Can You Work and Collect Disability Benefits?

When you collect Social Security disability benefits, the decision whether or not to attempt to work is complicated, because you need to consider personal, medical, vocational, and legal issues. The most important thing to remember is that trying to work should not lessen your chances of receiving Social Security disability benefits. There are three basic situations in which someone who is working may still be entitled to disability benefits.

You are working part-time on a regular basis

Social Security defines the ability to work as the ability to work “on a regular and continuous basis,” and further defines work as a five-day week, eight-hour per day effort. If someone chooses to only work part-time, that does not mean he or she is disabled. However, a person who cannot work five days a week and/or six to eight hours a day because of medical problems can argue, often successfully, that part-time work activity is not "substantial" enough to prevent payment of disability benefits.

You are working sporadically when able

If you can work on and off, but you can't work “on a regular and continuous basis,” you can be considered disabled. For example, if your medical condition is episodic, and only prevets you from working some of the time, or if you must miss a lot of work due to illness or hospitalizations, you can be considered disabled.

You are attempting a return to full-time employment

Returning to work, even full-time, does not necessarily mean that disability benefits will be denied. This is a somewhat complicated area of Social Security disability law, but Social Security will permit you to work at "substantial" levels for up to nine months (after you have been found disabled) before questioning whether or not your benefits should end. This is called the Trial Work Period.

If you have already worked full-time for nine months, or you are quite certain that your condition has improved to the point that you will be able to work on a regular basis, it still may be possible to obtain disability benefits, as long as your disabling impairment(s) prevented you from working for at least a 12-month period prior to returning to work. This is called a "closed period" of disability.

For more information in general, see our article on working while receiving disability benefits.

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