7 Steps for Returning to Work After Being on Disability

But less than eight weeks after his surgery, Carl was back on the job. It wasn’t because he couldn’t pay his bills without a paycheck — his short-term disability insurance through his employer helped with that. Instead, it was for two reasons: One, he was eager to get back to his normal life, and two, his employer was willing to support a plan for a gradual transition back to his usual duties. With his doctor’s approval, he worked half-days for two weeks as he built back his endurance and work stamina, and soon was working full-time again.

The result: Carl’s transition back to work over a 14-day period got him back on the job 40 days earlier than expected, based on initial estimated date. The transition plan also allowed him to return to work without needing to tap into his long-term coverage. At the same time, his employer was saved the cost of hiring and training replacement staff or paying overtime to other workers.

With a win-win like this — and it’s just one of thousands of examples I could share — you’d think all employers would be on board with return-to-work strategies. Instead we’ve found a surprising number of employers, human resources professionals and even benefits experts have misperceptions about return-to-work and the accommodations that can make it successful. And it’s hitting them and their employees hard on the bottom line.

1. It’ll create a workers’ compensation claim. Some employers are afraid an employee who’s had a disabling injury will be a safety risk, getting reinjured on the job and creating a costly workers’ comp claim. The reality is a gradual transition back to full-time work makes employees safer as they regain strength and rebuild skills.

2. We don’t have to provide accommodations unless the injury happened at work. This one’s not true, either, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Council. Employers legally can’t differentiate between employees who suffer a disabling injury at work and those who’re injured at home or elsewhere. Smart employers focus on getting a valuable employee back to work, not the injury or illness and where it happened.

3. Employees must be 100% or they can’t perform productive work. Employers willing to be creative often find there are many tasks a skilled, knowledgeable employee can perform during a transition period. True, some jobs have more rigid requirements than others. For example, a nurse might not be physically able to go straight back to patient care. But if you’re like most of us, you have a stockpile of back-burner projects that would benefit your business. A transitioning employee could have the perfect skills to take those on. In other cases, simple, inexpensive accommodations can help an employee perform better: An assembly line worker who can’t stand for an eight-hour shift could use a leaning stool for support and be just as productive.

4. Customer care or service will be negatively impacted. This one might seem logically true, but it really isn’t when you crunch the numbers. Accommodating a returning employee with part-time hours or different duties for a period of time has less impact on service and productivity than hiring, training and ramping up replacement staff. Routinely cross-training employees in other jobs also gives employers the flexibility to move resources where they’re needed at any time.

5. Other employees will also want “light duty.” This may not exactly qualify as a myth, as some employees really might want what they perceive as easier work. The issue is the term light duty itself, which is both loaded and vague. Effective communication is essential here: Consistently refer to new, alternate or modified job tasks, be transparent, and make sure employees understand return-to-work options. Having a return-to-work program where employees feel valued impacts the morale of the whole team, boosting productivity.

How to return to work after being on disability
  • Consult with professionals.
  • Make sure you’re ready.
  • Make use of the accommodations you’re entitled to.
  • Review your company’s disability policy.
  • Ask for assistance from human resources.
  • Update your resume.
  • Maintain your disability benefits.

Returning To Work After a Permanent Disability

How to return to work after being on disability

Here are some steps to follow when considering a return to work after being on disability:

1. Consult with professionals

Consulting with your doctor will help you determine whether you are ready to return to work after a disability. Your doctor can examine your physical condition and your work responsibilities to decide if you can return to work safely. If your doctor decides that it is safe for you to resume work, they will provide the documents you need to submit to your employer to verify that you are healthy enough to work.

You should attempt to remain in contact with your employer throughout your leave. Keeping your employer apprised of the progress of your recovery will help them to prepare any accommodations you may need upon your return.

You may also need to speak with a lawyer before returning to work after a disability. A lawyer can help you understand both your company’s long-term disability policy and disability laws so that you can protect your rights.

2. Make sure you’re ready

It’s important to consider whether you can realistically perform your previous job duties without causing further harm to your health, as returning to work too early could compromise your recovery and leave your employer in an awkward position. After your doctors have cleared you to return to work, you’ll still want to assess your own mental readiness to take on a work routine.

Allow yourself the necessary accommodations to make your transition more tolerable. Returning to work after a traumatic injury or event can be overwhelming, so it’s important to give yourself what you need to cope, whether it’s quiet breaks to regroup, working from home part of the time or just easing back into the workplace slowly.

