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How Does Working Affect a Social Security Disability Claim?

How Does Working Affect a Social Security Disability Claim?


If you’ve decided to file for Social Security Disability benefits, you might have heard that you have to stop working for 12 months before filing your application. This is a common misconception. It was probably derived from the fact that your disabling condition must be permanent, or be expected to last for at least 12 months, in order to qualify for benefits. Luckily, it’s not true that you must quit your job and wait 12 months before filing your application for benefits.

However, work can definitely complicate your application process, depending upon the circumstances of your job.

Substantial Gainful Activity. Social Security considers earning $1,180 per month to be “substantial gainful activity”, or SGA for short. It might not sound like a lot of money, especially considering the cost of living these days, but if you work and earn more than the SGA then you will not be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

But what if… Unfortunately the SGA rule holds true, even if your disabling condition has caused a drop in your earnings over the course of its development. The rule also applies even when you’ve had to reduce your hours from full-time to part-time, or when your disability causes extreme fatigue or pain while you’re on the job, as long as you are earning above that threshold.

Occasionally, the SGA rule can be “bent” a bit. If you require numerous accommodations in order to perform your job duties, Social Security might count your earnings a bit differently. This is a more complicated situation, however, and is evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Working under the SGA. If you are earning less than the SGA, Social Security will not deny your application based upon earnings. However, they might look at the hours you are capable of working, and decide that your condition is not disabling enough under their rules. Once again, cases are decided individually, unless you have one of the limited number of conditions that allows for an automatic approval.

Unsuccessful work attempts. If you attempted to work, but had to quit due to your disability, Social Security might consider this an “unsuccessful work attempt” and excuse your earnings from the SGA rule. The period of work must be brief – less than six months – and meet certain other criteria.

As you can see, there are complex rules regarding working and qualifying for Social Security Disability. But at the same time, many exceptions to those rules do exist. The process for achieving an approval can be complicated and frustrating, but that’s why we’re here to help. If you have more questions about your application for Social Security Disability benefits, give us a call. We can help you understand the ins and outs of work guidelines as they relate to your situation, and together we can decide how to proceed with your case.