Increasingly, the choice to file for and receive unemployment benefits is becoming a legal barrier, or at the very least a serious negative credibility issue, in the eyes of many administrative law judges, in a pending disability claim. Only a disability attorney can assess your specific situation, but as a rule of thumb, unemployment benefits hurt your chances of winning a disability case.
Why You Might Need a Disability Attorney’s Help: A Tricky Situation
In order to receive unemployment benefits, a person must affirm in writing that they are ready, willing, and able to work. Indeed, they often have a duty to report their ongoing efforts to look for work to the state agency administering their benefits. Many see this as a direct conflict with a claim for disability in which the person tells the Social Security Administration they are unable to work. Indeed, some ALJs view receipt of unemployment benefits during a period of disability, or an allegation of disability during a time in which unemployment benefits are received, as fraud committed against at least one of the two benefit programs. Even with the best disability attorney, it can be an uphill battle to win a case with one of these ALJs presiding.
There is a technical difference between the programs which would allow a person to lawfully receive unemployment benefits and also make a claim for disability. This difference has been acknowledged by the Social Security Administration in a memorandum issued to all ALJs by the Chief Administrative Law Judge for the agency. However, as a practical matter, you jeopardize an award of disability benefits if you chose to apply for or receive unemployment benefits during the time period you and your disability attorney allege that you were disabled.
For what it is worth, under the Social Security Administration’s own rules, the ability to do work relates to the ability to perform full-time work. This is further defined as work performed 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, or an equivalent schedule. It is also related only to work which can be sustained over time on a “regular and continuing basis.” See Social Security Ruling 96-8p. Depending on income levels and other factors, therefore, a person who can do part-time work or short-term work may also qualify as disabled under the Social Security rules and regulations.
In most states, the promise to seek work, a necessity for receiving unemployment benefits, includes part-time work, short-term work, or even work which accommodates specific medical problems (even if such work is hard to find). Accordingly, a person and his or her disability attorney can truthfully affirm they are able to do some limited work and that they will seek work as it is defined by that program, and still meet the criteria to be disabled under Social Security rules.
Again, the wiser path is to not apply for or receive unemployment benefits if you plan to pursue a disability claim. Any RGG Law disability attorney will tell you that anything which raises a question regarding your credibility and honesty should be avoided. Sadly, this means giving up at least a temporary source of income which would otherwise be available during a difficult time, but winning your disability case will mean more in the long run.