3. Make use of the accommodations you’re entitled to

Keep your medical documents organized and on hand so you can easily provide information to your employer regarding clarification on health restrictions at work and the reasonable accommodations you will need. Communicate with your employer about possible issues and how to resolve them satisfactorily.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your employer wants you to succeed and is there to support you via special accommodations, tools or other resources you need.

4. Review your company’s disability policy

Before returning to work, review your company’s long-term disability policy. It will outline the steps you need to complete to return to your position and whether or not your disability benefits will continue after you have resumed work.

Look for an occupational clause in the long-term disability policy. These clauses determine when and how you can receive disability benefits from your employer. The two different types of occupational clauses are:

You may be able to return to work in a different position while also receiving benefits if your company’s disability policy includes an own-occupation clause. If your company’s policy includes an any-occupation clause, you can receive benefits as long as you are unable to work.

The number of hours you can work and the tasks you are allowed to perform after returning to work will be outlined in your company’s disability policy. There may also be limits to how much you can earn while still receiving employer disability benefits.

5. Ask for assistance from human resources

Contacting your company’s human resource department may make it easier for you to return to work after a disability. You can discuss the accommodations you need to return to work effectively and can also ask the HR representative how long your disability benefits will continue.

Some disabilities may prevent you from returning to your old position. For example, if you work in a job that requires a high level of physical exertion but are permanently injured and cannot return to physical work, you may look into returning to your company in a role that doesn’t require physical exertion. In this case, ask your HR representative about continuing education or retraining options your company may offer that might assist your transition into a new position.

6. Update your resume

If your injury or disability prevents you from resuming your previous work, you should consider updating your resume to include any new skills that you have gained during the period you were unable to work. If you took courses or classes during this time, indicate which skills you learned from them in the education section of your resume.

Reviewing your skill set is important after becoming disabled because you will need to identify any adjustments you need to make on your resume that relate to your physical and mental skills. If your disability is primarily physical, you can alter your resume to highlight your mental skills, such as problem-solving or phone etiquette.

7. Maintain your disability benefits

The “Ticket to Work program” allows you to maintain your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for up to 45 months while you are working. During the nine-month grace period after enrollment, you will receive your full benefits while your ability to work is tested. You can stop working during this period without any effect on your benefits.

The extended period of eligibility lasts for 36 months after the nine-month grace period. You will receive full SSDI cash benefits during the first three months of the extended period. Over the remainder of the period, your benefits will be based on the income you earn.

You will receive benefits meant to supplement your income if your earnings drop below a certain level. These benefits will continue until you earn above the substantial gainful activity level as determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

While enrolled in the Ticket to Work program, you will still receive Medicare coverage for a period of time after your SSDI payments have ended. Medicare coverage extends seven years, or 93 months, after your trial work period has ended.

What to do if your return to work has major restrictions due to your disability

The Ticket to Work Program is a federal program designed to help disabled people who receive SSDI return to work. While enrolled in the Ticket to Work program, you will be allowed to maintain your disability benefits for a certain period of time, while also working a regular job.

More than 600 employment networks are accessible through Ticket to Work. The services these employment networks provide include:

People who receive SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to their disability and are between 18 and 64 years of age can enroll in the Ticket to Work program. You can check your eligibility and enroll in the program by phone or online.

You will need to make timely progress towards your employment goals after enrollment in the Ticket to Work program. Timely progress means taking actionable steps towards reducing your need for disability benefits by:

You will be subject to a periodic Continuing Disability Review (CDR) while enrolled in Ticket to Work. This review is used to determine if you are still disabled and eligible for the program. Social Security will not request a CDR if you make timely progress.

You can request that Social Security reinstates your SSDI cash benefits if you find you are unable to work within five years of the end of the Ticket to Work extended eligibility period. Submitting a new SSDI application is not required within this timeframe.

FAQ

What happens if I go back to work after starting Social Security disability?

You can return to work for up to nine months and continue to receive full social security disability benefits – no matter how much you earn at your job if 1) you report to work and 2) you are still disabled.

Can I stop Social Security disability and go back to work?

When you inform the SSA that you want to attempt to go back to work, you will be assigned a trial period. You will be able to work as many as nine months while still retaining your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits. The amount of benefits paid will be adjusted based on the amount you earn.

Can you be on disability the rest of your life?

If you have a permanent total disability, you are eligible to receive PD payments for the rest of your life.

How much money can you make and still get SSI 2021?

Social Security excludes the first $65 in earnings and one-half of all earnings over $65 in a month. The earned income exclusions mean that in 2021 a person can earn about $1,650/month and still qualify for SSI (though the monthly payment is reduced when you have countable income). This is how this works.

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