Disability Benefits and Translation

Late in 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the release of a Final Rule to strengthen consumer protections for private-sector employees filing for disability benefits through their workplace plans. The final set of regulations addresses a host of issues including a rule specifically related to disability benefits and translation.

The rule states (as referenced in this December 2016 fact sheet published by the U.S. Department of Labor):

Notices Written in a Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Manner. The final rule requires that benefit denial notices have to be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner in certain situations. The final rule essentially adopts the ACA standard for group health benefit notices. Specifically, if a disability claimant’s address is in a county where 10 percent or more of the population is literate only in the same non-English language, benefit denial notices must include a prominent statement in the relevant non-English language about the availability of language services. The plan would also be required to provide a verbal customer assistance process in the non-English language and provide written notices in the non-English language upon request.

The other requirements set forth in the document stress that benefit denial notices must be easily understood by all applicants and each applicant must be provided a fair process for review of the denial of benefits. The United States has a very diverse workforce. Many of these jobs are filled with immigrants that may have a limited grasp of the English language.

Here is a full explanation of the background of the final set of regulations.


Section 503 of ERISA generally requires employee benefit plans to provide written notice to any participant or beneficiary whose claim for benefits has been denied and to provide the claimant a full and fair process for review of the claim's denial. The new rules add important procedural protections and consumer safeguards for claims for disability benefits. They protect claimants from conflicts of interest, increase transparency, and ensure that claimants have a fair opportunity to respond to the evidence and reasoning behind the decision.

The rules also ensure that protections for disability claimants parallel protections that already apply when workers file claims for group health benefits. On November 18, 2015, the Department published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the claims procedure for plans providing disability benefits. The Department received 145 public comments from interested stakeholders, including plan participants, consumer groups representing disability benefit claimants, plan sponsors, employer groups, individual insurers, and trade groups representing disability insurance providers.

Many employers use translation services for documents like summary plan descriptions (SPD), employee handbooks, policies and procedures, and employee review materials. Telephonic interpretation is another useful tool for human resource managers and general managers when addressing employee concerns that need immediate attention. Here is a quick video of how a local company utilizes telephonic interpretation in its workplace.



The final set of rules became effective 30 days after publication and the changes to the claims procedure are applicable to claims made after January 1, 2018. Is your firm capable of dealing with employee claims in multiple languages?

For additional information on this rule, including any changes to the rules and to access analysis on the economic impact to employers as well as tools designed to help employers comply with the regulations, please visit the EBSA website here.

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