Can I Work When I Apply For Social Security Disability Benefits

A question that frequently comes up with our existing and prospective clients is whether or not they’re allowed to work while their claim is pending with the Social Security Administration (SSA). While some attorneys will tell you that you can’t work at all so as not to jeopardize your case, the fact is, you can work, but on a limited basis.

The first step in the five-step analysis the SSA uses to evaluate a claim is to determine whether the person claiming benefits (“claimant”) has engaged in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). SGA generally is work where one earns more than a certain amount of money (gross, per month) that is set by the SSA. For 2015, that amount is $1,090 for non-blind claimants, and $1,820 for blind claimants. If you make more than the set amounts on a monthly basis, you will be denied no matter how severe your health problems are. Both of these amounts are typically increased annually with changes in the national average wage index. https://www.socialsecurity.gov/oact/cola/sga.html

High earnings alone, however, don’t necessarily disqualify you for benefits under certain circumstances. If a job that would ordinarily be considered SGA ends within six months because of your health problems, that could be considered an “unsuccessful work attempt” (UWA), and the five-step analysis can continue. There must be a significant break in the continuity of your work before you can be considered to have begun an UWA, typically at least 30 days. https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0411010145

Additionally, you can be considered to be engaging in SGA if you work too many hours per week, even if it’s unpaid. There’s no set limit for hours worked, but we generally advise our clients to work no more than 15-20 per week to be safe. For more answers to your questions on this topic, feel free to call as at Levine Benjamin for a free consultation.