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An unsuccessful work attempt is when you try to work while you are waiting for benefits. But, you aren’t able to work due to your disability. Many people call us, while they are waiting for the SSA to make a decision, and ask if they can make a “work attempt.” Next, they ask if working will make them ineligible for disability benefits.

The best answer to that question is if you can’t work due to illness, then don’t try to work. Obviously, not working means you have no money to pay the bills. Most people quickly run out of savings. Then, they want to attempt a part-time job or even work one day a week. However, whenever you work, the SSA is going to see that “work attempt” as evidence that perhaps, despite your disability, you could work.

Despite their illness, some people do try to work. If the work attempt is less than six months and ends due to your disability, then the SSA may find that your attempt at work is an “unsuccessful work attempt” or, for short, a “UWA.”

Letter block in word unsuccessful work attempt with another on wood background


Social Security disability law requires that your disabling impairments cause an inability to work at substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or more. However, SSA rules permit an individual to work for six months or less, in spite of their medical or physical condition, even within the initial 12 month period of disability.

On November 16, 2016, the SSA issued 20 CFR 404.1574(c). That law states that an invididual can be found disabled for the required minimum of 12 months in a case in which the worker is off work for 30 days or more, then attempts to return to work for up to six months or less. At which point the same health condition forces the claimant to stop work again for an indefinite period. That is a long sentence. But, this post explains what the regulation means.

If you are performing substantial gainful work activity or you work for a period of time during which you are stating your deserve benefits, then it is important to know whether your work is an unsuccessful work attempt (UWA) under the provisions of SSA’s law.


The UWA concept is designed to provide an equitable means, in making SGA determinations, to disregard relatively brief work attempts that do not show the ability of the claimant to sustain SGA.

SSA’s regulations state: “We generally consider work that you are forced to stop or to reduce below the substantial gainful activity level after a short time because of your impairment to be an unsuccessful work attempt. Your earnings from an unsuccessful work attempt will not show that you are able to do substantial gainful activity.”

For self-employed individuals, SSA regulations 20 CFR §§404.1575(a)(2) and 416.975(a) state: “We will generally consider work that you were forced to stop or reduce to below substantial gainful activity after 6 months or less because of your impairment as an unsuccessful work attempt.”

If you lose a job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. This is a very different type of benefit than an unsuccessful work attempt.


The SSA issues Social Security Rulings (SSR) to help us understand how they apply their rules. Social Security Ruling 84-25 explains the UWA concept. It states that the UWA concept is applicable to both an initial case and when an individual’s disability continues or ceases.

Both SSR 84-25 and the regulations state that there must be a significant break in the continuity of your work activity before it will be found that you began a work attempt that later proved unsuccessful.

For SGA purposes, substantial work may not count if it is reduced to the non-SGA level after a short time because of your physical or mental condition. Likewise, your work may not count if special conditions related to your illness were essential to further performance of the work.


In order for there to be a significant break in work activity certain events must occur. For example, a break occurs when, because of your impairment or the removal of special conditions related to the impairment that are essential in further performance of the work, the work was discontinued.

Likewise, a break occurs if your earnings go below the non-SGA level. An interruption can also occur, before the onset of the condition, when you discontinue work for other reasons. Those reasons include retirement or never having engaged in work activity.

Work will be considered “discontinued” if you were:

(1) out of work for at least 30 consecutive days or

(2) you were forced to change to another type of work or another employer. (On rare occasions a break lasting a few days less than 30 days may satisfy this rule if the subsequent work episode was brief and clearly not successful because of disabling impairments.)

(3) The third rule for an unsuccessful work attempt is that your work effort must be six months or less. Additionally, the work effort must have ended or have been reduced to the non-SGA level within six months. Furthermore, the reduction must be due to the impairment or to the removal of special conditions related to the impairment that are essential to the performance of work.


The SSA considers special conditions when looking at a UWA. For example, you may work under conditions that has accommodations for your physical or mental condition. Or, you may be working due to an unusual job opportunity, such as in a sheltered workshop. These are special conditions.

Special or unusual conditions, for example, may be that you require special assistance from other employees to perform your job. Likewise, your boss may allow you to work irregular hours or take many rest period. Some employers give the worker special equipment to help them work despite their illness.

Also, some people are only able to work due to specially arranged circumstances, such as when they need help getting ready for work. Or, they need help traveling to and from work.


Additionally, special conditions exist when a worker performs at lower production rate than other workers and the employer allows it. Another example that we often see is, despite the medical condition, a family member employs the worker.

Likewise, your employer may keep you on the payroll due to your years of loyal work for the company. Also, your employer may let you keep your job for other altruistic reasons.

It is important to note that a work effort of over 6 months cannot be an UWA even if your work ended due to illness and even if your earnings go below the non-SGA level. Learn more about what work can do to your SSD benefits here.


