In my experience, there are two possible outcomes when you attempt working: 1) the work attempt will fail or 2) you will find employment that you can do despite your impairments.
Most work attempts fail quickly because of health problems. You would not be filing for disability if you did not have major mental or physical disabilities. Unfortunately, this means that most attempts that people make to rejoin the workforce will fail because of the same problems. In my experience, though this is frustrating, it may not be particularly harmful to your case. In fact, depending on your particular situation, the fact that you are trying to find a way to work may make you more sympathetic to the Judge. Simply put, many Judges feel more comfortable helping someone that is trying to help himself.
The other alternative when you try to work is that you find employment that can actually accommodate your disability. This comes up a lot from clients with conditions that fluctuate over time. Many individuals with chronic health problems may be physically and mentally able to work for part of the month, but then are incapacitated at other points. For instance, conditions like HIV/AIDS, sickle cell disease, or Crone’s Disease may have weeks without any significant symptoms, but then have you sick in bed for days when the disease flares up. For these individuals, though they can often get jobs, they have trouble keeping the work because their employers will not or cannot accommodate them.
However, this does not mean that there are not employers in the economy that won’t accommodate your disability. In my experience, flexible employers are few and far between, but they do exist. I have seen employers go through great lengths to accommodate an employee.
1. Use the work attempt as a way to build evidence in your case - In most hearings, an important question that an ALJ will seek to answer is why you left your employment. As an attorney, this can be challenging as the ALJ will often be skeptical about a claimant’s story. For instance if you were having problems at work because you were using too many sick days or were drowsy from your medications, having a letter from the employer stating that these were problems bolsters your credibility with the Judge. If your work attempt isn’t working out, you can still attempt to get some useful information from the attempt.
2. Consider Vocational Rehabilitation- Depending on where you are located, your city or state may offer vocational rehabilitation (Voc. Rehab.) to help individuals with disabilities find employment or to retrain in a new field. Voc. Rehab programs have specially trained staff that knows what restrictions employers can accommodate and work to place you in these positions. This increases your chances of actually finding work that you are capable of doing. Additionally, if you can show the ALJ that you have tried to go through these programs and are still unable to find a job, this is strong proof that there really is no work for someone with your limitations.
3. Be upfront with Social Security and with your attorney. Unfortunately, there are several misconceptions in the public about trying to work and applying for disability. Some think that it will kill any chance of drawing benefits while others think their attorney will drop them if they see that they are trying to work. Though I can’t speak for all attorneys, this is not the case with my firm. Instead, a more common problem occurs when people try to hide their work attempts from Social Security and their attorneys. This poses significant risks as making false statements to the government can lead to prosecution. Moreover, as discussed above, there is a very positive way to present you attempting to work. In summary, if you do attempt to work, disclose this to your attorney and to Social Security as honesty is definitely the best policy in this area.