Imagine this: you go to the doctor and find out that you'll need to have foot surgery. Your job requires you to be on your feet during the entirety of your 12-hour shifts. You won't be able to work while you take weeks to heal. What would you do for money?
Unfortunately, this exact situation happened to my wife (then my fiancée) not once, but twice.
Here's how we survived financially and what you need to know should you ever end up in a similar position:
Foot Surgery Is Tough
Foot surgery isn't fun, but it is even less fun when you can't put any weight on your foot for 10 weeks. That's exactly what my wife had to deal with when she had her first foot surgery. Sadly, this also meant that she wouldn't be able to work. We wouldn't be getting a paycheck from her employer, either. Thankfully, we had short-term disability insurance through her workplace.
We thought we would be getting 80 percent of a typical full-time employee's paycheck through the insurance. We were wrong.
Her employer listed her as just 83 percent of a full-time employee, so we only received the equivalent of 26.56 hours of pay per week, instead of the 32 hours that we were expecting. My wife normally worked 36 to 40 hours a week, so the reduction in pay was quite a shock, although it was nowhere near as shocking as if she had received no pay at all.
During this time, she was working diligently to pay off more than $80,000 of student loan debt that she had incurred to become a registered nurse. But she had to put that goal on hold. Rather than making extra payments every chance she had, she only made minimum payments during the whole short-term disability period, just in case it took longer to recover than anticipated.
Essentially, she ended up losing 10 hours of pay per week for 12 weeks, or 120 hours overall, that she would have completely dedicated to paying down her debt during her first foot surgery recovery.
The Second Time Was Worse Than the First
If it wasn't bad enough that we had to deal with foot surgery once, it happened again. My wife had another foot problem that needed to be corrected immediately. This time, she was out of work for 26 weeks. But thankfully, disability saved us again. And this time, she lost 240 hours of pay due to the way disability worked.
But now that my wife had missed more than a total of 12 weeks of work in less than one year, her job was no longer protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Her employer said they'd still have a job for her if she let them know two weeks before she was ready to go back to work.
Little did we know at the time, she would actually have to interview for the job as if she hadn't been a previous employee. It took more than the two weeks that HR had quoted. Once her disability ran out, my wife had to start using her paid time off (PTO) to continue getting paid. Thankfully, her employer finally gave her a position right when her PTO was about to run out.
Check Your Short- and Long-Term Disability Options
As you can see, disability can cause some major financial problems.
We were lucky and had short-term disability insurance through my wife's work, but not everyone has the same benefits.
Check and see if you have short-term disability through your workplace. If you don't, you could substitute short-term disability with a fully stocked six-month emergency fund. You could also purchase short-term disability insurance yourself on the private market.
Even more devastating than short-term disability is long-term disability. If you're out of work for an extended period of time, even a six-month emergency fund may not be enough to support your family for as long as it takes to recover. Make sure that you either have long-term disability insurance or have a plan should you ever run into this unfortunate circumstance.