Work Rules for Social Security Disability

triage-cancer-blog-return-to-workIt can seem a daunting and foreboding idea to return to work while you’re on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), even when you feel fairly certain you’re ready. It’s almost guaranteed you had to fight for at least a year to get approved to be on the program in the first place and letting go of that security can be really scary, especially with a chronic illness that can be somewhat unpredictable and there are no guarantees that your health will remain good and stable over the next year, let alone the next five. What if you want to work, but can only work part-time or put in a few hours a week? What if you want to try starting your own business? What happens if you take a full-time job and things go great for the first year or two, only to find yourself sick and unable to perform your job duties?

If you’re interested in working at any level, bravo. You have that right. For many of us, our contributions to our families and society through gainful employment mean a great deal to us. We had career goals before we fell ill and that likely hasn’t changed. Does being disabled mean we can’t continue to make contributions when we’re able? Absolutely not. However, we need to know how those contributions might affect our bottom line and for many of us, our SSDI checks are a significant portion of that bottom line.

In order to take on work either part-time or full-time, as an employee or working for youself, whether you’re on SSDI or SSI, you need to understand the rules.

There are many ways to learn about the rules surrounding gainful employment while you’re on SSDI and transitioning to full-time employment and the protections you’ll be afforded for years afterward. The best place to start is on Social Security’s websites designed for the purpose; The Social Security Red Book and the Ticket to Work Website where you can learn about programs that help get you on your way to work at whatever level you’re able.

These websites will help you understand things like how the Ticket to Work program helps, work and program incentives like Trial Work Period, Expedited Reinstatement and Protection from Medical Continuing Disability Reviews.


In some cases, you can even retain your medicare after no longer qualifying for disability. For full details on these incentives and more, I strongly recommend not only reviewing these websites, but contacting an administrator for detailed information.

The Ticket to Work site will help you get in touch with a Work Incentive Planning Assistance (WIPA) program to help answer your questions and get you signed up for the program. My WIPA counselor helped to clarify several questions for me in my initial interview about the trial work period and really helped to set my mind at ease. She even helped to dispel a myth of my own. I was under the mistaken impression that if I did something that was considered self-employment, or was my own business, that it would count differently. This really isn’t the case. The money you earn seems to be counted the same regardless of whether you’re owner or employee and it all depends on how much you earn as to whether or not it’s counted toward your trial work period.

However the rules are rather complex and individual, so I won’t go into specifics. It’s best to speak individually with a WIPA representative who has all of your details and can address your specific situation. But if you desire to work a little or a lot, don’t let your disability or fear of losing your check stop you. There very well could be a solution that will work out nicely for you. Even if you opt to take a full-time job and leave the program and five years down the road you find that you’re no longer able to sustain working because your health situation has changed, the expedited reinstatement is there to help you.

If you’re in a position where you’re no longer able to do what you used to, look into local organizations that offer free job training or funding and grants for education to disabled persons like a vocational rehabilitation agencies or workforce employment networks. This is an excellent way to build new skills or brush up on those that you haven’t used in a while and need to be updated. Most cities have at least one organization that offers services like these. Often they include services to help you with your resume, interviewing skills, obtaining work attire, and may even offer access to someone who can help you with requesting on the job accommodations or acquiring assistance devices to help you perform a job.

Unlike Ticket to Work and WIPAs, rehabilitation programs aren’t just for SSI and SSDI recipients. So long as you have a disability, you will likely qualify. A friend of mine who was a massage therapist, but couldn’t handle the physical nature of the job due to her Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome recently completed an IT certification program through just such an organization. It allowed her to find more suitable employment for her particular issues in something that interested her, while she’s never been able to successfully gain disability status through social security. However, if you’re on SSI or SSDI, you should still be able to qualify for assistance with these programs.

No matter what route you choose, how much or how little you’d like to work, Social Security makes it easy and virtually risk-free to attempt working again when you feel you’re ready to do so. They obviously want you to succeed, but to succeed you have to try and in order to do that, you have to feel comfortable trying. They seem to get that, by making it easy with the trial work period, expedited reinstatement, the Medicare extension and the many resources they offer to help you on your way.

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