I can’t work. What should I do?


Many people find themselves unprepared when illness or injury strikes and forces them to be out of work for a period of time. This usually becomes a problem when sick leave is exhausted and your company stops paying you. One of the things you can do to protect yourself is to be aware of your rights and be informed of the additional types of income available to you at such a time. Below is a brief discussion of some of these issues:

Family Medical Leave Act – Most employers are required by federal law to give you a twelve week unpaid leave in certain personal situations, such as birth/adoption of a baby or serious illness/injury to yourself or an immediate family member. You can get twelve weeks of unpaid leave per twelve-month period, provided that you have worked 1,250 hours in the twelve months prior to the requested leave.

Workers’ Compensation – If you are out of work due to an injury that happened at work, you may be entitled to be paid two-thirds of your usual pay each week until you recover. You also are entitled to have your medical bills paid if you were injured at work. If you have experienced a loss of function of a body part as a result of your work injury, you also are entitled to permanent disability benefits.

Short Term Disability – Many employers offer Short Term Disability policies to their employees as a benefit. Most Short Term Disability policies begin paying some percentage of your wages if you are out of work for illness or injury. The cause of the injury does not matter for short term disability, but some policies will not allow you to get short term disability and workers’ compensation benefits at the same time. To get the benefits, the insurance company will require that your doctor sign a statement verifying that you are not able to do your job. You will also be required to continue to treat with a doctor in order to continue to get your benefits for the full period of time. For most short term disability policies, the maximum time of payment ranges from six months to one year.

Long Term Disability – Some employers also offer Long Term Disability (LTD) to their employees. Sometimes the employer pays for this benefit, but more often, the employer pays a part of the premium and you pay the other part out of your paycheck each week.   Long Term Disability begins paying benefits to you after the short term disability has been exhausted. Like short term disability, the cause of your injury does not matter. You usually just have to have a treating doctor who will sign a statement that you cannot work. Most policies pay fifty to seventy percent of your wages as long as you remain unable to return to work.

Social Security Disability Benefits – In addition to one or more of the other types of benefits, you can be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits if you are unable to engage in any “substantial gainful activity” due to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted or will last for 12 consecutive months, or is expected to result in death. This does not mean that you must wait for a year to apply for disability benefits. You may apply if you are expected to be out of work for a year, and you should apply as soon as you realize that is the case.

All of these benefits are not available in every situation. Most companies give employees a booklet upon hiring that explains each of these benefits. However, the information can be confusing, and many people forget to ask about these benefits when they are needed. Ask your employer if you have any of these benefits. If you do have the benefit, fill out the applications, even if you are not sure that you are eligible for the benefit. If you still have questions, call the attorneys at Harrison, White, Smith & Coggins, P.C. We can help you figure out which benefits are available to you as well as which benefits would be the most useful in your particular situation.

Amanda Helms Craven

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