Catastrophic Leave Program Makes a Big Difference to Employees in Need

More than 1,200 donated hours were used in 2013

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The Catastrophic Leave Program allows UCR employees to donate their vacation time to other employees who are faced with a catastrophic illness or injury that requires them to be absent from work and who have maxed out their sick and vacation time. The donations allow the individual to continue to receive salary and benefits for up to one month.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — One of the most important programs for helping staff and academic employees in need is also perhaps one of the most misunderstood. But make no mistake, the UC Riverside Catastrophic Leave Program is one that changes staff and faculty lives for the better.

The program allows the UCR community to assist their co-workers by making donations of vacation time to staff and academic employees who are faced with a catastrophic illness or injury to themselves or a family member that requires them to be absent from work and who have exhausted their vacation and sick time.  These donations allow the employee to continue to receive the continuation of salary and benefits for up to one month, or 184 work-hours, in a 12-month period. The program details are defined by the Catastrophic Leave Sharing Program Guidelines.

For many, the program only comes to mind when they receive an email asking for specific donations for an individual in need, but for some employees, giving to the program is a regular occurrence.

“There’s no particular time of the year when there’s a surge in donations. In most circumstances, catastrophic hours are donated to a specific individual in their department, but there are some employees who donate on a regular basis to the general pool if they are at or near their maximum vacation accrual limit,” said Heidie Rhodes, policy and program manager for Human Resources.

While both the donors and recipients are kept anonymous, the number of hours given and received are impressive – 1,437 hours donated and 1,246 used by 29 employees in the 2013 calendar year.

On average the program has about 120 hours available for donation. It’s been as high as 294 hours in reserve and as low as 20.

Staff and academic employees who wish to donate to the program submit a donation form either by email or campus mail with the number of hours they wish to contribute. The document is kept on file for six months and when a request for leave comes in, the payroll team processes the donations in the order they are received, with a priority given to individuals who have maxed out their vacation time, or are close to doing so.

There are two common misconceptions about the program; the first being that donations can only be made when there is an employee is in need, when in reality they can be made at any time. The second misconception, which is possibly more significant to donors who are at or near their vacation maximum, is that donated hours are immediately taken from the donor’s vacation time and placed in a pool where they can be assigned to those in need.  In reality, those hours stay with the donor until they are assigned to a recipient. As a result, some donors who are at the vacation maximum end up losing hours that they intended to donate.

“Donated hours are used as needed and if they are not used within six months of the submission date, the donor will be informed that we could not process the donated hours,” Payroll Specialist Veronique Moser explained.

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