After two months of pandemic lockdowns around the country, many states are now allowing businesses to reopen, albeit with new social distancing policies.
This has put many workers, particularly those with autoimmune disorders, in a bind.
A common refrain I see on social media is that “you should just stay home if you’re worried about catching the virus.”
But many workers with compromised immune systems don’t really have that luxury. It’s a question of either going to work and risk catching the novel coronavirus, or stay home and quickly run out of money. Unemployment typically will not pay benefits if your employer is reopened.
Is this an area where disability could help? It’s a possibility, but it will likely be a lengthy process to get approved.
Remember that Social Security disability claims are analyzed under a five-step process. Step 2 analyzes whether an individual suffers from a severe impairment that has more than a minimal impact on their ability to work and is expected to last at least 12 months.
Numerous autoimmune disorders, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and even type 1 diabetes fit this criteria.
If these impairments are not automatically disabled at Step 3, then Social Security considers whether these impairments allow a claimant to perform their past work or any other jobs in the national economy- without accommodations.
Given that even the most optimistic estimates state that a vaccine won’t be widely available until late 2021, I would argue that many individuals with well-documented autoimmune disorders could not safely perform any jobs they might be qualified for, at least for the duration of the pandemic, and would meet the criteria to be found disabled under Social Security’s rules right now.
This could be an especially strong argument in cases involving individuals over age 50 or 55, which is when it becomes easier to qualify for disability under Social Security’s rules.
Whether Social Security and its administrative law judges will accept this argument is another matter, but it’s something that I expect to come up in the coming months as many individuals who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic apply for disability.