What is "Substantial Gainful Activity"?

The Social Security And ministration employs a five-step sequential process in determining whether somebody meets the definition of "disability." This is a series of questions Social Security Administration decision makers ask in determining every disability claim. With some exceptions, the Claimant must meet all the criteria in the five-step process.

The first question is whether somebody has engaged in "substantial gainful activity" this term, often referred to as SGA.  SGA simply means regular work for earnings. Generally, Social Security will determine whether somebody is engaged in substantial gainful activity by looking at their monthly earnings.  If a person's earning monthly income beyond the maximum earning level set by Social Security, there engaged in substantial gainful activity, and their claim will be denied without any further consideration. The amount of earnings considered "SGA" is set year by year.  Of course, there are many exceptions to this general rule.

First, a person may not be engaged in substantial gainful activity if they worked for a short period of time, and were forced abandon the work due to their disabling condition. This is considered an unsuccessful attempt at a return to work, and will not be considered substantial gainful activity.

There are other situations where a friend or family member will accommodate the Claimant. For example, the employer may tolerate several absences for month, or may allow the Claimant to take several breaks during the day. In essence, the employer is subsidizing the claimant's work activity, and the Social Security Administration will determine the amount of subsidy the employer is providing. If the subsidy puts the Claimant below the earnings levels for significant gainful activity, then the work will not be considered significant and gainful, and the Claimant can proceed with attempting to prove the other required elements of a disability claim.

If you have a denied Social Security Disability claim in Oregon or Washington, and there is an issue regarding your work activity, call us at 503-325-8600. We have handled issues involving significant gainful activity in the past, and can answer your questions.


Joe Di Bartolomeo
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