When an employee is out of work due to a medical condition, it is important to be aware of the potential employee termination date. It is typically a set, standard policy within a company that after a certain period of medical absence, employment is terminated. A common period is six months or perhaps one year. Many people who are forced to take an extended absence are unaware when this date is and what the implications are. Since medical absence is often unexpected and unplanned, there is limited communication about the process between the employer and employee.
Typically when a company terminates an employee, they also end the company contribution for medical insurance. The former employee is eligible for COBRA to maintain medical coverage. However, this requires the employee to pay the full premium, often double or triple the amount he or she paid as an employee. At this point further treatment may become unaffordable and aggressive remedies such as physical therapy or surgery must be canceled, putting a halt to further improvement or recovery.
If the employee is aware of the expected employment termination date, the employee can communicate this to the treatment provider. This time frame can then be built into the treatment plan. For instance, a surgery planned for six weeks out which has a 90 day recovery period can be moved up to the following week, moving a possible return to work date up five weeks and possibly saving the employees job.
In addition, once the employee is terminated, the employer will begin the process replace the worker. Thus, even if the employee has a full recovery, he or she may not have a job to return to. When the employee has been with the same employer 12 or 15 years, this is a very traumatic experience. If the employee is not fully recovered by the termination date, he or she may request an accommodation of modified duty work until full recovery. This would allow them to retain the employee status while continuing to recover.
While working as a vocational consultant with Metlife many years ago, I was assisting a union maintenance worker for a large national entertainment company. He worked on the parking lot crew paving and striping parking lots. He suffered a complex ankle fracture in an off work injury. After a period of healing, he continued to have pain and weakness and was not able to return to work since his job required climbing frequently on and off a truck. His physician planned a revision surgery which would require an eight week recovery period. His surgery schedule was backed up three months. The worker would be terminated in three months.
I contacted the office of the doctor and explained the situation. They completed the surgery two weeks later instead of three months. After a period of recovery and work hardening, he returned to work a week before being terminated.
Joseph Atkinson, MS, CRC is an independent Certified Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with 20 years of experience working for group disability insurance companies completing vocational counseling and analysis. He provides vocational assessments for Disability Claims as well as providing Vocational Expert testimony for Social Security Disability Hearings. In addition, he provides file reviews and assistance for claimants and attorneys to assist in the disability claims process.