Do you know if you have short-term disability (STD) or long-term disability (LTD) benefits through your job?  If so, do you know what these disability benefits cover?  Both STD and LTD group benefit plans offered by employers are intended to pay a portion of your wages if an injury or sickness prevents you from working.

To find out what conditions are covered by your STD and LTD benefits, and how much the benefits pay, you need to obtain a copy of your company’s STD and LTD summary plan description – or SPD.  The SPD may be available for download from your company intranet, or you can send a written request for the SPD via email or letter to your human resources professional.

STD and LTD benefits vary and can change from year to year – just like health insurance benefits.  The SPD should detail several important things about your STD and LTD benefits, including the following:

  • Who is eligible to receive STD and LTD benefits and how long employees have to be out of work before becoming eligible for disability benefits;
  • Who pays for the cost of your STD and LTD coverage;
  • The process to apply for STD and LTD benefits – generally your disabling condition must be documented by an appropriate medical provider;
  • The types of disabling conditions covered (and those not covered) by STD and LTD benefits – some STD plans provide maternity benefits after the birth of a child; both STD and LTD benefits may be payable if post-partum depression prevents a new mother from working;
  • How long your STD and LTD benefits last – STD benefits typically last 60 to 180 days; LTD benefits begin after STD benefits are exhausted, and may pay for a period of one year or until you reach your normal retirement age; and
  • The percentage of pay you will receive while you are out of work due to a qualifying disability –this ranges from 50% and 100% of your pre-disability pay

The STD and LTD benefits available to you will depend on the terms of your specific disability plan.  Each employer’s disability plan is unique, so it is important to obtain a copy of the company’s SPD to understand your benefits.  In addition, if you are planning to get pregnant or you will have a planned surgery that will keep you out of work for a lengthy period, then during your benefit enrollment period you can ask your employer to impute the value of the premium it pays as income so that any STD or LTD benefits you receive the following year are not taxed as income.

ERISA, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, governs most STD and LTD plans offered by employers.  It requires that disability plan administrators, typically the employer, respond to written requests for the SPD within 30 days and imposes statutory penalties for failure to do so.  If you are having difficulty obtaining a copy of the summary plan description for your STD or LTD benefits, or if you have questions about your benefits, please contact our office.

by Attorney Hannah Auckland