Working can jeopardize your disability claim. Insurance companies will use any work-related activity (including volunteer work) as grounds to deny or terminate your long-term disability benefits, often before you are fully healed and ready to return to work full-time.
If you are receiving disability benefits and are considering returning to work, you MUST do two things:
1) Review your ENTIRE disability insurance policy, and
2) Get the support of your doctor.
Step One: Review Your Insurance Policy
There are two occupational periods in all long-term disability policies: the “own occupation” period and the “any occupation” period. In the “own occupation” period, you qualify for benefits if you cannot perform the primary duties of your own job. After a period of time (often 24 months, but check YOUR policy carefully) you are considered disabled only if you cannot work at ANY gainful occupation.
Other items to look for (and understand!) in your policy:
- The definitions of Total Disability vs. Partial Disability
- “Other Income” offsets, which allow the insurance company to pay you less if you receive income from other sources
- Incentives to work and/or attend a rehabilitation program (which often mean more money in your pocket than disability payments alone – up to 100% of your pre-disability income)
- The Fine Print…while they share some similarities, each policy is unique, and you must understand the details and “fine print” of YOUR policy to understand how working might affect your eligibility for benefits
Step Two: Talk with Your Doctor
If you feel ready to try to return to work, it is vital that your doctor is onboard. Ideally, your doctor will examine you BEFORE you return to work in some capacity and will do two things:
- Document any restrictions and limitations you have (especially related to sitting, standing/walking, and overall work capacity over an 8-hour day), and
- Write a detailed office note in your medical record about your restrictions and limitations, and note that you are approved for a “trial of work.” This keeps open the possibility that the “trial” may not be successful and you may need to stop working again.
Step Three: Follow Through
Be upfront with the insurance company: tell them you are attempting to return to work, make sure they have your medical records that both support and limit this, and let them know what income you receive so they can offset your benefits. Follow up with your doctor to document how things are going. In a perfect world, your policy will support a return to work at a speed that is healthy for you. You control that as much as possible by keeping everyone – the insurance company, your doctor, and your employer – informed and involved.
If you’ve been denied, call us now to schedule an initial consultation with our Atlanta ERISA experts.