Will I be penalized for trying to work after filing for disability?

The following scenario and question was left as a comment on another post. Here is the comment reposted, along with the response to the questions asked.

"I filed for disability in November, hired an attorney and began to wait, and wait,...and wait. I had pretty much concluded that I wasn't going to be awarded. So, in an effort to keep from losing my home, in August I took a job at least "trying" to work. Then much to my surprise, one day in November I received a check for $9,000 and my award letter. I contacted SSI to make them aware that I had been trying to work because I didn't realize I was approved.

Even my dead-beat attorney didn't realize I had been approved. So, now I have worked for almost 3 months and am frightened SSI could not only "cancel" my benefits, but also ask for their $9,000 back. Has anyone ever had this happen to them? Of course I am no longer working, but I still have no idea what they might might do. I am fine with re-paying the $9,000...I just don't want to lose my benefits."

I cannot tell by your post if you are receiving Social Security Disability ,Supplemental Security Income disability benefits (SSI), or both. If you did not work longer than three months, there is a possibility that you may not have to worry. Social Security Disability applicants can have what is known as an unsuccessful work attempt.

Generally, unsuccessful work attempts can be excused if the work did not last more than three months. You may be entitled to keep the back pay and stay on your disability benefits.


1. Can I work without it affecting my disability or SSI?
2. Will Social Security deny my disability claim if I am working?
3. Are You Allowed to Work While Receiving Social Security Disability or SSI?

It is so hard to give you an answer because I do not know the facts of your disability claim. For example, exactly how long you worked or what you earned for the time you worked. I would say that you should report your work to Social Security, so that you will not be overpaid. Believe me, in this case it is better to know if you are going to remain eligible to receive disability benefits. If you are not eligible for disability benefits your overpayment will increase with each month of disability benefits that you receive.

At this point, there is nothing you can do about the fact that you worked, so you can either report the work or wait until Social Security reviews your disability claim. The advantage in reporting now is that you would know where you stand. If SSI is involved, you may not be entitled to some of the back pay simply because income for the months that you worked may make you ineligible for benefits.

As you can see, a lot of issues come up when disability applicants who have work activity and like I said I cannot answer this question with certainty. Of course, this has happened to other disability beneficiaries (many, many, many). You are not the first this has happened to nor will you be the last. I doubt that your disability benefits will be terminated, however you may or may not have an overpayment. I would suggest that you go to your local Social Security office and get some information.

Good luck!

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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