The backlog of cases before the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review is tremendous. In Maryland, claimants can expect to wait 464 days from the date the Request for a Hearing is filed before the claim is heard by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). In some jurisdictions, the average wait is over 730 days (greater than two years!). Obviously, this creates a burden on claimants whose living expenses continue but who are unable to participate fully in the workforce.

At least once a week, a client will contact us with the same scenario. The individual is unable to work full time, but needs to keep paying the bills. He or she is offered part-time work that will help relieve some of these pressures. What would be the effect of this part-time employment? Will benefits be lost? The answer depends on the amount and type of work.

In order to qualify for benefits, an individual may not work at the level of “substantial gainful activity.” In order to determine whether someone is working at this level, the Social Security Administration looks at earnings. For 2016, the average payout is amount is $1,166 per month. Ordinarily, earnings beneath this level are not considered substantial and would not disqualify a person from receiving benefits.

Nevertheless, common sense is required when considering possible types of employment. For example, if an individual is earning only $800 a month, but doing heavy construction work, the ALJ will likely find that this individual could perform a less strenuous job for a longer hours and will deny the claim.

There are exceptions to these rules. Work attempts lasting up to six months, which the claimant had to stop because of the impairment, may be considered “unsuccessful” and the earnings for this time period will not be considered in determining substantial gainful activity. Likewise, if a job is performed under special conditions, such as in a sheltered workshop, or made available out of charity by a friend or family member, it may not be considered substantial.

There are other scenarios in which a claimant may work on a limited basis. Before starting employment, the claimant should consult an attorney to determine what is allowed and what exceptions apply. The claimant should keep a diary of exactly what tasks are performed at the place of employment, and what accommodations are made for his or her disability. In my experience, ALJs recognize and appreciate the need for disabled individuals to perform limited work; nevertheless, the claimant must convince the ALJ that the job is of such limited scope that it should not be considered substantial gainful activity.

Interested in learning more? Contact us today and we’ll be happy to help.