Hurrah, you have just filed your disability claim. Now you must wait for a response, and it is not coming tomorrow. Come to think of it, it is probably going to take a little while to hear back – I mean a government entity responding hastily, you’ve been to the DMV, right? Meanwhile, you still need to feed yourself, pay a few bills or rent, maybe even work a job to make a little cash – fathom that. Also, there’s the rub. Can you work while waiting for your disability claim? Seems a little contradictory. Let me give you a lawyerly response: it depends.
Engaging in work activity is not a preclusion to applying for Social Security Disability. An application for any of SSA’s disability programs serve as your statement that you are unable to work a “regular and continuous” full time job. To the extent that any work activity provides substantial income, is physically or mentally strenuous, exists in the national economy without accommodations for disabilities, and has hours nearing or at full time shifts, SSA will struggle to approve that application.
- Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
“Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) is a term used to describe work activity and earnings by the SSA. More importantly, it is an absolute cut-off point. If you earn more than the monthly SGA amount, your claim will be denied. In 2023, the monthly SGA amount is $1,470. For blind individuals, it is $2,460. Typically, the SGA amount increases each year. The SGA amount is a good measure to start with when considering to work while filing disability because it is a clear line in the sand.
- Prior Work
The SSA will also consider whether your impairments prevent you from performing any of your past work. If not, they may decide you do not have a qualifying disability. This is relevant to keep in mind because if you claim disability and continue to work the same job while waiting for your claim, the SSA may use this as evidence that you do not have a qualifying disability.
In general, keep in mind the notion of credibility when considering to work while filing a disability claim. Working may contradict or be inconsistent with your claim and thus, weaken your credibility. For example, if you are claiming disability for chronic back pain, you do not want to work a job that requires heavy lifting. Also, working a physically or mentally strenuous job, especially near full time shifts, can diminish your credibility because it can depict that you are able to work a “regular and continuous” full time job.
Work activity is not an automatic prohibition to applying for Social Security Disability. However, the SSA is less likely to approve claimants’ applications whose work activity provides substantial income, is physically or mentally strenuous, exists in the national economy without accommodations for disabilities, and has hours nearing full shifts.
 See Social Security, Disability Benefits, https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/disability/qualify.html#anchor3.