Crain’s Chicago Business published an article today about Chicago-based ComPsych Corp. executing several new agreements worth tens of millions of dollars with employers nationwide to provide employee assistance programs (“EAPs”). The article references how during difficult economic times, employees utilize these programs more. There is a greater onset of alcohol or substance dependence. Likewise, these EAPs have expanded to include counseling for managing marital problems, stress and obesity. I highly praise these programs for helping employees manage difficult problems. However, a central purpose of these programs is still to help employers by mitigating the extent to which life’s obstacles decrease employee productivity. While many of life’s obstacles are of the sort that can and should be properly addressed with an EAP, often executives, professionals and other employees overlook the employer’s disability insurance plan. Sometimes, an employee may be a better candidate for disability leave than for assistance under an EAP.
Employees are usually aware they have a disability insurance plan, but rarely know exactly what that insurance plan covers, in what circumstances, how much it pays, for how long, and what (if anything) is excluded. Disability plans typically will provide most income replacement while you are “totally disabled” (as defined in the policy) or “partially disabled” (if your plan or policy provides for partial disability–some do, and some do not). Partial disability benefits will apply where you work a reduced schedule because of the condition and earn less money. Depending on the policy language, the plan may then supplement some or all of your reduced earnings. Disability plans often require that you be under the care of a physician in order to receive benefits. They also usually contain some sort of a 24-month limitation on benefits paid where disability is due to a mental condition or disorder (e.g., depression).
Not all claims for disability benefits are as a result of a physical disability. Executives and professionals often face high-stress in their jobs, which adds a unique vocational and/or medical element to a disability claim. When adding in life’s other obstacles to your already high-stress, high-demand job, an EAP program may be the right way to go. But if you feel like you need more relief, or perhaps cannot work (albeit temporarily), then maybe disability is right for you. If you want to know about your options and rights under your employer’s disability plan, call a lawyer knowledgeable in ERISA.