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Can You Work While on Disability?

written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 9/1/2010

If you are disabled, you may wonder whether or not you can you work on disability. The question, "Can you work on disability?" is answered here in a brief summary of the rules surrounding work and disabled status.

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    General Considerations

    To get on disability, you must be unable to do your previous work (whether as an employee or self employed) and unable to do other469px-KKC 2007 Crutches  work that meets the criteria for gainful employment as set by the Social Security Administration. Also to qualify, you have to be medically or physically impaired by a debilitating condition that will last for at least one year. If you are concerned about a shorter period of disability, consider purchasing a short term disability insurance policy that will pay benefits a lot sooner than the Social Security disability program.

    Can you work on disability? The answer is "Yes." The Social Security Administration has guidelines in place that set earnings limits on people who receive disability benefits, but they still can work.

    If a disabled person performs Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), the government seems to assume that you are not disabled and will issue a technical denial that makes no determination based on physical condition.

    The amount the Social Security Administration considers SGA varies from year to year, so before working while on disability or while applying for disability, be cautious about the amount you earn so you do not get into any unanticipated trouble.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/TheCoz

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    Should You Work While on Disability?

    Rather than asking "Can you work on disability?" perhaps you should ask, "Is it wise to work on disability?" instead. The answer to this question depends on your particular situation, so one general answer may not be suitable or applicable to everyone.

    While proceeding through the process of filing for disability, many advocates recommend that you do not work, even if you stay within the guidelines set forth by the Social Security Administration. Judges in disability cases often develop negative feelings about a claim when they find out that the claimant has the capability to work.

    Investigators for former employers, disgruntled ex-spouses, government agencies, and other entities may also check into your work habits and use your work against you in a variety of legal situations that may develop over the course of life.

    Therefore, although permissible, working while on disability does not always present a wise decision on your part. If you continue to qualify for disability, you should seek legal and professional advice concerning whether they advise you to work, and what rules govern your work.

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    Work Incentives

    The Social Security Administration has incentives in place for people who want to get off of disability and get back to work. The Work Planning and Assistance (WPA) program offers services that are designed to help people get back to work or to explore work options after a period of disability.

    Aspects of WPA include trial work programs, where your ability to go back to work is evaluated. A program to extend eligibility periods is available so you can work for a time without losing your claim. The WPA also offers plans that will extend Medicare for a time so you do not have to worry about losing your health care coverage. The program has opportunities that you can use to help pay for work-related expenses. If your question, "Can you work on disability?" still is unanswered, you can read more at the Social Security disability website.