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Returning to Work with a Disability

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.9% of Americans with a disability were in some kind of employment in 2020. This is a slightly smaller proportion of the disabled community in the workforce than recorded in previous years, with the pandemic being the biggest factor in the reduction.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a disabling condition, whether long-term or short-term, you may be worried about whether you’ll be able to perform as required in your occupation. You might also be concerned about what impact returning to work with a disability might have on your monthly disability insurance benefits.

We’ve broken down the key considerations in this area in this post.

Going Back to Work After a Short-Term Disability

Short-term disability insurance may allow you to receive monthly insurance benefits for up to two years, though most policies provide for between 7 and 365 days. Your employer may purchase this kind of insurance for you, though there is generally no legal obligation for them to do so; you should check your state’s regulations to see what’s required. You may also buy a short-term disability policy yourself.

These insurance policies are designed to provide financial assistance temporarily, while you recover from an illness or injury. Ordinarily, if you get back to work before the elimination period expires, no benefits will be paid. You should check what kinds of sicknesses, mental nervous claims, and accidents (both on and off the job) are compensable under your policy, if any.

What If I’m Still Injured or Sick After My Short-Term Insurance Runs Out?

If your condition persists to an extent that you still cannot work after your short-term disability insurance runs out, you should be able to seamlessly transition to long-term disability insurance benefits if you have purchased a policy or received coverage from your employer. If you do not have long-term disability insurance, you may be able to apply for Social Security benefits, or state disability benefits if these are available where you reside. 

Going Back to Work with a Long-Term Disability

Long-term disability insurance may provide you with financial relief until normal retirement age, or until your disability goes away, depending on the policy language. If you have a long-term disability and want to get back into the workplace, you may have to think about returning to work with your disability, rather than after it. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you have the right to work as a disabled person if you remain qualified for the job in question. This law defines disability as an impairment, physical or mental, that limits your ability to carry out at least one “major life activity.” Such activities include walking, seeing, breathing, and so on. This legislation also requires employers to make reasonable allowances for disabled staff, such as wheelchair access to premises. You should note that employers with fewer than 15 employees may be exempt from some of the ADA’s requirements.

How Your Disability Insurance Policy Comes Into Play 

After an initial disability diagnosis, many people worry about losing benefits if they resume any type of work. While it’s true that earning money may reduce your monthly benefits, some insurance policies actually provide for your return to work if you are unable to do some, but not all, of your occupational duties and have a 20% loss. 

Some long-term disability policies prohibit beneficiaries from working outright, in any occupation. These are known as “any occupation” policies, as they only pay benefits to people unable to work because of the extent of their disability. If you’re able to earn money in a position, even if it’s not related to the skills, training, or experience you may have, you may not be entitled to redress under this type of long-term disability insurance.

An “own occupation” policy, on the other hand, will cover you if you become unable to perform the key duties of the occupation you had when your disability began. Even if you remain capable of carrying out another role with your condition, you may still be entitled to full monthly benefits under a policy like this. Depending on the terms of your policy, you might also be able to work part-time in your previous role and have your insurance policy pay you a residual benefit.

Transitional own-occupation disability insurance directly provides for your return to work with a disability. It will pay a certain amount of your monthly benefits, calculated on the basis of the difference between your entire disability allowance and the amount you earn in any new job. 

Another variation to be aware of is modified own occupation. A policy like this will allow you to keep receiving benefits if you are capable of working in a job other than your original one, but choose not to.

These rough occupational classifications aren’t sufficient to tell you whether you, personally, will still be entitled to benefits if you take up a given role, whether part-time or full-time. If you want to know exactly what policy rules apply to your disability, the best way to find out is by consulting with an attorney who specializes in this area. 

Getting Back to Work the Right Way

The idea of returning to work with a disability can be scary and frightening. However, the good news is that disability doesn’t have to mark the end of your time in the workforce. Depending on the kind of short- or long-term disability insurance policy you have, you may be able to earn an income and still claim some, or all, of the monthly insurance compensation you’re entitled to.

If you need more information on how these factors may affect your specific disability situation, contact Darras Law for a free consultation or free policy and potential claim analysis.

DarrasLaw is Americas' most honored and decorated disability litigation firm in the country. Mr. Darras has seen more, evaluated more, litigated more, and resolved more individual and group long term disability and long-term care cases than any other lawyer in the United States.

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