How Long Does Short-Term Disability Last?

If you're covered by temporary disability insurance (or short-term disability), most plans provide coverage for three to six months, but the terms can vary.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

Many employees are covered by temporary disability insurance (TDI) or short-term disability insurance (SDI). This benefit is required by law in a handful of states, including:

In some states, TDI is paid from a state fund, with contributions from employees, employers, or both. In other states, employers are simply required to provide minimum coverage for temporary disabilities—either through employer-purchased SDI plans or by being self-insured.

In states that don't require SDI or TDI coverage, some employers provide this benefit voluntarily. And if your employer or state doesn't offer short-term disability, you can purchase a private SDI policy on the open market.

What Is Short-Term Disability Insurance?

Short-term disability insurance protects your income when you can't work due to a non-work-related injury or illness. Generally, SDI and TDI pay a portion of your regular earnings (usually 40-60%, but it can be more) while you're unable to work due to disability.

Some SDI and TDI plans also pay benefits if you miss work due to pregnancy or childbirth. Usually, TDI plans only cover your leave while you're physically unable to work due to the effects of pregnancy or childbirth.

But some employer-purchased SDI plans also include paid family leave. And the same five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) that require TDI coverage also have laws that provide for paid family leave.

State-Run Temporary Disability Insurance Programs

State-run TDI programs are just what they sound like. The state collects taxes from employers and employees to fund the plan. Then when you need benefits due to temporary disability (including pregnancy), you file a claim with the state office that administers the program.

Employer-Purchased and Private SDI Plans

Even in states that don't mandate TDI coverage, some employers offer an SDI plan as an employee benefit. These employer-purchased plans are generally funded, at least in part, by the employer. But to participate, you might also be required to contribute to the plan (through payroll deductions). If your employer doesn't offer SDI, you can purchase a private policy directly from an insurance company.

With employer-purchased SDI, which is governed by ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act), you'll file your disability claim directly with your employer or the insurance carrier. If you've purchased a private plan, you'll file your SDI claim with your insurer.

When Are SDI and TDI Benefits Available?

To collect TDI or SDI benefits, you must be unable to work due to an illness or injury that's not work-related. These plans don't cover work missed due to an on-the-job injury or illness (which are typically covered by workers' compensation insurance).

Some TDI plans also pay disability benefits when you must miss work due to pregnancy and childbirth. To find out what your plan covers, contact the state agency that administers the program, your employer's human resources department, or your employer's short-term disability insurance provider.

Plans vary, but TDI benefits generally begin within the first two weeks after you become disabled. (Some kick in as quickly as the first day you miss work.)

How Long Is Short-Term Disability?

How long you'll receive short-term disability benefits and how much you'll get depend on the plan's terms. The limits vary, but since they're designed to cover short-term disabilities, a maximum benefit of three to six months is common.

In the states that require TDI coverage, the length of time you can get benefits is set by the state. New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii each limit TDI benefits to 26 weeks per year. But in Hawaii, if your employer has an "equivalent or better than statutory" plan, the policy will dictate how long your benefits will last.

Rhode Island TDI benefits can last up to 30 weeks, depending on your earnings and benefit amount. (RI TDI calculates benefit duration using a formula: 36% of your total base period wages divided by your weekly benefit rate.)

And in California, most employees can get up to 52 weeks of TDI—but only 39 weeks if you're self-employed (and only if you paid into the system).

If you're still unable to work when your SDI benefits run out, you might be eligible for long-term disability (LTD). (Check with your employer. Many LTD plans start after you've been unable to work for six months.) And if your disability is expected to last a year or more, you might qualify for Social Security disability.

Getting Legal Advice When Your TDI Is Denied

If you believe you've been wrongly denied TDI benefits or your benefits have been cut off improperly, you might benefit by consulting with a lawyer to assess your case and decide how to proceed.

Updated October 28, 2022

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