Do I have to quit my job to get disability?
October 8, 2007 7:49 PM   Subscribe

Do I have to quit my job to qualify for disability?

I have numerous health problems, both mental and physical. A week ago I applied for disability after not working for 4 years. The next day, I got a call from a place I'd interviewed with, and I was hired. On my 2nd day there, I've already had severe emotional problems, and some physical. My new boss was understanding and is going to try to work with me.

I am really desperate for money... we're talking if I hadn't gotten this job, I'd be selling my stuff. I don't know how long I will last at this job before I just can't work anymore due to both my physical and emotional problems, or they get sick of it and fire me. (My longest job ever lasted 11 months and included 2 leaves of absence. The others lasted 3 months, 3 weeks, and 2 days respectively.) But as long as I have it, I can't afford to quit while the state takes 5 months to decide if I qualify. Do I have any chance in hell of getting disability while I'm working? My state says they don't do partial disability, only full, but yet I know someone in this state who works while he's on disability - he just has to have his employer send in a statement of his wages to Social Security each month.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total)
Yes, but you may not get it on the first try. Keep trying. I think the key is to have a very sympathetic doctor.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:06 PM on October 8, 2007

You can earn up to $1000 per month and still be considered for disability. In addition, there are special rules regarding how long you work. If you make more than $1000 per month, but work less than three months, then it is not considered "substantial gainful activity" and you will still be considered for benefits. Shoot me an email if you have any further questions - I used to be a disability adjudicator for SSA.
posted by miss meg at 8:20 PM on October 8, 2007

It sounds like you may be talking about two kinds of disability -- state disability, and Social Security benefits (SSDI/SSI).

State disability usually pays partial wages for up to one year. In my state, the benefit is usually granted fairly pro forma -- it would never take five months.

Social Security benefits pay a monthly amount for the length of your disability. It takes several months (or even several years if there's an appeal) for the approval possible.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:41 PM on October 8, 2007

I would go ahead and file for FMLA so you will be covered in the case of missed work. It should help protect you from that, at least. Also, you may be eligible for disability insurance through your work.

In addition, you might want to contact a social worker who can help with disability issues in your area.
posted by slavlin at 11:03 PM on October 8, 2007

Further --

For state disability (meaning, the short-term disability benefit that employees generally get in your state, not the benefit for state employees, which may be different), you usually have to show that you cannot perform your "regular," "usual," "customary," etc. work. (Usually, your particular job.)

For SSA benefits, you have to show that you are unable to perform "gainful activity," which is defined broadly. (More or less, any job.) Once people are on SSA benefits, it is not unusual for them to work a limited number of hours. I'm not sure about working during the application process -- I would think that is less common.

Some relevant questions: Is working a job inconsistent with the standards of the benefit plan (e.g. if you work are you no longer "disabled" under the plan?)? And -- what happens to the benefit if you earn various amounts of money?

You may want to contact the agency, benefits administrator, your local legal services agency, local independent living center, etc., to figure out these questions.

As to FMLA -- that protection is only available to employees with 1 years seniority, 1250 hours of active service in the past year, and an employer with 50 or more employees in a 75-mile radius. So, I don't think FMLA would be relevant to a new employee. However, a new employee can take a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or perhaps the corresponding state law.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:37 PM on October 8, 2007

"... Do I have any chance in hell of getting disability while I'm working? My state says they don't do partial disability, only full, but yet I know someone in this state who works while he's on disability - he just has to have his employer send in a statement of his wages to Social Security each month."
posted by anonymous to law & government

My brother, a schizophrenic, is an SSI recipient. He takes large doses of atypical anti-psychotics, as well as near maximum doses of SSRIs, daily. To the point, he falls asleep, easily, in public settings. He hasn't driven in 30+ years. He has trouble doing simple addition. And at his last paid gig, in 1999, he was part of a grocery store crew that was held up at gunpoint, and he was pistol whipped, and threatened, repeatedly, on videotape, for his life. He wound up in a state mental institution for six months, thereafter. He would still be there, huddled, raving, in a corner, were it not for the offices of a good psychiatrist, and the power of atypical anti-psychotics, with severe side effects.

He gets $623.00 a month in SSI benefits, the current statutory maximum, and some medications and Medicaid medical care, because he can't work. As soon as he can, that will be decreased, when he returns to work. He'll return to work when he doesn't sleep, due to medications, 14+ hours a day, and doesn't start muttering, under his breath, anti-Satanic incantations and half remembered Biblical verses, whenever a stranger addresses him.

