Can I Work While Awaiting Disability Approval?

Senior man who owns a house painting business in his shop.

This question is a common one among disability applicants. After all, you more than likely don’t have any source of income during the period you are waiting on a decision, so you may be tempted to just “power through it” until you hear back with a decision.

The answer: kind of.

Most attorneys will tell you that your case has the best chance of approval if you are not working. Which is true. If you’re working, the Social Security Administration  (SSA) might not believe you are truly disabled.

SSDI and SSI General Rules

However, you can technically do limited amounts of work, so long as you don’t make more than $1,090 per month for SSDI.

With SSI your income cannot exceed the limits set by the SSA.

If you were working after your alleged onset date (the date you told the SSA your disability began) and earned more than $1,090 per month, but have not been working recently, the SSA could approve you for benefits, but change your alleged onset date. While you are approved for benefits, it will limit how much backpay you are entitled to.

Unsuccessful Work Attempts (SSDI Only)

The SSA wants to encourage you to work if you can, but doesn’t want to penalize you if your attempt at returning to work is unsuccessful.

For this reason, if you are applying for SSDI and attempt to return to work, but have to leave again after three months for medical reasons, they will not penalize you for it.

Additionally, if you return to work for longer than three months but less than six months, it can also be considered an unsuccessful work attempt if you had to leave your job due to your medical condition and frequent absences/work performance problems. This also applies to conditions that go into remission and then return.

However, if you go back to work for more than six months and earn more than $1,090, it will not be considered an unsuccessful work attempt and your application for benefits will more than likely be denied.

While unsuccessful work attempts are not counted against your application for benefits, you are not eligible for benefits during any month you earned more than $1,090. It is important to let the SSA know if and when you attempted to go back to work so they can adjust your benefits accordingly, otherwise, you will have to repay them for any compensation received during that period of time.

The best advice we can give you about working during a pending disability claim is to consult with a disability attorney. Every situation is different, so they would be in the best position to advise you on how working (even on a part-time basis) could affect your disability claim.