Does Social Security consider all work a Substantial Gainful Activity?

Social Security defines disability as the inability to engage in a “substantial gainful activity” (SGA).

A simplified way of putting this is to say that in order to be found disabled, you have to show that you are unable to work.  BUT, this can be misleading. Not all work qualifies as a substantial gainful activity.

So, how do you know if your work is a substantial gainful activity?

The easiest test is earnings.

In 2012, if your gross earnings, that is, before taxes or any other deductions, are $1,010 or more per month as an employee, that is probably a substantial gainful activity.  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.

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.

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.

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Tomasz Stasiuk

Disability and Estate Planning Attorney - Visit me at