So you’ve been on long-term disability (LTD) for a while, and now you think you’re ready to reenter the workforce. You may be wondering how it will work and what you should expect. And rightfully so, there isn’t a ton of information online. This article explains everything you need to know about returning to work after being on long-term disability, including how to prepare for a return to work, what happens if it fails, things to consider before the attempt, your employer’s responsibilities, and more.
This article is part of our Ultimate Guide to Long-Term Disability.
- What Is a Return to Work Program?
- When Should I Consider a Return to Work After Being on LTD?
- Can the Insurance Company Force Me To Go Back to Work?
- How to Prepare For a Return to Work
- How to Initiate a Return to Work with the Insurance Company
- Will the Insurance Company Pay for My Education/ Re-Training?
- Can My Employer Refuse My Doctor’s Return to Work Accommodations?
- What Does My Employer Need to Know About My Disability?
- What If My Return To Fails?
- Is There a Deadline For When I Can Get Back on LTD Benefits After a Return to Work Attempt?
- What If They Deny My Claim After a Failed Return to Work?
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What Is a Return to Work Program?
Before we jump into the details, let’s first address the obvious: what even is a return to work in the context of long-term disability? As you may have guessed, it’s exactly as it sounds: when you go back to work after being on LTD benefits.
In most cases, when you decide to return to work, the insurance company, your doctor, and your employer will work with you to develop a return-to-work program. This plan usually involves a gradual return, which could include working at reduced hours or with modified duties while you get settled back into your position. Programs can last anywhere from two to eight weeks.
When Should I Consider a Return to Work After Being on LTD?
You should only consider attempting a return to work when both you and your doctor feel you are ready to do so. Going back to work should be completely out of the question if your medical providers feel it could be harmful to your health.
But what if the insurance company is pressuring you to go back?
Can the Insurance Company Force Me To Go Back to Work?
Insurance companies like to make you feel like you have to return to work. But they cannot force you. They may say they will cut you off if you don’t comply with their demands. But that’s the most they can do. Insurance companies don’t the authority to make you go back to work.
With that said, it’s never a good idea to outright refuse the insurance companies’ return to work request — and I’ll explain why.
Suppose the insurance company wants you to try a return to work, but you and your doctor don’t feel you are ready. While we never advise people to go against their doctor’s orders, we do suggest engaging in the process to some degree. This means you should at least get your doctor to review their proposal and meet with a rehabilitation specialist. In other words, you don’t necessarily have to go back to work, but you should take the necessary steps to find out if it’s something you could actually do.
How to “engage the process”
One of the best ways to engage the process is to request a rehabilitation coordinator. They can take some of the pressure off you and get a better read on whether you are actually able to do the return to work.
Furthermore, if you ask for a rehabilitation coordinator and the insurance company says no, you will look more favourable in front of a judge. This is because you acted reasonably and tried your best to re-enter the workforce, while the insurance company behaved unreasonably by not providing a rehabilitation coordinator.
However, this same principle applies to you. If a judge sees that you outright refused a return to work without even engaging in the process, they will think you were being unreasonable. So, if you can be the one who says, “I will consider it, but I have a few reasonable requests,” then the judge will be more likely to side with you.
Always try to look at your situation from a judge’s perspective. If they would consider your refusal unreasonable, you should at least engage in the process to some degree.
If you find yourself in a situation like this, you should speak with a disability lawyer as soon as possible. They can look at your case independently and let you know if you should consider a return to work.
How to Prepare For a Return to Work
Returning to work can be extremely stressful. Here are a few things you can do to prepare for the transition.
Talk to your doctor
The first thing you should do before even thinking about agreeing to return to work is get medical clearance from your doctor. You should ask them to submit a letter that says you are able to return to work. It should also highlight any accommodations that need to be made. For example, if you have back problems and need a special chair, your doctor will have to include that in the letter. You should provide this letter to your claim manager and your rehabilitation specialist so they can start preparing for your return to work.
