The process of obtaining Social Security Disability benefits is typically incredibly slow. It can take several months or even years to obtain approval. If you are waiting for your claim to be approved, you are probably worried about how you are going to be able to sustain yourself financially during this process. Some people may want to know if they can return to the workforce and still remain eligible for disability benefits.
First, it is important to understand the Social Security Administration’s definition of “disabled.” To be considered disabled according to Social Security, you must have a condition that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death that has prevented you from engaging in substantial gainful activity. “Substantial gainful activity” is used by Social Security to describe a level of work activity. This is work activity that results in gross pay that exceeds the guidelines that Social Security publishes on an annual basis. For example, in 2022, “substantial gainful activity” is defined as gross income per month of $1350 or more. Note that gross income is income before taxes or other deductions are not applied – not just take-home pay. This also includes tips and other earnings, not simply hourly wages. Note as well that whether one is engaged in substantial gainful activity is NOT based on the number of hours per week one works. You can work part-time yet still have earnings that exceed substantial gainful activity levels. Social Security only looks at the amount of money that you have earned. Therefore, you need to have a period of at least twelve months where you are earning less than substantial gainful activity levels because of your medical condition.
Social Security’s rules do not actually require you to have completely stopped working in order to be eligible for disability benefits. You can still continue to work on a part-time basis, provided that your earnings do not exceed substantial gainful activity levels. However, it is important to keep in mind that the examiner may want to know how you are able to work at all, even on a part-time basis, with your disability. This is particularly true if you are working a job that requires a lot of standing or lifting. It is important to consult with an attorney in this situation and receive guidance on the best way to present this information to Social Security. The team at LaBovick Law Group has a wealth of experience with this situation and is prepared to assist you.
If you have completely stopped working but are still waiting for approval and have concerns about finances, you may be wondering whether you can go back to work and remain eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. To remain eligible for benefits on an indefinite basis, the rules described above related to substantial gainful activity levels will apply. If your income remains under substantial gainful activity levels, your eligibility for disability benefits will not be affected. Again, though, remember that Social Security may want to know how you are able to perform even part-time work with your conditions. It is important to discuss with an attorney how to best present your case to Social Security.
If you plan on returning to work and are earning more than substantial gainful activity levels, it is possible to remain eligible for benefits for a period of time. If you have returned to work but are unable to continue working because of your conditions, or have to reduce your work to a point that you are no longer earning substantial gainful activity level income, then your return to work will be considered an “unsuccessful work attempt” by Social Security. Note that this period of time where you returned to work must not exceed six months. Your unsuccessful work attempt period will not prevent you from remaining eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security requires that there be a significant break in the continuity of a person’s work before the person is considered to have begun a work attempt that later became unsuccessful. The reason you stopped working must be related to your impairment – Social Security requires that there must have been frequent absences due to your impairment, or the work must have been unsatisfactory due to your impairment, or the work must have been done during a period of temporary remission of your impairment, or the work was done under special conditions. The “special conditions” component is very important and can be very helpful for your case if you have returned to work. Often, when people who are awaiting approval for their disability benefits go back to work, they return to work for employers who knew them before or go to work for family or friends who understand their condition. Therefore, they may be permitted to engage in certain activities that would not ordinarily be permissible to employers, such as taking extra breaks, working an irregular schedule, working at a lower level of productivity than the normal standard, getting help from other employees in performing certain aspects of the job that they are unable to do themselves, or are accommodated in some other manner that is not standard for the position. If you have returned to work for an employer who is accommodating your disability and medical needs (including letting you miss work frequently for doctor’s appointments), ask your employer or human resources department to write a letter for you listing the accommodations that they are providing you. This information can be vitally helpful to your case in proving to Social Security that you are not returning to work on a normal basis and that you are receiving substantial accommodation to be able to perform the job at all.
Navigating Social Security’s rules for returning to work and remaining eligible for disability benefits can be extremely difficult. Call LaBovick Law Group at (561) 625-8307 for a free case evaluation. Our expert legal team is ready to assist you with winning your case.