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About the same percentage of employees believe their employer would pay either all or none of their salary if they needed to miss work for health reasons

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According to the Social Security Administration, 25% of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching retirement age.

A career-altering disability impacting your ability to earn an income is a very real possibility.

What happens then? The Federal Reserve notes 30% of all Americans don't have enough cash savings to cover a $400 emergency expense, so the long-term outlook for many is grim.

With these two data points in mind, do US workers have a good understanding of what their employment and income protections are in the event they need to miss work due to injury, illness, or other reasons like taking care of a sick loved one?

Does workers' compensation cover injuries and illnesses outside of the workplace?

Do all US employees automatically qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Would their employer continue paying 100% or 50% of their wages if they needed to take several months off to recover from a disabling event?

Asking these questions and a few more, Breeze surveyed 1,507 actively-employed US workers to gauge their understanding of workplace and income protections.

Plurality of employees believe all US workers automatically qualify for FMLA

The following question was asked to 1,507 employed respondents: Do all US employees automatically qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they need to take time off of work for family or medical reasons?

  • 38% incorrectly answered "yes"
  • 32% correctly answered "no"
  • 30% said "unsure"

FMLA is a federal program that provides qualified employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year with health benefits due to family or medical reasons.

Key word being qualified. Not all employees are eligible for FMLA. The basic requirements include the following:

  • you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months & 1,250 hours
  • your employer must employ at least 50 people within 75 miles of employer's worksite
  • after meeting the above, your employer ultimately gets to decide if your case is covered under FMLA

Only 32% of employed poll participants knew that not all US workers are covered under FMLA. Many employees are holding a false sense of security that they can take up to three months off each year for family or medical reasons and still have their job waiting for them when that time runs out.

This can lead to major issues in the workplace, which is why it's important for HR and leadership to keep their employees informed on the protections they have.

For example, let's say an employee at a 15-person company is dealing with severe depression and assumes they can take job-protected time off under FMLA. The reality is they would not be covered and might have to continue working or risk losing their job.

On a state-level, 13 states have their own paid family and medical leave programs, but these too are subject to eligibility requirements like hours worked or employer size. The majority of the states either have no state-level program or unpaid programs where qualifications must be met.

1/5 believe workers' comp covers injuries and illnesses outside of work

Another question posed to 1,507 employed respondents read as follows: Does workers compensation cover you if you suffer from an injury or illness that happened outside of and unrelated to your work/job?

  • 19% incorrectly answered "yes"
  • 61% correctly answered "no"
  • 20% answered "not sure"

Workers' compensation is a type of accident insurance paid by employers that provides benefits and covers some of your lost wages if you get injured or become ill on the job.

Key phrase on this one being on the job. Workers' comp does not cover employees that experience an illness or injury unrelated to their job.

While the majority of employed survey participants knew this, a significant amount (19%) believed workers' comp covers ailments outside of work, while another 20% were unsure either way.

Similar to the FMLA data above, it indicates many US workers are holding a false sense of security that should a career-altering accident happen to them, they'll be covered.

Why is the problematic? For example, a worker could refrain from buying disability insurance because they think workers' comp provides the same coverage. If they then get severely injured outside of work, they have zero income protection and are left financially exposed.

For reference, disability insurance covers injuries and illnesses regardless of where and how they took place.

1/4 think all employees automatically qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance

In addition to FMLA and workers' comp, there's Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Here's what we asked to our employed poll participants: Do all US employees automatically qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if any type of injury or illness prevents them from working for a period of time?

  • 25% incorrectly answered "yes"
  • 35% correctly answered "no"
  • 41% answered "not sure"

SSDI is a federal program commonly referred to as "government disability" that provides supplemental income to people restricted from working due to disability. SSDI has a strict definition of disability and qualifying is rather confusing.

Not every employee qualifies for SSDI. To be eligible, you must pay taxes into the Social Security system and have enough work credits. Work credits are earned by paying taxes, and a maximum of 4 can be earned each year.

The older you are, the more work credits are needed to qualify for SSDI. If you become disabled before 24, you may only need 6 credits. At age 43, you need 21 credits. At 62, you need a maximum of 40 credits to qualify.

It's estimated almost 156 million workers have earned SSDI protection through their payroll tax contributions.

However, even if you have enough credits to qualify for SSDI, you still may not be eligible if you don't meet SSDI's definition of disability.

To qualify, you must be significantly limited in your ability to do basic work like lifting, standing, walking, sitting, and remembering. Moreover, the condition must be severe enough that it’s expected to last at least 12 months and/or result in death. Otherwise, Social Security will not consider you disabled.

27% say their employer would totally stop paying their salary if they needed 4 months to recover from health issues

For another part of this study, we wanted to gauge how employees thought their employers would handle the former needing at least 4 months off of work to recover from an injury or illness.

