I wrote this article for people who are trying to determine if they may qualify for disability benefits, and if so, how to apply.
This Guide is based on my 15 years experience helping people win disability claims. It is a good starting point, if you are trying to learn the basics about what disability benefits programs are out there for Canadians. I also give you a simple process for how to apply for disability benefits no matter what program you may qualify for.
If you want to learn more, download our free Sick Leave Guide. You can do that at the end of this article.
If you have questions about this Guide, or any disability claim issue, call our support team toll free at 1-888-274-7360.
Keep on learning and I wish you all the best with your journey,
— David Brannen, disability lawyer & founder, Resolute Legal
- Step 1: Figure out which disability plans or programs you qualify for
- Step 2: Make sure your doctor supports you
- Step 3: Make a plan for transitioning from employment to sick leave
- Step 4: Get the application forms
- Step 5: Fill out the application forms and gather supporting documents
- Step 6: Submit your application and provide any further information
- Step 7: Wait for a decision on your claim
- Next Step
Step 1: Figure out which disability plans or programs you qualify for
There are several types of disability benefits plans and programs in Canada. Each has its own criteria for eligibility; you don’t have the automatic right to receive any one of these benefits.
Before making a disability claim, your first step is to take stock of the possible disability benefits that you might qualify for. It’s possible you may qualify for more than one disability benefit.
These are the most common sources of disability income:
Sick Pay from Employer
Many employers offer to pay sick days as a workplace benefit. Sometimes you’re able to bank up weeks or months of sick pay. If you have access to sick pay, then this is the first thing you have to use when you go on disability leave.
Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits
The EI Sickness program provides temporary income replacement benefits to eligible workers for up to 15 weeks. To qualify, your income must be reduced by at least 40%, you must be employed by a qualifying employer, and you must have already earned 600 hours of insurable employment.
To learn more about EI Sickness benefits, read our Ultimate Guide to EI Sickness.
Short-term Disability Benefits
Some employers offer short-term disability benefits or salary continuation benefits. These benefits are intended to provide disability income to people who need to be off work for 1-3 months. The length of time for these benefits varies from plan to plan, depending on the specific disability policy. Not every employer offers these benefits, so you need to check to see if your employer offers them. If you don’t have short-term disability benefits, then you may qualify for Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits (above).
To learn more about short-term disability, read our Ultimate Guide to Short-term Disability in Canada.
Long-term Disability Insurance Benefits
Some Canadians are eligible to apply for long-term disability benefits. These benefits are intended to pay disability replacement income for several years, often until the person is 65. To be eligible for these benefits, you must be covered under a disability plan or insurance policy. This could be a workplace group policy provided by your employer or union, or it could be an individual disability insurance policy you bought yourself. You’re normally eligible to apply for long-term disability benefits if your disability is caused by an illness or accident. If your disability was caused by a workplace accident, then the long-term disability benefits will overlap with workers compensation benefits.
To learn more about long-term disability, check our our Ultimate Guide to Long-term Disability in Canada.
Canada Pension Plan Disability
Many Canadian workers are eligible to apply for disability payments from the Canada Pension Plan. To qualify you must be under age 65, unable to maintain gainful employment due to disability, and have made recent contributions to the Canada Pension Plan. You have to be continuously disabled and off work for 4 months to before you can become eligible to receive payments.
To learn more about CPP disability benefits, check out our Ultimate Guide to CPP Disability.
Disability Tax Credit
The Disability Tax Credit is a non-refundable tax credit that reduces the taxable income of people with disabilities and/or people who are financially supporting a person with a disability. While technically it is not a form of disability income, if you qualify for the disability tax credit you may receive a retroactive tax refund from Revenue Canada. Depending on your income level and taxes paid, this refund can be tens of thousands of dollars paid back to you.
Workers Compensation Benefits
Most workers in Canada are covered by Provincial Workers Compensation Programs. It is law for most businesses to enrol in a workers compensation program, but there are some exceptions. Each province has its own workers compensation program and they go by many names, including the Workers Compensation Board (WCB), Worksafe and WSIB. To be eligible for workers compensation benefits, you must be working for an employer that is enrolled in the workers compensation program and you must suffer a work-related injury.
Veterans Affairs Canada Disability Benefits
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces can be eligible for disability benefits under the Veterans Affairs Canada Disability Program. To qualify for this disability income, you must suffer from a disability from a medical condition or injury that is related to your service in the armed forces.
Provincial Disability Benefits or Income Support Programs
Each province in Canada has its own disability income program for eligible residents. These provincial disability income programs are part of the social safety net and are usually the last option if you don’t qualify for any other form of disability income. Provincial disability support programs are based on both disability and financial criteria. In other words, you can only qualify for provincial disability support income if your personal and family income and assets fall below certain levels. Therefore, even though you are unable to work due to disability, you may not qualify for provincial disability support income if a family member has income, or if you have equity in your home, RRSPs, savings, etc.
Step 2: Make sure your doctor supports you
It is critical that you have your doctor’s support before you try to go on sick leave and apply for disability benefits. To be blunt: making a disability claim without your doctor’s support is a waste of time and can cause a lot of problems.
