You’re thinking of taking a job greeting people at your local hardware store. It’s not too hard, and you know they’re busy around the holidays—it would be a huge help to the staff to have someone extra on hand during the winter rush. But while they’re willing to work around your disability, you’re not sure the Social Security Administration (SSA) will be so understanding. Will taking a seasonal job mean losing your disability benefits?

How a Seasonal Job Can Affect Your Disability Income

Generally speaking, a period of employment during disability can affect your benefits if the work is found to be "sustainable". Sustainability is determined by the type of work that you do, how limited you are in your ability to perform the work, and the amount of money you earn each month. For example, you may be able to work and continue to receive benefits if your employment qualifies as:

  • Trial work. If you stopped working due to a disability, but want to attempt part-time work during the holidays as a way to “test” your work abilities, you can continue to receive benefits while you work. However, you can only work while receiving benefits for 9 months within a five-year period, so you should keep an eye on how many months of work you perform in order to make sure your benefits are not cut off.
  • An "unsuccessful work attempt". If you tried to work a seasonal job but were forced to discontinue working because of your disability, you may still be entitled to benefits during the months you were employed.
  • Insubstantial income. The SSA’s main concern is whether or not beneficiaries are able to earn a substantial income. If they are, they are not considered eligible for disability benefits. While working part-time in a seasonal job may not seem like a way to earn a living, a judge in your case may assume that your part-time work demonstrates an ability to work year-round, and deny or discontinue your benefits as a result.

It should be noted that just because you are working does not mean that you are able to earn a living. Many beneficiaries have to purchase assistive devices and other special equipment to be able to work, making their take-home pay considerably less than it is on paper. In addition, many jobs performed by disabled workers do not pay well enough to afford the person’s cost of living, even if they were performed full-time.

If you are concerned about how employment affects your disability benefits, be sure to order a copy of our free guide, 5 Deadly Mistakes That Can Destroy Your Social Security Disability Case, or contact us to tell us about your situation in detail.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska
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