Can I Still Get Disability Benefits if I Tried to Work But Had to Stop?

Social Security Disability benefits were created to provide support if you can’t work due to serious health problems, and you’re not retirement age yet. When your income stops, disability benefits help you stay afloat.

This is meant to fill a gap for people who worked and paid into the Social Security system but have to stop working before they can claim retirement benefits.

So being unable to work is a core qualification for getting Social Security Disability.

You can get denied for disability benefits if you work more than a minimum standard set by Social Security.

So should you worry if you tried to work, and maybe did work for a short while, but you had to stop because of your medical conditions?

Will you get penalized for that period of work when you apply for financial assistance?

Not necessarily.

Social Security may recognize that your recent stint working, and then stopping, could be a sign that your impairments, in fact, do make it impossible for you to work—and therefore qualify you for benefits that can help stabilize your life.

They call it an “Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA).”

Keep reading for more on how a UWA works under Social Security Disability rules.

What Is an Unsuccessful Work Attempt under Social Security Disability?

As a general rule, Social Security will consider an effort to work to be an Unsuccessful Work Attempt if the work lasts less than six months and ends, or the amount of work gets reduced below certain levels because of your physical or mental impairments.

The limit for how much you can work and still get Social Security Disability benefits is called “Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).” If you go above Substantial Gainful Activity, you’re disqualified from benefits.

Social Security defines SGA by dollar amounts.

In 2022, you couldn’t earn more than $1,350 per month, otherwise, Social Security would call it Substantial Gainful Activity and deny your benefits. (People with blindness could earn $2,260 before exceeding the limit.)

Another Way to Show You Had an Unsuccessful Work Attempt

Social Security will also consider an attempt at work to be a UWA if you had to stop working—or you had to cut back to below SGA level—because your employer took away special accommodations for your impairment.

If those special conditions are what made it possible for you to keep working, and they were removed, a stretch of work may be deemed an Unsuccessful Work Attempt.

Some examples of such special conditions:

  • You required and received special assistance from other employees.
  • You were allowed irregular hours.
  • You were allowed frequent rest periods.
  • You were allowed to perform at a lower productivity or efficiency level than other employees.

Social Security will also consider the details of what you did on the job when evaluating whether or not you have a qualifying disability.

For example, if you are a younger person (less than 50 years of age) and are filing a claim based solely on physical limitations, the fact that you were able to perform the extremely physically demanding job of drywall hanger full-time for over five months could lead Social Security to say you could do sit-down work now, even with your health problems.

When you are over 50, however, Social Security will be more likely to say you couldn’t switch to different work—and award you benefits.

When you’re applying for Social Security Disability you need to make sure that your work background is presented to Social Security in a way that makes it clear an attempt at work doesn’t prove you could keep working (so you don’t need benefits), but instead shows how your medical conditions blocked you from working when you tried.

One of the best ways to get this right is to work with a disability lawyer. An experienced disability attorney knows how to explain both your health problems and work history so you get the best possible chance of winning benefits.

Geary Disability Law has helped thousands of people in Wisconsin win benefits. For help with your claim, get in touch with us.

Written by Tim Geary.

Disclaimer: Blog entries are not intended to be a substitute for actual legal advice. It is important for a representative to understand the specific facts and circumstances of your case before they can provide you actual legal advice. If you have questions about your Social Security Disability benefits, please contact a qualified representative to discuss your case.

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