Becoming disabled while working a tech job

Becoming disabled while working a tech job

Tech workers believe that they have the best health insurance and all other types of insurance offered by their company. And they are probably right. I don’t have any data to prove otherwise.

What I do know from my own research and experience is that the disability insurance offered by Apple and other tech companies could leave you in dire straights much more easily than you know.

There are two types of disability: short-term (12 weeks), and long-term (indefinite with a big asterisk). A disability is something that partially or completely prevents you from doing your job. It could be anything from a serious physical injury to a debilitating mental illness.

Remember, this could be some terrible infection you get and end up in the hospital for months. Medical insurance covers the bills but your employer will only pay you via disability insurance. Same goes for an inherited mental condition that strikes you, for example.

Short-term disability

According to the benefits literature, the first 12 weeks of disability are covered by Apple at 100% of your salary*****

Wow, that’s really awesome! What a killer benefit. But let’s talk about the five asterisks. This is a completely false statement, but in Apple’s defense, they do later go into detail why it’s false.

This is how you get your 100% income replacement while you are too injured or ill to work. Again, this is based on Apple.

  1. A third party disability company, Sedgwick, must be convinced your disability qualifies as preventing you from working. Like medical insurance, their job is to turn people down to make more money. It’s just the economics involved. They will pummel you with paperwork, call you daily, email you daily, ask you to confirm, reconfirm, more questions, and so on.
  2. You have to also be approved for disability by the state. It’s complicated but the 100% that Apple promises is the cobbled together sum of state disability and disability provided by Apple (if approved by Sedgwick)

The key takeaway is that when they say you are covered at 100% for 12 weeks, this is false. Don’t stop reading the benefits book there!

Could you deal with no income for 12 weeks in one of the most expensive places to live on earth? Wouldn’t it dig deeply into your down payment money so you can finally stop renting? You are one week away from being in this situation at any time.

I say one week because you can take one week of sick time before you are required to apply for disability.

Long-term disability

After the 12 week period, Apple switches to a different company for long-term disability benefits, Lincoln Financial, but retains Sedgwick to manage state benefits. Confused yet?

Long-term disability, theoretically, will cover you for life. If you suffer a severe injury (paralysis, for example), you are entitled to income replacement for the rest of your life. If you can perform some of your job duties, then you can get income replacement for the rest.

There’s a catch. Even if everything goes swimmingly and you get approved, the best you will get is 50-70% of your regular pay going forward, depending on whether you paid for additional disability (which you should).

Again, can you live in Silicon Valley on 50-70% of your former salary, if you even get approved.

As an added insult, this new disability company must start completely from scratch to determine whether you deserve disability.

Mental illness

When you fill our the disability paperwork, you’ll notice a complete lack of questions about mental illness. They’ll ask you whether you can lift 50 pounds but not whether you have panic attacks 10 times a day or whether your ADHD is so bad you can’t concentrate for more than 10 seconds.

And here’s the kicker. Even if you convince them you have a condition that prevents you from working, benefits are capped at 2 years. So if you suffer from schizophrenia or other very serious disorder, you get your 50-70% income for 2 years and you are on your own for the rest of your life. Ponder that.

And here’s the second kicker. When they inevitably turn you down for a mental health claim they will demand “conclusive evidence” of your condition. For them, that means MRIs, blood tests, X-ray, and things like that.

I’m pretty sure someone that knows virtually nothing about mental illness knows you don’t diagnose them that well. Well, a very high percentage of them. If you have severe depression, a blood test won’t mean a thing.

I don’t know how many people are aware how close they are to being in dire straights, especially if you’ve not saved a lot of money.

Pre-existing conditions

To add insult to injury, Apple added a pre-existing condition clause to their disability policies, affecting only new employees. I saved the worst for last!

Let’s say you have diabetes. Or you had cancer that went into remission. If either of those get to a state where you can’t earn income, you get zero from disability. With something like diabetes, there is so much fallout that can happen, but you’d be left uncovered.

All the rest of this is awful, but this one is just awful and Apple should be ashamed of itself.

I went through this

I know a lot about this because I went through this process. I got paid for less than 25% of the time I was completely unable to work. I spent a lot of my days answering emails, phone calls, and paper letters about my condition.

It felt like my new full time job. I suffered great financial hardship that did not jive with what my benefits said they would be. It also was an incredibly stressful situation, which worsened my condition. Not a great way to treat your employees.

Conclusion

Before you start a job at a tech company, review their disability coverage and ask questions. You don’t have to ask that specific a question, but ask for a comprehensive document listing their benefits.

If you already work at a company, complain and get everyone you know to complain.

Your only other recourse is probably to move to another country.