Attorney Joseph J. Duerst with the Law Offices of Stephanie Lake answers the questions that arise around working while waiting to be granted disability benefits.
Hello, I’m attorney Joseph Duerst with the Law Offices of Stephanie Lake and we’re talking about whether you can work while waiting for disability. First of all, we always advise our clients to attempt to work if you believe you can. We cannot guarantee you will be granted disability quickly, so you may have to wait more than a year before you actually receive any disability benefits. If you are working full-time or are making too much money, you may no longer be considered disabled under the law. You can work part-time though and still be considered disabled, if we can prove that you cannot work more hours. In addition, if you are attempting to get SSI disability or as we call it “Welfare Disability,” your income could reduce the amount of money you receive when you are granted disability. Your SSI amount could be reduced by 50% of your earnings from part-time work. It is also possible to work for short periods of time, even at the full-time level, and still be considered disabled. If you go to work full-time and cannot last more than a few months, and have to quit, are fired or have to reduce your hours because of your medical conditions, Social Security will not count that against you. They consider that to be an Unsuccessful Work Attempt. This is why we advise you to attempt to work, because you may end up having to stop again. You can even have multiple unsuccessful work attempts in the same year, as long as there is a period of 30 days between each unsuccessful work attempt. Remember, to count as an unsuccessful work attempt, you have to stop working because of your medical conditions, not because you quit so that you wouldn’t have worked too much during the given year. If you have to stop working, DO NOT CLAIM UNEMPLOYMENT! It makes it nearly impossible to get you disability for the time you were on unemployment, because you are telling the Government that you are able to work at the same time you are telling the Social Security Administration that you can’t work. So don’t collect unemployment if you want disability benefits. If you are able to continue working full-time and do not qualify as an unsuccessful work attempt, we could still get you disability benefits for the time that you weren’t working. This is called a Closed Period of Disability. It means you were disabled and could not work, then you had some sort of medical improvement, like a surgery or new treatment, and you started feeling well enough to return to work. To get a closed period of disability, you have to have been unable to work for at least 12 months. We also often have questions about vocational rehabilitation or “Voc Rehab,” which many of our clients go through to see if they can return to work. They often do evaluations of you and even train you to do new types of jobs, then they help you find work. We recommend that you do this, because even if you can go back to work, we can still try for a Closed Period of Disability. If you cannot go to work, the Voc Rehab file is very helpful to your case. Sometimes you can get work with an employer that knows you’re disabled, and does not require you to work as hard or do as much as non-disabled employees. Or maybe you are able to work from home or with a family member who is helping you out. This is called sheltered work, and Social Security can still consider you to be disabled, even if you are making more than $1,000 per month, because the job you are doing is not a job that exists for a non-disabled person. However, you still have to prove your work is sheltered. Usually it is helpful to get a statement from your boss stating that they know you are disabled and explaining the special help they are giving you that they would not give to other employees. In sum, we recommend that you attempt to work. If you have any questions, please read our detailed letter, which explains even more and gives you all the legal information that you can look up. Please also keep your paystubs and fill out Work Activity Report for Social Security, which we will send to you. Please also make sure to keep us informed about your work activity. Thank you for watching, and we look forward to winning your case!