The Social Security Administration (SSA) has strict rules for disability benefits applicants. One of the many qualifications for Social Security disability benefits is whether you could perform a substantial amount of work. If the SSA believes you're able to earn enough money to support yourself, you may not be considered disabled, and your application will likely be denied.

What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

Disabled Worker in a Wheelchair Using a ComputerThe requirements for Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) can be confusing because they have both physical and financial thresholds. The monthly income cap on SGA in 2022 is $1,350 for non-blind applicants and $2,260 for statutorily blind applicants.

When considering SGA, the Social Security Administration will consider:

  • Physically or mentally demanding work. Any work that requires significant physical or mental effort will be counted as substantial, even if you're only able to work part-time or at a different level than your pre-injury ability.
  • Self-employment. A person's effort and earnings from self-employment are rarely constant, making these applicants' wages more difficult to estimate. To calculate self-employment wages, SSA will review the nature and scope of your work, compare your work activities to similar businesses, and determine how much you would have to pay if you hired someone to do the work for you.
  • Volunteer work. Even if you work without pay, SSA could still count your volunteer work as SGA if it shows that you have the ability to work at the SGA level or if it's something a person would normally be paid to do. However, some volunteer programs are exempt from SGA consideration under the Domestic Volunteer Service Act of 1973.

Will Substantial Gainful Employment Always Disqualify Me From Social Security Disability Benefits?

No! Just as the SSA could deny a claim if the work you do is less than SGA, it can also approve benefits to applicants who are earning SGA. For example, you may be approved for or continue to receive benefits if your earnings include:

  • Subsidized employment. You may be considered disabled if you're being paid more than your services are worth, known as "subsidized employment." These jobs could include working for friends and family for above-average pay, or employment through a vocational rehabilitation agency that makes accommodations for your disability. For people in subsidized employment, SSA will compare your earnings to the actual value of the services you provide.
  • Trial work periods. The SSA allows disabled beneficiaries to transition back into the workforce without immediately losing their benefits. Known as "trial work periods," these allow disabled workers to test their ability to work without placing them back in line for benefits if their conditions worsen. A beneficiary can work over the SGA level for up to nine months over a sixty-month period and still collect monthly disability checks.
  • Unsuccessful work attempts. An unsuccessful work attempt (UWA) applies when a beneficiary earns SGA for less than six months, but then leaves the job (or earns under SGA) due to medical reasons. If the SSA believes a UWA has occurred, the beneficiary may qualify for an earlier onset date of disability and potentially collect a higher amount of back benefits.
  • Impairment-related work expenses. If you lose a significant portion of your income to disability-related services and equipment, SSA may deduct the cost of these impairment-related work expenses to get a better estimate of your actual earnings. Common expenses may include transportation to and from work, the cost of a caretaker to help you dress and bathe each morning, the cost of specialized devices or training to do your job comfortably, or other costs of overcoming the limitations of a disability in order to remain employed.

Let Phillip M. Hendry Law Help You With Your Social Security Disability Claim

It's important to remember that substantial gainful employment doesn't just bar you from having your application approved—it can also result in the termination of your benefits if you begin working above the SGA level. If you're worried about losing your monthly payments, we can explain your options at no cost to you.

Phillip M. Hendry Law helps injured and disabled workers throughout Louisiana, East Texas, and Southwest Arkansas get the Social Security disability benefits they need. Please fill out our online contact form to set up a free consultation or call (318) 553-5900 for more information on your claim.

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