Social Security Disability Benefits are designed to help those with disabilities stay financially afloat. A common question people have is “Can I work while on social security disability?”

When you’re injured or unable to work for medical reasons, you can apply for Social Security Disability. We get questions about working while on worker’s compensation, but do the same rules apply to disability? Can you work while on social security disability?

It’s a good question with a complicated answer. Yes, you can work while receiving disability benefits. However, there are rules and limits to how much you can earn to continue receiving disability.

SSA disability isn’t the same as receiving worker’s compensation benefits. Worker’s comp is typically short-term financial help to cover medical bills and lost wages while recovering from an on-the-job injury. Social security disability is available to people with a long-term injury or health condition that prevents them from completing full-time employment.

Let’s explore how you can work and earn some money without violating the rules of Social Security Disability.

What is Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability benefits are not related to worker’s compensation. You can receive both benefits if you suffer an injury at work that leaves you permanently unable to maintain full-time employment. However, individuals can receive social security disability benefits without an on-the-job injury.

To apply for social security disability benefits, you must qualify in the following ways:

  • You are age 18 or older
  • You are not currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security account
  • You are unable to work due to a medical condition that will last at least 12 months or result in death
  • You have not been denied disability benefits within the last 60 days

Your benefits typically begin in the sixth month of your disability. The SSA (Social Security Administration) determines the amount of your benefits based on your age and how long you worked before becoming disabled. They also review your case to determine when your disability began.

If you’re unable to work full time while waiting for your benefits, you can work part-time for a small amount of income.

However, it’s critical to be well-informed about the disability criteria and benefit rules before beginning part-time work. While the SSA reviews your case, you don’t want to give them any reason not to believe you are unable to carry on full-time employment with your disability.

What is “Disabled?”

It might not be a popular question to ask, but it’s an important question when determining your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

A note from your doctor that says you’re disabled does not qualify as being sufficiently disabled in the eyes of the SSA. The Administration will review your application and medical records. They can contact your doctors or anywhere you’ve received treatment for your disability.

As part of the review process, the SSA might send some forms to you to fill out and return. They can also request that you have a medical examination or tests with their medical professionals. If they make this request, it’s critical to keep the appointment and let the Social Security medical professionals evaluate your disability condition.

The Criteria

When the SSA determines that you meet the criteria for disability, you “lack the ability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

A disability can be mental or physical. According to the SSA, to receive benefits, your disability must be a “physical or mental impairment . . . that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities that can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.”

Again, despite the severity of your disability, your current behavior can affect their decision to award or deny disability benefits. Here’s how.

To Work, Or Not to Work

If you’re going to a job a few days a week, the SSA might have a hard time believing your disability is severe enough to award benefits to you. Working while you wait for your benefits to begin is not forbidden. However, it’s a good idea to consider the type of work you do and where you do it while the Social Security Administration decides your condition and benefits.

The SSA is on the lookout for SGA (substantial gainful activity). While they don’t want you to have a disability that keeps you from working, if you’re applying for benefits, you need to have a disability that keeps you from maintaining SGA.

If your part-time job looks like it’s providing you with too much income, you won’t qualify for disability benefits. To avoid breaching the substantial gainful activity threshold:

  • Non-blind individuals can earn no more than $1,260 per month
  • Blind individuals can earn no more than $2,110 per month

The SSA monitors your earnings to make sure you aren’t exceeding the maximum each month. In some cases, when you earn too much money in a month, you could receive a lower benefit payment that month.

What About Hours?

The numbers of hours you work have no bearing on the status of your benefits. As long as you don’t earn more than the SGA maximum income threshold, you can work as little or as much as you want. However, working full-time hours during the week could indicate that you’re capable of maintaining full-time employment and void your benefits.

While the SSA doesn’t specify preferred types of work or employment to avoid, it’s wise to keep an eye on the type of part-time work you do. Depending on your disability, if you’re part-time job seems contrary to what you should be able to do with your condition, that can raise questions for the SSA.

If you claim a mobility disability, a job lifting heavy objects could raise some questions about the validity of your disability. If your part-time job is stressful, physically demanding, or requires you to work outside the home, the Administration could justify that working full-time hours at a simpler job or less physically demanding job is reasonable for you to make a living.

Working While You Receive Benefits

The same approach applies to working while you receive Social Security Benefits. For as long as you need to continue receiving benefits, your monthly income can’t exceed the substantial gainful activity thresholds. If you do, you risk losing your benefits.

Think of working a part-time job as supplemental to your disability benefits. The SSA doesn’t want you to live without the ability to pay for your basic needs. However, they also don’t want to pay out benefits to anyone who can work full-time or earn enough money to afford a reasonable standard of living.

Your Social Security benefits might not be enough to cover your monthly expenses without the help of additional income. The SSA understands this and allows you to earn supplemental income while maintaining your benefits—as long as you continue to meet the requirements.

If You Work Too Much

You might a job or start your own business that leads to a full-time income. That’s wonderful! The goal of Social Security Benefits is to help individuals who can’t earn full-time wages. It’s not intended to build your savings or long-term wealth.

If your income begins to exceed the monthly allowance for SGA, the Administration can decide to end your benefits. The SSA can also determine that your part-time work is something you could do full-time, based on the abilities you show while working part-time.

Returning to Work

A long-term disability isn’t always a “forever” disability. If your health improves or you find work that accommodates your disability, you could no longer need Social Security Disability income. However, you don’t have to worry that the SSA will immediately cut your benefits the minute they find out that you can earn a full-time income.

The Social Security Administration offers a Trial Work Period if your disability situation improves, and you need to return to the workforce. During this trial period, you can work for nine months without voiding your benefits eligibility. You’ll continue to receive your full disability payments during those nine months—no matter how much you earn.

Make sure you communicate with your SSA contact when you feel like you’re ready to start a Trial Work Period. You must:

  • Keep them informed about your work status
  • Keep them up to date on your health or disability status
  • Report all earned wages, even if you are not in a Trial Work Period

The SSA will evaluate your ability to maintain substantial gainful activity during your Trial Work Period. If they determine you are capable of full-time earning, you can have a 36-month Extended Period of Eligibility. During this time, you can work and still receive benefits for any month your earnings don’t exceed the SGA maximum threshold.

Can You Work While On Social Security Disability? Yes, But Use Caution

Social Security Disability benefits are for individuals who genuinely need financial help and cannot maintain full-time work. Can you work while on Social Security Disability? Yes! However, it’s important not to abuse the system. Use caution and make accurate earning reports when choosing part-time work to supplement your disability benefits from the SSA.

If you need help navigating the rules of your disability benefits, we can help! Contact our team or call us 617-825-0965.