Due to the lengthy process involved in seeking Social Security benefits, many claimants will at some point attempt to return to work in either a full time or part time capacity. Social Security, in order to encourage claimants in job seeking has built in a number of rules to deal with different levels of work activity.
First, if you attempt to work, your claims representative at Disability Determinations Services (DDS) will review whether your work is “Substantial Gainful Activity.” SGA is defined in the regulations as work “that involves doing significant physical or mental activities . . . [and] is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit. . . .” “Significant activities” are useful in the operation of a business and have economic value. Work may be substantial even if it is performed on a part-time basis, or even if the individual does less, has less responsibility, or makes less income than in previous work. Work activity by a self-employed person is gainful if it is the kind of work usually done for profit, whether or not a profit is realized. Activities such as self-care, household tasks, unpaid training, hobbies, therapy, school attendance, clubs, social programs, etc., are not generally considered to be SGA.
In addition to the activities requirement, there is an earnings baseline for SGA. Any work where earnings are below SGA level will not disqualify an individual from receiving disability benefits. In 2015 for non-blind individuals the SGA limit is $1090 per month. Even part time work at which one is able to earn $1090 per month will be disqualifying as it is the value of the work that is counted rather than the hours put in.
Even if your work exceeds the limitations of SGA, you may still be eligible for benefits. If a person has been out of work for at least 30 days, and returns to work earning more than SGA, but circumstances require that work to be stopped or reduced to below SGA within 3 months the work will be considered an unsuccessful work attempt. No reason for the reduction or stoppage of the work must be provided. If the work continues at SGA levels for 3-6 months, it must be shown that the work was reduced or stopped due to medical impairments. Medical records displaying symptom exacerbation such as ER visits or a change or increase in medication may be sufficient to show that the reduction was impairment related.