Receiving disability benefits after your serious work accident may help, but the difference between your payments and what you used to earn may cause you some distress. The doctor says you have not recovered enough physically to go back to your job yet, though.

You could put your benefits in jeopardy if you do work that the Social Security Administration defines as substantial gainful activity.

Substantial activity

If the work you want to do requires significant mental or physical effort, it may be substantial. The SSA explains that even if the work is much simpler than your regular job and only a few hours a week, it could be substantial as long as it is the type of activity that is useful in doing a job.

Gainful activity

You may be doing a gainful activity if you are performing a job that has economic value. For example, printing and mailing flyers for a company could be gainful because this job may have economic value. However, if you are engaging in activities that people usually do not receive payment for, such as attending clubs, social programs, classes or unpaid training, or it is a hobby or self-care activity, it will likely not put your benefits at risk.


The SSA has different guidelines for measuring what is substantial and gainful for self-employed workers. The first test of SGA for self-employment is whether your activity is significant to your company’s operation and the business provides you with a substantial income. If not, then the second and third tests measure your activity against unimpaired people in a similar business and the value of your work to the business. How many hours you work, the skills you use, how much energy the job takes, and your duties and responsibilities may all be relevant in the determination.