If You Are Still Working, You May Not Qualify for Social Security Disability

Substantial Gainful Employment for SSDIAn injury or illness may have affected you in such a way that you can no longer perform the full-time, well-paying work you once did. You may think this inability to return to your original form of employment should qualify you for Social Security disability payments. After all, you contributed to the system and your income has dropped significantly as a result of a disability. However, if you are engaging in any kind of work, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may decide that you are not, in fact, disabled, and deny your application for benefits.

What Kind of Work Will Disqualify You?

The answer to this question actually has nothing to do with the kind of work you are doing. The SSA is looking for evidence of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), meaning you are engaging in some activity and are “gaining,” or earning, a “substantial” amount of money. To make the determination clearer, the SSA sets a wage-earning limit for people who are collecting disability payments. These amounts are adjusted each year according to the rate of inflation. Due to the nature of their disability, blind individuals are subject to a higher wage limit. For 2017, the monthly SGA amounts are as follows:

  • $1,950 for the blind
  • $1,170 for non-blind individuals

These amounts bear no relation to what you may have earned before your disability. If, as a non-blind worker, you are able to earn more than $1,170 per month, you will not qualify for disability benefits. If you are working and earning less than that, you could still qualify depending on your medical qualification.

Trial Work Periods

Most people only collect disability benefits temporarily, but how do you know when you are ready to return to work? The SSA allows you a trial work period to see if you are ready to return on a permanent basis. They do not consider this trial period to be engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity until you reach certain limits. Once you have worked for nine months (not necessarily consecutively) over a 5-year period and have earned more than the established minimum monthly wage, your trial period will be over and you will no longer qualify for disability payments. That minimum wage for 2017 is $840 per month, but you will be subject to the monthly earnings limit for the years that apply to you.

What About Part-Time Work and Self-Employment?

Perhaps you have gone back to work part time or have started your own business to supplement your income and fill your days since your illness or injury. As long as you are not earning more than the monthly SGA amount, this work will not be considered Substantial Gainful Activity. However, if you are earning more than $1,170 in 2017—even as a part-time or self-employed worker—you will not qualify for benefits. Again, the SSA is not concerned with what you are doing, just how much you are earning.

Working With Assistance or Accommodations

If you have been able to work but require special equipment, accommodations, supervision, or assistance in order to perform your job duties, the SSA cannot consider this to be Substantial Gainful Activity, no matter how much you earn. For example, if a medically documented back injury limits your ability to lift, bend, or squat and your job requires you to sort mail and file documents, your employer may supply you with a rolling stool and reposition the files so that you can comfortably reach them. He may also assign another employee to take on the tasks you cannot complete. No matter what your earnings are, this work cannot be considered SGA because of the accommodations.

Your Employment Status Is Crucial to Your Claim

As you can see, the kind of work you do and the amount you earn will be very important to your SSDI claim. Working with our experienced and dedicated Social Security disability attorneys will ensure that you have documented your case sufficiently to qualify for benefits. Contact Keller & Keller today to discuss your particular case.


James R. Keller
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