A closed period of benefits means you win benefits, but your period of disability has a beginning and an end. However, a closed period cannot exist unless you have been off work for 12 months or more.

In order to explain this, let’s look at an example, such as a car accident. If you are in a terrible car accident, your injuries may prevent you from working. However, over a period of two years, your injuries may heal.

Therefore, two years from the date of your accident, you return to work.  If your injuries were severe enough and you can prove you couldn’t work during those two years, then you would be eligible for benefits. In essence, if you request a period of benefits with a beginning and an end, it is like requesting past due disability benefits. You will not get ongoing benefits into the future. However, benefits do pay out two months past the end date of the closed period.

If you return to work after you heal, you cannot get ongoing benefits, as you are working.  Working makes you ineligible for a monthly SSDI benefits. However, you can still receive benefits for the time that you were unable to work due to your illness.  A closed period of benefits can even occur if you tried, unsuccessfully to work, in the middle of those two years.

For example, if you tried to return to work for one month and you couldn’t keep going for 40 hours week due to your physical or mental condition, then your work attempt is an unsuccessful work attempt. SSD benefits are still payable in the months during an unsuccessful work attempt.


We know that having a physical or mental condition that keeps you from working is a huge change. Also, it is not an easy change. You need money every month. That is where we come in. Cannon Disability’s lawyers can help you win disability benefits.

We can help you even if you have had an unsuccessful work attempt since you applied for benefits. If you are looking for an attorney to help you, then you are in the right place. You can trust us.

If you want to know more about Cannon Disability’s lawyers and staff, then go to our About Us page. There you can read about our legal experience. For example, Andria Summers can help you understand the disability rules. Dianna Cannon has been helping people win benefits for over thirty years. Additionally, she has also won thousands of SSDI cases. Brett Bunkall also has significant experience helping people obtain their SSI and SSD benefits.

In the past 30 years, we have won over 20,000 SSDI and SSI cases for our clients. Also, we help our clients argue for an unsuccessful work attempt so they don’t lose benefits. Our application specialists can help you apply for SSI and SSD benefits using the SSA’s website.

Cannon Disability Law, Social Security Disability Attorneys


If you need SSD benefits, then you should hire us to help you with your case. In order to hire Cannon Disability, all you need to do is call or contact us. We offer a free review of your case over the phone. And, it doesn’t cost anything to call us.

Better yet, it also doesn’t cost you any upfront money to hire us. Why? Because you only pay us an attorney fee when we win your case. This is a contingency fee. It means if we win your case, you pay the attorney fee out of your back benefits. If you do not win your case, then there is no attorney fee to pay. The attorney fee is set by the SSA at 25% of the back benefit.

If there are costs in your case, then you pay those. Your costs are things like paying for medical records, mailing, or filing fees. Typically, however, you will mostly pay for the cost of a copy of your medical records. Sometimes, you might pay your doctor to write you a letter of support.

Try not to worry about costs. In most cases, the costs are less than $100. Once we win your SSI and SSD case, the attorney fee comes from your back benefit. However, to hire most lawyers, you have to pay upfront fees. We don’t require that.


Cannon Disability offers a free review of your case. But, what does this mean?

For most people who want to become clients, it means we will talk to you about your case over the phone. We will not charge you to examine the merits of your case. Most lawyers do charge an attorney fee to review your case. We do not.

Please understand, however, that giving you a free review of your case is not the same thing as becoming your attorney. We examine your case based upon the facts you give us. Sometimes, we will request that you send us medical records or a copy of your SSA paperwork. We do this so we can understand the details of your case. Even if we ask for more information, it does not mean we accept you case. We don’t accept all cases.

You will know if you hire our legal team because we will send you our contract and other SSA paperwork. This paperwork must be returned to us immediately. If you do not sign and send the paperwork back, then we are not your law firm. We will send you a stamped envelope to send the paperwork back to us.


If you don’t return your contract and other signed paperwork to us, then we are not yet your attorney. Therefore, if the SSA sends a denial or other paperwork, we won’t get a copy. We won’t get it because the SSA does not yet know we are your law firm. Also, we can’t get your medical records until you send your paperwork to us. So, send it all back as soon as possible.

If you have questions, then we want to help you. Call us. We will answer your questions. But, we can’t do anything on behalf of your SSDI case until we have your official signed paperwork. You can review our client paperwork on our Fee Agreement and Important Forms page. Once you return your paperwork, we will send it into the SSA. Then, the SSA knows we are your legal team. After that, the SSA should call us about your case, instead of you.

Finally, we want you to have the benefits you need to take care of yourself and your family. Take advantage of our free review of your case. Call now. See what we can do for you. Let our legal team answer your questions about when you should be paid benefits. We will also answer questions for you if you have an unsuccessful work attempt.

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