The determination of whether an individual is disabled rests upon may factors, but there is a central inquiry: whether or not this individual can engage in “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA). SGA is a bit of a legal term of art. It is basically a concept, which in its simpliest form asks “how much are you earning.” Social Security annually adjusts the amount of monthly earnings which is considered to constitute “Substantial Gainful Activity.” In 2016, this amount for non-blind individuals is $1,130. SGA for the non-blind disabled applies to Social Security and SSI benefits. For blind individuals this amount is $1,820. SGA for blind individuals does not apply to Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The basic idea is that if you are able to engage in SGA, you are not disabled (if it were only that easy).
Individuals that are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity are eligible for disability benefits. Anyone earning more than a certain monthly threshold amount is at risk for being considered to be engaging in SGA (and losing their case). The amount of monthly earnings that is considered to be substantial gainful activity can be dependent upon the nature of the disability. As mentioned in the introductory paragraph, the classic distinction is between blind and non- blind individuals. The Social Security Act provides for a higher amount of substantial gainful activity for statutorily blind individuals.
However, as almost always with rules and regulations, there is an exception(s) to the rule regarding substantial gainful activity. There are scenarios where an individual may be receiving more monthly earnings than the SGA threshold, but still be considered disabled and eligible for disability benefits. One such example of a special circumstance is known as the “sheltered work” or “special environment” exception. This term typically applies to the situation where an individual is offered some special opportunity (an accommodation to permit the person to continue working) by an employer that normally does not exist for other employees of the same employer.
An example of this would be where an employer gives someone, perhaps a friend or relative, a job with flexible hours, which accommodates the individual’s disability by allowing him to work when he feels well enough to do so, or perhaps a cot to lay down off & on to help cope with pain or fatigue…. . The employer may even try to treat the accommodated worker as an independent contractor working for commissions, on a limited work schedule, while having other salaried employees responsible for similar tasks and working 40 hour work weeks. This is an example of a situation where an employer provides an opportunity or accommodation that he would not normally give to anyone else.
This is but one example of a way to circumvent the SGA guidelines. There are also unsuccessful work attempts, income averaging, etc. If you work for wages, SSA will look at the gross income and simply look at the monthly earnings, so it is easy to see if you are working at a SGA level. For self-employed persons, this get s considerably more complicated.
One of the best ways to make sure you understand all of the technical, legal requirements associated with applying for disability benefits is to retain the services of an experienced, knowledgeable, and qualified Social Security Disability attorney. Contact Sullivan Law Office today. We offer free consultations, so there is absolutely nothing to lose! We look forward to hearing from you. Call 888-587-0228 or visit us online.