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Substantial Gainful Activity Explained

April 23, 2021 Disability

One of the most common questions our Baltimore SSD attorney receives is whether one can get disability benefits while working. And, like most legal questions, the answer is “it depends.” Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits generally are intended for individuals whose disability prevents them from working entirely, but the mere fact that a claimant is working when applying for SSDI benefits will not defeat his or her claim. This is because the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers the term “work” a bit differently. Under SSA regulations, a claimant must be unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) to qualify for benefits. Put simply, the SGA requirement means that a claimant can do a little bit of work, but not too much

What Does “Substantial Gainful Activity” Mean? 

SGA is work that is both substantial and gainful, as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations

  • “Substantial work activity” is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. Work may still be considered substantial even if it is done on a part-time basis, if the claimant gets paid less than before, or if the claimant has less responsibility than before. 
  • “Gainful work activity” is activity done for pay. Work activity is gainful if it is the type of work usually done for pay, even if pay is not received. 

Other activities — such as household chores, taking care of oneself, school attendance, and socializing — are not considered SGA. 

How the SSA Determines Whether You Are Engaged in SGA

When determining whether a claimant is eligible for SSDI benefits, the SSA takes a comprehensive approach to the claimant’s work activities. It considers the following five factors when making its determination: 

The Nature of Your Work

Work that requires the use of experience and skills or that involves supervisory responsibilities is more likely to be considered SGA than lower-level work. 

How Well You Perform

Workers who perform satisfactorily are more likely to be considered engaged in SGA than those who don’t perform as well or who need more assistance and supervision than other people doing similar work. 

Whether Your Work is Done Under Special Conditions

Work done under special conditions is more likely to be considered SGA than work done under normal conditions because special conditions indicate that the claimant’s employer has taken his or her condition into account. Some of these conditions include: 

  • Special assistance from other employees
  • Irregular work hours or frequent breaks
  • Special equipment
  • Assignment of tasks well-suited to the condition
  • Permission to work at a lower standard of productivity 

If You are Self-Employed

Supervisory, managerial, or advisory services performed as a self-employed individual may show SGA. 

Time Spent in Work

 Workers who work fewer hours than similar employees are less likely to be found to be engaged in SGA, although the SSA does not make determinations on this factor alone. 

Contact a Baltimore SSD Attorney for More Information 

If you are currently working but considering applying for SSDI benefits, you should speak to an attorney who can help you determine whether you are engaged in SGA according to the SSA. For more information, please contact Baltimore SSD attorney Emmett B. Irwin by using our online form or calling us at 443-839-0818.