Posts Tagged ‘work hardening’

Part time helpOne of the most interesting aspects of managing disability claims is the ever-present possibility of insureds and claimants returning to work. Although I am not asked to write about returning to work that often, I am of the opinion the subject should probably be addressed more often than it is.

Returning to work after a period of disability is more involved than most people think. “Working” for someone else requires a great deal more than just performing job tasks for a paycheck. Among other things, working requires employees to “be somewhere” every day and to have the physical and mental endurance to perform job tasks on a regular basis. Most people could probably work a week with poor health, but it is the permanent and regular nature of employment that can become a problem when re-entering the workforce.

To begin, insureds and claimants should have a frank and honest discussion with their physicians prior to considering a return to work. Although most physicians would be inclined to release patients for work upon their request, the question still remains whether or not a person who has not worked in years has the physical capacity to “be somewhere every day” and remain able to perform a job permanently.

It does not do insureds any good to prematurely attempt work and begin an “in and out” of disability claim process eventually leading to total disability again. Therefore, first and foremost, a decision to return to work should be made by insureds in conjunction with their treating physicians considering the possible effects of fatigue and recurrence of symptoms. DCS, Inc. recommends to insureds that they consider a “work hardening” program for a period of time before sending out resumes in search of full-time work.

A “work hardening” program can be as simple as “showing up” for volunteer work on a regular basis to determine any physical endurance limitations. Or, “work hardening” can be a more organized effort such as finding a menial part-time job working 1 or 2 hours per week and gradually increasing the number of hours worked to reach full-time in a month or so. Depending on the amount of time insureds have been on disability, former employers may agree to a formalized work hardening schedule allowing insureds to come back to work at full capacity over time.

Most claimants find that work hardening programs pinpoint physical exertion levels that rarely support full-time work. The worst thing that can happen is that insureds push themselves into full-time work prematurely and later discover they just can’t do it.

In addition, insureds and claimants may want to take pencil to paper and, in combination with the terms of their policies describing RTW and SSDI awards, actually figure out what their disability benefit would be if they returned to work part-time. Most ERISA group plans contain a Work Incentive Benefit (WIB) program whereby claimants could possibly work part-time for 12 months and keep both work earnings and full benefits for a period of 12 months. Of course, keep in mind that SSDI awards are still offsets from benefits.

Some claimants may actually attempt a part-time return to work when in fact, financially, they would be worse off. Group insurers shoot themselves in the foot by strong arming claimants into filing for SSDI. Once awarded, claimants may find it isn’t feasible financially to return to work part-time if at all.

Nevertheless, anyone hoping to re-enter a competitive workforce after more than a year on disability is already behind their peers in keeping up with technological advances and new information related to their education and skill set. Prospective employers will want to know if the individual they hire is up to date and has the physical and mental capacity to do the job well. Missing employment periods and lack of current training may prove to be a problem when constructing a new resume and employers will question whether candidates for employment can actually return to the workforce after not working for long periods of time.

Returning to work also requires money, reliable transportation, and gas. First, depending on what kind of work insureds apply for, they will need to buy appropriate attire. Insureds need to dress appropriate for the job, and have reliable transportation that doesn’t break down all the time. Some disabled persons actually rely on others to get around and a return to work may involve buying a car or looking into alternative transit systems. Also, there should be sufficient money available to buy gas until the first paycheck is received.

Although these suggestions may seem common sense, some disabled persons literally have to start over in order to return to work.

Finally, if there are dependents at home arrangements have to be made for child care and the expense of child care should be considered into the return to work financial plan. Sometimes the financial advantage of returning to work is literally “eaten up” by expensive child care costs.

DCS supports the idea that “working is healthy” and if claimants can work, they should work. Still, the system of private disability insurance is such that it forces claimants to apply for total disability SSDI benefits that are hard to give up once approved. Financially, returning to work may actually mean a loss of income and there is no incentive for claimants to perform work even when they can.

In my experience as a consultant, claimants return to work when private benefits are denied, or there is fear they will be denied.

In any event, returning to work is healthy, both physically and mentally, but after a period of disability, it should be planned and realistic. The risk of having to go out on disability again should always be considered as well as putting a work hardening program into place for a period of time to test endurance and fatigue levels.

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