Substantial Gainful Activity: What Is It?

Last updated on January 19, 2024

One of the issues encountered by a Lakeland disability attorney when representing their client is determining whether their client has engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is any work that is “substantial” and “gainful.” In other words, it is an activity that needs to satisfy both elements.

Is The Activity Substantial?

For an activity to be substantial, some considerable mental exertion or physical movement is required. Work will be determined as not substantial if:

  • The person performing the work is only able to perform ordinary or simple tasks with the benefit of additional supervision or assistance (i.e., more than is usually given to others performing similar work)
  • It only involves minimal duties that make little or no demands or is of little or no use to the employer or the operation of a self-employed business.

Is The Activity Gainful?

While a profit doesn’t have to actually be earned, work will be determined to be gainful if it is done for pay or profit. If someone is under the employment of another, their work will generally be deemed gainful by the presence of earnings alone. On the other hand, someone that is self-employed may not have any earnings. As you may already be aware, it is not uncommon for self-employed persons and small business owners to operate at a loss, especially in the beginning stages. In the case of self-employment, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will examine the claimant’s work activity and place a value on it.

Interestingly enough, the work itself does not have to be legal to be considered gainful. Because work is evaluated “without regard to legality,” it could even be the case that someone who is engaged in illegal activity or running an illegal business could be performing work that is “gainful.”

The SSA takes into consideration the kinds of activities involved in the work, how long the work was performed, what the SGA level was while the claimant was working and whether it changed in that time. Anyone earning more than the SGA level is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA.

The SGA level has continued to increase since the 1980s, when it was around $300 per month. In 2010, the SGA level was over $1,000 per month. Part of the increase in the SGA level amount can be attributed to the increases in the cost of living that started being applied in 2001. The current SGA level for the current year can be found at

“Impairment-related work expenses” can be deducted from earnings, which could bring someone below the SGA level. These are usually expenses for medical treatment or medicine related to the disability. These expenses may also include expenses for attendant care services, residential or vehicle modifications or transportation costs. You should consult with an experienced Lakeland disability attorney if you have any questions regarding such expenses, because some expenses that you might expect to be deductible are not, like health insurance premiums, while other expenses that you would not expect to be deductible are.

Schedule A Free Consultation And Case Evaluation

If you would like to speak to a Lakeland disability attorney about your case, please contact the law firm of Smith, Feddeler & Smith, P.A., for a case evaluation. With offices in Lakeland, Orlando and across central Florida, our attorneys can help. Call 863-336-6927 or send the law firm an email today.