Most unionized employees have benefits through their employer. Those benefits have been negotiated by their unions as a perk of employment. They help make life inside and outside of the workplace that much better and add a layer of security and value to one’s employment.
But if you asked a unionized employee what benefits they are covered for, and for what amounts: most will tell you that they aren’t really sure; but they are sure that they are covered for some things (dental, physio, life, disability or something else).
Not every employee memorizes their benefits booklet and that’s ok. Those benefits booklets can also get confusing given that employees are assigned into different categories where insurance benefits and amounts vary depending on the level of seniority or position of the employee.
You union can play a big role, or a small role in your long term disability claim.
Understanding the interaction between the employee and his/her union in the context of a long term disability claim is important. Failure to understand the union’s role can defeat a long term disability claim before it even has the chance of getting off the ground.
For starters, just applying for long term disability benefits will likely involve your Union. The application forms are often not readily available. If you contact the insurance company for the forms, they may direct you to your employer. If you contact your employer about the forms, they may direct you to your Union. Your Union rep should be able to either provide you with the forms; request them from the insurer, or at the very least point you in the right direction about getting the right forms and getting the claim started. What you will often find is that there are a lot of forms to start a long term disability claim. These forms are standard forms but they change from time to time. Getting the right forms is crucial. Getting these forms completed by your doctor or therapist may cost you money and can be time consuming to set up the appointment to get the form(s) completed. This is why getting the right forms the first time is so important. And this is why it’s important to have good communication with your Union; so that you make sure that you’re doing things the right way.
You Union Rep may also be able to help you get the employer’s confirmation of income or job description form completed. This is a form which needs to be completed by the employer and your Union ought to be able to help you out with that sort of thing.
Here’s where things can get a bit challenging. What happens if your long term disability claim gets denied? Where do you turn?
Some Unions can (or must) assist with the fight. The reason for that is because it’s a term of the collective bargaining agreement. If it states in the collective agreement that all long term disability disputes must be fought by way of grievance through the collective agreement; then you’re stuck with your Union.
In most cases we have seen, this is far from ideal. Fighting long term disability claims on behalf of their membership just isn’t the strength of most Unions. They are more accustom to fighting disputes over wages, salary, work hours, overtime and work conditions. Fighting long term disability insurers over a medico-legal definition of disability just isn’t their strength. We see this with a lot of the smaller Unions which are ill equipped to dealing with these situations.
If the terms of the collective bargaining agreement state that the dispute must be handled by way of grievance, then unfortunately the claimant has to be represented by his/her Union. If the Union opts not to pursue the claim, or doesn’t do an effective job it puts the employee at odds with his/her Union. Pursuing a claim against a Union is very difficult to do, and there aren’t many lawyers out there who handle those sort of cases.
In the event that the collective bargaining agreement is mute on whether or not the long term disability dispute must be handled by way of grievance; then the employee can retain their own lawyer to handle the long term disability case against their insurer. That means that the disabled employee can pursue an action in Court as oppose to going through the grievance and arbitration process. It is very important for the employee to know which route they need to pursue. If the employee must go through the grievance/arbitration path; yet elects to pursue a claim in Court; his/her claim will likely be kicked out of Court and costs will be awarded against him/her. It’s for these very reasons that it’s important to have good communication with your Union. They will be able to tell the employee which path they have to pursue to fight their long term disability claim. A lawyer can also assist you with this, but in order to do so that lawyer will need to have a copy of the collective bargaining agreement and will need to go through it to determine which option is available to the employee. Most employees don’t have a copy of their own collective bargaining agreement; or if they do, it’s not the most current version. This is again why maintaining good communication with your Union is so important. They are up to date (or ought to be) about these sort of changes along with what rights a Unionized member has, or doesn’t have.
The reality is that some employees are clueless about their Union’s role; what benefits they are entitled to; and aren’t even familiar with the name of their Union. The same can be true to some Unions themselves. When it comes to Long Term Disability disputes, many Unions are out of their element. If under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement an employee can opt to retain their own lawyer with expertise in long term disability law, they ought to do so rather than to leave their fate in the hands of a Union which may lack the requisite experience to handle these sort of claims. But the first step for an unionized employee is to understand the role of their Union and to maintain good communication with their Union so that the case can proceed smoothly.