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Question of the Month: “If I drive for Lyft or Uber, will that affect my disability case?”

December 7, 2018

“If you are applying for Social Security disability, driving for Lyft or Uber is considered working, and may affect how an adjudicator or judge decides your case,” says Nash Disability Law Attorney Dan Rosen. The same Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations which apply to other forms of self-employment also govern how the SSA views work in the “gig economy” like driving for ride-sharing companies.

If you are self-employed and are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration will evaluate your work to determine if it is “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) using one of three tests:

  1. Significant Services and Income Test. If you are the sole owner or worker in your business and you earn more than $1,220 per month (2019 SGA limit), you are considered to be engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity and you will not be eligible for benefits. If the SSA determines that you are not providing significant services or making substantial income, they will perform the next two tests.
  2. Comparability Test. SSA regulations state that “if your work activity, in terms of factors such as hours, skills, energy output, efficiency, duties, and responsibilities, is comparable to that of unimpaired individuals in your community who are in the same or similar businesses as their means of livelihood” then your work will be considered Substantial Gainful Activity regardless of how much money you earn.
  3. Countable Income Test. In this test the SSA will calculate your net income—gross income minus your business expenses. Basically this is using the same income amount that you would report to the IRS. Once all the allowable expenses are deducted from your earnings, the figure that remains is called “Countable Income.” Countable Income is the figure used to determine whether or not you have exceeded the Substantial Gainful Activity limits.

(More on Social Security disability for the self-employed and the three tests can be found in the Social Security’s Regulations.)

As you can see, driving for Lyft or Uber may be considered “Substantial Gainful Activity” even if your earnings fall below the earnings limit. While how much you earn driving for a ride-sharing company is important, a judge may not see it as decisive evidence in your case. “Earnings from self-employment—like driving for Uber or Lyft—can vary considerably from month-to-month due to reasons like seasonal demand, how hard a person wants to work, or even the weather. The ALJ may look at even a low amount of self-employment income as an unreliable indicator of how disabled a person is,” Rosen says.

Beyond the self-employment limits, driving for Uber or Lyft presents some unique obstacles to earning Social Security disability benefits. Dan Rosen points out that “Administrative Law Judges, who decide whether or not you are disabled and therefore eligible for benefits, often ask claimants if they drive themselves or family members to run errands, to go to medical appointments, or in other situations. The judge may factor in your ability to drive when gauging your disability, because it takes a lot of attention to drive a car. So you can see how driving for pay for Uber or Lyft may be an issue.”

Whether you worked for yourself or as a salaried employee, winning the disability benefits you have earned can be complex. If you are looking for help, contact your local Chicagoland Social Security Disability lawyers at Nash today to discuss your unique situation.