In order to win a Social Security Disability case, a claimant must show that he or she is not engaging in a substantial gainful activity (SGA). The SGA threshold for 2015 is $1,090. If a claimant makes more than this amount, he or she will be found to be engaging in a "substantial gainful activity" and will be determined to be ineligible for Social Security Disability.
However, one of the exceptions to this general precept is known as the "Sheltered"or "Subsidized" work rule. Sheltered or subsidized work is work performed by individuals who work under a special program with special rules. For example, if a person who is disabled, works for a family member and is given great leeway in determining work schedules and tasks, he or she may be found to be working in a sheltered environment. This situation often happens when the family is fully aware of the employee's medical condition and decides to provide the family member with extra compensation for their work and/or additional flexibility in performing the demands of the job. Under these circumstances, Social Security does not have to adhere strictly to the specific monetary threshold for SGA and may find that the claimant is eligible for benefits despite the actual amount of dollars earned.
Another common situation involving sheltered work occurs when the military pays wages to a solider who is disabled and unable to work. This is prevalent among claimants who are assigned to a "Warrior Transition Unit" while they wait for military discharge. The discharge process might take many many months and, in many instances, the disabled soldier is not required to work at all. Under this scenario, the SSA will not count the pay received by the soldier as SGA.
Convincing Social Security that a claimant is working in a sheltered environment can be a difficult task. Whenever I have a client who I believe has been working in a sheltered work environment, I obtain letters from co-workers and supervisors stating the specific circumstances under which the claimant performed his or her duties. It is also advisable to gather evidence such as time sheets, work schedules and pay stubs in order to succeed in a case involving sheltered work. Never assume that the claimant's statements or testimony are sufficient evidence to win this type of claim. In this day in age when Social Security is under constant scrutiny, ALJ's and SSA adjudicators feel a lot more comfortable in granting a case where extensive documentation has been submitted by the claimant and his or her attorney.