Quitting your job, in order to "get" SSI benefits, seems like a really bad plan, unless you have family willing to shelter and feed you, and dispense your medications, and deal with the bureaucracy, on your behalf.
posted by paulsc at 2:21 AM on October 9, 2007

I have a friend with cerebral palsy who qualifies for SSI and works. However, she can only make a certain amount of money each month, otherwise her services get revoked. I believe she gets very little money, but she does qualify for subsidized housing, reduced bus fare, and health care.

It's very, very difficult to get by on SSI. My friend told me that it the amounts were determined by the cost of living in the 1970s and haven't been adjusted since. You might want to look into another state's called the Department of Vocational Rehab where I live (Wisconsin) and the Department of Rehabilitation Services where I work (Illinois). It'll be something similar in your state. They help people with disabilities find jobs that they can do. Perhaps they could help you find work to pad out your SSI benefits.

Good luck.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:42 AM on October 9, 2007

I am not your lawyer but I am a lawyer and I am Board certified in Social Security disability. Part of the problem here is that we don't know what you are asking about. There are different rules for the SSI program and for the Title II, or disability, program. The rules miss meg mentions apply to the Title II program, not so much to the SSI program. Not knowing what state you live in or even if there are available state benefits (where I live there are not) I won't even try to answer any questions pertaining to that. The second difficulty is that there are different rules for people who are on disability and for people who are seeking disability. (To make matters even more complicated, there are different rules for retired beneficiaries, as opposed to disabled beneficiaries.)

As a practical matter, it is going to be difficult to get disability benefits if you are working full time. The agency that determines disability the first two steps in the process is programmed to deny claims and they will almost certainly deny you if you are working--even if it is only part time--especially where psychological impairments are concerned.

As miss meg indicates, if your work attempt is short lived and if it ends because of your impairments, it can be ignored as what the Social Security Administration considers an "unsuccessful work attempt." The safe haven here is that the work last under three months but under certain circumstances, an unsuccessful work attempt can last up to six months. It cannot last longer than that.

As miss meg indicates, there are some other concepts that may come into play here. The first of these is what SSA refers to as substantial gainful activity or SGA for short. What you and I call work, SSA calls SGA. They have a bright line test for what constitutes SGA and that is, as miss meg, says, based on the amount of your earnings. For 2007, that amount is $900 a month for disabled people, $1500 for blind people. (There are some deductions that may be appropriate and I am simplifying matters here a great deal. Note, too, that the rules I mention here are for employees--the self employed have a different set of rules.) So, if you were working part time and only earning $500 a month, SSA would not consider that work such that it would automatically be a bar to your claim, but again, as a practical matter, it would result in a denial at least in the first few steps of the process.

Basically, this is what I tell my clients about working. If you are able to work, work as long as you can. First, you are going to make a whole lot more money working than you are drawing disability. Second, each month you work, the more you pay into the system, the more quarters of coverage you earn and the higher your ultimate benefits will be. Third, working is so much more emotionally satisfying than not working. If you can't work, seek disability. Trying to do both--even though SSA has some work incentives as I have outlined above--will only result in giant, giant headaches for you, including possible overpayment of benefits on down the line. That being said, given your current situation, I would advise you to keep your disability application open until you know whether or not this work attempt will be successful. Be prepared for a long process. While the first two steps in the process are not overly time consuming, if you have to go to a hearing, the wait in some parts of the country is as long as two years from the time the hearing is requested to the time the hearing is held.

(Time out to get on soap box: right now the Social Security Administration is broken and simply does not have the funding or the personnel to do the job we ask it to do. It cannot do anything in a timely fashion and a lot of what it does, it does incompetently. Many employees are dedicated and hard working, but they are simply overworked and overwhelmed. This is a scandal that neither the current administration or Congress is willing to address because they don't want to spend the money needed to get the agency functional again. Off of soapbox now)

This is a complex area and any advice I give should be taken as general advice only. There may be--there probably are--aspects of your situation that I don't know about that would change my advice to you. It is a good idea to consult with an attorney who does this work on a regular basis. If you look, you will find one who will talk to you on an initial consultation without charging you anything.

Finally, what wins disability cases is medical evidence. I am seconding Brockton here; it is essential that you have a treating physician in your corner. It is possible to be awarded disability without one, but very difficult.
posted by pasici at 7:41 AM on October 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

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