Ways to Get Short-Term Disability Benefits

Only a few states provide short-term disability benefits, although private employer-funded disability insurance and workers' comp provide temporary disability benefits in all states.

Updated by , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law
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Whether you're eligible for short-term (temporary) disability benefits depends on where you live—only a few states offer a state short-term disability program.

But if your injury or illness is work-related, you might be eligible for short-term disability benefits through your state's workers' compensation system. And many employers purchase private disability insurance for their employees, which usually includes short-term disability (STD) coverage. Social Security doesn't provide any short-term disability benefits, through either its SSI or SSDI programs.

How Does Short-Term Disability Work?

If you're temporarily unable to work due to sickness, injury, or pregnancy, you might qualify for short-term disability benefits, whether through your state's short-term disability program or workers' comp system, or a private policy offered by your employer.

Short-term disability benefits are typically about 60 percent of your regular wages for a period lasting from about three to six months (or more, depending on your policy). A waiting period of a week or so usually applies, meaning you won't be eligible for benefits until about a week after your injury or illness occurs.

What Qualifies for Short-Term Disability?

To qualify for short-term disability benefits, you must be unable to do your job, and your doctor must document this in writing. Common reasons that people qualify for short-term disability benefits include:

  • severe illness
  • severe injuries
  • recovering from an accident
  • recovering from surgery
  • pregnancy and childbirth, and
  • mental health issues or leave.

Illnesses that qualify for short-term disability benefits can be any sickness that prevents work and that lasts longer than a week. Examples include COVID, cancer, mononucleosis, strep throat, pneumonia, digestive disorders,

Many private STD plans don't cover cosmetic surgery or other surgeries that might be considered "elective," such as gastric bypass surgery. (Read our article on when surgeries are considered medically necessary.) And some private policies have a waiting period during which they won't cover surgeries for pre-existing conditions.

Work injuries don't qualify for short-term disability benefits; workers' comp policies, which are required in almost all states for almost all businesses, cover work-related injuries.

Filing a Private Short-Term Disability Claim

To apply for short-term disability benefits from the insurance company, you'll need to follow a few steps:

  • Get a copy of the claim form from your employer's HR department or your insurance carrier (if you purchased coverage). The claim form will ask you for details about your medical condition and the date you last worked, as well as some personal information.
  • Ask your employer and doctor to fill out their portions of the claim form. Your employer will need to provide your job description, salary, and history with the company. Your physician must certify that your medical condition keeps you from working. The insurance company's claims administrator will then review your medical records to make sure they support your claims of disability.
  • Appeal if denied. If you're denied for short-term disability benefits, it's a good idea to appeal. Many claims that are eventually approved are turned down initially; hire a lawyer to give yourself the best chance.

States With Short-Term Disability Programs

The only states that have state short-term disability programs are:

Follow the above links for more information on each state's program.

A few states offer temporary disability assistance to low-income people in other ways. For instance, Maryland's Temporary Disability Assistance Program offers cash and medical and housing assistance.

A number of states (and the District of Columbia) also offer paid family and medical leave programs, including:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island, and
  • Washington.

The rest of this article discusses the state temporary disability programs (abbreviated as TDI, for temporary disability insurance, or SDI, for state disability insurance) funded by payroll deductions.

Eligibility Requirements for State Temporary Disability

State temporary disability benefits are usually easier to get than Social Security disability. In the states that provide for short-term disability, here are some general requirements that apply to all of the states.

  • The worker must have worked a certain length of time before being eligible for benefits—30 days to six months, depending on the state.
  • Some states have a minimum earnings requirement.
  • There is a one-week waiting period before benefits are payable. (You can't receive benefits until the 8th day you are temporarily disabled.)
  • The illness or injury must be non-work related.
  • Benefits last no more than 26-30 weeks (but 52 weeks in California).
  • The weekly benefit is approximately 60% of your wages.
  • Pregnant women can receive short-term disability for several weeks for delivery and recovery.
  • You will need to submit medical records or go to a medical exam to prove your disability.

For information on your state's specific eligibility rules, see our article on eligibility for state temporary disability benefits.

Filing a TDI/SDI Claim With Your State

To file a claim, call or go to the website of your state's department of labor or employment development department to get the application form. Your company's human resources department may also be able to provide you with one. Complete your section of the form and give the form to your employer and/or doctor to complete the remainder.

Making Sure Your Job Will Be There When You Return

State short-term disability programs offer wage replacement but they offer little to no job protection. You must apply for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act or a state medical leave law—or rely on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—to ensure your employer will take you back after a period of disability. Read our article on keeping your job after disability leave for more information.

When to Contact a Disability Attorney

Most people can file a short-term disability claim without the help of an attorney. These claims tend to cost less for insurance companies and states and are often more straightforward than long-term disability claims. But you should still consider hiring an attorney if your claim is denied, or if you have a long-term disability or Social Security disability claim in addition to your short-term claim. Most disability lawyers offer free consultations and don't charge a fee unless you win your case.

Updated October 29, 2021

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