Can I work while my application for disability is pending with the Social Security Administration?

A common dilemma for people applying for disability is financial.  How are they supposed to meet their family’s basic survival needs if their condition prevents them from working?  The problem is compounded by what can be a lengthy administrative process, i.e., a long delay, before an application is approved.  How do people survive in the interim?  Should they return to work despite their condition, putting their health in further jeopardy?  Will the judge view this limited work as a showing the claimant has the ability to work full time?

Unfortunately, there are guidelines  rather then a definitive answer.  Generally speaking the definition of disability under the Social Security Act is the  inability to engage in “substantial gainful activity” for at least a 12 month period due to a medically determinable impairment.  The disabling impairment can be mental or physical or a combination of both.  The Social Security Administration sets a monthly amount of earnings which it considers substantial gainful activity.  For the year 2014, that amount is $1070 gross earnings per month.  Consistent earnings over that amount will prevent you from being eligible to collect disability benefits even if your actual medical condition itself otherwise meets the medical criteria for disability.

As a result, one is permitted to work while their application for disability benefits is pending. However, the amounts they are allowed to earn are quite limited.  Earning more then the allowed substantial gainful activity amount on a consistent basis can disqualify you from obtaining any benefits, notwithstanding the severity of your condition.  Even earning the amount limit for a few months may bring work ability issues into question.  This work activity becomes a question of fact for an administrative law judge as to the true capability of a claimant.  While we have the ability to make a number of arguments in favor of disability and limited working potential, judges have significant discretion in this area.