Utilize your rehabilitation specialist
Most long-term disability providers will assign you to a rehabilitation specialist/coordinator before you start your return to work. However, if they don’t, you should request one in writing.
A rehabilitation specialist can be extremely helpful. Most have health backgrounds in professions such as nursing, physiotherapy, psychology, counselling, occupational therapy, etc. And depending on their licensing, some rehabilitation specialists have codes of ethics. This means these individuals have a duty to the client (you) even though they are employed by the insurance company. So, we recommend requesting a rehabilitation specialist who is a licensed Registered Rehabilitation Professional (RRP) or licensed health professional.
Rehabilitation specialists work with you, your employer, your doctor, and the insurance company to come up with a return-to-work plan that best suits your needs. While they are employed by the insurance company, they are still professionals, so your health and well-being should always be their top priority. In other words, most rehabilitation coordinators wouldn’t design a return to work program that would be harmful to your health just because the insurance company wants to stop paying you.
In some ways, you can look at a rehabilitation specialist as a (somewhat biased) middleman between you and the insurance company. For instance, suppose the insurer wants you to start working full-time right away. But you and your doctor think you should work part-time for the first four weeks while you get settled back into the position. If you tell the rehabilitation specialist about this, you will have a better chance of coming to an agreement with the insurance company.
Overall, use your rehabilitation specialist to your advantage. Their job is to help you successfully re-enter the workforce. So, talk to them about your concerns, explain your limitations and give them your input on your return to work plan.
Think about doing a gradual return to work
Going back to work after being on long-term disability is challenging to say the least. It’s a huge transition, so there is no shame in starting out slow. If you think working full-time will be too hard on you, you should consider working part-time until you are settled back into the workforce. Since you would only be working part-time, your insurer can make partial payments during this period. Talk to your employer, insurer and rehabilitation specialist to find out if this is something you can do.
Ask for accommodations
You shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for accommodations. Your return to work is more likely to be successful if adjustments are made. Your employer also has a duty to accommodate your disability (there are some exceptions, but we’ll get into that in a later section). So, don’t feel bad about asking for a new chair or for time off for medical appointments.
Workplace accommodations are not limited to but could include:
- changes to organizational policies and practices,
- changes to a physical workspace,
- adaptations to the equipment, tools, or uniform used,
- flexible work hours,
- relocation of the workspace within the workplace,
- the ability to work from home,
- reallocation or exchange of some non-essential tasks for others, and
- time off for medical appointments.
How to Initiate a Return to Work with the Insurance Company
So, the insurance company hasn’t approached you about a return to work, but you think you may want to give it a try. If you are in a situation where you want to try to return to work but don’t know if you will be able to do it successfully, then you should follow these steps.
- Get clearance from your doctor. The first thing you want to do is talk to your doctor about whether you are ready for a return to work. If they say yes, have them write out what accommodations you would need as well as any other limitations. After that, proceed to the next step.
- Tell the insurance company you want to ATTEMPT a return to work. Notice how I capitalized the word attempt? This is because your language here is extremely important. You need to tell the insurance company you want to do a return to work attempt instead of just saying you want to go back to work. This is because some insurance companies will take you saying you want to return to work as something that is permanent. So, be careful with your language.
- Request a rehabilitation specialist. Next, you should ask the insurance company to assign you to a rehabilitation specialist. As noted in the previous section, they can help make the transition much easier.
- Ask if the insurance company could provide partial coverage during the attempt. Alot of LTD plans have clauses that allow you to get disability benefits while working. So, you should tell the insurance company you want to try to go back to work. But you want to see if you could get partial coverage during the transition.
Will the Insurance Company Pay for My Education/ Re-Training?
In most situations, insurance companies won’t pay for your education if you’re under a group LTD policy. However, there are some exceptions.
For instance, they may be more likely to pay for high-income-earners to go back to school because it’ll be cheaper for them in the long run. They may also consider paying for re-training fees when the course is inexpensive or only a couple of weeks long. For example, they may cover a typing course or a program on how to use Microsoft word.
