How to Apply for Disability While Working

Artwork: Elizabeth D’Angelo

There are a few different types of disability people often apply for while working:

🌷 Employer disability. This is often called Long Term Disability or Short Term Disability. It is offered by some employers as part of your benefits package. Learn more here: How to Apply for Disability Through Your Employer.  If you are not ready to apply now, but may some day, there are a few really important things you need to know: How to Protect Yourself if Your Employer Offers Disability Insurance

🌷 Temporary state disability. Some states offer state disability for one year, often 60% of your former salary. Other states offer (usually very small) amounts of cash assistance while you apply for Social Security. Some states offer nothing. Find out more: How to Apply for State Cash Assistance & Emergency Assistance

🌷 Disability retirement. Some pension or retirement plans offer disability retirement. This is most common with teachers and some government employers, though it is sometimes possible with private employers. Check with your human resources department to learn more.

🌷 Social Security Disability. This is the most common form of disability and when people say they are “on disability” this is usually what they mean. It can also be called SSI or SSDI. Learn a whole lot more about how to apply and how to improve your chances: The Sleepy Girl Guide to Social Security Disability


💠 To be eligible, there are a few basic criteria you need to meet: How Do I Know if I am Eligible to Apply?

💠 You are allowed to apply for disability while you are working, as long as you are earning less than $1,180 per month.

💠 If you are self-employed they will consider the amount of earnings after your business expenses. If your income is sporadic, in some cases they may consider a yearly average. Please take a look here for more info on Special Notes for People Who Are Self-Employed


💠 It is possible to get approved while working. Many people have done it. But it may be more difficult or may take longer. Many disability lawyers recommend not to work while applying, and some will not accept any clients who are working. However, if you have the right kind of medical records and a good application it is totally possible and we have heard from many people who have done it.

💠 If you are working, it is extra important to have strong support from your doctor. It will help if your doctor clearly writes that you are medically unable perform “substantial gainful activity” (work and earn more than $1,180 per month). It will also help if your doctor offers a detailed written explanation of how your symptoms prevent you from performing Substantial Gainful Activity. This can be written in your medical records and also on an RFC form.

💠 Most doctors do not know the social security regulations. Please share with your doctor the regs: Unable to sustain work at more than $1,180 per month. Some doctors think you must be unable to do any work at all, but this is not the Social Security policy.

💠 If your employer has seen you struggle at work, or seen your health decline, a letter from your employer may be helpful to your case: Sample Letter from Employers

💠 Some people collect their Human Resources file and send this to Social Security. Particularly any requests for Reasonable Disability Accommodations that have been written or signed by their doctor: Sample Letter for Requesting a Disability Accommodation in the Workplace


💠 If you return to work while applying, Social Security will continue to process your application, as long as your income is below $1,180 per month. However, there is a  chance they may change your onset date – which means you may get less backpay. In some cases, working for just a few weeks could mean getting many thousands of dollars less in backpay.

💠 If you go back to work, but only work for a short period (less than 6 months) because you are too sick to continue, Social Security may consider this an “Unsuccessful Work Attempt“.


💠 Some people go back to school while applying and pay their living expenses through student loans. Here’s two stories of people who did this: Hibiscus Applies for Disability While in School and Poppy Applies for Disability While in School


💠 Once you are already on disability, you are also allowed to work, but there are many factors to take into consideration. Here’s some more info on How to Work Without (Too Much) Trouble

Updated January 2018. Please comment below with stories, questions, input or ideas. Please let us know if any links on this page stop working. If you found this page helpful, please use one of these magic buttons to share this post on Facebook or Twitter:

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