7 Steps for Returning to Work After Being on Disability

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 11, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated February 11, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Returning to work after a leave due to disability can present a complicated set of conditions. It can be overwhelming to think about what to expect upon your return, especially if your disability forces you to abandon your previous position and start anew doing something unfamiliar. You must consider what skills you still possess and any new skills you may have acquired while you were out of work. This article will discuss how to go back to work after a disability and will help you decide if resuming your career is the right choice. 

How to return to work after being on disability

Here are some steps to follow when considering a return to work after being on disability: 

  1. Consult with professionals.

  2. Make sure you’re ready.

  3. Make use of the accommodations you’re entitled to.

  4. Review your company’s disability policy. 

  5. Ask for assistance from human resources.

  6. Update your resume.

  7. Maintain your disability benefits.

1. Consult with professionals

Consulting with your doctor will help you determine whether you are ready to return to work after a disability. Your doctor can examine your physical condition and your work responsibilities to decide if you can return to work safely. If your doctor decides that it is safe for you to resume work, they will provide the documents you need to submit to your employer to verify that you are healthy enough to work. 

You should attempt to remain in contact with your employer throughout your leave. Keeping your employer apprised of the progress of your recovery will help them to prepare any accommodations you may need upon your return.

You may also need to speak with a lawyer before returning to work after a disability. A lawyer can help you understand both your company’s long-term disability policy and disability laws so that you can protect your rights. 

2. Make sure you’re ready

It’s important to consider whether you can realistically perform your previous job duties without causing further harm to your health, as returning to work too early could compromise your recovery and leave your employer in an awkward position. After your doctors have cleared you to return to work, you’ll still want to assess your own mental readiness to take on a work routine.

Allow yourself the necessary accommodations to make your transition more tolerable. Returning to work after a traumatic injury or event can be overwhelming, so it’s important to give yourself what you need to cope, whether it’s quiet breaks to regroup, working from home part of the time or just easing back into the workplace slowly. 

3. Make use of the accommodations you’re entitled to

Keep your medical documents organized and on hand so you can easily provide information to your employer regarding clarification on health restrictions at work and the reasonable accommodations you will need. Communicate with your employer about possible issues and how to resolve them satisfactorily.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your employer wants you to succeed and is there to support you via special accommodations, tools or other resources you need. 

4. Review your company’s disability policy

Before returning to work, review your company’s long-term disability policy. It will outline the steps you need to complete to return to your position and whether or not your disability benefits will continue after you have resumed work. 

Look for an occupational clause in the long-term disability policy. These clauses determine when and how you can receive disability benefits from your employer. The two different types of occupational clauses are:

  • Own-Occupation Clause (OCC): You can receive employer disability benefits if a medical condition prevents you from fulfilling the responsibilities of your job.

  • Any-Occupation Clause (ACC): You can receive benefits if a medical condition prevents you from fulfilling the responsibilities of any job.

You may be able to return to work in a different position while also receiving benefits if your company’s disability policy includes an own-occupation clause. If your company’s policy includes an any-occupation clause, you can receive benefits as long as you are unable to work. 

The number of hours you can work and the tasks you are allowed to perform after returning to work will be outlined in your company’s disability policy. There may also be limits to how much you can earn while still receiving employer disability benefits. 

Related: What Are Full-Time Hours?

5. Ask for assistance from human resources

Contacting your company’s human resource department may make it easier for you to return to work after a disability. You can discuss the accommodations you need to return to work effectively and can also ask the HR representative how long your disability benefits will continue. 

Some disabilities may prevent you from returning to your old position. For example, if you work in a job that requires a high level of physical exertion but are permanently injured and cannot return to physical work, you may look into returning to your company in a role that doesn’t require physical exertion. In this case, ask your HR representative about continuing education or retraining options your company may offer that might assist your transition into a new position.

6. Update your resume

If your injury or disability prevents you from resuming your previous work, you should consider updating your resume to include any new skills that you have gained during the period you were unable to work. If you took courses or classes during this time, indicate which skills you learned from them in the education section of your resume.

Reviewing your skill set is important after becoming disabled because you will need to identify any adjustments you need to make on your resume that relate to your physical and mental skills. If your disability is primarily physical, you can alter your resume to highlight your mental skills, such as problem-solving or phone etiquette.

7. Maintain your disability benefits

The "Ticket to Work program" allows you to maintain your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for up to 45 months while you are working. During the nine-month grace period after enrollment, you will receive your full benefits while your ability to work is tested. You can stop working during this period without any effect on your benefits. 

The extended period of eligibility lasts for 36 months after the nine-month grace period. You will receive full SSDI cash benefits during the first three months of the extended period. Over the remainder of the period, your benefits will be based on the income you earn. 

You will receive benefits meant to supplement your income if your earnings drop below a certain level. These benefits will continue until you earn above the substantial gainful activity level as determined by the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

While enrolled in the Ticket to Work program, you will still receive Medicare coverage for a period of time after your SSDI payments have ended. Medicare coverage extends seven years, or 93 months, after your trial work period has ended. 

Related: Guide to Unemployment Benefits

What to do if your return to work has major restrictions due to your disability

The Ticket to Work Program is a federal program designed to help disabled people who receive SSDI return to work. While enrolled in the Ticket to Work program, you will be allowed to maintain your disability benefits for a certain period of time, while also working a regular job. 

More than 600 employment networks are accessible through Ticket to Work. The services these employment networks provide include:

  • Helping people find physical therapy services to improve stamina so that they can return to work

  • Finding employment opportunities that match a person’s physical abilities

  • Arranging accommodations with employers that make returning to work easier

  • Explaining how to report earnings to maintain disability payments

People who receive SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to their disability and are between 18 and 64 years of age can enroll in the Ticket to Work program. You can check your eligibility and enroll in the program by phone or online. 

You will need to make timely progress towards your employment goals after enrollment in the Ticket to Work program. Timely progress means taking actionable steps towards reducing your need for disability benefits by:

  • Developing skills necessary for employment

  • Submitting applications to potential employers

  • Securing a job and staying employed

You will be subject to a periodic Continuing Disability Review (CDR) while enrolled in Ticket to Work. This review is used to determine if you are still disabled and eligible for the program. Social Security will not request a CDR if you make timely progress.

You can request that Social Security reinstates your SSDI cash benefits if you find you are unable to work within five years of the end of the Ticket to Work extended eligibility period. Submitting a new SSDI application is not required within this timeframe.

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