What Is Short-Term Disability? (With Conditions and FAQs)

Updated September 30, 2022

Employees may take time off work due to certain health conditions that hinder job performance. If you're in a similar situation, consider exploring how you can receive support for the period. Learning about short-term medical disability insurance and how it works can help you maximize the usage of your employee benefits and assist you financially. In this article, we explain the meaning of short-term disability, describe how it works, outline the conditions that qualify, compare it to long-term disability, and answer frequently asked questions about it.

What is short-term disability?

Short-term disability refers to a temporary leave from work, usually for a period of three to six months, due to severe physical conditions such as illness or injury. Companies often offer disability insurance as part of an employee's benefits packages, and an individual can purchase the insurance personally. The employee and employer can pay specific amounts of the disability insurance depending on the company's offer and the insurance policy.

Short-term medical disability insurance covers part of an employee's income if they're unable to work due to a temporary disability. The specific amount can vary depending on an employee's position, insurance policy, and work absence duration.

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How does it work?

Short-term medical disability insurance works differently depending on whether it's a personal or company provision. Depending on the company, you may be required to work for about three months to a year before you can access disability insurance. You can reach out to the human resource manager in charge of your department when you're ready and eligible to file for a short-term medical disability claim.

Company-issued insurance provides details about the conditions preventing you from working that qualify for the benefit and the necessary documents to issue the claim to the insurance company. You can also provide your doctor's statement and relevant signatures to complete the required details. If you purchased personal disability insurance, ask about the expiration period and renew it when due to help ensure it's valid when needed. Another critical factor to note is that this insurance usually doesn't cover pre-existing conditions. This means that it only works for diseases, injuries, or illnesses that occur after purchasing the insurance.

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What conditions qualify for a short-term disability?

Here's a list of common conditions that typically qualify for short-term medical disability benefits:

Cognitive issues

Cognitive issues are conditions that affect a person's brain and cause abnormal brain functioning. They can include symptoms such as memory loss, lack of concentration, or challenges with making daily decisions. This may also entail identity confusion or delirium in severe cases. Cognitive issues may be temporary or permanent, but they're significant conditions that can affect an employee's daily operations.

Impaired hearing

An employee can develop hearing issues because of an underlying disease and take a leave from work for proper treatment. Impaired hearing may also result from other causes, such as aging, objects getting stuck in the ear, or prolonged exposure to loud noises. Impaired hearing can qualify for a short-term medical disability, and employees can receive payment for the period of work absence due to the condition and treatment. Employers can offer additional compensation or reimbursement if an employee's condition worsens at work.

For example, if an employee works in a company's manufacturing unit and develops impaired hearing due to prolonged exposure to machine noises, the company can provide extra compensation for the affected employee.

Breathing disorders

Breathing difficulties can happen suddenly or develop gradually in a person. Different conditions can cause breathing disorders, but most stem from lung diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other infections like tuberculosis, influenza, or pneumonia. These conditions and any other symptoms affecting an employee's breathing can qualify for short-term medical disability benefits.

Chronic pain

Chronic pain is any persistent pain or discomfort that lasts for an extended period of time. The pain can be temporary or continuous and may affect people to the stage where normal eating, working, and daily physical activities become extremely challenging. Examples of chronic pain can include back pain, pain caused by cancer, or arthritis pain that persists beyond the usual recovery period. An employee with chronic pain is unfit to perform daily work-related tasks and can file for short-term medical disability insurance.

Surgery rehabilitation

Post-surgical rehabilitation deals with the stiffness and weakness typically experienced after surgery. It entails rehabilitation procedures, such as physical therapy, water therapy, and exercise therapy, to help with recovery after an operation. If you have short-term medical disability insurance as an employee and undergo a surgical procedure, you can usually claim the insurance to cover the period of your surgical rehabilitation.

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Digestion disorders

Common diseases of the digestive system include irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and cancer. Treatment of digestive disorders may last up to 6 months depending on the severity of the situation, so it qualifies as a short-term medical disability. Employees with severe digestive disorders can usually claim the insurance and leave work for treatment and recovery.

Limited body mobility

Limited mobility is a disability affecting body movement and can be permanent or temporary. Mobility impairment ranges from lower body impairment, requiring wheelchairs, canes, or walkers, to upper body impairment, which may include limited or no use of the hands. An employee can claim short-term medical disability insurance if they develop limited body mobility, and it can extend to long-term disability if the condition persists for several years.

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Short-term vs. long-term disability

The major difference between short-term and long-term disability is the duration of the conditions. Long-term disability lasts for longer than six months and may sometime require repayment sometimes. Short-term medical disability insurance can cover part of your income for a term of three to six months following an illness or injury, rendering you unable to work. In comparison, long-term disability insurance allows you to enjoy insurance benefits for a more extended period, which may last for five, ten, or twenty years, or even until retirement, depending on the insurance plan.

Frequently asked questions about disability insurance

The following are common questions about disability insurance:

Who pays for short-term medical disability insurance?

A company that provides short-term medical insurance can pay for it in two structured ways, the self-funded or insurance method. The self-funded or self-administered method means the employer provides and funds the benefit personally with no external help. The Insurance method allows the employer to work with an insurance company to provide the benefit. Some companies use both methods by funding the income that insurance doesn't cover for a given period.

How do you apply for short-term medical disability?

You can apply for short-term medical disability by filing a claim at the company. You can request the insurance claim from the human resource department or the insurance company. Consider completing the form with your attending physician and employer to gather all required documents and signatures. Once the details are complete, you can submit the form to the insurance company for approval. It's essential to confirm that your condition qualifies for a short-term medical disability and that you have the benefits before filing the claim.

How long does it take for a short-term medical disability to begin?

The insurance coverage for a short-term medical disability may begin immediately after filing the claim or may require a waiting approval period. It can take up to ten business days for the insurer to review, judge, and process your claim. Some insurance companies can begin coverage immediately if it involves a serious injury, and process the claim simultaneously.

Do you have to pay back temporary disability income?

Most companies don't require employees to pay back any short-term medical income. It's much less common to repay income on short-term medical disability insurance than on a long-term disability policy. Consider reviewing the specific conditions of your employee's short-term medical disability insurance to check for clauses that indicate reimbursement to the company.

What are the eligibility requirements?

The eligibility requirements for a short-term medical disability can vary depending on the insurance company and your employer. Most employees are usually eligible for this benefit, but if you don't have coverage and your employer doesn't offer any, you might be eligible for Employment Insurance sickness benefits. Despite the differences in various companies, the eligibility requirements for this insurance are similar. Here are standard eligibility requirements for employees:

  • Full-time work status

  • Minimum wage earnings

  • Established insurance coverage before claim filing

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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