Are you eligible for short-term disability?

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, let’s cover the basics of short-term disability.

Are you eligible for short-term disability?

New legislation is expanding access to short-term disability.

Even in normal times, paid leave benefits tend to get a lot of attention. And now, with the global onset of COVID-19, they’re even more in the spotlight as employers and policymakers try to keep pace with the virus’s spread. While not every employer offers short-term disability leave, which typically covers workers recovering from medical issues that prevent them from coming to their jobs, new legislation may expand access to these benefits during the pandemic.

We’ll cover that in a moment—first, let’s go over the basics of short-term disability leave.

What is short-term disability?

Short-term disability insurance offers compensation to workers recovering from a non-job related illness or injury. This distinguishes it from worker’s compensation, which covers on-the-job incidents. While only a few states legally require employers to offer short-term disability, one report from the Society for Human Resource Management notes that approximately 61% include it in their benefits packages.

So what’s considered a disability? The definition varies from one plan to the next, but the usual base requirement is that it’s something serious enough to prevent you from coming to work (like recovering from a major surgery or debilitating illness).

If you get sick from COVID-19, you may be eligible for short-term disability if your physician requires you to undergo a medical quarantine. However, this should be distinguished from standard social distancing, which would not be covered here.

In terms of payment and duration, these factors can also vary substantially from plan to plan. Compensation is typically a percentage of your total gross income, usually in the ballpark of 50% to 80% of your weekly earnings. The covered time period runs the gamut from 30 days on up to a year—but again, each employer will have a different limit, with some requiring you to apply for long-term disability after hitting a certain threshold.

How do I apply for short-term disability?

If you have short-term disability insurance and want to take advantage of it, you’ll first need to consult a physician. Your employer and their insurance provider will require some form of medical documentation to initiate the benefit, so be prepared to share that at the outset. From there, your manager or HR department will file the claim, and you’ll likely need to wait through an “elimination period” to make sure your situation can’t be covered by standard sick days.

Not sure if you have short-term disability? As we mentioned above, new legislation is expanding access in the wake of COVID-19, mainly targeting smaller businesses unable to offer the benefit under normal circumstances.

“There is a new law called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which will become effective April 2, 2020, until December 31, 2020,” says Matthew Coffman, an employment attorney with Columbus, Ohio-based firm Coffman Legal. “Employees still have a right to FMLA leave [Family and Medical Leave Act] and accommodations if they have a disability under the ADA. The new laws simply create new and additional rights.”

One of these laws, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees and covers all employees regardless of the length of their employment. Under this legislation, full-time workers suffering from COVID-19 symptoms are entitled for 80 hours of paid leave, while part-time ones can receive their average pay for a two-week period.

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This article is not intended as a substitute for professional legal advice. Always seek the advice of an attorney regarding any legal questions you may have.