Without your doctor’s support, your employer will not recognize your absence from work as being an approved sick leave. They will take the position that you are on an unauthorized leave and might take steps to terminate your employment.
If your own doctor doesn’t support you, there is no chance that any disability benefits plan or program will approve your application for disability payments. Many disability plans will deny your application even if you have a supportive doctor.
What do you do if your doctor doesn’t support you?
It may just mean that your doctor needs more convincing. You should discuss your concerns to the doctor and do everything the doctor recommends to improve your symptoms and ability to work. Many doctors will support you once they believe you have done everything possible to try and remain employed.
In rare cases, you may have a biased or uninformed doctor. Some doctors have personal beliefs and biases against people who need to apply for disability benefits. Don’t assume this is the case with your doctor just because they are reluctant to support you; give your doctor the benefit of the doubt.
However, if you have gone to great lengths to show the doctor you are in fact unable to work and they still aren’t supportive, you may have to switch to a new doctor. Changing doctors must be a last resort; the simple fact that you changed doctors will be a red flag for the new doctor and also the disability benefits plans. They may think you are trying to manipulate the system.
To read more about unsupportive doctors, check out this article:
What to do if your doctor won’t fill out Disability Medical Report forms
Step 3: Make a plan for transitioning from employment to sick leave
Once you have your doctor’s support, you can start the transition from employment to being on sick leave. It is important that you carefully manage this transition to protect your employment, your workplace pension, and your group medical plan.
It is common for there to be tension between you and your employer in the months (and even years) leading up to you going on a sick leave. Some employers are not friendly or understanding to employees who are ill and disabled. For this reason, it’s important to get your doctor to write a note for your employer to confirm that your illness and disability are the reasons for your poor work performance and/or your need to take a sick leave from work.
Some employers will pressure you into resigning or to accept a “severance package.” This may seem like a good idea, but if you sign off on that deal there’s a good chance you’re also signing off on your right to make a claim for long-term disability benefits! This is almost always in the fine print, and the money you get from the severance will pale in comparison to what you would receive from disability benefits.
Don’t retire from employment. You may be eligible for early retirement, but most disability insurance plans have a clause that says they don’t have to pay you if you retire. This is mistake you absolutely must avoid.
Step 4: Get the application forms
Once you have things in order with your employer and have your doctor’s support, you can start gathering the various application forms for disability income benefits. Each disability plan or program has its own unique forms and procedures you must follow when making a disability claim.
Here is where you get the forms:
Short- and Long-term Disability Benefits
You can get these forms from your employer if you are covered under group disability plan through your workplace.
If you’re self-employed, you get the forms from your insurance broker or directly from the insurance company.
Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits
You must use the online EI benefits application from your home computer; you can also use a computer at any Service Canada office.
Canada Pension Plan Disability
You can get the application package from any Service Canada office. Or you can download them from our Ultimate Guide to CPP Disability.
Disability Tax Credit (DTC)
You can get the application forms from any Service Canada office or you can apply online for the DTC through the Canada Revenue Agency.
Veterans Affairs Canada Disability
You can pick up the forms from any Veterans Affairs Canada Office or you can download the VAC disability application online.
Workers’ Compensation Benefits
You must request the forms directly from the workers’ compensation program in your province.
Provincial Disability Support Programs
You must contact your provincial government department to get the application package.
Step 5: Fill out the application forms and gather supporting documents
Fill out the forms and gather all the supporting information and documents. Most disability programs have 2-3 forms to be filled out when making a disability claim. You fill one of the forms out. Usually, another form is a medical report for your doctor to fill out. With some disability plans — short- and long-term disability, workers compensation — there is also a form your employer needs to fill out.
It is your responsibility to make sure the forms are filled out properly. It’s very important that you review both your doctor’s report and the employer’s form for accuracy after they are filled out. Your doctor may inadvertently forget to mention one of your medical conditions; your employer may give an inaccurate or incomplete description of your work duties.
We see many people do a very poor job when making a disability claim. This is how legitimate disability claims get denied. The claim representative making a decision to approve or reject your application do so based on the qualify of the information and documents you have given, and not based on the reality of your situation as you know it.
You should read that sentence again. If you have done a poor job putting together your application, it’s very likely your claim will be denied, no matter how legitimate your disability.
Step 6: Submit your application and provide any further information
Once you have the application prepared, you simply send it in to the disability plan or program. The disability plan or program will assign a person to review your application; this person is called a claim representative, advisor, or adjudicator. The representative will often call or write to ask you for clarifications or more information. You should always cooperate and give the requested information to the best of your ability. Being open and honest with whoever is adjudicating your claim will always help your case.
Step 7: Wait for a decision on your claim
Once you have submitted your application and fulfilled any further requests for information, you just have to wait for the claims representative to make a decision. They will either approve or deny your claim. Normally it takes up to 30 days for the claim representative to make this decision, but it can take longer in some cases. If you have been waiting months for a decision, something strange is going on and you should take the appropriate steps to get to the bottom of it.