How long do short-term disability insurance benefits last in the event of a valid claim? Is the answer different for a woman taking maternity leave?

There is no single correct number of weeks or months. If you find one – ignore it.

First, every accident and illness have different recovery times. The benefits stop once you are able to resume working in your full-time occupation.

Second, every policy has different combinations of the elimination and benefit period. These two features interact to determine the length of claim payments while you are still in recovery.

Combine these two factors together to estimate how long your short-term disability will last. Beware; your insurance company makes the final decision.

Length of Short-Term Disability Claim Payments

The length of short-term disability insurance claim payments can range from one or two weeks up to two full years. The answer is different for each personal situation, as well as two features embedded in every policy.

Keep these elements in mind when pondering how the coverage works. It costs more to have a better plan. In the event of a claim, people always want the best policy. Unfortunately, the reverse is true when signing up.

Duration of Disability

Short-term disability can last no longer than the time you are unable to perform the duties of your full-time occupation due to a covered accident or illness. In addition, you must be under the care of a licensed physician.

The claim payments stop immediately after a doctor declares that you are healthy enough to resume the duties of your full-time job. You are no longer meet the qualifications after you recover.

However, two policy features may factor into the equation and shorten the time further.

Benefit Period

The policy benefit period is the primary feature that determines how long short-term disability claim payments last while you are unable to work due to a covered medical condition.

Most people choose the benefit period when purchasing or enrolling in their policy. The premium cost moves with the length of this feature. Many people choose short time frames to keep the coverage affordable.

This feature comes into play when your disability lasts longer. For example, follow the simple math illustrations for a person disabled for 12 months beyond the elimination period stated in the policy.

Benefit Period (Months) Claim Duration (Months)
3 3
6 6
12 12
24 12

Elimination Period

The policy elimination period can also affect how long short-term disability lasts in certain situations. The elimination period defines the length of time you must be unable to work before claim payments can begin.

This factor comes into play when your disabling medical condition resolves before the benefit period expires. For example, follow the math for a person disabled for 4 months (91 days) with a policy that pays for 6 months.

Elimination Period (Days) Claim Duration (Days)
7 84
14 77
30 61
60 31
90 1

When Payments End

What happens when short-term disability ends? The insurance company stops making claim payments and you must fend for yourself. A handful of government-based programs may provide some help after the benefits stop.

  • The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides legal job and health insurance protections for up to twelve weeks – if your employer is covered, and if you meet other eligibility criteria. However, this time off is unpaid.
  • Filing for unemployment compensation is an option if you lose your job or quit while unable to work. Several states excuse good cause reasons for an employee’s own disabling medical condition. However, you must be physically able to resume working in order to qualify.
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is an option for people whose medical condition is expected to last one year or longer. Apply for SSDI if you fit this description. However, SSDI does not cover temporary disabilities.

Length of Short-Term Disability for Maternity Leave

How long is short-term disability for maternity leave? Your disability duration, and the two key policy features all play a role in answering this question. In other words, each woman will experience a different length for her claim payments.

The duration of your disability is the wildcard. Now you could be stacking three separate reasons together. The insurance company will consider this a single continuing disability.

 Duration = Pregnancy Leave + Recovery from Childbirth + Postpartum Disorders 

Early Pregnancy Leave

A woman taking an early pregnancy leave may see her short-term disability payments last up to her due date – after first satisfying the policy elimination period – if her benefit period is sufficient.

An early pregnancy leave beginning in the first trimester can last up to 9 months, which could result in three different outcomes depending on the policy configuration.

Benefit Period (Months) Claim Duration* (Months)
3 3
6 6
12 9
24 9

* Pregnancy leave always triggers the elimination period when filing a claim. However, you need to satisfy it only once. This policy feature reduces the number of weeks or months payments last during this phase.

Recovery from Childbirth

The length of short-term disability claim payments for maternity leave after childbirth has possible exceptions to each of the three rules outlined above.

  1. There is a fixed duration for her recovery from labor and delivery
    1. 6 weeks for vaginal birth
    2. 8 weeks for Cesarean Section
  2. The elimination period may or may not apply
    1. Does not apply if used during pregnancy leave before birth
    2. Does apply if first taking leave to give birth
  3. The benefit period may or may not expire
    1. Long pregnancy leave may exhaust the time
    2. 12-month or longer always suffices

Therefore, shorter elimination periods and longer benefit periods work better. Keep this in mind when purchasing coverage in advance of conception.

Postpartum Disorders

Short-term disability for maternity leave can extend even further if mom experiences medically based postpartum disorders. Infections and bleeding are the two most common reasons for postpartum women to delay their return to work.

The length of the policy benefit period chosen at application time comes into play yet again. You are stacking a third reason with an indefinite time horizon onto your claim. Having a 12 or 24-month policy provides the greatest peace of mind for postpartum mothers.