I wrote The Ultimate Guide to Fibromyalgia Disability Benefits for people who need to win or keep disability benefits for fibromyalgia.
This Guide is based on my 25 years of experience as a former occupational therapist and now a disability lawyer. This Guide is meant to give you an overview of the types of benefits you may qualify for and the challenges you will face.
Because you are reading this Guide, I know you are on the right path. Educating yourself is the single most important thing you can do to improve your chances of success with any disability claim.
If you have questions about this Guide, or any disability claim issue, call our support team toll free at 1-888-732-0470.
Keep on learning and I wish you all the best with your journey.
— David Brannen, disability lawyer & founder, Resolute Legal
- Is fibromyalgia a disability in Canada?
- Employment and disability rights for fibromyalgia
- Types of disability benefits for fibromyalgia
- How to prove a fibromyalgia disability claim
- Common reasons for denial of fibromyalgia disability claims
- Final thoughts
- Next Step
Don’t have time to read the Guide Now?
Subscribe to our email newsletter (The Insider) and we will send you a PDF copy of this Guide. Don’t worry, we only email you once per week (on Fridays) and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Is fibromyalgia a disability in Canada?
Yes. All disability benefits providers in Canada recognize it as a condition that can qualify a person for benefits.
However, a diagnosis on its own won’t qualify you.
Providers pay benefits to people who can prove their condition keeps them from working. When reviewing claims for fibromyalgia, providers focus on the seriousness of your symptoms. They will consider the medical treatment you've had and future treatment plans. They look at how your symptoms affect your work and how hard you tried to keep working.
Employment and disability rights for fibromyalgia
Many people worry about losing their jobs because of fibromyalgia. As a general rule, employers can fire anyone as long as they give proper notice and don’t do it for a discriminatory reason.
However, most employers won’t fire employees who need sick leaves. Under Canada’s human rights laws, employers have a duty to help employees with medical conditions that affect their work. Allowing sick leave is a reasonable accommodation that employers should give.
To take a sick leave, you’ll need to provide a doctor’s note. It should confirm that you can't work and need the leave. You’ll need to bring these notes often — every three to six months — to confirm that you still can't work.
If your application gets denied, you can stay on sick leave while you appeal. Most employers won’t mind, as long as you have a doctor's note.
If your employer attempts to fire you while you’re on sick leave, then you may have legal rights to severance pay. You might even be able to get the termination overturned if it was done because of your condition. However, these situations are complicated. You should always get legal advice.
To learn more, read our page on disability and employment rights.
Types of disability benefits for fibromyalgia
If you become unable to work because of fibromyalgia, you have a few options. You might be eligible for disability benefits from the government, your employer, or your insurer.
This list covers the possible options for fibromyalgia in Canada:
- Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits
- Short-term disability insurance
- Long-term disability insurance
- CPP disability
- Workers compensation
- Veterans Affairs Canada
- Provincial disability benefits
- Disability tax credit
Let’s go over each so you know whether you qualify, how to apply, and how to appeal if they deny your claim.
Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits
EI sickness benefits are a temporary disability benefit. They are paid through the federal government’s employment insurance (EI) program. EI pays 55% of your salary for 15 weeks.
To qualify, you must have paid into the EI program recently. You pay through deductions from your paycheque. These are automatic. So, if you got an official paycheque, you paid into the EI program.
You apply for EI benefits online through Service Canada. You can apply from home or at any Service Canada office. Your doctor needs to fill out a form to confirm that you can't work for the 15 weeks that EI covers. And finally, your employer will need to issue a Record of Employment (ROE) to confirm your sick leave.
Please note: If you qualify for short-term disability, then you can’t claim EI benefits at the same time.
You can learn more about EI by visiting our article on the EI sickness benefits program.
Short-term disability (STD) benefits
Short-term disability (STD) benefits are another temporary disability payment. They pay 50-67% of your regular salary. You can usually get them for 15-17 weeks, but sometimes longer. You’ll typically receive payments every two weeks.
Employers offer these benefits either through the company or a group insurance policy. In both cases, employers hire an outside agency to run the program on their behalf.
You only qualify if you have a plan through your job. Not all employers offer this to their employees. If your employer doesn’t, you might be able to get EI sickness.
