Many people in Chicago who are covered by a group long-term disability plan at work, and who receive disability payments at some point feel well enough to return to work, either part-time or find themselves only able to perform a job that pays significantly less than their former position. Most long-term disability plans provide that after qualifying for disability benefits, the employee will continue to receive benefits until the employee earns a certain percentage of pre-disability earnings or until the employee is no longer disabled.
It is possible, and happens not infrequently, that an employee is still disabled under the plan, but can return to work either part-time, or in a capacity that earns less money. But what happens if you just do not want to work at that employer any more, but still need partial disability payments because you cannot earn your pre-disability income because of the disability? According to one UNUM Life Insurance Company of America policy written, the employee loses all benefits.
In Fier v. UNUM Life Insurance Co. of America, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 292 (9th Cir. Jan. 4, 2011), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that according to the terms of the disability insurance plan, once Robert Fier left the employment of the Boyd Group (the employer that purchased the group long-term disability insurance plan from UNUM), he was no longer entitled to any benefits under the plan. Id. at *6.
Although there were other reasons under the terms of the plan Mr. Fier was no longer eligible for benefits, Chicago area employees who receive disability payments should look at the disability plan before deciding to change employers. All insurance plans may have different language, depending on the insurer and the terms your employer has negotiated. If your employer has a self-funded disability plan, there is yet one more variable to factor in. Before you make any decisions that may alter your right to receive benefits, talk to an experienced ERISA lawyer.
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