Trying to work and Social Security disability

Working while applying for Social Security disability benefits is a topic I have previously discussed. However, reading that article, you might come to the conclusion that it is never a good idea to work if you are either on, or applying for Social Security benefits (including Supplemental Security Income – SSI benefits).

However, there are circumstances where trying to go back to work may help a individual’s case.

For adults, the closer you are to 18, the more likely it is that Social Security will expect you to be able to perform some type of a substantial gainful activity (SGA), typically full time work.

  • If you are in your late teens or 20s, the issue often comes up of whether you are unable to work, or if you are just unwilling to work.
  • If you have a spotty work history with minimal, or no earnings, Social Security may wonder if you are simply trying to get disability benefits to get a regular source of income.
  • The same is true if your Social Security benefits would pay you the same  amount, or more, than what you have earned while working.

In any of these examples, you have a serious credibility problem!

Don’t get me wrong, the specific circumstances of your case may explain the your work history or minimal earnings. But, keep in mind that Social Security’s first impression of your case may not be good.

When the issue arises of whether an individual is unable to work (and may qualify for disability benefits) or simply unwilling to work (and should be denied), it may be worthwhile to show Social Security your determination to try to work.

Periods of unsuccessful employment or working with an agency such as Vocational Rehabilitation, or Goodwill Industries, can go a long way to showing Social Security that you are willing to work and that you would be working except for your disabilities. Of course, an individual has to make a good faith attempt to try to work.

This is not without risk. Keep in mind that all of the concerns mentioned in the prior article still apply. I have seen judges use a job search as evidence that the individual is able to work (“why would someone be looking for work if they could not work”) and deny the case.

Also, if the job continues at a SGA level for 6 months or longer, it may mean having to drop the Social Security claim, or change it to a closed period of disability.

Photo by The U.S. National Archives