As I said before, if you qualify for STD, then you won’t qualify for EI. If you can get STD payments, you have to apply for those instead of EI.
You apply by getting the forms from your employer or the insurance company. The application includes three forms. There is one for you, one for your doctor, and one for your employer. It's up to you to get all the forms back to the insurer.
If your application gets denied, you can ask for a review. This is called an internal appeal. During the appeal, your claim gets reviewed by someone else in the company. You can have three or four of these appeals. After that, you may have to appeal to an outside judge or file with the courts. Your options will depend on your situation.
Long-term disability benefits
As you may guess, long-term disability (LTD) benefits pay for a longer period of time. If you win a claim for LTD, the payments can last for many years. A policy will specify that the benefits last a number of years — 2, 5, or 10, for example. Or, they last until you reach a certain age — usually 65.
LTD payments often cover 50-67% of your monthly salary. They are paid once a month rather than every two weeks. Like STD benefits, most LTD benefits come from group plans or private policies.
If your company offers a group medical plan, then check it for LTD benefits. If you’re in a union, your medical plan will likely include LTD.
You can also get them through private insurance policies if you’re self-employed or underinsured. With private policies, the payment is usually a fixed amount, but sometimes it’s a percentage of your earnings.
You apply for LTD by filling out forms and sending them to the insurer. Once again, you’ll probably have three forms. There should be one for you, your employer, and your doctor. And again, it’s your job to submit them. You won’t get a decision until the insurer gets all the forms.
You can appeal a denial, just as with an STD claim. Your LTD plan may allow two to three internal appeals. After, you'd need to do an appeal hearing with an outside judge — or a lawsuit.
For more information check out our Ultimate Guide to Long-Term Disability Benefits.
CPP disability benefits
CPP benefits cover permanent disability. If you qualify, then you can get paid until age 65. Currently, payments range from $600 to $1,300 per month. The amount is based on how much you paid into the program. The more you contribute, the more you’ll get back. Just like with EI, if you had a job with a paycheque, then you paid into CPP.
To qualify for CPP disability, you must have the right amount of credits. You can get credits by credit splitting with a former spouse or paying into another country’s pension plan. Or, you can qualify for credits if you left work to raise a child.
You can get LTD and CPP at the same time. The LTD insurer usually has the right to offset your payments by the same amount, however. For example, if you get $900 from CPP disability, your insurer can reduce its payment by $900 for the same month.
Even with enough credits, you still need to prove that your disability is “severe and prolonged.” A severe disability prevents you from regularly working a paying job. A prolonged disability has little hope for improvement.
You apply for CPP disability by filling out the forms. Your doctor or nurse practitioner will have to fill out the medical report. Then, you send your application to the designated Service Canada office for your province.
If Service Canada denies your claim, you can appeal on two levels. The first is a reconsideration appeal. You must request this appeal within 90 days of denial. If denied again, then you appeal to the Social Security Tribunal. The deadline is 90 days as well.
At the tribunal, a judge or a three-person panel will decide your claim. You can attend the hearing to give evidence and answer questions.
Workers compensation benefits for fibromyalgia
Workers compensation pays short- and long-term benefits to people injured on the job.
Each province has its own compensation program. To qualify, you must have suffered a workplace injury and worked for a covered employer. That’s right, not all employers are covered.
It’s difficult — but possible — to prove a workplace injury caused or worsened your fibromyalgia. While no one knows the exact cause of fibromyalgia, doctors generally agree that a traumatic event can trigger or exacerbate it.
To succeed in this claim, you need a medical doctor to support your belief that the workplace injury triggered the fibromyalgia or made it permanently worse.
Workers compensation payments overlap with EI, CPP, and short- and long-term disability. This can get complicated, so you should seek legal advice for any concerns about payments. Depending on your province, you may keep some (or all) of your CPP disability as well as the workers comp.
If workers compensation denies your claim, then you follow the appeal procedures for your province. These programs also have two levels of appeal, the internal reconsideration and the outside tribunal. In most provinces, this tribunal is called the Workers Compensation Appeals Tribunal (WCAT).
Veterans Affairs Canada
If you’re a member or former member of the Canadian Forces, then you may qualify for short- or long-term disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).
To qualify, you need to prove that a “service-related injury” caused or worsened your fibromyalgia. You’ll also need a doctor to confirm it.
