Lyme Disease - Work & Disability
Many people with chronic Lyme disease are able to continue working either full or part time. Others find that their symptoms are so severe, continuing to work is impossible. When that happens, it may be necessary to consider applying for disability.
Whether you're struggling to continue working or trying to navigate the disability maze, the following sections offer guidance and tips to help you along your journey.
Working with Lyme Disease
A 2014 survey of more than 3,000 chronic Lyme disease patients, conducted by LymeDisease.org, revealed that over 40% were currently unable to work because of LD. While working when you have chronic LD is not easy, it does offer some important benefits if you're able to do it. In addition to the obvious financial benefits, working can contribute to feelings of self-worth, provide opportunities for social interaction, offer intellectual challenges and even help distract your mind from your illness for periods of time as you focus on your job tasks.
In most cases, there are modifications that can be made to your job, schedule or workspace that can improve your ability to continue working and increase your productivity. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most employers are obligated to make "reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities.
The following list of possible modifications for people with Lyme disease is provided by the U.S. Department of Labor's Job Accommodation Network. You can use this list when discussing suggested modifications with your employer.
Accommodation ideas for individuals with Lyme disease:
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides free, confidential technical assistance about job accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). See the JAN website for contact information.
- Pain: Lyme disease may result in chronic pain and arthritic-type symptoms. For additional information on accommodations for chronic pain and arthritis, visit SOAR's Accommodation Ideas for Arthritis and JAN's publication titled Accommodating People with Chronic Pain.
- Fatigue: Fatigue is often associated with Lyme disease. Possible solutions include a reduced work schedule, periodic rest breaks, a transfer to a less physically demanding job, and the flexible use of leave time. Individuals may also benefit from implementing ergonomic principles. For additional information on ergonomics, visit: Ergonomics in the Workplace: A Resource Guide. For more information on chronic fatigue, visit SOAR's Accommodation Ideas for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
- Stress Management: Individuals who have had Lyme disease often benefit from reduction or elimination of stress. This may involve reducing stress in the individual's current position, transfer to a less stressful position, a flexible schedule to recover from any effects caused by workplace stress, and work at home to avoid workplace stress. Access to employee assistance programs (EAP) may also be helpful.
- Managing Depression: Because some individuals with Lyme disease have short or long-term depression, developing workplace strategies to deal with work problems before they arise, providing sensitivity training to coworkers, allowing telephone calls during work hours to doctors and others for support, and easy access to information on counseling and employee assistance programs are beneficial.
- Skin Sensitivity: Individuals with Lyme disease may experience skin sensitivity around the tick bite. Individuals may need protective clothing, to avoid certain hazardous chemicals, and reassignment if their previous jobs involved working outside.
- Headache: Migraine headaches may be one long-term effect of Lyme disease. For additional information on accommodations for migraine headaches, visit SOAR's Accommodation Ideas for Individuals with Migraine Headaches.
- Dealing with loss of vision: An individual with Lyme disease may have vision limitations. Visit JAN's SOAR for Vision Impairments for accommodation ideas.
Social Security Disability Insurance
If you are no longer able to continue working, you may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. Going through the process of applying for SSD is generally not a simple task. Therefore, it's important to learn all you can about the process before you begin in order to maximize your chances of being approved. The following information and especially the suggested articles can help you navigate the system as smoothly as possible.
There are two types of disability benefits available through the Social Security Administration (SSA):
If you're unsure which program best fits your situation, use the Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool to see which you may be eligible for. The information here applies only to SSDI. For more information about applying for SSI, see: Supplemental Security Income Home Page
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) - Pays benefits if you have worked long enough and have paid Social Security taxes within the past five years.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) - Pays benefits based on your financial need.
In determining whether or not you are disabled, SSA asks five questions:
For answers to frequently asked questions about how the SSA determines the answers to questions four and five, see: Work and Education Information the SSA Needs
- Are you working? If you are working and earning an average of more than $980 a month, they do not consider you disabled.
- Is your condition "severe"? Your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities.
- Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions? The SSA has a list of conditions they consider so severe, they automatically mean you are disabled. If your condition is not on the list, they have to decide if it is equal in severity to another condition on the list. To check the SSA list of disabling conditions, see: Listing of Impairments. If your condition is not on the list or equal in severity, they then move to question 4.
- Can you do the work you did previously? If the SSA determines that your condition does not interfere with the work you previously did, your claim will be denied. If it does interfere, they then proceed to question 5.
- Can you do any other type of work? It's not enough just to be unable to do your previous job. They also look at your medical conditions, age, education, past work experience and transferable skills to determine if you could adjust to doing other types of jobs.
These articles will provide you with additional in-depth information about applying for SSDI, particularly in relation to Lyme disease:
Social Security Disability (SSDI & SSI) for Lyme Disease
Can You Get Disability Benefits for Lyme Disease?
Facts About Lyme Disease and Filing for Disability
Social Security Disability for Lyme Disease: A How-To Guide
Long-Term Disability Insurance
If you have long-term disability insurance through your employer, you may be able to receive benefits - at least for a period of time - when you are no longer able to work due to chronic Lyme disease. Be aware, though, that you will likely meet with substantial resistance from your insurance company. Long-term disability (LTD) insurance companies routinely deny or limit claims for diseases like chronic Lyme because the symptoms are "self-reported" (e.g., pain, fatigue, headaches).
Be sure to read your policy carefully to find out whether and for how long you may be able to receive benefits for chronic Lyme disease. The following paragraph is a sample of typical language that may be used in an LTD policy to limit eligibility.
Benefits will be terminated after 24 months for those with disabilities which are based primarily on self-reported symptoms, and disabilities due to alcoholism, drug abuse, or mental illness. Self-reported symptoms include manifestations of your condition that are not able to be verified using tests, procedures, or examinations commonly accepted in the practice of medicine, including headaches, pain, fatigue, soreness, numbness, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and loss of energy.
Another tactic employed by LTD insurance companies to limit eligibility involves chronic Lyme disease patients who also have depression, anxiety or any other "mental impairment" in addition to their physical illness. Many policies restrict benefits to a maximum of two years if the mental impairment "contributes to" the overall disability and inability to work. In order to prevent the insurance company from taking advantage of the mental impairment clause, the patient, their doctor and attorneys must document that the depression or anxiety does not contribute to the disability caused by chronic Lyme disease.
These articles will provide you with additional in-depth information about applying for LDI, particularly in relation to chronic Lyme disease:
Update for patients with CFS/CFIDS/ME, fibromyalgia and Lyme Disease on important issues affecting Long-term Disability Insurance and Social Security Disability
Disability Insurance Q&A - Attorney Team Answers Your Questions
VIDEO: Top 5 Reasons for Long-Term Disability Insurance Denials
When You Can't Manage a Full Workload - Partial Disability May Be an Option
Last Updated: 5/5/15