Can I Volunteer While on LTD in Ontario?

One question that people who are receiving disability benefits often ask is “can I volunteer while I’m on LTD?”

At any stage of life, the benefits of volunteering can be great. Volunteering can improve both mental and physical health, reduce stress, and lessen depression. And across Ontario, countless organizations accomplish vitally important work thanks to volunteers. So, if you feel up to volunteering while on LTD, you’ve got nothing to lose, right?

Well, it’s not quite that simple. On one hand, volunteering can be a good way to build up stamina following an illness or injury, refresh your skills or learn new ones, and maintain some mood-boosting social contact during a time that’s otherwise isolating. It feels good to contribute to your community, at a time when your self-esteem and sense of purpose may be low.  In fact, some people use volunteering as an opportunity to transition back to work.

But this can get tricky, because at some point, the insurer may start to think that if you can volunteer, you can get back to work, and decide that you no longer need benefits.  Even if you’re doing tasks that are much simpler or less demanding than your previous work, from the insurer’s perspective, that could be a sign that you have the ability to earn an income.

While on LTD, at any given point, you’re covered under an “own occupation” or “any occupation” plan. If your plan is “own occupation” then you should not be doing volunteer duties that are comparable to the job you left before you went on LTD. However, there could be other types of simpler volunteer roles that would not point towards you being capable of doing your old job duties.

On the other hand, if your plan is “any occupation,” then the insurer may argue that a broader range of volunteer duties could just as well be work duties for which you could earn a pay cheque. Under an “any occupation” plan, it’s harder to make the case that you are well enough to volunteer, but not to hold down a paying job.

So what should you do? The best course is to consult with your case manager. They might even encourage you to test the waters with some casual volunteer work. Remember: they want you to get back to work, and volunteering might help get you on track towards meeting that goal.

When talking to your case manager, be sure to be clear about the tasks, physical demands, frequency, etc., of your potential volunteer work.

In short: volunteering has great health benefits, but stay in touch with your case manager about it. The last thing you want is for the insurer to find out you are doing a lot of volunteer work that they didn’t know about. That would almost certainly signal the beginning of the end of your LTD benefits.