Previously, when talking about how Social Security defines disability we used the quick and dirty definition of being unable to do some kind of full time work. And that is a good rule of thumb.
However, it does not always work. So, now it is time to put on the big boy pants and look at the real definition of disability under the Social Security Act. JARGON WARNING.
By disabled, Social Security means that a person is unable to engage in a “substantial gainful activity” (which is also known as SGA).
So what’s SGA?
Well, it just means work.
You just said we couldn’t use that rule of thumb.
Right. Most of the time, SGA just means being able to do some kind of full time work. BUT, this can be misleading. Not all work qualifies as a substantial gainful activity. So, there are time that you can be working BUT not engaging in a SGA.
Is this really important?
Oh, yeah! It can mean the difference between willing and losing your case.
So, how do you know if your work is a substantial gainful activity?
The easiest test is earnings.
In 2015, if your gross earnings, that is, before taxes or any other deductions, are $1,130 or more per month as an employee (and you are not blind), that is probably a substantial gainful activity.
General rule: if your gross earnings are above the SGA amount, that work might prevent you from receiving disability benefits. If you are earning less than the substantial gainful activity amount, you may still receive Social Security disability benefits, even though you are working.
Keep in mind that the SGA amounts change from year to year. The Social Security Substantial Gainful Activity page shows you the monthly earnings which qualify as a SGA for each year.
I have worked with a number of individuals who are still working, but the work is not a substantial gainful activity.
So, if I earn less than the substantial gainful amount, I’m safe?
Not necessarily. While having earnings less than SGA amounts is an important factor, there are instances, such as self-employment, or being able to control your earnings, when you may be earning less than the SGA amount, but still be considered performing a substantial gainful activity.
What if I earn more than the substantial gainful amount. Does that mean I can’t get benefits?
You may have notice all the lawyer weasel words, “probably a substantial gainful activity,” “might prevent you from receiving disability benefits.” There are exceptions to the general rule that earnings above SGA make you ineligible for disability benefits. Click the link if you are earning more than the substantial gainful activity amounts.