Representing the Injured or Disabled Member Part 49: Coordinating Disability Benefits from Multiple Sources

By: Jim Cline

Representing the Injured or Disabled Member

Part 49: Coordinating Disability Benefits from Multiple Sources

This article is the 49th in a multiple part series covering the rights your injured and disabled members have and how you, as a union or guild representative, can best assist them.  Over the past several weeks and continuing for the next several weeks, we have been and will be publishing, in various segments, information on how state and federal laws protect your members who are hurt or otherwise unable to work. We will cover topics including disability discrimination law, the FMLA, job protection rights under the CBA, workers compensation, disability benefits, and the right to bring a civil lawsuit.

The topics we are covering are also addressed in detail in a book that we published: Helping the Injured or Disabled Member: A Guidebook for the Washington Law Enforcement and Fire Union Representative.  It is also our intention over the course of the next year to travel through the state and provide training to public safety union and guild representatives on how best to enforce these rights.  Expect to hear more on that in the months ahead.

This 49th article of our Newsletter series provides a discussion concerning the coordination of disability benefits from multiple sources. For more information, visit our Premium Website. There you will find an online version of the Injured or Disabled Member’s Guidebook and other information on the laws covering your members.

Once a public safety officer is receiving disability benefits from multiple sources, the issues of offsets and overpayments arise.  Social Security, L&I, and most private disability insurance contracts often have statutory or contractual language permitting them to offset any amount paid in disability benefits by the amount of benefits received from other sources.  For example, if Social Security determines that a claimant is entitled to a set monthly benefit amount, but the agency determines that the employee is also receiving monthly pension benefits through worker’s compensation, and/or long-term disability benefits, then Social Security is permitted to deduct the amount received from other sources from the monthly Social Security benefit.

Unfortunately, permanently disabled employees often are unaware of the “right of offset,” and will accept the full extent of benefits from each source.  When that occurs, the disabled employee has received an “overpayment,” which he or she will then have to pay back to whichever source was entitled to the offset.  Sometimes, a disabled member may be receiving disability benefits for months or years, and then learns of a huge overpayment assessment.  An overpayment can be stressful and life-altering when finances are tight.

Determining which source of disability benefits is entitled to an offset is extremely complicated, but the best way to avoid an overpayment is to communicate with each source to make sure that they are all aware of the full extent of disability benefits received through each source.  While it may seem very beneficial to be receiving a higher benefit amount (especially when, after receiving disability benefits from all sources, the officer or firefighter may still not be receiving the same amount of compensation they were receiving prior to being permanently disabled), the long-term ramifications of not communicating with each source, e.g., a significant overpayment, can be potentially devastating to the disabled member and his or her family.

In the next article in this series, we’ll discuss public safety employee safety regulations.

**Visit our Premium Website for more information on Workers Compensation.**