Federal Laws on Short-Term Disability at Work

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Federal statutes do not provide for replacement income for employees who are unable to work due to short-term disability or medical conditions. They do, however, protect an employee's position and benefits during disability leave. Only five states -- California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and Rhode Island -- offer short-term disability programs. In most of the country, employees facing a prolonged medical absence from work typically have to use a combination of accrued sick or annual leave, unpaid leave and, in some cases, worker's compensation if the disability or illness is demonstrably work-related. Certain private insurance policies also can provide financial relief during extended work absences.

Short-Term Disability and Coverage Options

Short-term disability typically is defined as a medical condition, illness or injury that leaves an employee unable to work for a limited period, usually 12 weeks or less. Workers' compensation is an option for employees who are injured or disabled on the job. The program is mandated by federal law and administered at the state level. It is a form of insurance that provides financial assistance, medical care and other benefits during a short-term disability or illness. Most employees are required to use any accrued sick or annual leave before becoming eligible for federal or state programs.

Read More: Rules of Short Term Disability

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law enacted in 1990 designed to protect employees with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace. The law is mandatory for employers with 15 or more employees. Provisions of the law vary according to the nature and duration of the disability, but the ADA generally requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disability. In terms of short-term disability, the ADA may be applied to provide an extended unpaid leave period or modified schedule for employees who are temporarily unable to work.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law protecting employees' positions and benefits when they have to be away from their jobs due to a medical condition. FMLA also covers employees who take time off to care for an ill or disabled family member, including care of a newborn. The FMLA is required for all employers with 50 or more employees in the same geographic location, although some states require employers with fewer employees to offer limited FMLA-style job protections. The law does not mandate or provide income replacement for employees on short-term disability or medical leave, but it does require their employers to continue their standard benefits during the leave period. FMLA also requires employers to reinstate them in the position the held before the leave, or at least place them in one with comparable pay, benefits and seniority.

Social Security Disability Insurance

For Social Security purposes, short-term disability is defined as an illness or disability lasting at least one year, so those suffering more temporary disability typically are not eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance. The Social Security Disability benefit is calculated based on a variety of factors, including the individual's age, total period of employment and the nature of the disability. For example, if you become disabled at age 31, you must have worked during five of the previous 10 years and you must have a total of at least two full years of work. Under certain circumstances, family members may be eligible to receive a portion of your SSDI benefit.

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