If you believe you are disabled, but are still working, the decision whether and when to quit and apply for disability can be one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the disability benefits process. The Social Security Administration defines “disability” as the inability to work, meaning you cannot do work that you did before, you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s), and your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. The SSA does not provide any disability benefits for short-term or partial disability. In essence, to be entitled to disability benefits under the rules of the SSA, you must be able to prove that by reason of your disability, no job exists that you would be capable of doing. Turning this definition on its head, if you are working, then you cannot be disabled.
The SSA defines “working” in terms of how much you earn, with a concept referred to as Substantial Gainful Activity, or SGA. To be eligible for disability benefits, you must be unable to engage in SGA. A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. In 2018, SGA for non-blind people is $1,180.00. If you earn more than that set amount, you cannot receive disability benefits from the SSA.
What if I Work But Earn Less Than SGA?
If you work but earn less than SGA, then your earnings should not preclude you from proving that you are disabled and entitled to benefits. If you are able to work a significant amount of time, though, whether or not you actually earn SGA, that fact that you are currently working may be construed as evidence that you are capable of earning SGA.
What if I Work And Earn More Than SGA, But Believe I Am Disabled?
Unless you meet an exception to the general rules, you cannot be disabled under the SSA’s rules if you are earning SGA. If you believe you are disabled but are currently earning SGA, speak to an experienced disability attorney about the facts of your particular situation before making the decision to quit and pursue disability. You should get advice as to the strength of your case and carefully consider the financial implications of having no income during the pendency of your claim, which can take several years. Once you do decide to quit, you should file your application as soon as your attorney advises you to do so. While the definition of “disability” requires that your medical condition has lasted or will last for at least 12 months, there is no requirement that you be out of work for any specific length of time prior to applying.
Are There Any Exceptions to SGA?
As in all facets of the SSA disability system, exceptions exist to the SGA rules and it is important to talk to a qualified SSA disability attorney to get advice tailored to your specific case. Generally, if you worked a job for less than six months but had to quit because of your medical condition, you might be able to prove that the work was an Unsuccessful Work Attempt and therefore not SGA. Also, if you require multiple accommodations from your employer to allow you to work despite your medical condition, the SSA may calculate your SGA amount differently. And, if you are self-employed, special rules apply.