In order to be eligible to receive disability benefits, a claimant may not be engaging in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). There are many aspects to the definition of SGA, but the basic rule is that a claimant cannot earn more than $1090.00 gross in a month. (This is the amount of the year 2015; the amount is adjusted yearly). There are other rules (not addressed in this article) that may affect whether or not earning this much or more is considered SGA. But assuming those rules do not apply, and a disability claimant works over the amount above, are they therefore barred from receiving disability? Not necessarily. Even if a disability claimant earns over SGA for 1 month (or even more as we will see below), that claimant may still be eligible for benefits in certain circumstances. Enter the Unsuccessful Work Attempt (“UWA”).
If a claimant works over SGA for up to 3 months, that work could be considered a UWA. However, for this to be the case, the claimant must either stop working entirely, or reduce their work to below SGA amounts.
Also, it must be shown that the claimant stopped working or reduced work due to their impairments or the removal of special conditions (not just because they lost their job – unless it is for medical reasons – or because they are trying to stay below SGA). Special conditions essentially means help doing your job, such as assistance from other employees, if you are allowed to work irregular hours or take frequent rest periods; if you were provided with special equipment or were assigned work especially suited to your impairment, if you were able to work only because of specially arranged circumstances, (for example, other persons helped you prepare for or get to and from your work), if you were permitted to work at a lower standard of productivity or efficiency than other employees, or if you were given the opportunity to work despite your impairment because of family relationship, past association with your employer, or your employer’s concern for your welfare.
Furthermore, the break in work activity must be “discontinued.” This means you must not work for at least 30 days after the UWA – taking a week off and then working for 3 more months does not count as a UWA.
If the claimant works over 3 months, but less than 6, and has to quit or reduce earnings due to an impairment or removal of special conditions, a UWA will be found if the claimant:
(i) was frequently absent from work because of an impairment;
(ii) performed unsatisfactory work because of an impairment;
(iii) worked during a period of temporary remission of an impairment; or
(iv) worked under special conditions that were essential to your performance and these conditions were removed.
If a claimant works for more than 6 months, the UWA will not apply regardless of why the work ended or was reduced below the SGA earnings level.