Can I Apply for Disability if I Am Working with Accommodations?

September 3, 2022

An important concept related to Social Security Disability payments is “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA).

The Social Security Administration (SSA) says that if you are engaged in work (even part-time work) that results in “Substantial Gainful Activity,” you are not eligible for disability benefits.

For 2022 if you earn more than $1,350 per month (or $2,260 if you are blind) in gross income, you will be considered engaged in “Substantial Gainful Activity.”

It is the SSA’s position that if you can make over this minimal amount of money, you are not functionally limited enough to be considered disabled under their rules. (Click here for the SSA’s general information about work activity.)

There are a few exceptions to the SGA rule—special circumstances—where an individual may be receiving more monthly earnings than the SGA limit and will still be considered to have a qualifying disability and thus be eligible for disability benefits.

One special circumstance is known as “accommodated work,” which is when an employer creates special opportunities for a disabled worker that typically do not exist for the other employees of that company.

Accommodated work could be flexible hours under which an impaired employee is allowed to work only when they feel well enough to do so, for example.

Or maybe an employer will provide a place for an employee with impairments to lie down when their pain gets unbearable.

Another accommodation could be classifying the worker as an independent contractor, even though other employees doing the same work are classified as salaried employees.

These are all examples of accommodated work with an employer making special allowances for an individual’s disability.

With the national unemployment rate at record low levels and the competition for workers at an all-time high, accommodated work is becoming more common.

Under Social Security rules, income from accommodated work is not counted as part of the calculations for Substantial Gainful Activity.

But there are two important conditions which apply to accommodated work that workers need to know:

  • First, you must be able to prove that your work is truly accommodated. The best proof here is a statement from your employer spelling out in detail what accommodations have been made on your behalf. Sometimes, though, employers are reluctant to provide such a statement.
  • Second, you need to know there is a two-year time limit on how long you can exempt your accommodated work income from the calculation of your SGA income.

If you are working while applying for disability benefits, even with accommodations, it is important to keep a work journal.

This should document your absences, days where you left early or came in late, any special equipment you receive, help you receive from co-workers to perform your job, or any other work conditions or expectations that set you apart from other employees performing the same job.

In our firm’s more than 40 years of practicing disability law, we have helped many disabled individuals who were applying for disability benefits but wanted to go back to work.

In some of those cases accommodated work made it possible.

But the dilemma, the questions, facing someone with an impairment who wants to work again is this: “What happens if I go back to work and abandon my application for disability benefits, but then find my disability makes it impossible for me to continue? What then?”

Our advice is that the road to winning disability benefits is long and difficult to navigate. If you can return to work before your case has been decided, don’t give up on your claim. Going back to work doesn’t always mean the end of your disability claim.

If your disability case is pending, before making that final decision to return to work consult with your disability attorney.

The rules regarding Social Security Disability benefits and working are complex.

At Nash Disability Law, our disability lawyers have represented hundreds of clients who have attempted to work while pursuing benefits, and we can offer you a free evaluation about your situation.

Contact our experienced Chicagoland law firm at 312.443.0900 or send us an email through the forms at the top or bottom of this page to get the right advice.