For several of our clients, their insurance company has denied or terminated their short term or long term disability benefits for a strange reason: housework. Just recently we represented a client in a Unum case where Unum terminated our client’s monthly disability benefit payment, in part because they claimed “[y]ou have reported a significant level of housework at home.” Oftentimes, you will receive a call from your disability benefits claim specialist asking you several questions about your activities of daily living or you may be required to complete forms regarding your daily activities. On occasion, the insurance company may send a field investigator to your home to interview you about your daily activities and to observe what you are able to do over the course of the interview.
Some of the insurers will take reports about housework and utilize this information to deny benefits claiming that vacuuming, doing laundry and preparing meals indicates that an individual is able to work. Several courts have rejected this as a reason for denying disability benefits. For instance in Hawkins v. First Union, 326 F.3d at 918, the Seventh Circuit specifically rejected this type of reasoning finding that as a matter of common experience an individual’s ability to do some activities at home did not establish that he could do a full-time job. The court noted, for example, that “when one is working at home it is easier to interrupt one’s work every few minutes if need be than to do so at the office.” The court concluded that engaging in a certain amount of activity at home simply “does not prove” that a person is not disabled.
Similarly, in the case of Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 722 (9th Cir. 1998) the court reasoned that “[D]isability claimants should not be penalized for attempting to lead normal lives … Many home activities are not easily transferable to . . . the more grueling environment of the workplace, where it might be impossible to periodically rest or take medication.’ . . . Only if the level of activity were inconsistent with the Claimant’s stated limitations would these activities have any bearing on Claimant’s credibility.” Further, as stated by the court in Lewis v. Callahan, 125 F.3d 1436, 1441 (11th Cir. 1997), participation in everyday activities of short duration, such as housework or fishing” does not disqualify a claimant from disability and does not establish that a claimant can perform sedentary work. Lastly in Gentle v. Barnhart, 430 F.3d 865, 867 (7th 2005), the judge found that equating household work to work in the labor market is not appropriate.