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working while disabled
Keep Working and Protect Your LTD benefits

If you suffer from a degenerative condition, how does continuing to work affect your ultimate application for long-term disability benefits? How do you keep working and protect your LTD benefits? Whether you suffer from Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (“ALS” or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), rheumatoid arthritis, or degenerative cognitive disorders such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, you may want to work as long as possible, but you don’t want your additional time working to make it more difficult to get your long-term disability benefits:

  • There are financial considerations: long-term disability benefit payments are commonly only 60% of your employee compensation.  If you have major expenses such as children in college or you are dealing with the roles of caregiver for children and parents, this reduction can be a real financial hit;

  • There are emotional considerations as well in deciding how long to work.  You may have worked for years to develop a rewarding career that may be the essential way you define your identity;

  • You may feel you will let down your co-workers if you leave

Clients in my long-term disability insurance practice in Connecticut regularly confront the consequences of working while disabled.  What should you consider in deciding how long to work? 

Consider Whether You Qualify for Partial Disability Benefits.

You may be able to keep working part-time and still get long-term disability benefits if you have a policy or plan that provides for partial disability benefits.  With a partial disability benefit, if you are only working part time, you can get a partial benefit that makes up all or much of the decline in income.   You can reduce your hours and duties, reduce your pay, and replace all or most of the lost income with a partial disability benefit.  Since your employer can pay you less for the reduced hours you are working, it is more likely that they will keep you on. 

This is a great provision, but the formulae for calculating the benefit for a given level of income can be complicated and the conditions to qualify for partial disability benefits can be complicated.  If your plan has a partial disability benefit, it can be useful to consult with an experienced ERISA benefits attorney to have the best chance of qualifying for that benefit. 

Will The Insurer Decide You Are Not Disabled if You Are Working? 

One of the most unfair consequences of working while disabled is that the insurer may conclude that if you are working, you must not be disabled. For instance, let’s say your medical records reflect a level of impairment in May 2021 that could support a finding of disability, and the records for each subsequent month report that you are “stable.”  If you keep working until May2022, the insurer could say that the fact that you did work for a year shows that you are not disabled.  The insurer may say the medical records reflect no change in condition that could explain why you could do the job from May 2021 – May 2022 but could no longer perform it at the end of the 12 months.  With some conditions, like multiple sclerosis, there may be no obvious explanation for the degeneration in your condition, as your condition can degrade severely even if an MRI shows no additional lesions.  Some courts haven’t bought the LTD insurers argument.  As one judge wrote: “Hawkins may have forced himself to continue in his job for years despite severe pain and fatigue and finally have found it too much and given it up even though his condition had not worsened. A disabled person should not be punished for heroic efforts to work by being held to have forfeited his entitlement to disability benefits should he stop working.” Hawkins v. First Union Corp. Long-Term Disability Plan, 326 F.3d 914, (7th Cir. Ill. 2003). So, if you are making heroic efforts to stay in your job, there are things you can do, with the help of a knowledgeable ERISA long-term disability attorney, to protect your ultimate claim for long-term disability benefits.

What Should You Do to Keep Working and Protect your LTD benefits?

Whether you are planning to receive partial disability benefits, or just trying to avoid having your insurer claim that you are not disabled because you have worked during your disability, here are the steps you should take to make sure working while disabled doesn’t hurt your long-term disability insurance claim:

  • Make sure you understand all the provisions of your plan regarding partial disability and the definition of disability so you don’t miss any qualification requirements.
  • Talk to your doctor in detail about how the impairments are affecting your work, and make sure the doctor records it in your medical record. 
  • Keep a symptom log of the difficulties your job gives you.  When something happens in your work life or at home that illustrates why you can’t do your job, write it down, listing the activity and how it made you feel.  For instance, if you used to be able to pay your bills in 15 minutes but it now takes an hour with a fifteen-minute break, write that down. If you are doing some activity that could be argued as inconsistent with your disabilities, it is particularly important to write it down.  For example, if you take a long flight, make sure you make a record that you had to take two sick days after the trip to recover.  Then, when the insurer claims that taking the trip shows you can regularly do such travel, you will have a record to refute it.

Don’t let working while disabled turn into not working and not getting long-term disability benefits. Talking to your doctor and keeping a log will make it more likely you will prevail on an initial claim for long-term disability benefits or in an appeal of any denial.  An experienced ERISA long-term disability attorney can work with you to develop a strategy to address your particular career and personal goals so that you can work as long as you want to and still receive the benefits you have earned.

Click on the link below for more articles on long-term disability benefits and moving from working to disability.


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