Dear Ontario Teachers,
These are unprecedented and uncertain times for your profession. Over the past few weeks, we have paid close attention to your response to the province’s back-to-school plans. We have heard you express your desire to return to the classroom, as well as your concerns for the health and safety of your students, yourselves and your families. We hear you and we understand the stress and anxiety you are feeling as the start of this new school year looms.
As parents and as members of our community, we can appreciate the tough decisions and challenges that you as teachers are facing now and with which you will continue to be faced in the coming weeks and months.
As disability insurance lawyers representing Ontario Teachers in their disability insurance lawsuits with OTIP, we can also appreciate how these tough decisions and challenges could affect your mental and physical health and wellbeing and lead to periods of sick leave and even long-term disability.
If that should happen, we would like you to know that we are here to support you. If you need help applying for long-term disability (LTD) benefits to OTIP, disputing the denial or termination of your LTD benefits or if you simply have a question or concern about LTD, we are here for you. We want to support you, just as you support our children and our communities.
We hear your concerns. While the most obvious risk of returning to teaching in the classroom is the risk of contracting COVID-19, we know there are a whole host of other concerns related to COVID-19 that are probably also weighing heavily on your mind.
You may have an existing medical condition that puts you at higher risk for complications from COVID-19 or you may have a family member who is “high-risk”. In either case, it is understandable that you would be experiencing high levels of anxiety about returning to the classroom in a few short weeks.
Of course, some degree of anxiety is expected given the circumstances but if you, like many teachers and other professionals, have an existing mental health condition (such as depression, anxiety or panic) or if you have a history of mental illness, even the thought of returning to the classroom during this pandemic could trigger or aggravate your mental health condition and result in a serious and long-term disability.
Similarly, if you have some other medical condition (such as gastrointestinal or heart conditions) or chronic “invisible” conditions (such as chronic pain or chronic fatigue) which are particularly sensitive to stress, there is a very real possibility that the stress of returning to work could aggravate your medical condition. While you may have been able to manage your symptoms over the past several months, now with school only weeks away, you may be beginning to notice that your symptoms have worsened due to stress. You may be worried that the stress of returning to teaching at this time could have serious implications for your health.
If you have already become sick with COVID-19 and you are still struggling to fully recover or if you have been on medical leave for some other illness or injury (unrelated to COVID-19) when the pandemic began and you are beginning to feel better, you might be contemplating returning to teaching. Some of you may feel “forced” to return to teaching by OTIP or your school board or due to family and financial pressures. Whatever the case may be, if you have been unwell in recent months, you are probably feeling significant anxiety and doubt as to whether you will be physically or mentally able to teach (in person or even, online). You may be seriously wondering whether now is the “right” time for you to be returning to work.
We want to reassure you that we believe your concerns are legitimate and the stress and anxiety you are feeling right now is understandable. We know how stressful teaching can be in the best of times and these are some of the worst of times. Based on our experience as disability lawyers and out of our concern for our province’s teachers, we urge you to be mindful of the risk of triggering or aggravating a mental health or physical condition by returning to work too soon or continuing to work when you are not well. It is crucial that you take care of yourselves during the coming weeks and months so that you are able to continue to care for your children and your families and also continue to educate and care for our children in the long-term.
Normally, most of us do not expect to become too sick to work but it does happen, even to the best of us. These are not “normal” times and given the current demands on you as educators, as parents and as human beings, we are concerned that you and your colleagues are now more at risk than ever of becoming disabled from teaching, either due to COVID-19 or due to other mental or physical health conditions, related or unrelated to COVID-19.
As teachers (like us lawyers), you can appreciate the value of being prepared. Preparedness in this pandemic, as in most situations, can help us relieve some stress, allowing us to free up mental and emotional space to function better in our daily lives. Being prepared for a period of illness or disability during this pandemic is no different in terms of easing some of our stress and anxiety about the unknown. While you may already know what to do if you are not able to teach due to illness (you can apply for sick leave and then LTD benefits from OTIP), you might not have considered what would happen if your LTD claim is denied by OTIP or if your LTD benefits are later terminated.
