work is valued.

In recent years, laws and University policies have evolved into a complex labyrinth of rules and regulations that influence how absences are managed. Some of this legislation includes:

Additionally, there are collective bargaining agreements and Personnel Policies with varying language that pertains to absence provisions such as Leave of Absence, Sick Leave, Extended Sick Leave, and Pregnancy Disability Leave.

As a manager, you play a critical role in the University's success. Your effectiveness and the effectiveness of your group is determined, in part, by how well you meet the responsibilities of your position. Part of your responsibility involves providing a safe and supportive work environment for employees who are ill, injured, or disabled.

Most people understand that absenteeism has a serious impact in the workplace. This chapter on Disability Management is presented to give you a better understanding of how to approach the management of absenteeism. It will provide you the tools, background, and policy references to enable you to become an effective manager of absence and disability within your group.

Guiding Principles

Your Role

As a supervisor, you play a vital role in managing disability and absenteeism by:

Work-Related Disability

An employee with a work-related disability may be eligible for Workers' Compensation benefits, as well as UC benefits that supplement Workers' Compensation.

See Chapter 20: Workers' Compensation

Non-Work-Related Disability


An employee with a non-work related disability may be eligible for benefits if the employee is unable to work. The two disability plans available are the Short-term Disability Plan (formerly the University Paid Disability Plan) and the Supplemental Disability Plan (formerly the Employee Paid Disability Plan). Both plans are administered by Liberty Mutual.


All employees are automatically enrolled in the Short-term Disability Plan when they become eligible. There is no cost to the employee. However, an employee must enroll in the Supplemental Disability Plan if the employee wants coverage. In addition, the employee must pay the full cost of monthly premiums for Supplemental Disability.

Both the Short-term and Supplemental Disability Plans are designed to protect an employee against a total or partial disability which may adversely affect earning power. Both plans provide a partial income replacement benefit if the employee is unable to work due to a disability covered by the plan. The Supplemental Disability Plan supplements the disability coverage available to the employee through the Short-term Disability Plan and provides coverage for disabilities that may have a long duration. While the Short-term Disability Plan is only for non-work related disabilities, the Supplemental Disability Plan can be used to supplement work-related injuries/illness.

For specific procedures, please review the following documents: 

Disability Benefits Claims Procedures

Disability (including Pregnancy Disability) Benefits Checklist

Supervisor's Checklist

Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work Program (Administered by Liberty Mutual)


Note: The following only applies to employees whose disability began January 1, 2000 or later.

The University's Short-term and Supplemental Disability plans, administered by Liberty Mutual, provide for a Stay-at-Work/Return-to-Work (SAW/RTW) provision. This program allows an employee to stay at work or return to work on a part-time basis while still receiving partial disability benefits. Benefits will be payable if the amount the employee earns from working is less than or equal to 80% of the employee's original salary.


Under SAW/RTW the employee may:

To be eligible for SAW/RTW, an employee must be working no more than 80% of the employee's regular schedule, or receiving no more than 80% of his/her pre-disability earnings. The employee's benefits under the disability plan and from all other sources of income may not exceed 100% of eligible earnings prior to the employee's disability.

Supervisor's Checklist

Transitional Work


Transitional work allows an employee with temporary restrictions to work in a modified, alternative, or reduced-hours capacity, for a defined period of time, while recuperating from an illness or injury.


The University strives to return an injured/disabled employee to work as soon as the employee's condition permits. Allowing an employee with a disability to perform transitional work enables the employee to return to maximum health and productivity much faster than if required to stay off work.

Transitional work includes the following:

It is important for the employee and supervisor to develop a formalized Transitional Work Plan document that details the specifics of the return-to-work arrangements. This document is important because it will inform each party of the specific work assignments, temporary work modifications, and defined start and end dates to lessen the possibility of any misunderstanding that may occur while an employee is working in a reduced capacity while healing from an injury or illness.

Supervisor's Checklist


Reasonable Accommodation


If an employee has prolonged or permanent disabilities that impair the employee's ability to perform his/her job, an effort must be made to provide accommodation to enable the employee to work in a modified capacity or change to a more suitable position. In this way, the University can keep valued, experienced and trained employees, while complying with our obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  For further details, please see UCSF's ADA and Reasonable Accommodation website.


The department should engage an employee in an interactive process to evaluate whether job modifications can be made which enable the employee to continue to perform the essential functions of the job when:

In addressing a Reasonable Accommodation request, it is imperative that an interactive process and exchange take place between the supervisor and employee. During this interactive process, the parties will discuss whether or not accommodations are necessary for the employee to be able to perform the essential functions of the job. Accommodations must be made on a case-by-case basis, but could include job restructuring, initiating part-time or modified work schedules, and providing assistive devices.

When a Reasonable Accommodation is needed, please contact Disability Management Services to facilitate this interactive process.

It is important to note that accommodations are based on the unique needs of the employee's disability and the necessity to perform the essential functions of the job and not necessarily on the employee's preferences. On the other hand, if reasonable, primary consideration should be given to the employee's preferences. The department does have the discretion to select between equally effective accommodations in terms of cost and ease of implementation.

If the interactive process is thorough and complete, yet concludes that the employee cannot be reasonably accommodated within the department, the employee can then participate in the Priority Reassignment process. Please see the Priority Reassignment section for further details.

Supervisor's Checklist

Return to Work Review


A supervisor can request a Return-to-Work Review in order to determine whether or not an employee with a disability is able to return to work.


A supervisor should request a Return-to-Work Review through Labor and Employee Relations. If appropriate, the Labor and Employee Relations analyst will then contact Disability Management Services to conduct this review.

Typically, Disability Management Services' Return-to-Work Review will involve the following:

Once the Return-to-Work Review has been completed, Disability Management Services will provide a written report to Labor and Employee Relations detailing the services provided to the employee during this process. Labor and Employee Relations will then issue a report offering final recommendations and options to the employee's department.

Supervisor's Checklist

Priority Reassignment


Priority Reassignment is a preferential employment process whereby an employee with a disability may be selected for another position at the University without the requirement that the position be publicized. This Priority Reassignment process does not provide a right to guaranteed re-employment.


Eligibility for Priority Reassignment is based on medical information from the employee's treatment provider documenting that the employee is precluded from returning to work in his/her regular position, but is able to participate in a search for alternative work.

During Priority Reassignment, the employee will work closely with Disability Management Services (DMS), who will assist the employee with a transferable skills analysis; resume preparation, job seeking skills training, and the identification of appropriate job openings. The DMS analyst will also instruct the employee on how to search and apply for open positions with the on-line applicant tracking system. To be considered under Priority Reassignment, the employee must apply for a position within two (2) weeks of the date the job is posted. Priority Reassignment typically lasts 90 days.

When appropriate positions are identified, the DMS analyst will inform the appropriate Staffing and Compensation (S&C) analyst of the Priority Reassignment candidate. The S&C analyst reviews the candidate's qualifications and, if appropriate, forwards the candidate's resume to the hiring manager for consideration. A Priority Reassignment candidate must be hired into any position for which he/she is qualified. A hiring manager can only reject a priority reassignment candidate if the candidate is not qualified or if no reasonable accommodation can be provided to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the position. Prior to making this decision, the hiring manager may engage in a noncompetitive interview and/or meet with the employee and Disability Management Services to engage in the interactive process. No other non-preferential applicants may be referred to this open position until the qualifications of the Priority Reassignment candidate are evaluated.

Supervisor's Checklist

Other Resources