Working While Applying For Disability Benefits

by Jennifer Scherf

Many people believe that you cannot work if you are trying to get disability benefits. On the contrary, the Social Security Administration (SSA) encourages people to attempt to achieve gainful employment both during the application process and after benefits are awarded.

Work done while applying for disability benefits is termed an Unsuccessful Work Attempt.

This means that you did work while applying for benefits, but were unable to sustain that work. Your work must have stopped for a period of time before the unsuccessful work attempt begins. This period is either at least 30 days, or a change must have been made from one type of work to another due to your alleged disability. SSA differentiates between work that lasted less than three months and work that lasted three to six months. Any work done for more than six months will indicate that you are able to engage in substantial and gainful activity and are, therefore, not entitled to disability benefits.

Work Effort of Three Months or Less: Your work must have ended or have been reduced to the non-Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level within three months due to your impairment.
Work Effort of Between Three and Six Months: If your work lasted more than three months, it must have ended or have been reduced to the non-SGA level within six months due to your impairment, and:

-You must have had frequent absences from work due to your impairment; or
-Your work must have been unsatisfactory due to your impairment; or
-Your work must have been done during a period of temporary remission of your impairment; or
-Your work must have been done under special conditions.

(SGA) The general rule is that if you are able to engage in Substantial and Gainful Activity, you are not disabled. Substantial Gainful Activity is determined by a two-prong test.

-Substantial = more than @ 20 hours per week
-Gainful = more than @ $960 per month*

For example, if you were in sales and are still getting commission checks of more than $960 per month, but you are not actively working for those checks, you will not be disqualified because of your earnings. However, if you are working 30 or more hours per week, making less than $960 per month, you will have to prove to SSA why you can work 30 but not 40 hours per week on a continuous and sustained basis.**The way to prove this would be to show that your work is “accommodated.”***

*This amount is determined by SSA and can change year to year.

**Continuous and sustained generally means 40 hours, five days per week, over a long period of time.

***Examples of accommodated work would be if you were allowed to take extra breaks or work irregular hours, if you had extra assistance or tools to perform your duties that the average employee would not have, or you were given special treatment because of your personal relationship with the employer. (SSR 05-02)