An employee who becomes disabled, or otherwise becomes incapable of performing the essential functions of their job, and may be entitled to income replacement through the employer’s short-term and long-term disability insurance policies. The process is not always straightforward, making it important for both employees and employers to understand their rights:
Employees have a basic right to dignity and fair treatment in having their disability insurance claims assessed. While medical evidence will be required to substantiate a claim for disability insurance coverage, the employee will not be subject to the whim of the insurer’s medical team.
Similarly, the employee has the right to have their claim fairly treated, and on the presumption that their claim is legitimate. An employer or provider that treats an employee with suspicion about the validity of the claim may find itself in hot water if the claim is rejected.
It is common to see an employee’s disability insurance coverage terminated before they are fit to return to work. An employee may also find their initial application rejected, despite not being able to perform their duties. Employees are entitled to challenge unfair or unsupported determinations about their coverage, which means that the employee should promptly retain legal counsel if this situation arises.
The result of this right is that the employee is entitled to retain their employment with the employer while receiving disability insurance benefits. This right, however, is not absolute.
In very limited circumstances, the employer may have the right to dismiss a disabled employee, where it appears that the employee will be unlikely to perform the essential functions of their job for the foreseeable future. An employer should never dismiss a disabled employee without first obtaining sound legal advice. Disability is a protected ground under both federal and provincial human rights legislation, which means that dismissing a disabled employee may constitute discrimination.
Employers also have the right to be appraised of the status of the employee’s insurance claim. If disability insurance coverage is rejected or discontinued, the employer may be at liberty to require the employee to return to work, or to dismiss that employee. These steps should not be taken without legal advice, as termination of disability insurance coverage does not circumvent an employer’s obligations under human rights legislation.
Author: Marc Kitay, Whitten & Lublin