Can you work while on disability?
What do you do if you’re struggling to work? If you’re in pain, or uncomfortable, or your medical issues make working difficult - can you apply for disability and then quit if you win your claim? You can, but for most, it’s not a good idea. While working while your application is pending might work for a select few, the vast majority of claimants who struggle but can work will not be approved for Social Security disability.
Working while on disability; Social Security says you’re not disabled if you’re working. But how much work is working? Let’s explore SSDI and working.
Social Security will not grant you disability if you’re “working.” Except they don’t say “working,” rather they will not approve your disability claim if you are engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” What they mean is that if you are working and earning a certain amount per month - $1,350 in 2022 - then you are not disabled under their rules.
This generally means that if you’re working close to full time you’re not going to be disabled under Social Security’s rules. Under those circumstances, you should not apply while you are working since your claim will be denied.
Can you work part-time on disability?
Since Social Security defines “working” as earning about $1,350 per month, what if you work some but not enough to earn $1,350 per month? If you’re earning less than the “substantial gainful activity” amount then you will not be automatically disqualified for disability. However, Social Security will want to see documentation (usually from a doctor) that you cannot work more.
Often the people that decide Social Security claims will assume that your ability to do some work, means that you can do other work. Therefore, to overcome that bias you want strong evidence in your employment file and medical file that you cannot work more than part-time. Your claim is generally easier to win if you are not working at all when you apply.
To be eligible for social security disability benefits an employee must be unable to perform. Generally, you’re better off working than applying for disability.
If you can work, you should. Disability is there for you when you can’t work, but working is usually a better option if you’re able. Social Security Disability Insurance will replace some of your wages, but you can almost always make more money working. The average SSDI payment is around $1,200 and tops out at about $3,000 per month. You can get an estimate of what your SSDI would be using the Disability Alabama benefits calculator.
A second reason to work if you can is that thousands upon thousands of disability cases are denied each year. If you can still work - it’s a good indication that the odds are against your claim being approved.
The final reason to work if you can is that if you apply for disability there’s a good chance you’re going to have to wait many months before Social Security begins paying your disability benefit. While initial applications are approved within three to four months, around 70% of applications are denied. That means you’ll have to appeal to get your disability and that is like to take many months.
What to do if you don’t think you can continue to work? What are the rules for working while on SSDI?
What if you can’t work anymore? If you have a choice it’s usually better to keep working - but for a lot of people, that’s not possible. In fact, a doctor may have even told you to stop working. What do you do when your health prevents you from working anymore either immediately or in the very near future?
- Create a record with your employer. If you’re having difficulties at work for medical reasons, make sure your employer knows and is putting it in your employment file. They may try to accommodate you, or they may say you can no longer work for them. Either way, you’ve helped to create a written record that your health issues interfere with your employment.
- Get help from your doctors. To be approved for disability, you must not be able to do any job in the national economy - not just your last one. This means that Social Security might say you’re not disabled if there is another job you could do - even if you can no longer do your old job. A doctor’s opinion that you should not work is always helpful - but will not guarantee your claim is approved. More helpful is if your doctor writes down suggested limitations - things you should not do at work (e.g., lifting, sitting, standing, interacting with customers, driving, etc.)
- Talk to a lawyer. Each situation is different. Before you decide to quit your job to apply for disability or to keep working while you apply for disability, talk to a lawyer. There may be things you can do to improve your work situation, or your disability claim before leaving the workforce.
How much money can you make and still get disability?
Social Security will technically allow to make $1,349 per month in wages from an employer and not lose your eligibility for SSDI. But, if you have income that is not related to working, that are not wages, there is no limit to how much of that income you can have. For example you can have a monthly VA pension or railroad pension of several thousand dollars – or both – and it will not affect your eligibility for SSDI. However, once you have monthly income from a job of $1,350 you are ineligible for disability.
Social Security Income (SSI) is another matter. Every dollar of wages you earn from working will decrease your SSI benefit by roughly $0.50 and every dollar of unearned income (like a VA pension) will reduce your SSI benefit by $1. If you have monthly income of $1,349 you may still be eligible for SSI, but your benefit will be reduced to something around $132 per month in 2022.