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Can I Apply for Disability While On Workers' Comp?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
August 3, 2022  ·  3 min read
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The short answer: Yes. You can apply for disability benefits while receiving workers’ compensation. 

The longer answer: Receiving benefits from both programs may impact the amount you receive from disability benefits — and it may be harder to win disability benefits while receiving workers’ compensation.

Our recommendation: If you’ll be unable to work for more than a year due to your injury or condition, kickstarting the disability benefits process as early as possible is a good call. 

Let’s dive in.

Applying for disability while receiving workers’ compensation

The disability application process is long; it takes many applicants over two and a half years to be approved, and to start receiving benefits. 

In most cases, it makes sense to start early. 

If you will be unable to work for more than a year — you may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Qualifying is complicated — and what you need to “prove” to get disability benefits varies greatly from what you “prove” to receive workers compensation.

The main distinction is this: If you’re under 50, you’ll need to demonstrate you are not only unable to work in your prior role, but that you’re also unable to work any job due to your disability. 

For example, say you worked in a warehouse, were injured on the job, and can no longer lift your arms above your head. You may be able to prove you can’t go back to your old job. But you’ll also have to prove to the government that you’re too disabled to be a cashier, or a server, or to do data entry.

If you’re over 50, it’s a little easier. But you’ll still have to prove you’re unable to work in the field you were trained in. 

If you qualify, it likely makes sense to get started on the paperwork now — especially if your workers’ compensation benefits are likely to run out in the next two years. SSDI can ensure you have backup healthcare and financial compensation when your workers compensation coverage window ends. 

There’ll be a short additional form (the Workers Compensation Disclosure) you’ll have to fill out alongside your disability application. And your disability payments may be impacted by your workers’ compensation amount.

Receiving disability benefits while receiving workers compensation

If you do qualify for both disability benefits and workers’ compensation, the SSA will offset your SSDI payments based on your workers’ compensation amount. 

In total, your total SSDI and workers’ compensation payments can’t equal more than 80% of your income from your last job. 

Anything additional will lead to a reduction in your disability benefit payments. 

Let’s say, for example, if before you became disabled, your average earnings were $4,000 a month. You were hurt at work, and now receive $2,000 a month from workers’ compensation. You’re also approved for disability benefits that pay $2,200 a month. 

Because the total amount of benefits you receive ($4,200) would be more than 80% of your prior earnings, the disability portion of it will be reduced. 80% of your former monthly salary (80% of $4,000) is $3,200. So your SSDI payments will be reduced by $1,000 ($4,200 - $1000 = $3,200). 

These will be reduced until your workers’ comp payments stop, or until you reach full retirement age — whichever comes first. If your workers’ comp payments decrease, your disability payments may increase; it’s important to report these changes to the Social Security Administration.

Winning disability benefits while receiving workers’ compensation payments

An additional consideration often neglected by applicants: most people who are approved for disability benefits win with the help of a lawyer (83% of people have a lawyer for their appeal). In fact, you’re three times more likely to win with legal help on your side.

Receiving workers compensation may make it more difficult to find a lawyer because of the way disability lawyers get paid. Disability lawyers are paid a percentage of your first disability check — 25% or up to $7,200. This is generally great for you: It means you pay nothing up front, and there’s a set, legally mandated limit to how much you’ll pay when you win. 

This also means if your first check is less, because your SSDI payments are reduced, it may be a bit harder to find a lawyer who will take your case; they won’t be paid as much for their work. 

Unless you have a very severe condition (like ALS or terminal cancer) — winning without a lawyer is challenging and rare. So we still recommend trying to find the right fit for your case; just be transparent about the other benefits you receive or are planning to receive. It’s critical for your application process, and will ensure your lawyer can represent you as effectively as possible.

Get free legal help with Atticus

Finding a lawyer who will take your case can be trickier while receiving workers’ comp. Atticus makes the process easy. 

Take our 2-minute quiz to see what benefits you qualify for, and to connect with our team for free legal advice. 

They can match you with an attorney — if you want one — from our network of the top 5% of firms. Our services are always free and they can save you hours spent navigating firm websites, on hold with offices, and repeating your details on intake calls.

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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