SSA Expands Rules for Allowing Unsuccessful Work Attempts

It is important for individuals applying for disability benefits with SSA to consider whether they should claim disability when their health first caused them to stop work; and not the date when they last made work attempts lasting a few months or less.

For Social Security disability purposes, the law requires that a health impairment cause an inability to work at substantial work for not less than 12 months. However, new SSA regulations broaden the rules to permit an individual to work for six months or less, in spite of the impairment, even within the initial 12-month period

On November 16, 2016, SSA issued new rules at 20 CFR 404.1574(c). The new rules provide that an individual can be found disabled for the required minimum of 12 months in a case in which the worker is off work for 30 days or more, then attempts to return to work for up to six months or less, at which point the same health impairment forces the worker to stop work again for an indefinite period.

Here’s an example: our client is diagnosed with an illness that causes him or her to stop working in January, 2016. After being off work for a “significant break” which has to be more than 30 days, our client attempts a return to the same full-time work in June, 2016. After struggling with the work attempt for not more than six months, our client is forced to stop work again in October, 2016 because of the same illness, and can’t return to work for an indefinite period thereafter.

In this example, our client can be found “disabled” by SSA standards as of the first date he or she stopped work in January, 2016, as the work from June to October, 2016 was an “unsuccessful work attempt” which SSA can find does not demonstrate a capacity for disqualifying work during the required initial 12 months of disability.

Prior to November 16, 2016, the unsuccessful work attempt rules often limited the rule’s scope to work attempts of only three months or less. SSA initiated this broadening of the “unsuccessful work attempt” rules because SSA noted that it is “generally concerned with the ability to work over an extended period rather than in short, isolated periods.”

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