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SPLF Employment Blog

Disability insurance

Short- and Long-Term Disability

Some companies offer short-term disability (STD) and long-term disability (LTD) as part of the benefits package. The terms of these plans vary. They can be a good option to use in tandem with FMLA and ADA leave. Sometimes, a health problem that qualifies you under one of these laws will also qualify you for STD. The benefit of using STD along with FMLA or other leave is that you can continue to receive at least a portion of your salary while you are out. A company is not required to pay you while you’re on FMLA or ADA leave. As is the case when requesting any medical leave, it is important that you communicate clearly to your doctor about your health condition and the requirements of the insurance policy. If the insurance company denies your application, there will be an appeal process provided by it. Appeals are primarily conducted by submitting documents and are not costly proceedings. If the insurance company wrongly denies your appeal, you can bring a lawsuit under ERISA.

LTD policies operate under the same principles, but, in my experience, companies will fight these harder, likely because the payout can be extensive. You will need all your medical providers working with you, and you probably will have to be examined by a company doctor for an “independent” review. I put this term in quotes because these doctors are often friendly to the company.

Note that, in many cases, to qualify for long-term insurance benefits, you must have a medical professional state that you cannot return to work, even without an accommodation. Keep in mind that in doing so you are removing yourself from the protections of the ADA, which requires that you be able to perform the essential functions of your job. Of course, if you require LTD benefits, you likely do not want continued protection under the ADA, which requires that you, at some point, be able to return to work.

Supplemental Social Security Income

People who earn below a certain income threshold may qualify to receive SSI benefits. These benefits are governed by a completely different set of laws that are outside the scope of this book. Many attorneys specialize in this area of law. Most do not require any up-front payment. SSI differs from many LTD policies in that you can apply for and receive SSI and still be protected by the ADA. The US Supreme Court has held that this is so because qualifying for SSI benefits means only that you are unable to work, not that you are unable to work with an accommodation. But it does require you to thread a difficult needle. You have to be impaired sufficiently not to be able to work at your current job, but if your workplace made some reasonable accommodation, it would be possible for you to return.

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