The question went like this: If you suffered from an injury or illness that required you take at least 4 full months completely off of work to recover, do you believe your current employer would continue to pay xx% of your monthly salary during that recovery time?

The answers from our 1,507 actively employed poll participants went like this:

  • 34% believe their employer would continue paying 100% of their salary
  • 49% believe their employer would continue paying 75% of their salary
  • 68% believe their employer would continue paying 50% of their salary
  • 27% believe their employer would totally stop paying their salary

These numbers are interesting in a couple of ways.

First, it's interesting to see the majority of employees are confident their employer would continue paying at least half of their salary if they needed to completely stop working for at least 4 months. More than one-third thought they'd continue to get 100% of their salary.

It could be a sign of great employer-employee relationships and strong benefits in the workplace. But on the other hand, employers are under no legal obligation to continue paying any salary unless the injury or illness was related to the job. Because of this, having these conversations with your employer and knowing your benefits (like a group disability insurance plan) are imperative.

Second, it was eye-opening to see nearly 3 in 10 employees believe their employer would totally stop paying their salary for 4 months. This is doubly true because many respondents were incorrect on the questions about FMLA, SSDI, and workers' comp.

In other words, they may not be overly concerned if they think their employer would stop paying their salary because they believe they'd still be covered under one of these programs.

It plays into the recurring theme of this study that many American workers might have a false sense of security when it comes to their employment and income protections.

Protecting your income with disability insurance

If there's one thing to be taken from this study of American workers it's that employment and income protections are not guaranteed and are subject to a litany of eligibility requirements.

Because of this, many unqualified employees run the risk of financial disaster if injury or illness leaves them unable to work and earn an income.

And remember, 25% of today's 20-year-olds will face a career-altering disability during their career.

How long could you last if you suddenly found yourself without a regular paycheck to afford rent, mortgage payments, groceries, and all the other expenses life throughs at you?

One possible solution could be disability insurance, which is an insurance product that replaces between 40% and 80% of your income if you suffer a qualifying injury or illness that leaves unable to work for a period of time. It can cover physical injuries, medical illnesses, and mental health issues.

For a benefit period that can range from 3 months to 10 years, disability insurance keeps some of your paycheck coming in at a regular interval.

There's short term disability insurance, which is meant for more temporary things like a broken hand or pregnancy.

And there's long term disability insurance intended to cover severe ailments like cancer or depression.

Unlike workers' comp, disability insurance will cover qualifying ailments that happen on or off the job. A qualifying disability is something that impacts your ability to work.

How much does disability insurance cost? Annually, it's usually between 1% and 4% of your yearly income.

But you can find out your personal disability insurance cost by getting a quote from Breeze in just 30 seconds.

Curious what disability insurance costs? Check your rate here

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey created and commissioned by Breeze and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,507 adult actively-employed Americans were surveyed. The appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s age filtering feature, in addition to an employment filter to ensure only actively-employed adults were surveyed. This survey was conducted over a five-day span, starting on March 24th, 2022 and ending on March 28th, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.

Full survey results

Notes: Some answers won't add up to exactly 100% due to rounding.

If you'd like to see the raw data or data broken down by location, gender, race, age, etc., please email me at [email protected]

1. If you suffered from an injury or illness that required you take at least 4 full months completely off of work to recover, do you believe your current employer would continue to pay 100% of your monthly salary during that recovery time?

  • 34% answered "yes"
  • 66% answered "no"

2. If you suffered from an injury or illness that required you take at least 4 full months completely off of work to recover, do you believe your current employer would continue to pay 75% of your monthly salary during that recovery time?

  • 49% answered "yes"
  • 51% answered "no"

3. If you suffered from an injury or illness that required you take at least 4 full months completely off of work to recover, do you believe your current employer would continue to pay 50% of your monthly salary during that recovery time?

  • 68% answered "yes"
  • 32% answered "no"

4. If you suffered from an injury or illness that required you take at least 4 full months completely off of work to recover, do you believe your current employer would totally stop paying your salary during that recovery time?

  • 27% answered "yes"
  • 73% answered "no"

5. Does workers' compensation cover you if you suffer from an injury or illness that happened outside of and unrelated to your work/job?

  • 19% answered "yes"
  • 61% answered "no"
  • 20% answered "not sure"

6. Do all US employees automatically qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) if any type of injury or illness prevents them from working for a period of time?

  • 25% answered "yes"
  • 35% answered "no"
  • 41% answered "not sure"

7. Do all US employees automatically qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they need to take time off of work for family or medical reasons?

  • 38% answered "yes"
  • 32% answered "no"
  • 30% answered "not sure"
Research
Published April 19, 2022