Can I Work While Receiving SSD Benefits? Understanding Substantial Gainful Activity

Suffering serious injury can affect every aspect of a person’s life. However, having difficulty working is clearly one of the most significant issues. Fortunately, Social Security Disability (SSD) payments can help you remain financially stable. If you choose to work during this time, though, could it create legal problems? This all depends. While you can work while receiving SSD benefits, you must understand what constitutes substantial gainful activity (SGA).

While it’s normal to assume SGA would refer to the amount of work a person can do, it’s actually an income level set by the Social Security Administration (SSA). If a person exceeds this level, their benefits could be reduced or even ended in their entirety. Unfortunately, the SSA sets substantial gainful activity at a relatively low threshold — particularly in certain industries or locations. This is why it’s imperative to understand your rights.

Trial Work Periods and Substantial Gainful Activity?

If you want to work while receiving Social Security Disability benefits, you’ll typically start with a trial work period (TWP). During this time, a person can test their ability to work without their benefits being affected. This is where substantial gainful activity comes into play. A person only has nine months in their trial work period. However, no work they do will count toward this limit unless the person exceeds the SGA level set by the Social Security Administration.

This means there are several ways that a person can continue working while receiving SSD benefits. For one, it’s possible to keep working with no issues so long as a certain income level isn’t exceeded. If a person’s injury prevents them from earning at least the SGA level, then the government is likely to view them as disabled. Alternatively, employees can continue working with no restrictions as part of their trial work period.

However, it’s important to note that there are limits to this trial period. That’s because a person is only allowed nine trial months in a five-year period. Fortunately, they don’t have to use them all at once. The SSA provides the TWP as an incentive for benefit recipients to attempt to return to work. You can try to work and earn above SGA for a short period, and if you can’t manage, you can stop and try again later.

How Will Working While on SSD Affect Your Benefits?

There are various ways that working while on SSD can affect your benefits. However, your benefits will be unaffected as long as any work you complete does not exceed the substantial gainful activity level set by the government. And even in situations where you do make more than this, your benefits will remain unaffected if you do not earn this level or higher for more than nine months in a rolling five-year period.

At the end of the trial work period, it’s still possible to continue receiving benefits. This is true even if your SGA exceeds the level set by law. This is thanks to an Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE). This period provides an additional three years of protection for those receiving SSD benefits. During this time, it’s possible to keep getting a check even if your income level goes above the SGA.

The Social Security Administration will monitor your pay during this time. Once it’s determined that an individual is consistently earning above this level, the individual will receive a check for that month and an additional two months. This is called a grace period, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose benefits. For the remainder of the Extended Period of Eligibility, you can still receive a benefits check during months when your income drops below SGA.

What if Your Medical Condition Improves?

When a person receives Social Security Disability benefits, a lot of attention is paid to substantial gainful activity levels. However, it’s important to understand that this isn’t the only way a person can lose benefits. That’s because it’s necessary for those receiving SSD payments to continue meeting medical eligibility requirements. Even if your income doesn’t increase beyond a certain level, benefits typically end if you no longer meet the definition of “disabled.”

This creates a significant number of issues within the system. Clearly, no one wants people receiving government benefits if they’re not actually disabled. However, the SSA very often doesn’t account for individual circumstances. This can result in a person losing essential benefits when they need them the most — sometimes even when they’re not fully able to return to work and earn a living.

If your medical condition improves to the point that you can work, that’s a great thing! If your eligibility has been challenged when you still need assistance, though, it’s important to understand your rights. You can request a reconsideration, and if that doesn’t work, there is an appeals process available. This means you have options even if the government claims you’re no longer eligible.

How Does Subsidized Employment Work?

When substantial gain activity levels are surpassed, it’s possible that a person’s benefits will be affected. However, this isn’t the case if countable income can be reduced to below SGA during the Extended Period of Eligibility. This can occur via subsidized employment. Unfortunately, this is a fairly complex area of Social Security Disability law, and it often involves collaborations between the government, employers, and third-party partners.

The important thing to remember is that it is possible to work while receiving SSD benefits. If you’ve exceeded the substantial gainful activity level set by the government, it doesn’t necessarily mean your benefits will end. This is thanks to trial work periods, extended periods of eligibility, subsidized employment, and other factors. The most important thing an injured individual can do is to know their rights.

At Chad Brown Law, PLLC, we can assist. Unlike other SSD benefits law firms, we offer free consultations so you can fully understand your options. Contact us today at (336) 962-5373 for your free case review.

Our firm focuses on three practice areas: Disability, Personal Injury, and Eminent Domain. Every practice area has attorneys who have expertise in their respective area of practice. 

Chad Brown is a North Carolina Board Certified Social Security disability law specialist. Mr. Brown helps Social Security disability claimants at all stages of the disability process. He also works with people that have Long Term Disability denials and with people that are injured by drugs and defective medical products.

Your Questions Answered