health illness

In my last post I talked about getting the time off work you need for treatment and to care for yourself when faced with a serious illness. Now let’s look at maintaining your income while seeking treatment and/or recovering.

First, this article addresses conditions that are unrelated to work. If your injury or illness resulted at work or has been caused by your workplace you should contact a worker’s compensation attorney to discuss filing for worker’s compensation benefits.

Second, allow me a soapbox moment: if your employer offers short or long-term disability benefits sign up! If your employer does not offer these policies, get your own- the earlier the better- before any major health issues befall you and become preexisting conditions. Disability benefit policies are fairly inexpensive for the average healthy person but can save your financial life in the event of an unexpected illness.

In the United States there is no law mandating paid sick leave although many employers do offer some paid sick days.

If you have been diagnosed with a serious illness and know you will need time off, the first thing to do, then, is look to see whether your employer offers disability benefits and, if so, whether or not you signed up for them. I meet with a lot of clients who simply don’t know the answer to this question. If you don’t know, ask your Human Resources department. That is what they’re there for. If you are a participant in a disability policy, that policy will most likely afford you some percentage of your pay for the period of disability.

The next thing to consider is how much sick or personal time off (PTO) you have accrued. You should be able to use any unused time to continue your pay while you are off. Additionally, some employers have policies that allow employees to “borrow” from the next year’s bank of vacation, PTO or sick leave. Even if your employer does not expressly allow this you should ask if it is possible. Finally, some companies allow other employees to donate their unused sick or vacation time to an employee who needs it. If you do not have disability benefits in place ask your employer if they allow for this donation. Many companies are comprised of good people who will want to help you if they can.

Next, if you do not have disability benefits or sick leave, the next option is to consider whether or not you could work a part-time or a flexible schedule in order to maintain some or all of your income and benefits. This is not necessarily ideal but it may be what you have to do to maintain financial stability. Depending on your condition, you may need a few full weeks off for initial treatment or surgery and then it may be possible for you to slowly ramp back up to work. As I talked about in my last post, a part-time or reduced schedule can oftentimes be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. And, if you are working some hours (even if those hours are not full time) the employer has to pay you for them. Talk to your employer and see what you can work out.

Finally, if it appears that you may be dealing with your condition for a while, you should look into social security disability insurance. This is a federal benefit available to all employees but the amount you will receive will depend upon how long you have worked and how much you have paid into the system. The Social Security Administration defines disability as a condition that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year and which renders an employee either unable to do the work that he or she did before the illness or unable to train for a new position.

As I discussed in my last post, a serious illness does not have to derail your career. With some careful planning and creative strategizing it also does not have to financially devastate you.

To read Part I:  go to

Next up: Part III: Returning to work after recovery.