How many hours can you work if you are receiving Social Security Disability?

Social Security is not concerned with the number of hours that a person may work, or whether or not their employment is part-time or full-time. The emphasis is on gross earnings received in a given month.

Typically, when I address the issue of how much a person can work and earn and still receive Social Security Disability, the answer is in the context of filing for disability. So let me address that first.

If you are filing for disability and are earning at least a substantial and gainful income (referred to as SGA, or substantial gainful activity), you will not be able to qualify for disability benefits.

Why? Because working at the SGA level carries with it the assumption that a person is not, in fact, disabled.

Working and filing for disability

What happens if you apply for disability and are working and earning a substantial and gainful income? You will be given what is known as a technical denial.

A technical denial occurs when it is obvious that an individual is simply not eligible to be considered for disability benefits due to non-medical reasons. In other words, when a technical denial is issued due to income or resources (assets), then the claimant's case never undergoes a medical evaluation (i.e. medical records are not gathered or reviewed).

What happens if you have already filed for disability and then either increase your work earnings to the substantial gainful level, or go back to work with earnings at this level? As a disability examiner for social security, I ran into this scenario several times. All work on the case simply stops and the case is "denied for SGA" and returned to the social security field office where it originated.

Working when you already get disability

Working and earning more than a certain amount (the SGA amount) is treated this way for an individual who is applying for disability. However, for someone who is already receiving disability, it is treated another way. A person who is receiving Social Security Disability is given nine trial work periods. These are months in which an individual can attempt to return to work, earn money, and still receive disability benefits.

A person who returns to work must, of course, notify social security that they have done so (never make the mistake of failing to report work activity and earnings since this can possibly result in an overpayment and a cessation of benefits).

Once work activity has begun, the individual is entitled to receive nine trial work months. Nine months may not sound like a lot; however, the way social security treats the issue of trial work is fairly liberal and open-ended.

First of all, not every month that you work is considered one of the nine months. You have to actually earn a specified minimum amount defined as "services". Secondly, the trial work months do not have to be consecutive. They can be nonconsecutive and can actually occur in a rolling 60 month period. This gives extraordinary flexibility to an individual who is receiving disability benefits and is attempting to try working again.

However, even for the person for actually runs through their 9 trial work months, eligibility for disability benefits is not affected unless one's monthly gross earnings become equal to, or greater, than the SGA amount.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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