The Trial Work Period

A common issue in Social Security Disability is whether a disabled person, who makes improvements in medical limitations, may attempt work. The Social Security Administration, as a matter of official policy, encourages all attempts to leave the Social Security rolls and return to gainful employment. To allow this to occur, a “Trial Work Period” allows a beneficiary to test the labor market in a return to work. The “Trial Work Period” is a period of 9 months, during any 60 month period.

To further encourage attempts to return to work, the Social Security Administration will not use employment during the Trial Work Period, as “medical evidence” that the Social Security beneficiary has made medical improvement. This is true for a minimum of twenty-four months, during which time any “trial work” will not be used to terminate benefits, on the basis that the individual is no longer “disabled.” These very liberal rules provide strong incentives for a return to work. In most cases, even at minimum wage, many individuals earn far more from employment than from receiving Social Security Disability Benefits.

A trial work period can end when new evidence, other than evidence relating to any work you did during the trial work period, shows that you are not disabled, even though the full nine-month trial work period has not been completed. It is also possible for a recipient of Social Security Disability to “use up” the trial work period, without noticing. A recipient who has done some part-time work, while waiting for a hearing, it may count towards the trial work period.

For self-employed recipients, whether work constitutes “services” is determined by looking at both income and the number of hours worked. If income exceeds the “services” amount used for recipients employed by other people, then the work for that month constitutes “services.”

Although a recipient is entitled to only one trial work period during a period of disability, the recipient can actually have more than nine months of trial work if the months are spaced widely enough apart, so that nine of them do not fall in any 60 month period.

In order for the trial work period to end and benefits to be terminated before the nine months of trial work are used up, the Social Security Administration must have new evidence of improvement, other than evidence relating to the work done by the recipient. This provision is meant as a work incentive. It is SSA’s way of providing that the work itself won’t be used against the recipient.

For the Social Security Administration to discover new evidence of improvement, it must conduct a continuing disability review. This review can be triggered by any of the following events:

  • Substantial earnings are reported to the wage record.
  • The recipient notifies SSA that there has been a return to gainful employment.
  • The State Vocational Agency informs SSA that the recipient has returned to gainful employment.
  • Some third person with knowledge, reports the recipient’s return to work to the Social Security Administration.
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