You apply for VAC disability through the VAC either online or with a paper form. The VAC will review your service medical records and request more information if necessary.
The VAC follows a familiar pattern for appealing denials: internal reconsideration, then the Veteran’s Review and Appeal Tribunal.
Provincial income support benefits
Each province in Canada pays income support benefits to people who can’t work because of disability. If you qualify, you can receive fixed payments for life.
You can qualify for provincial benefits even if you’ve never worked. However, they only apply if your total family income falls below a certain amount. That amount differs from province to province. Family income doesn’t affect the approval process for other types of disability benefits.
You apply for provincial disability benefits by applying through your provincial agency or program. As usual, your doctor will need to provide a report or certificate that confirms you can't work because of your condition.
If you get denied, you can appeal internally within the agency or program. In some provinces, you can also appeal to an outside tribunal for a final decision. Check with your province for the proper procedures.
Disability tax credit
The disability tax credit is a type of benefit that lowers your taxable income. To qualify, you must have a severe and prolonged impairment as defined by the program. But, this program has a higher standard than others.
Qualifying for this credit can get some of your previous taxes refunded. It depends on the timeline of your condition. You apply by filling out a T2201 form and sending it to Revenue Canada.
If Revenue Canada denies your claim, you can request an internal appeal. If that appeal fails, then you must go to the Tax Court of Canada to appeal again.
How to prove a fibromyalgia disability claim
Because fibromyalgia is largely an invisible illness, doctors can’t verify the seriousness of your symptoms. You will likely have trouble getting approved for benefits.
No one but you can say how serious your condition is. Insurance companies may view your claims with skepticism. After all, you could exaggerate or lie to appear more disabled than you are.
Many people with fibromyalgia can manage their symptoms and continue working. So, you need to focus on proving that your case is different. Let’s go over how to do that.
Appropriate medical diagnosis
While an official diagnosis alone is not enough, you still need to have that diagnosis.
You must have a detailed clinical history. It should show the steps taken to rule out other possible conditions. Unfortunately, some doctors will give a fibromyalgia diagnosis without following the right steps. When this happens, the insurance company will dispute the diagnosis or question the treatment.
Fibromyalgia often occurs with other medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, depression, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Having these other conditions diagnosed can help because it shifts the focus beyond your fibromyalgia.
Objective medical testing
The FM/a ® blood test can confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. While this test isn’t required, it can save time spent on ruling out other possibilities. However, remember that it can't show the seriousness of your condition. It only confirms that you have it.
When considering your claim, the disability benefits providers will look to see if you received appropriate treatment. Not getting appropriate treatment is one of the most common reasons for denial.
This requirement covers all other conditions as well. If you also have a mood disorder or depression, for example, you must get the right treatment for each condition. This can include medications, consultations with psychiatrists, or treatments from psychologists. Multidisciplinary pain clinics now count as appropriate treatment centers.
Not getting proper treatment can happen for two reasons: either your doctor didn’t follow accepted standards for treatment, or you didn’t accept treatment. Even if you and your doctor believe that alternative methods may work better, you have to try the standard treatments to qualify for disability benefits. Otherwise, you leave the door open for someone to say that you could work if you had the right treatment.
Medications and side effects
Serious medications make a serious medical condition more believable. So, you must try all the recommended medications even if you fear the side effects.
If you have bad reactions to your medications, your medical records must report that in detail. And, if your doctor recommended against a medication, you need to have it documented that the side effects were worse than the condition. Again, you run the risk of denial if you stray from standard treatments without a good reason.
Evidence of work-related limitations
With an invisible illness like fibromyalgia, disability benefits providers place great emphasis on how hard you tried to stay at work.
“You didn’t try” is the most common reason for a denial. It's a difficult one to beat.
You must go beyond saying you can’t do your job. You need to show that you asked for help from your employer to stay at work. Such changes could include fewer hours, easier duties, or changing jobs within the company. If your job was medium or heavy work, then you have to try an easier job with light or sedentary duties.
