Should I work while waiting for my Social Security hearing?

The long wait for a Social Security hearing is a massive financial drain for most people.  With no money coming in, or just minimal state aid, a lot of people wonder how to pay for rent, utilities, and groceries.

A number of my clients have asked me if they can try to get a job.

Attorney Jonathan Ginsberg tackles this common question:

Remember that Social Security’s definition of disability looks to whether you have missed or are likely to miss 12 consecutive months because of your impairment. Attempting to work while your case is pending may or may not be a problem. If you try to work and last only a few days or even a few weeks, the judge will see that as an “unsuccessful work attempt” that demonstrates your sincere desire to work and your inability to do so.

Once you stay at a job for more than 3 months, however, it starts to look like you have the capacity to perform “substantial activity.”

There are also other problems you need to be aware of if you decide to try to work:

When Social Security considers your ability to work, they generally consider only full time work. So, there should be no problem with doing part time work. Right? WRONG!

Even part time work can cause problems on a Social Security case.

If you can work part time in a “Light” type job, a shelf stocker at a supermarket for example, Social Security may take this to mean you are capable of full time work at an less physically demanding job, such as dispatcher, call-out operator, or information clerk.

In other words, part-time work at one exertional level might suggest an ability to do full-time work at a lesser exertional level.

Don’t structure a job to limit income.

If you earn more than the Substantial Gainful Activity Amount (SGA), in 2009: $980 per month before taxes and deductions, you are engaged in a Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).  Under Social Security regulations, with some exceptions, this means you are not disabled.

Some people think that if they just limit their hours to make sure they earn less than the SGA amounts, they will be ok.

This could be Social Security FRAUD.  If you are able to work and earn SGA amounts, but you reduce your earnings to stay below SGA levels to stay eligible for Social Security, you are trying to defraud Social Security. You risk prosecution, so don’t do it.

Does the work disprove your disability?

Here is a quick example:

  • You have social anxiety disorder.
  • You have difficulty being around people.
  • You get a part time job as a customer service clerk.

Do you see a problem here?

The job is not a substantial gainful activity.  There is no issue of being able to do a less physically demanding job, or structuring earnings to keep income below SGA.

But, how is Social Security supposed to believe you are not able to work because of an inability to interact with the public, co-workers, and supervisors, when your entire job is interacting with people!

Even if you can explain this, you have just made your case much harder.

This are just a couple of the possible problems with working while trying to get Social Security benefits.

Like Jonathan, I do not want to discourage individuals from working.  I regularly work on cases where a client is doing some work while waiting for their Social Security hearing.

But, there is no simple answer to the question of whether you should work while applying for Social Security disability benefits.  Each case requires a review of the job and the individual’s impairments to watch out for possible problems.

Via What Happens to my Case if I Return to Work While Waiting for my Hearing?.