Answers From a Disability Attorney: What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

AdminSocial Security Disability

When the Social Security Administration considers a disability claim, their decision-makers use a five-step sequential evaluation process. See, 20. C.F.R. 404.1520 in the Code of Federal Regulations. Here, disability attorney Sam Coring will explain substantial gainful activity.

Step one of that process is determining if the claimant (person applying for disability benefits) is engaged in “substantial gainful activity,” or what is commonly referred to as SGA. SGA is essentially work activity that meets certain requirements as to earnings and duration. The exact amount of gross earnings that counts as SGA is adjusted from year to year.

Tables setting forth the SGA thresholds by year can be found at the Social Security Administration’s website.

The earnings definition for SGA in 2016 for blind individuals is $1,820 per month in gross earnings and for those with other disabilities it is $1,130 per month in gross earnings.

If you exceed this level of earnings, but do not sustain this work over time, the SGA level work may not count against you and might be classified as an “unsuccessful work attempt,” or UWA. If the work attempt is less than three months in duration and ends because of your medical problems, most often the work activity will not be a barrier to a claim of disability. A disability attorney can help you determine your earning level.

There are other special rules which apply in terms of periods of work activity, including those that exceed 3 months in duration which may be used to get a claim past Step One of the sequential evaluation process.

Finally, if a person is working at the SGA level in terms of income and does so for a duration that would normally exceed any reasonable definition of an unsuccessful work attempt, but the claimant receives special treatment or accommodations in the workplace which makes the work activity not truly competitive work, then an exception can apply.

This is certainly true for work settings such as a sheltered workshop. Even with other employers, significant accommodations may include extra and unscheduled breaks, a flexible schedule, no consequences for unscheduled or frequent absenteeism, special assistance from other employees or unusual intervention and support from a supervisor.

For more information about how work activity can affect your disability claim, you should contact a qualified disability attorney at RGG Law who handles disability cases.