Union Meeting Including Disabled Worker in Wheelchair Union representatives can be an important ally at work. They can negotiate on your behalf, help resolve workplace conflicts, and step in when a long-term disability threatens your employment. But if your employer benefits package includes union-funded long-term disability benefits, you may need to know how best to work with your union reps, and when to get your own independent attorney.

This blog post will look at how an employee’s collective bargaining agreement may affect the process for claiming long-term disability coverage. It will explain what to look for in your union benefits plan, and it will explain how you may have to work with your union rep in obtaining long-term disability coverage. It will also explain your right to choose your own attorney to appeal disability denials under union-funded long-term disability policies.

Collective Bargaining Agreements and Long-Term Disability Benefits

Union membership often brings with it stronger employee benefits packages than when employees go it alone. When employees band together to negotiate contracts, their collective bargaining agreements are more likely to include paid time off, better health insurance, and short- and long-term disability insurance. They also get the benefit of a union representative who can intercede for them when problems arise at work.

However, that extra power at the bargaining table often brings with it an extra step in the process before you can file a lawsuit to collect long-term disability benefits. Employer-provided and union-funded long-term disability insurance contracts are controlled by ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act). This federal law requires an injured employee to exhaust his or her administrative remedies in-house and through the appropriate federal and state regulatory agencies before filing a complaint in court to collect their benefits. If yours is a union shop, that could mean that you are legally required to file and complete a grievance through your union representative before you can turn to the court for help.

This can sometimes cause problems if the union grievance process takes too long to finish. State laws sometimes place time-limits on how long you can wait after becoming disabled before you file a long-term disability claim (these limits are called statutes of limitations). But starting a union grievance doesn’t turn off the clock on that time limit. If your grievance is filed late or your union representative takes too long to resolve your dispute, you could miss your chance to take the case to court.

When Union Reps are Also Long-Term Disability Plan Administrators

Your union representative is supposed to be your ally — representing your interests against employers and insurance representatives. However, sometimes, a union rep’s priorities can become clouded when the union itself is also the plan administrator for your long-term disability plan.  When pressure to limit the benefits a plan pays out conflicts with your need for full benefits, it is a good idea to get an independent long-term disability attorney to work on your behalf.

Depending on the arrangements your union has made with attorneys and insurance providers, your union rep may strongly recommend you work with one of their chosen firms, even going so far as to promise special pricing or reduced attorney fees. However, the union cannot require you to work with its lawyers, and in the case of a conflict where the union is the Plan administrator, this may not be a good idea. The decision of who you work with is up to you.

You have the right to work the attorney of your choice. If you get the impression that a union representative is pushing you to accept a denial on your claim or settle for less than what you deserve, you should meet with an independent long-term disability attorney as soon as possible to make sure the union is fairly representing your interests, and that you won’t accidentally miss your opportunity to file a claim in court.

At Bross & Frankel, our long-term disability attorneys are here to help. We understand when and how to work with union representatives to get you the benefits you need. We will review your case, including any pressing statute of limitations concerns, to make sure your representative has your best interests in mind. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.

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