If you’re disabled and need to file for Social Security disability, there are some restrictions that may impact your approval for benefits if you’re still working. Whether you can work while applying for disability in Chicago depends on how many hours you are working and how much money you are earning.

How Does Working Impact Applying for SSDI or SSI Benefits?

When determining eligibility for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict guidelines that must be met. In addition to an applicant’s age, the SSA also looks at previous and past work history, physical and mental ability, level of education, and the current economy. The SSA considers an applicant’s ability to perform work, but not just in his or her current or most recent job before becoming disabled. The SSA looks closely at an applicant’s physical and mental impairments and how they impact the ability to perform all types of work. Before awarding SSDI or SSI disability benefits, the SSA must review the applicant’s work record, income, and impairments to make certain they conform to SSA guidelines.

Work history and work status play a major role in approval for disability benefits. Your current work status and your income are important things to consider before applying for SSDI. The SSA answers the question “can you work while applying for disability?” by determining if you are working full-time or part-time and how much money you are earning.

  • Working Full-Time – If you are working full-time when you apply for disability, the SSA will not consider you disabled. This is because the SSA’s definition of disability states that a person is not able to work for a substantial amount of time. Even if you are working full-time with chronic pain or severe fatigue, your application will not advance to the disability evaluation process.
  • Working Part-Time – If you are working part-time when you apply for disability, you can apply for benefits, but approval will depend on how much money you are earning. SSA guidelines state that a person can still be considered disabled, if his or her earnings are below $1,470 per month, or if earnings are below $2,460 and that person is blind.

What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

The term “substantial gainful activity”(SGA)is used to describe a person’s level of work activity and earnings. Work is considered “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities as part of employment. Under SSA guidelines, a disabled person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. Each year, the SSA reviews the state of the U.S. economy and cost of living changes, then sets a maximum SGA earnings amount for disability applicants. For 2023, the maximum SGA an applicant can earn is $1,470 per month, unless that person is blind.

Under SSA guidelines, “gainful work activity” includes the following:

  • Any work performed for payment or profit
  • Any type of work generally performed for payment or profit
  • Any work intended for profit, even if no profit is realized

If you are determined by the SSA to meet the disability guidelines and you qualify for the SSDI benefits program, you cannot be working in any substantial gainful activity. If you are, the SSA will not consider you to be sufficiently disabled and disability benefits will be denied.

Guidelines for Working While Collecting SSDI Benefits

If you qualify for the SSDI disability program, you are allowed to work within a set of guidelines. The SSA has a provision that permits a trial work period. During this trial period, you are permitted to work up to 9 months in a new or similar field of work while earning a certain monthly income based on SSA guidelines.

Within the 5-year period following your trial work period, if you stop working, you will be automatically qualified for the SSDI program without reapplying for benefits. If you earn less than your established SSDI monthly benefit amount any time within the 3 years (36 months) after your trial work period ends, you can apply with the SSA to collect SSDI benefits to compensate for your monetary shortfall.

At this stage, if you need to collect benefits that were not paid, a social security disability attorney can be helpful in expediting this process. When you are disabled and rely on Social Security disability benefits for monthly bills and expenses, having an attorney can make all the difference.

If you’re disabled and still working, you should understand the SSA guidelines that impact how to get approved for disability benefits. If you’re working, the SSA will investigate your physical or mental impairment to see if it prevents you from substantial gainful activity (SGA).

The Severity and Duration of Your Impairment

To determine the level of severity and the duration of your impairment, the SSA will review two factors:

  1. How does the impairment impact your daily life?
  2. Is the impairment expected to last at least one year or longer?

Next, the SSA will analyze your impairment to see if the condition meets or equals one of the SSA’s Blue Book’s Impairment Listings. The Blue Book contains listings and descriptions of all medical conditions, illnesses, and impairments that qualify for disability benefits under SSA guidelines.

Your Present Ability Compared to Past Performance

The SSA wants to know if your impairment prevents you from presently doing the work that you were capable of doing within the last 15 years, and whether your impairment prevents you from doing any other type of work. To determine this, the SSA looks at “grid rules” in the Medical-Vocational Guidelines that consider age brackets and physical exertion levels. Guideline grid levels tend to favor workers who are over 50 years of age, workers who are limited to sedentary work, and workers who have limited transferable work skills. While grid rules are commonly used to evaluate disabilities in adults age 55 or older, they are rarely used to evaluate disabilities in adults under age 50.