Step 1: Substantial Gainful Activity

San Diego disability attorneys will advise you that in order for work to be “substantial gainful activity, it must be both gainful and substantial and involve significant mental or physical performance.  Work is not considered to be substantial when:

San Diego disability attorneys

  • It is not possible for you “to do ordinary or simple tasks satisfactorily without more supervision or assistance than is usually given other people doing similar work.”
  • You are performing work “that involves minimal duties that make little or no demands” on you and that are of “little or no use” to your employer or to the operation of a self-employed business.

Gainful activity is broadly defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA) when they state: “Work activity is gainful if it is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized.”  However, unless you are self-employed, the determination of “gainful” work is usually determined by your earnings.


For the self-employed, the SSA carefully scrutinizes your work activity and how its value relates to the business, even if your business operates at a loss, as is often the case for self-employed people from time to time.  If you are in a position to control the amount or timing of your income (for example when claimants work for relatives), the SSA will consider that in its evaluation.



Your San Diego disability attorneys may warn you that illegal activity can still be considered gainful activity, because work is determined “without regard to legality.”


Whether you are self-employed or an employee of someone else, deductions from earnings are allowed by the SSA for what it identifies as “impairment-related work expenses.”  These tend to be payments for medical treatment or drugs but can also be payments for attendant care services, vehicle modification, some costs of transportation, residence modification, etc.  Nevertheless, you and your San Diego disability attorneys must carefully review the work expense rules because some expenses you would expect to qualify are excluded (e.g., health insurance payments) and some are included that you wouldn’t expect (e.g., treatment for the disabling impairment that you must pay whether or not you work).


The SSA averages income to determine if work is substantial gainful activity.  Rules that consider the period of time worked, the nature of the work, and whether the SGA level changed during the time the claimant worked are used to make this determination.


Due to cost-of-living increases that have been applied since 2001, the SGA level is substantially more generous than in previous years.  In the 1980s the SGA was set at $300/month and increased to $700 by 1999.  In 2010 the level was $1,000 per month.


If you would like to discuss your Social Security disability case with the experienced and competent San Diego disability attorneys Aline Gaba and George Heppner, contact the San Diego Disability Law Group today.