Can you get approved for disability while still working?

Many disabled applicants wonder “can you file for disability while still working?”

Can I apply for disability while working?

If you are working full time, generally no.  You can apply for disability while working, however, the amount you earn is under a certain amount.   The Social Security Administration (SSA) may look both at the number of hours you are working as well as the type of work being performed to ascertain whether you could be working full time.

The amount that you are not allowed to earn more than is called the “substantial gainful activity” or SGA limit. If you earn more than that amount, SSA assumes you can do a substantial amount of work and determines that you are ineligible for disability. The 2020 SGA limit is $1,260 per month.

I believe working part-time while you are seeking disability benefits is a very risky proposition, and I am not the only experienced disability lawyer who thinks so.

The SSA might also check how many hours you are working per week. If you are working more than part-time, it may be difficult to persuade the SSA that you cannot work and should receive disability.

As part of the disability claim process, the SSA will be looking into what type of work you are capable of doing. If you have regularly been doing work that you claim you cannot do, this will negatively impact your case.

For example, if you injure your back and are applying for disability while working, it won’t help your case if you are working stocking shelves while you wait for approval of your claim.

So to those wondering “can I work while applying for disability,” the answer is yes, but you will need to:

  1. Earn less than $1,310 per month
  2. Work limited hours
  3. Not perform work that conflicts with your disability claim

If you file for disability does that mean you should quit your job?

To those asking “do you have to be unemployed to file for disability,” you do not.

However, as described in the section above, you need to be earning less than the SGA limit, working limited hours, and not be performing work that conflicts with your disability claim.

In order to meet those requirements, you would not be able to keep a full-time job. However, there may be situations where you could keep your existing job and work limited hours.

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Does your employer know if you file for disability?

Your disability examiner (the person examining your disability case) is tasked with:

  1. Classifying your past work.
  2. Determining the nature of your past work in terms of physical and mental demands.
  3. Comparing the demands of your past work with your current capabilities, known as your residual functional capacity (RFC).

While disability examiners typically rely on information provided by the claimant, they do sometimes contact past employers to find out more about the claimant’s past work and what they did there.

So your employer may discover you have applied for disability if they end up being questioned or interviewed by your social security disability examiner.

How does social security know if you are working?

The SSA is legally obligated to verify the details of your case from time to time.

Additionally, once approved for disability, you are required to update the SSA, by mail, phone, or in person, of certain changes that may impact your disability claim.

These include (according to the SSA):

  • If you work, no matter what you earn
  • If you receive other disability benefits
  • If you’re offered services under the Ticket to Work program
  • If you move
  • If you change direct deposit accounts
  • If you’re unable to manage your benefits
  • If you get a pension from work not covered by Social Security
  • If you get married or divorced
  • If you change your name
  • If you care for a child who receives benefits
  • If you become a parent after entitlement
  • If a child receiving benefits is adopted
  • If you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest
  • If you’re convicted of a crime
  • If you violate a condition of parole or probation
  • If you leave the United States
  • If your citizenship status changes
  • If a beneficiary dies
  • If you’re receiving Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits

Will continuing to work hurt my chances of being approved for social security disability?

While every disability claim is different, in general continuing to work while appealing a disability case or waiting for an administrative law judge hearing is likely to hurt your chances of being approved.

Here are some factors to consider:

Your Work Activity Moves the Focus to Your Ongoing Work, Away From Your Disability.

Think about how a social security disability decision-maker, such as an Administrative Law Judge, would consider the typical disability case in which the claimant is not working.

For the non-working claimant, the ALJ simply must assess why that person can no longer work. The focus is on the medical conditions that you have. But if you are continuing to work, the ALJ will naturally focus on your work activity.

In particular, she will be considering the following:

  • Have you restricted your work activity so that you will not exceed the substantial gainful activity amount?
  • How did you decide on the work level you are performing?
  • Is there a medical basis and evidence to support your inability to perform substantial gainful activity, given that you are in fact able to work part-time?

Why are you interested in continuing to work even though you claim disability?

You should carefully consider why you want to keep working while you seek disability benefits.

Typical reasons include:

  • You need income.
  • You may be able to continue to be eligible for medical insurance.
  • You may fear to lose the job forever and hope to be able to return to full-time work.
  • You want to show your family or the government that you are not lazy and you are trying your best to be productive.

Many, perhaps most, of these reasons to continue to work while seeking disability benefits are not as strong as they might first appear.  The extra income from working below the substantial gainful activity level is small compared to what you will lose if you fail to win your disability benefits.  Medical insurance coverage is available in most jobs through COBRA if you quit or are terminated.

Any strong motivation you have to work is laudable, but as noted above, the work activity you engage in will cloud the waters if you have yet to be approved for disability benefits.  Once you are on disability, there are opportunities to test your ability to work and, if you are successful, you can leave the disability rolls.

Social Security Lawyer Dallas and Fort Worth

Social security disability, both SSDI and SSI, are complicated. If you have additional questions or need assistance, Dallas social security lawyer Stanley Denman is here to help. Contact Denman Law Office to set up a free and confidential case evaluation.


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