Short term disability pay is one of these things nobody thinks about until they have to. But it’s actually really helpful to know about it ahead of time so you know how to navigate the process in case it ever comes up in your life.
Why? Let’s begin by looking at some disability statistics. For one, at least 51 million working adults in the US don’t have disability insurance other than the basic coverage from Social Security.
Next, just 48% of Americans have enough savings to cover three months of their living expenses should they stop earning any income.
So what are some common reasons for short-term disability claims? Here is the breakdown by percentages:
● Pregnancy (25%)
● Musculoskeletal disorders of the back and spine, knees, hips, shoulders,
and other parts of the body (20%)
● Digestive disorders like hernias and gastritis (7.8%)
● Mental health issues like depression and anxiety (7.7%)
● Injuries like fractures, sprains, and strains of muscles and ligaments (7.5%)
Perhaps most importantly, 5.6% of working Americans experience a short-term disability of six months or less due to an illness, injury, or pregnancy each year. Almost all of these disabilities are non-occupational in their origins.
“According to the Council for Disability Awareness, around one-quarter of today’s 20-year olds have a chance of becoming disabled at some point in their career before retirement. Some people’s disabilities will require more support than the amount provided by short-term disability insurance. On average, long-term disability incidents last about 34.6 months, meaning almost three years of lost work and foregone income,” according to The Balance Careers.
Short term disability pay definition
So what exactly is short-term disability pay?
“Short-term disability is a wage replacement benefit that provides compensation for injuries or illnesses that happen away from the job that renders employees unable to work for a short period of time,” SVP Disability and Absence Management at Sedgwick Bryon Bass told us.
While each company is different and has different policies about short term disability pay, covered employees can receive between 40% to 60% of their salaries for a period of nine to 52 weeks. This money is intended to help them cover the costs associated with their disability dilemma.
Sounds, great right?
Many companies, particularly the ones more focused on “productivity” than their employees’ needs (they end up paying for this in the long term) will try to get the employee to simply leave and by replacing them.
Coupled with the fear you’ll lose your job while you’re especially vulnerable, it is understandable that you might fear not only for your future ability to work, but also to retain your current position. This is compounded by the fact that this is the last thing you need to be thinking about when you are injured. That is why you need to know about short term disability pay.
It’s important to know your options and legal rights – before something happens. “Whether an incident takes place on the job or after hours, everyone bears some risk of becoming incapacitated, unable to work, and in need of assistance from short-term disability insurance coverage. This coverage provides financial support to replace lost income while you take time off to recuperate at home,” according to The Balance Careers.
“While becoming injured or ill does happen at home and other places, a surprising number of disabling incidents happen in the workplace in any given year, creating a substantial need for disability insurance coverage.”
Equally important is navigating the process correctly. This article will outline some of the steps you need to follow if you find yourself in this position.
According to the VP of Human Resources at A. W. Chesteron Company Maureen Crawford Hentz, the first step before “stepping out” on short-term disability benefits is to ask your HR contact if there’s a “run-off period” or “elimination period,” which refers to the time between when you’re unable to work and your short-term disability kicks in.
“Find out if you have this period, when it begins, how long it lasts, and if you can use sick or vacation days to get you paid for that time,” said Hentz.
Find out what your rights are
Unfortunately, it’s not always “straightforward.” For example, an employer can argue that they “can’t meet your specific request.” Or they might argue that what you’re asking for is not a “reasonable accommodation.”
What is a reasonable accommodation? According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990), “a reasonable accommodation is any change to the application or hiring process, to the job, to the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat.”
An employer can also say that accommodating your disability is an “undue burden” Lots of companies try to cut corners (and costs) wherever they go. If this happens, you will need to find an advocate trained in the ADA. There are lots of people who have this qualification.
“There are ADA technical assistance centers all over the country. Independent living organizations all over the country. Protection and advocacy organizations all over the country,” Director of the Center for Workforce Development at the Institute for Educational Leadership Curtis Richards said. To find the information and resources you need, the National Council on Independent Living, which is still around. If you need to file a complaint, you can also call the EEOC or your state’s labor agencies.
The ADA offers protection to people who are disabled during the application, interview, offer, and employment processes. Under the ADA, it is illegal to discriminate against a person for having any disability.
A good place to turn to for more clarity on these topics is the disability discrimination page at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There, you can learn about your rights and how to defend yourself if the need arises. The only two things the ADA requires from job-seekers is that the candidate disclose his or her disability to the employer and asks them for reasonable accommodations. However, we can all understand that this is easier said than done and that, in the real world, can open employees up to even more discrimination.
It’s important to remember that your rights apply and are yours at any time, even if you’ve never disclosed a disability before. Since your circumstances, age, and disability are constantly changing, so should your plans. You can choose to seek out and apply your rights at any given time.
Since the factors for disability are constantly changing, accommodations are as unique as each person, according to Richards. This was the reason for the formation of the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN－which was put together (in part) by the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Department of Labor.
Ask Jan lets you search by disability, topic, or need type so you can see how people in positions similar to yours have sought out accommodations. It is also a great resource to show to your employer especially because they are situations that have actually happened.
Don’t begin your job hunt by disclosing your disability
Although you’ll have to tell some people at work about your disability, you do not have to begin your job hunt by disclosing your disability. The only reason to disclose anything about your disability is if it will be beneficial to you in some way. After all, your medical history is yours.
The only people you should tell if you do disclose your disability are human resources and your immediate supervisor. Beyond that, “if your disability means asking your cubemate to pick up a pen on the floor because you can’t visually distinguish where it is,” according to Richards.
Can I get fired for taking short term disability?
Short-term disability does not protect you from being replaced at your job while you are out sick.
However, programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are there to protect you if it does happen.
“FMLA prevents an employee from losing their job or benefits, and protects them from retaliation, in the event of a need for a leave of absence from work to deal with a health condition or care-giving responsibility,” according to Bass. “Generally, the law allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period.”
Under this act, as long as you can perform the essential functions of your position when you return (after your allotted number of weeks), you cannot legally be fired.
As long as you know your rights, you should be able to navigate short term disability pay and use it to help you through your difficult time－the way it was intended to be used.
If none of these options resolve your problems, you might want to lawyer up.
Elvira Veksler is a frequent contributor to Ladders News.