You need to give evidence to show how hard you tried to stay at work. This evidence can include:
- Medical records discussing your work attempts
- Employment records showing the places you tried to work and all accommodations made
- A written statement from you that details your work efforts
- Signed written statements from your employer or co-workers describing how they observed your struggle to work
If you give strong evidence showing you tried your best to stay in the workforce, then you have a good chance of winning benefits. On the other hand, if you have little evidence of your efforts to stay at work or evidence that you made no effort, then you have no chance at approval.
Medical and employment documents will give you some of the best support for your claim, but the decision-makers need to believe you, too. In legal settings, credibility refers to a person’s trustworthiness or believability.
A decision-maker who finds you trustworthy may rule in your favour — even if you have weak evidence for your claim. And a decision-maker who doesn’t trust you won’t give you the benefit of the doubt in uncertain areas, even with good evidence. Credibility gives you an invisible edge that many people overlook.
- Contradicting medical records or earlier statements
- Making excuses or blaming others for problems
- Criticizing other parties in the claim (even if they deserve it)
- Filing complaints against professionals you see as negative, biased, or unprofessional
- Using aggressive, sarcastic, or confrontational tones in your claim or testimony
- Blocking or stalling reasonable requests for information
- Fighting with doctors over your diagnosis instead of focusing on the disability
- Acting like a medical expert
- Making sure what you say matches the medical records
- Taking responsibility for bad facts or problems with your claim; not blaming others
- Being cooperative and respectful of everyone in the claim
- Accepting expert advice and opinions
- Making good faith efforts to try all reasonable advice, even if you disagree with it
- Obvious efforts to keep working
Common reasons for denial of fibromyalgia disability claims
The following are the most common reasons an insurance company will deny disability benefits for fibromyalgia.
Insufficient objective evidence of disability
Although insurers often cite “insufficient objective evidence of disability” to deny claims, this reason doesn’t work with fibromyalgia. Modern medicine has yet to find objective evidence of disability for fibromyalgia.
If you receive this as a reason, you should address it in your appeal letter. Fortunately, objective evidence is not a requirement under plans and programs.
Your letter should then focus on how your doctor followed best practices for diagnosis and treatment. Mention how you stuck to the recommended treatment. You should also emphasize all the things you’ve done to keep working. These aspects can make up for a lack of objective evidence.
If you got the right treatment, then you wouldn’t be disabled, right? This reason for denial shifts the blame to you or your doctor. It supposes either your doctor offered the wrong treatment or you refused the right treatment. This is the most common reason for denial of disability benefits for fibromyalgia.
The insurer may argue that your symptoms come from misdiagnosed and untreated depression rather than fibromyalgia. By that logic, of course your treatment wouldn't work for you.
Some insurers may say that you haven’t received treatment for multidisciplinary pain. Therefore, they argue that your disability is not permanent. Make sure you have ways to shut down this argument.
Insufficient work effort
You can’t do your job, but maybe you could do an easier job. This reason often arises when your job included medium to heavy duties, and you didn’t try a job with light or sedentary duties.
The best way to fight this is to try easier jobs. Until you do, the disability benefits providers will always doubt you. You might also show that while your job had medium duties on paper, you got accommodations that made your work qualify as light duty.
Fibromyalgia can result in severe disability. Many people with fibromyalgia gradually lose the ability to work over several years, so even if you’ve only been diagnosed recently, don’t wait. Get started on confirming your eligibility for all of these programs just in case.
Each program has its own rules you must follow. If your claim gets denied, don’t give up. It happens a lot for fibromyalgia claims, and you can appeal.
Winning disability benefits for fibromyalgia is difficult, but not impossible. You’ll face challenges because you can’t prove beyond the shadow of a doubt how serious your condition is. To maximize your chances of success, make sure your doctor follows all best practices for fibromyalgia diagnosis and treatment. Cooperate with all treatment recommendations and do your best to keep working.
If you can show you tried everything and done all you can do, then you have a much better chance of success. Remember, your credibility counts more than you might think in being approved for disability benefits.
Are you still feeling unsure about your fibromyalgia disability claim? Sometimes a quick call with us can help you move forward with confidence. Call us at 1-888-732-0470 or click on the help icon to start a conversation with our support team.
Don’t forget to take a copy of this Guide with you
Subscribe to our email newsletter (The Insider) and we will send you a PDF copy of this Guide. Don’t worry, we only email you once per week (on Fridays) and you can unsubscribe at any time.