How To Get Short-Term Disability If You Have Surgery

Managing the Financial Aspects of Recovery After Surgery

About Employee Benefits

Being faced with surgery is a challenging experience, but you may be eligible for short-term disability benefits that will help cover your living expenses until you're back on your feet. Before undergoing surgery, it's important to review your disability benefits to ensure you have insurance coverage for the medical expenses associated with the operation.

Short-term disability for surgery can assist you financially during recovery. However, some employees must pay for their own private disability insurance, while others might receive coverage through their employer. Learn how short-term disability can help you cover the costs of recovering from surgery.

Key Takeaways

  • Short-term disability insurance (SDI) can provide income when recovering from surgery or a temporary disability.
  • Short-term disability insurance pays out a specific percentage of your pre-disability income, such as 40% or 60% of your pay.
  • Short-term disability insurance benefits have an expiration date, which is typically no longer than six months.
  • Be sure to budget your finances so you'll have enough income to cover your living expenses while recovering from surgery.

What Is a Short-Term Disability Plan?

Employer-sponsored short-term disability (SDI) is a voluntary cash plan that pays a percentage of your full-time salary for a specific amount of time following the first week that you are unable to work. Typically, SDI coverage can last up to three to six months, but benefits can vary depending on the insurance plan. Also, SDI pays a specific percentage of your pay, meaning you won't receive 100% of your pay while recovering.

The plan's summary of benefits should provide a great deal of information and answer most of your questions. Private disability plans offer similar benefits.

Most employers will expect you to use your paid time off (PTO) first. Short-term disability will begin (if you are enrolled) shortly after, providing you with a weekly check that is a percentage of your regular earnings. Short-term disability insurance is an option that only some employers offer, providing some income to cover medical expenses should you run out of paid time off (PTO).

Some plans don’t start until 14 days post-event, so be sure to check with your employer's human resources (HR) department to confirm the coverage rules.

Check with your employer

Not all employers offer short-term disability insurance, so if you have access to this benefit, make sure you enroll in the plan during the open enrollment period.

How To Get Short-Term Disability for a Surgery

Enroll Early

Since it is difficult to predict an injury or condition that may require a procedure, consider enrolling in a short-term disability plan long before considering having surgery.

If you are already employed, talk to your HR department and find out if there is a chance to enroll. If the opportunity has passed, you might consider a private insurance firm.

If you are starting a new job, be sure to inquire about short-term disability enrollment. If it is not offered, private coverage may be your only option.

After Confirming Your Coverage

Once you have confirmed your short-term disability coverage and have scheduled your surgery, inform your employer as soon as possible. This allows them to arrange for staffing coverage during your planned absence. Provide the HR department with a doctor’s note that indicates the estimated length of time you will need for recovery.

Work with your manager to make sure your leave has a smooth transition, as well as to arrange for any post-surgery accommodations you may need. Find out if your employer expects you to perform any work at home while recovering.

During the surgery, have a close friend or family member keep your HR department informed of your status. This will let them know if there is anything else they might need to do (in case there are complications stemming from your surgery).

The HR benefits administrator should be able to advise you on when your paid time off terminates and your short-term disability period begins. They should be able to tell you when the coverage period ends as well. The HR staff may not be able to tell you exactly how much each check will be, but your disability benefits provider might.


Short-term disability insurance is typically cheaper if you part of a group plan with your employer while buying private SDI as an individual can be expensive.

Managing Your Finances During Recovery

If at any time you are informed you have to be out for an additional length of time due to health problems or doctor’s orders, be sure to let your employer know immediately.

Your SDI benefits may not start immediately. Some plans don't pay out income until a specific period of time has passed—called the elimination period. The elimination period can be one to two weeks. Also, you'll only be receiving a portion of your pre-surgery income. For example, you might receive 40% to 60% of your salary during your recovery. As a result, it's important to budget your finances to ensure you will have enough monthly income to cover your living expenses.

Your spouse or partner may be eligible for financial assistance through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This can help with the financial burden if your loved one leaves work to care for you during the recovery period, so be sure they inform their employer of your surgery as well.

If you need to rely on savings to cover expenses during this time, you can inform any of your creditors and utility companies and ask if they can reduce or suspend monthly payments for a few months.

The most important part of this experience is to focus on your health and recovery so that you can return to work. The short-term disability payments will end once you resume work, but they can be a good source of income and allow for peace of mind during your recovery time.

Short-Term Disability vs. Long-Term Disability

Short-term disability insurance (SDI) provides income when recovering from surgery or a temporary disability. However, SDI only pays out a specific percentage of your pre-disability income. Also, the benefit period has an expiration date, which is typically no longer than six months. However, employees should refer to the plan's benefits package since the pay and length of time for coverage can vary.

Conversely, long-term disability insurance typically provides financial assistance for a longer period as a result of a catastrophic illness or injury. The coverage can last for a few years or the remainder of your life, depending on the disability and the insurance policy. Also, long-term disability insurance doesn't start until a specific amount of time has passed, such as 90 days.

However, your short-term disability policy might be able to cover the gap until your long-term disability benefits begin. Typically, long-term disability comes with higher premiums than SDI.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is surgery considered a disability?

Yes. Surgery is considered a disability, and workers can qualify for short-term disability benefits if it's deemed by a medical professional that the worker can no longer perform their job.

What is the shortest amount of short-term disability?

Typically, short-term disability (SDI) coverage can last up to three to six months, but benefits can vary depending on the insurance policy. Also, SDI pays a specific percentage of your pay, such as 60% of your pay, for example.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vanderbilt University. "Short-Term Disability."

  2. Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. "What’s the Difference Between Long Term and Short Term Disability Insurance?"

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