Disability determinations are tied to one’s ability to do work, so returning to work could naturally impact one’s disability claim. However, that impact could range from none to total preclusion of that claim. Determining how a return to work could affect your claim requires understanding an important term: “substantial gainful activity”.
What is substantial gainful activity and why is it important?
When employment results in income over a particular limit, it is considered substantial gainful activity. That limit is $1,350 per month as of 2022, though it is subject to change every year. Why does this matter?
Disability claims are evaluated using a five-step process. The first step requires determining if, using the income limit described above, the claimant had engaged in substantial gainful activity after their alleged onset date. If they had not, their claim proceeds to the next step in the evaluation. This is true even if the claimant had returned to work, so long as their income was not high enough to be considered substantial gainful activity.
What if I have substantial gainful activity?
If a claimant returns to work, and that work is considered substantial gainful activity due to the income limit described above, it often precludes their disability claim. This means they will be found “not disabled”. However, there are two exceptions to this: unsuccessful work attempts and sheltered working environments.
Exact definitions of those terms are outside the scope of this writing. Generally, however, if a claimant was employed for six months or less and that employment was terminated due to their impairment, that employment will be considered an unsuccessful work attempt and will not impact their disability determination. If the claimant can show that their employer altered their job environment and/or responsibilities to accommodate their impairment, their employment may be considered a “sheltered working environment” and will not impact their disability determination.
What if my employment was not an unsuccessful work attempt or in a sheltered work environment?
Before addressing this topic, notice that this scenario assumes that: (1) you have returned to work after your alleged onset date; (2) your income is higher than the substantial gainful activity level described above; and (3) you have worked, or intend to work, longer than six months and do not work in a sheltered work environment. If all of these conditions apply, you must adjust your alleged onset date to a date following termination of your employment. If you do not, or if you cannot due to continued employment, you will be found not disabled at the first step of the claim evaluation process.
If you would like to complete a free, no-obligation evaluation, contact our office today!
By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®