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THE QUESTION

I receive Canada Pension Plan disability benefits for schizophrenia. I have a 30-hour-a-week job in a low-skill position, thanks to the boss being someone from my church. I am certain that is why I was hired, as I have no experience, and have trouble doing the job. But I show up.

The job is a maternity-leave contract position. But CPP has been calling and saying that I have "a full-time job" so I am going to be cut off soon.

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The CPP caseworker does not get that my job is temporary. My symptoms and lack of social skills make every day a struggle, and I doubt I will be able to locate another job.

Should I talk to a lawyer? I am not sure what course to take and am afraid of having no income when the CPP and the job are both gone.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

It's great that you are working and gaining experience. While I am not an expert in the CPP disability claim process, I understand Service Canada would review the criteria as both being "severe" and "prolonged" preventing someone to be able to work at any job on a "regular" basis. I believe the case officer would review your situation. Based on your current position, to the case officer, you may be seen as having a "regular" job. My advice is to list your exact questions to the case officer:

1. My role is a short-term contract position. Can I reapply for the benefit after the contract is over?

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2. Do I need a medical opinion to continue on this benefit and would this support my application to continue?

3. What other options do I have to support my income with my disability?

It also sounds like you might be selling yourself short in your current role. While you don't need to disclose your disability, I would encourage you to speak with them about any potential positions. List the things you feel comfortable doing so they know what you might be interested in.

I also advise you to obtain a medical opinion about suitable work environments so you can target healthy workplaces.

Seeking a legal opinion for guidance or help with government program applications would alleviate the burden of dealing with case officers directly, but at a cost.

THE SECOND ANSWER

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Sheila Copps

Former deputy prime minister

You are wise to be concerned about your CPP status. If you are on long-term disability, you receive the benefit because you have been deemed unable to work. If you are employed, after a certain period your pension benefit will be terminated.

In some circumstances, disability plans do permit modified employment. Most provincial plans offer the option of returning to work on a part-time basis and keeping a portion of disability benefits. That does not apply to the federal long-term disability offered by CPP, however, as it it designed for those who will never work again.

It is important to be absolutely clear to the CPP caseworker about your current, part-time working status. If you are likely to lose this job at the end of the contract, you need to have a clear picture of your employment rights.

If you have not informed the pension system, it will likely come back to bite you when you least expect it. Receiving benefits and salary can be deemed fraudulent, so you do not want to put your good name at risk.

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You also need to have a frank conversation with your "benevolent" employer. If you have little chance of continuing on, you may want to cut short this contract job so your long-term CPP disability benefits will not be put at risk. You could also explore with your employer ways that you can continue to work, perhaps as a volunteer, to keep you active without financial risk.

A frank discussion with both parties should preclude any visit to a lawyer.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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