A very good question actually.
And, just like any other area of the law, the answer is: "It depends."
The following is just my opinion, but it is an opinion based on observations I have made, especially when representing claimants in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
It really depends up your age, again in my opinion. And, here's why:
First, understand the limits of when you do work and claim to be disabled. Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is the upper limit of income earned while also claiming disability. If you go over this amount, then you are essentially stating that you are no longer disabled. For 2018, that monthly gross amount is $1,180.00.
Now, technically, SGA requires that your work be both "substantial" and "gainful," but just keep the above number in mind if choosing to work.
Next, your age is extremely important.
If you are under the age of 50, I would suggest not working at any time before you are approved for Social Security disability. If you do have to attend a hearing, most ALJs look very unfavorably on claimants who state they are disabled and at the same time continue to work. Because there is a presumption that anyone under the age of 50 can do at least some type of unskilled sedentary work, this burden of proving one is unable to do so becomes even heavier when a claimant under the age of 50 is still working. Once you are approved for monthly benefits, then consider it.
Now, what about for all of the people age 50 to 54?
For those continuing to work in this age group, it is at least more tolerated. Since one can potentially be considered to be able to perform sedentary work (sit for 6 hours, stand and walk for 2 hours, lift up to 10 pounds) and still be approved for benefits. If one is already performing sedentary work on a part-time basis, then disability benefits may be awarded. While this issue becomes even more complicated, just at least understand that a person between 50 and 54 can work as long as he or she keeps the monthly gross amount below SGA.
Finally, if you are 55 years-old and above, then the fact that you are working is even less of an issue.
For any claimant 55 years-old and above, as long as he or she stays below SGA, there is little impact on his or her case. If a person can still perform sedentary and even light work (standing or walking 6 hours per day, sitting for 2 hours, and lifting up to 20 lbs.), then there is the chance he or she will be approved. Again, there are issues making this more complicated, but just understand that if a person is above 55, then he or she can usually work with very little impact on their case being approved.
Now, saying all that, there are ALJs who disfavor any work at all. But the reality is that because it takes so long for a case to move its way through the Social Security system, it is almost impossible for a complete cessation of work. Also, the bar upon which a person must pass to obtain disability benefits requires all work a claimant may be able to perform to be on a full-time basis. Just because you may be able to work a couple of hours per week does not translate to a capacity to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
We help claimants in Oklahoma and Texas fighting for their Social Security disability benefits. If you need our help, always feel free to call us at: (888) 780-9125.