If for whatever reason OTIP denies your LTD claim or terminates your benefits down the road, you will have some options. You could seek to appeal the decision with support from an OTIP representative or from your union or you may decide to work with a disability lawyer to help you dispute the denial of your benefits, either by way of an appeal to OTIP or by way of a lawsuit. Keep in mind that not all disability lawyers have experience litigating OTIP LTD claims. OTIP LTD claims are complex and deal with issues that do not typically arise in other LTD lawsuits.
Our law firm, MK Disability Lawyers LLP, is “teacher-focused”. Our three law partners have over 50 years of combined experience litigating OTIP LTD claims. Between us, we have represented hundreds of educators. One of our partners, Courtney Mulqueen has the added advantage and insight of having worked as an in-house lawyer at Manulife, where she defended OTIP and Manulife LTD claims. We are a proudly women-led disability insurance law firm that understands the intricacies of OTIP policies, as well as the unique issues and challenges Ontario Teachers encounter when they become disabled from work.
We encourage you to contact us if your LTD claim has been denied or terminated by OTIP. We offer free consultations to help you decide whether to appeal the denial of your claim to OTIP or whether to proceed straight to litigation, suing OTIP and the insurance company.
If you choose to appeal, we are here to assist you with your appeal; either by consulting with you (and possibly your union representative) in the background or by taking over your appeal for you by dealing directly with OTIP on your behalf, allowing you to focus all of your energy on your recovery. When the best or only option is to proceed to litigation, we can normally get started on your lawsuit right away to ensure that a resolution is reached, as soon as possible. In either case, it is important that you not wait to dispute the OTIP decision, in order to protect your job, as well as your financial security. There are also important limitation periods under your collective agreement and under the Limitations Act for starting court actions.
As an added support, during this pandemic only, we are offering Ontario Teachers free consultations at the sick leave/LTD application stage. If you are considering sick leave and/or applying for LTD, we encourage you to contact us to schedule a time for us to discuss the details of your LTD claim. We will discuss the claims process with you, provide you with direction with respect to what to include in your initial claim and review of your claims forms before you submit them. Every claim is different and it is important that you use wording and provide medical evidence that will be most supportive and persuasive to OTIP and result in the approval of your claim.
We appreciate that there are a number of resources available to help you in your LTD claim application and appeal. Unlike many other resources provided by OTIP (such as your school board and your union), we have the unique perspective that comes only from seeing and litigating countless OTIP LTD claims that have been denied or terminated and we can use that insight and experience to help you avoid those outcomes.
In anticipation of back-to-school and in an effort to ease some stress on Ontario Teachers, we are offering Teachers a free 30-minute webinar focussed on preparing you to make an LTD claim during COVID-19, should you find yourself unable to work in the coming weeks and months.
We will share our insights gained from decades of representing Ontario Teachers in their LTD disputes with OTIP, including helpful tips and information specific to OTIP LTD claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, while addressing the following subjects:
This webinar will be offered live via Zoom on the following dates/times:
Space is limited. To register, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating the date/time that you would like to attend. We will send you a confirmation email, including the Zoom connection details, in advance of the session. We can also send you instructions on how to participate anonymously in the webinar, if you would like to request that option.
If you are not able to attend any of the live sessions or if the sessions have passed, please contact us and we will share a link to a recorded webinar.
If you have specific questions about LTD, please contact us to schedule a free individual consultation. We also invite you to visit our website www.mkdisabilitylawyers.com, where you will find an extensive collection of blog articles about LTD, including our Guide to LTD for Union Representatives and information related to applying LTD during COVID-19.
We hope that you will not hesitate to contact us if you need us in the coming weeks and months. We are here to support you during this challenging time and we will make ourselves available to you, if you need us.
Courtney, Rupa and Leanne
Partners, MK Disability Lawyers LLP