Experienced Disability Lawyers

What does substantial gainful activity mean?

On Behalf of | Mar 22, 2023 | Social Security Disability

Indiana residents who are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits probably have many questions about the process.

The two requirements for SSDI

This is understandable, since there are various requirements that you must meet. One is that you must have enough work credits, meaning that you worked for qualifying employers for a certain amount of time.

If you have enough work credits, you must then have a qualifying disability. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has a strict definition of disability.

You must show the SSA that you have a disability that is expected to last a year or more and that you cannot perform any substantial gainful activity.

But what exactly is substantial gainful activity?

A basic definition of substantial gainful activity

Substantial gainful activity can be either physical or mental activity that is performed on a full- or part-time basis. Gainful means that you are paid or somehow profit from performing the work.

Proving that you cannot engage in any substantial gainful activity can be challenging, because you might be able to perform some kind of work.

Factors the SSA considers

There are various factors the SSA uses to determine if what you are doing is substantial gainful activity.

In today’s world, many people are now working from home full-time. This means that you could have a physical disability that prevents you from doing any physical work, drive or travel to an office, but you might be able to do a job that involves staying home and sitting at your computer.

This would likely be considered substantial gainful activity and disqualify you from SSDI benefits, even though some sedentary jobs done at home could aggravate a disability or medical condition.

What if I’m not getting paid?

Another tricky problem is that you could be doing unpaid work and still not qualify for SSDI benefits if the work you are doing is something you would normally be paid for.

For example, if you do volunteer work, this could still be considered substantial gainful activity if it is work that some people do get paid for.

Additionally, your volunteer work could demonstrate that you are able to perform substantial gainful activity for pay, particularly if you are doing it for more than a few hours a week.

Rest assured; you do not have to prove that you are completely unable to do anything to show that you cannot perform substantial gainful activity.

What is typically not substantial gainful activity?

There are some things the SSA recognizes many people can do while still having a qualifying disability. These include light household tasks, attending social events or classes and performing personal care activities, such as showering or brushing your teeth.

However, the SSA may still be on the lookout for evidence that these activities show you could perform some substantial gainful activity if you wanted.

Having coffee with a friend as a social activity is likely to be viewed differently from going out dancing several nights a week, while still claiming you have a disability that prevents you from working.

Advice and guidance are available

This is a basic overview of what substantial gainful activity means. You may have many questions about how the definition applies to your specific situation.

Talking over your options with an attorney can help you learn more about your chance of successfully securing SSDI benefits.