However, it’s important to note that this is not the norm. Nine times out of 10, the insurance company won’t pay for your education.
Talk to a disability lawyer if you think you are in a position where the insurer may consider covering your retraining fees.
Can My Employer Refuse My Doctor’s Return to Work Accommodations?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple, one-size fits all answer to this. Simply put, your employer can refuse to accommodate you. However, they have to offer some kind of alternative if they do. For instance, if they don’t agree with your doctor’s recommendations, they have to hire an independent physician or rehabilitation specialist to come up with another plan. They can’t just refuse to help you at all. Your employer has an obligation to provide a safe work environment for you and other employees.
If you find yourself in this sort of situation, we recommend going along with whatever your employer asks of you. For example, if they want you to see one of their own doctors, go to that appointment. Or if they ask for more information from your medical providers, give it to them. Assume that they are acting in good faith and have a legitimate reason to refuse your accommodations.
Ultimately your employer can push back on your return to work plan. So just do your best to get them the information they need. However, if you are dealing with an employer who is just pushing back for the sake of it and won’t offer alternative accommodations, we recommend getting in touch with an experienced disability lawyer.
What Does My Employer Need to Know About My Disability?
We get a lot of questions about what you need to disclose to your employer about your disability when returning to work. The simple answer is you don’t need to tell them anything. However, if accommodations need to be made, your employer is entitled to the minimum information necessary for them to fulfil their duty to accommodate. What that minimum information is will depend on your situation, but it will always need to include a list of your restrictions and limitations. So, you don’t have to tell them what your medical condition is, but you do have to tell them enough so they can accommodate you.
For instance, let’s say you have anxiety and need accommodations but don’t want to disclose your condition to your employer. In this scenario, you would need to give your employer enough information about your needs and limitations so they can accommodate you. You could get your doctor or rehabilitation specialist to inform the employer that your condition makes it difficult to deal with stressful situations, so you would need to be temporarily relieved from a particularly demanding project. Or that need access to a quiet space to escape a noisy work environment. These accommodations can all be asked for without disclosing your disability.
Remember, the onus to accommodate you isn’t fully on your employer. You also have an obligation to inform the employer of your need for accommodation, or else the duty to accommodate will not be triggered.
What If My Return To Fails?
So you tried returning to work but realized it was premature, and you are still too disabled to work. What now? Most LTD policies have a reoccurrence clause that allows you to go back on benefits if the return to work was unsuccessful. However, in order to get benefits reinstated, you have to do a couple of things first:
- Document your return to work: Both you and your employer should record your return to work. It should include why it was unsuccessful and what limitations prevented you from completing the duties of your occupation.
- Talk to your doctor: Tell your doctor about your limitations and the symptoms that prevented you from working. Your doctor needs to be supportive of you if you want to get back on your benefits. You will also need to get them to write a letter to the insurance explaining why you need to go back on long-term disability benefits.
- Inform the insurance company: Contact your insurer in writing about why your return to work failed and why you need your benefits reinstated. You will also need to attach a letter from your doctor.
Is There a Deadline For When I Can Get Back on LTD Benefits After a Return to Work Attempt?
With most policies, the reoccurrence clause doesn’t last forever. It usually expires within six months of your return to work attempt. Read your policy to find out what window of time you’re working with and to avoid missing the deadline.
If you are past the expiry date, however, don’t panic, you can still get long-term disability benefits, but you will need to start a whole new claim. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s definitely a lot more work for you. Talk to a disability lawyer if you are unsure about anything regarding your policy’s reoccurrence clause.
What If They Deny My Claim After a Failed Return to Work?
If the insurance company denies your claim after a failed return to work attempt, contact a disability lawyer as soon as possible. We have seen this time and time again, and in our experience, the insurance company won’t reconsider unless you take legal action against them.
Our team at Resolute Legal has years of experience representing people in claims just like yours. We know what needs to be done and how to do it. Let us help you win back the benefits you deserve. Call us toll-free at (888) 732-0470 to book your free consultation today.
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