If an employee is unable to work for a period of several months due to disability, he may be eligible for long-term disability benefits. These benefits pay a portion of his paycheck each week until he is able to return to work. Employers may not terminate a worker's employment as soon as he becomes eligible for long-term disability; however, the employer may fill the position if the employee is not coming back in the foreseeable future and offer the employee a different position upon his return.
If an employee chooses to quit his job due to continuing issues related to disability, the employee usually does not have a continued right to health insurance benefits. Some plans allow the employee to keep his employer-sponsored health insurance for a limited time following the termination of his employment, while other plans cancel his health insurance immediately after termination. Employees may be entitled to COBRA benefits after leaving a job due to approval for long-term disability benefits.
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Nondiscrimination laws require employers to provide equal employment opportunities for disabled employees; thus, if an employer fires an employee when she becomes eligible for long-term disability, she may be able to sue her former employer for discrimination against disabled employees. However, if an employee is on long-term disability for an indefinite period of time, and the employer needs to fill the position, he can hire another employee to do the job as long as he offers the disabled employee opportunities to apply for similar jobs when she returns from disability.
If an employee on long-term disability returns to work on a part-time basis, employers must respect any limitations his physician places upon his ability to work. For example, if an employee on long-term disability is unable to lift items because of a back problem, his employer cannot require that he lift items anyway as a condition of employment. If the employer fires an employee due to his inability to perform all job functions while on disability, the employee can sue for discrimination against disabled persons.
Return to Work
When an employee on long-term disability is ready to return to work, the employer must give the employee the opportunity to either return to her original job or apply for a new job within the same company. If the employee is unable to find work within 30 days, the employer may officially terminate her employment with the company and she will lose her benefits.