Most people are surprised to know that it is possible to work part-time or occasionally and still receive Social Security disability benefits. However, when you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense that Social Security would not punish someone for at least trying to work because, if they did, no one would ever try. There are two basic situations in which someone who is working may still be entitled to benefits.
Inability to Work Full-Time
The first situation is where a claimant is working part-time on a regular basis, or sporadically works here and there when they are able. Keep in mind that Social Security defines the ability to work as the ability to work “on a regular and continuous basis,” and further defines work essentially as a five-day week, eight- hour-a-day effort. If someone chooses to only work part-time, that does not mean he or she is disabled. However, a person who simply cannot work five days a week and/or six to eight hours a day because of their medical problems can argue, often successfully, that the work activity is not “substantial” enough to prevent payment of benefits. A good example of this is the medical conditions fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome: With these medical conditions, people often feel quite capable of engaging in daily activities around the house or even work for short periods of time, but their medical condition worsens if they over-do it.
Also, many people find that their condition will prevent them from working for weeks or months at a time, but they are able to work during those times when their condition is not so severe. A good example of this situation is people with bipolar disorder. With this medical problem, people will “cycle” in and out of severely depressed moods; during the significant periods of depression they find that they are unable to perform many everyday tasks, but are usually capable of doing a lot more when they are not depressed. In both situations just described, the claimant could be found disabled and entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits.
Returning to Work
Second, some people have returned to work full-time, or are considering a return to full-time employment. Again, that decision does not necessarily mean that disability benefits will be denied. This is a somewhat complicated area of Social Security disability law, but it is possible to say in general that Social Security will permit a disability claimant to work at “substantial” levels for up to nine months (and in some cases six more after that) before they will question whether or not the claimant’s benefits will end. In this way, a person can try to work again without worrying that his or her disability claim will be automatically denied. In some cases, a disability claimant has already worked full-time for nine months, or is quite certain that his or her condition has improved and that he or she will be able to work on a regular basis. Even here it may be possible to obtain disability benefits, if your disability stopped you in the past from working for at least a 12-month period.
The decision of whether or not you should attempt to work is complicated, because it involves consideration of personal, medical, vocational and legal issues. While we could never advise you whether or not you should try to work, we will work closely with you in helping you make your decision. The most important thing to remember is that trying to work does not in any way lessen your chances of receiving Social Security disability benefits.
If you have a disability claim but are also working, or thinking of returning to work, and are unsure of how to proceed, please call us at 412-794-8003 (locally in the Pittsburgh area) or toll free at 1-866-438-8773 (outside the Pittsburgh calling area). If you prefer, you can fill out our intake form, and an experienced lawyer will contact you to schedule an appointment.