You didn’t want to stay out of work for a day longer than was absolutely necessary. So when your doctor told you that you could return to your job on a limited basis, you were overjoyed that your life could finally go back to normal. But just a few months later, you were back in his office, in pain—and out of work—all over again.

Does My Employment Qualify as an Unsuccessful Work Attempt?

Many disabled workers will try to return to their jobs (or find alternate employment) after their injuries stabilize, only to find that they are unable to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) understands that injury recovery can be unpredictable, and that not all jobs performed by disabled workers provide enough money for a decent living.

As a result, SSA has created a work exception for beneficiaries called an "unsuccessful work attempt". This term is used to describe a period of employment during a time when the applicant was disabled. As long as the work attempt lasted less than six months and was not considered substantial gainful activity (SGA), the applicant may still collect benefits for the months he was working.

There are different qualifications for unsuccessful work attempts depending on how long you were employed. For instance, if you were working for three months or less, your work attempt must have ended because you were unable to continue due to a doctor’s restrictions or because the special conditions that allowed you to work were removed. Some examples of special conditions include

  • Assistive devices or equipment (handrails, office modifications, wheelchair ramps, a designated work area, etc.)
  • Dedicated assistance in some of your job duties from other employees
  • Transportation arrangements
  • Supervisor permission to modify working hours (such as allowing additional rest breaks, working irregular hours, or less overall productivity)
  • Work assignments specially designed around your disability
  • Other accommodations made by your employer

If you were able to work for more than three months—but less than six—the rules are more complicated. In addition to having your special conditions removed, you must also be able to demonstrate one or more of the following:

  • Frequent absences from work that are directly related to your impairment
  • Consistent unsatisfactory work performance due to your disability
  • That your work attempt occurred during a period of temporary remission of your condition

What If I Never Stopped Working During My Disability Period?

Unfortunately, you must have a break in employment of at least 30 days between the date of your disability and the date you began working for the period to count as an unsuccessful work attempt. This does not mean that your benefits will automatically be denied, but if they are approved, you will not be paid benefits in the months where you were working.Most importantly you must engage in substantial gainful activity ( $1090per month in 2015) during the first twelve months after the onset of your disability. .

As trusted Social Security disability attorneys, we know that there is potential for special circumstances in every applicant’s case. We can examine the details of your claim and help you make your best case to Social Security, getting you maximum benefits. Email us at [email protected] or call us at(402) 933-5405 for a no cost evaluation of your claim.


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