Being injured and not able to work can be a big financial blow, especially if the injury didn’t occur on the job.
“Unfortunately, the system is backed up against the injured worker,” says Dennis Liotta, partner and Manager, Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability Departments at Edgar Snyder & Associates. “If they are injured on the job it provides a little more protection, but for people who aren’t injured on the job, the options are severely limited.”
While your choices may not be plentiful, experts say there are steps you should take to help make ends meet when you are unable to work.
After seeing a doctor and understanding the extent of the injury, you should let your employer know what is happening. If someone else caused the injury, you may want also want to contact an attorney.
According to Bethany Laurence, an editor at legal website Nolo.com, you should tell your boss how long you expect to be out and whether you will need a doctor’s note.
Now, it’s time to figure out how many vacation, sick or other days you have available to cover your time off while still getting a pay check or being able to keep your job.
“After your sick and vacation time is exhausted, you don't automatically have a right to keep your job, says Laurence. “If you can't do the work, your employer can let you go. Depending on the size of your company, however, there are some laws that may help you in this situation.”
She says if you work for a company with more than 50 employees and have been employed there for a year or more, you are entitled to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. While you won’t get paid during that period, it keeps you employed.
She notes that companies with more than 15 workers are obligated to accommodate injured employees that are able to work. “This can mean giving you different work hours, special equipment, or even more time off to recover,” says Laurence.
If you can swing it, ask about working from home while you recover. In this mobile world, it’s easy for employees to do their job without sitting in the office.
If your injury is so severe that you will never be able to return to work, Liotta suggests considering apply for Social Security disability benefits. The amount you will get is based upon your earnings, so the more you’ve paid into the system the higher your disability benefits.
However, she warns that “applying and getting it are two different things.”
With unemployment still high and a lot of younger workers still on the job hunt, she says there’s been an increase in the number of people in their 20s applying for disability benefits since the injury can also be a mental condition, like anxiety or depression, that can prevent someone from working. “If you are 25 and say your back hurts, you’ll get turned down. You also have to have a mental condition as well.”
According to Laurence, in a few states including, California, Rhode Island, Hawaii, New York and New Jersey, injured employees can get benefits via temporary disability insurance through a state-run program.
Depending on the state, the programs will pay partial wage replacement for six to 12 months, she says. “Some employers pay for group short-term and long-term disability insurance for their employees. This private insurance usually pays 50% to 80% of your gross monthly salary until you can work again. Ask your HR department if you have ERISA insurance and file a claim right away.”
If you’ve exhausted all your options and are struggling to make mortgage or credit card payments, there are some programs that may be able to help. The federal government offers loan modification programs that can help with the mortgage payment. Laurence says to contact your mortgage lender and ask about the Home Affordable Modification Program, which will let you modify your mortgage payment prior to defaulting.