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THE QUESTION

I am a 54-year-old woman. I worked for Company A from 1996 to 2006, then moved to Company B and while there, collected long-term disability payments from 2007 to 2009. I returned to the original company in 2012 and was let go in February of 2015. My contract guaranteed severance, and after some back and forth, they paid me that amount. But my pre-existing health issues have since returned. I can't find other work and my doctor says that I should be on long-term disability, but the company says that benefit is no longer available. What are my options?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Bill Howatt
Chief research and development officer, workforce productivity, Morneau Shepell, Toronto

At this point, you are doing the right thing: Exploring your options by asking good questions. This is one of the best approaches when one is stuck. By asking others for their point of view, you may be able to shed light on issues you have not thought of before. There's a normal grieving process when one's health slips, but what one thinks and chooses to do ultimately defines one's quality of life.

As you obtain options, it is advisable to write out the problem you want to solve and why. This will position you to determine what a minimal, viable solution looks like, and as you get your facts, you will be able to make an informed decision about where and how you want to spend your energy.

It appears that your work situation has ended as well as it can. However, if you still feel you have further entitlements, one option is to investigate this with an employment lawyer.

If you are convinced you can no longer work, the focus now appears to be on your health. What financial and emotional support can you get to stabilize or improve your short-and long-term quality of life? You may decide your priority is to put in place an action place that meets your minimal financial needs, and to focus your energy and efforts on what you can to do stabilize your health, improve it, or at least prevent any decline in your condition.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Daniel Lublin
Employment lawyer, Whitten & Lublin, Toronto

Following a termination, employers have several obligations to continue health benefits, including long-term disability benefits, for a certain period of time but not forever. Once that obligation ends, if an employee is ill or injured, it is too late to make any claims under their former benefits plan or against the ex-employer.

Employers generally have to continue all benefits the employee held while employed for a reasonable period of time following termination. This time frame is determined by various factors, such as an employee's age, tenure and position, the provincial employment standards legislation, any contractual agreement signed, an agreement made at the time of termination or a time frame set by a court.

In cases where employers have not continued all benefits for a fair or contractually required time period and ex-employees can prove that they would have otherwise received insurance or disability insurance coverage had those benefits been continued, courts have awarded damages against employers to compensate the employee for the lost benefits.

However, if an illness or injury occurs following the time frame when benefits should have been continued, then the employer and insurance company are no longer responsible to pay out any benefits. For any just-dismissed employee, this is one of the most important reasons to ensure that benefits continuation or replacement benefits are put into place.

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