Unsuccessful Work Attempts and Your Social Security Disability Claim

April 21,2017
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Whether you have applied for or are currently receiving Social Security disability benefits or supplemental security income, you may consider trying to work again, either on a full or part-time basis.  The Social Security Administration encourages people to try and return to work by having policies in place that should not punish you for trying.  Based on the amount of money you earn and the amount of time you can keep a job, your attempt to return to work may not hurt your Social Security disability claim or application for supplemental security income benefits.  

When Is an Unsuccessful Work Attempt?

According to the Social Security Administration, an unsuccessful work attempt occurs if you are forced to either stop or reduce the amount of work that you are performing within a specified amount of time and results in receiving wages below a specified amount of monthly income.  If these conditions occur, the Social Security Administration does not consider you capable of working on a sustainable basis, referred to as the ability to perform “substantial gainful activity”.  

According to the Social Security Administration, you can generally work at a single position for up to three months before it would be considered an unsuccessful work attempt.  Working between three and six months at a single position will cause the administrative law judge to review and evaluate other factors to determine whether this work constitutes an unsuccessful work attempt in your Social Security disability claim.  

These criteria include:

  • how often you were absent from your job due to your physical or mental impairments,
  • the quality of the work you performed on the job,
  • whether your mental or physical impairments had temporarily improved during the time you were working,
  • whether your physical or mental condition changed significantly while you were working, and
  • any other special allowances that your employer may have offered to help you out.  

If you are able to continuously work at a single job for six months or more at a time, the Social Security Administration will usually not consider your work to be an unsuccessful work attempt, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.   

How Do Breaks Between Jobs Affect Your Social Security Disability Claim?

Any break between jobs must be both significant and related to your mental or physical impairments.  For a “significant” break between jobs, you would need to be out of work for at least thirty days, be forced to change to another type of work due to your impairments, or be forced to work for another employer because of your impairments.  

Losing your job because your company went out of business or closed the store where you worked would not count because that would not be an injury-related reason that you lost your job.  Simply quitting a job once your employment starts to reach one of these deadlines may not help your Social Security disability attorney establish the job to be an unsuccessful work attempt.  

An administrative law judge is expected to look into the circumstances of your work, including the reason why you are no longer working.  To be considered an unsuccessful work attempt, you job should end because either you cannot keep working due to your physical or mental impairments, or because you are no longer granted a particular type of special condition at work that was related to your impairment.  

Proving That You Left Your Job Due to Health Reasons

When stating you left a job due to its effects on your physical or mental health, the amount or type of proof you might need to support your claim will usually depend on the judge.  Some administrative law judges may simply take your word for it when you say had to stop working due to your physical or mental impairments.  Others may want additional proof.  

As usual, your medical records and opinion statements by medical treatment providers tend to provide the most convincing proof regarding the extent of your disabilities.  An administrative law judge may take additional care to review your medical records during the period that you were working to see if there were any significant changes in your physical or mental health while you had a job.

If you did not leave your employment on bad terms, you may want to request that your former employer write a letter for your file describing why you had to leave the position due to your physical or mental limitations.  While not as important as medical opinions, such a letter could help support your own testimony and credibility in your Social Security disability claim.  Do not be surprised if your former employer refuses to write such a letter, however.  Some employers may be concerned about how such a letter could affect their own rights or affect their business from a labor or employment law perspective.

What Is an Impairment-Related Special Condition?

There are a number of accommodations that an employer may provide that the Social Security Administration could consider to be an “impairment-related special condition”.  An impairment-related special condition provided by your employer could include allowing you to perform your job duties at a lower level of quality or at a slower rate than other employees.  

Your employer may give you different assignments than other employees, may allow you the ability to take more breaks than other employees, work different hours than other employees, or getting more help from employees to do your duties.  Your employer may also provide you with special equipment to do the job that other employees do not receive.

If you can show that your employer let you work for them based on some other kind of relationship, such as doing a favor for family member or friend, even that could be enough.  Generally speaking, any special assistance or accommodation that your employer provided to you individually could be very important to establishing your temporary work as an unsuccessful work attempt as long as the accommodation relates to your physical or mental impairments.

Discuss Your Social Security Disability Claim With Your Attorney

If you worked at all during the period of time when you are requesting Social Security disability or supplemental security income, you should make sure to discuss your work with your Social Security disability attorney.  

When possible, you should let your attorney know the dates you worked, your job duties, how you were hired for the position, and why you stopped working.  You should be prepared to answer questions about the work you did, any special treatment you received from the company or your boss, your relationships with your boss and co-workers, and any contact you had with customers or others outside the office.  

By going through this information with your attorney, you will help them be able to convince the administrative law judge that the short period of time that you were working should not prevent you from receiving disability benefits.

Contact Us Today

For questions about your Social Security disability claim, contact Hermann Law Group, PLLC today.