Returning to Work: How Does That Affect My Disability Claim?

1040 U.S. Individual Income

While waiting for a Social Security disability claim to be decided, a person might return to work for different reasons. Bills that need paid might be piling up exponentially, or a person might feel their condition has improved to a point where they can return to work permanently. You’d think this would end the claim, but that’s not always the case. The Social Security Administration has specific regulations in place that allow someone to try to return to work without affecting their pending claim or benefits they may already be receiving. This article will discuss the two most common issues in this situation:

Working While Disability Claim is Pending: “Unsuccessful Work Attempt”

While a person’s disability claim is pending, they may try to return to work but find they are unable to do so because of their disability, or because their disability is not being accommodated in the work place. When this occurs, Social Security calls it an “Unsuccessful Work Attempt”.

An Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA) is defined by Social Security as:

“an effort to do substantial work (in employment or self-employment) that you stopped or reduced to below the SGA* level after a short time (six months or less) because of your impairment, or the removal of special conditions related to your impairment that were essential to your work.”

Social Security Administration Red Book, SSA Pub . No . 64-030, ICN 436900, Glossary, Page 54 – https://www.ssa.gov/redbook/

*SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity. The SGA level for 2022 is $1,350 per month, up from $1,310 per month in 2021.

In order to be considered a UWA, however, there must be a significant break in the continuity of the person’s work (at least 30 days between jobs). There must have also been another significant change to have taken place that would end work attempt: “…the impairment or the removal of special conditions related to the impairment that are essential to the further performance of work causes the work to be ‘discontinued’” as defined in DI 24005.001D.2. This must be proven to Social Security so it doesn’t count against the claimant. If a claimant missed a lot of days or work, did a poor job, or relied heavily on coworkers because of his or her disability, these would be factors of a UWA.

Social Security has different criteria for the varied amounts of time of a claimant’s UWA, which you can read about here: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0424005001. Overall, it is important to remember that a work attempt cannot be considered a UWA by Social Security unless it was ended because of a disability or accommodations for a disability were taken away.  

Working While Receiving Disability: “Trial Work Period”

A Trial Work Period is a phased-in return to work option for people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). A Trial Work Period is not available for people receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security defines the Trial Work Period as follows:

“During a trial work period, a beneficiary receiving Social Security disability benefits on the basis of his or her own earnings history may test his or her ability to work and still be considered disabled. We do not consider services performed during the trial work period as showing that the disability has ended until services have been performed in at least 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) in a rolling 60-month [5-year] period. In 2022, any month in which earnings exceed $970 is considered a month of services for an individual’s trial work period.”

Social Security Administration, ‘Earnings trigger a trial work period‘ – https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/twp.html

There are several factors to keep in mind regarding the Trial Work Period. First, if you are working and making under $970 gross per month (before taxes), you can still be considered disabled as this work activity does not trigger a Trial Work Period. Along those same lines, if you work and earn over $970 gross per month consistently for nine months over a 60-month period, Social Security will re-evaluate your eligibility for disability benefits and likely determine that your benefits should be stopped because you are well enough to return to work permanently.

When the Trial Work Period ends, a claimant enters the 36-month re-entitlement period, or “Extended Period of Eligibility.” During the Extended Period of Eligibility, Social Security may continue a claimant’s benefits provided the claimant is not earning too much to be eligible for disability benefits.

Conclusion

Much credit should be given to a disabled individual who wants to return to work. Contrary to popular belief, most people who receive disability benefits want to work and will return to work if it is possible. Because Social Security understands this, these regulations exist to protect disabled people from losing the benefits they are either fighting for or have already won, in case the return to work is unsuccessful.  

Contact Balin Law if you have any questions. We are here with you every step of the way – even to answer your preliminary questions regarding your Social Security disability claim and returning to work.