685 ISSUE TOPICS §1102.5
§1102.5 Return to Work as Part of a
“Trial Work Period”
The Social Security Act and regulations establish that an SSDI
recipient need not avoid attempting to work for fear of losing benefit
eligibility. Individuals may test their ability to work under the pro-
visions applicable to trial work periods. Regardless of the potential
logical connection between working and the lack of disability, the
SSA is not permitted to factor in work performed during a trial work
period when determining whether a disability has ceased.
CROSS-REFERENCE: Case Survey §102.5
42 U.S.C. §422(c)
The Social Security Act provides for a single period of trial work,
during which a person’s work activity is ignored when determining
whether his or her disability has ceased. The period ordinarily starts
the month that the individual becomes entitled to disability insurance
benefits. Id. at §422(c)(3). A period of trial work ends when disabili-
ty ceases (as determined without reference to the trial work activity)
or a total of nine months of services are rendered in any five-year
span. Id. at §422(c)(4).
42 U.S.C. §423(e)(1)
This provision specifies that benefits are not payable “to an in-
dividual for any month, after the third month, in which he engages
in substantial gainful activity during the 36-month period following
the end of his trial work period determined by application of section
The regulations clarify that once the trial work period has ended
the SSA will consider the services performed during that period in
determining whether the disability ceased after the end of the trial
work period. Id. at §404.1592(a). Services are defined expansively
to include any activity, whether or not substantial gainful activity,
which is either done for pay or profit or is of the type normally
done for pay or profit. Id. at §404.1592(b). Certain activities are
accepted, however, including unremunerated work performed solely
for therapy or training, and certain volunteer work. Id. The regula-
tions contain tables for determining whether work involves enough
earnings or hours to be considered services. The regulations further
provide that a claimant’s return to “work demonstrating the abil-
ity to engage in substantial gainful activity” prior to the lapse of
a 12-month period after the impairment’s onset, and prior to adju-
dication of disability, precludes entitlement to a trial work period.
Id. at §404.1592(d)(2). It should be noted that the regulations also
provide for a reentitlement period, which is a further opportunity
for claimants to test their ability to work. See id. at §404.1592a. The
reentitlement period is beyond the scope of this issue topic.
POMS DI 13010.035
The POMS characterizes the trial work period as an initial de-
termination that carries appeal rights. It reminds adjudicators that
individuals receiving only SSI benefits, as well as those in certain
other categories, are not entitled to such a period. The guidance sets
out multiple examples illustrating such matters as when a period
begins and ends, when a rolling period does not apply, and when a
month is not payable due to fraud or concealment of work.
HALLEX II-5-3-4, The Definition of the Term “Services” for
Purposes of the Trial Work Period (TWP) Provisions of the So-
cial Security Act (the Act) (July 1993)
The Appeals Council interprets the regulations to classify as
“services” work that is done for remuneration or gain, even where
that work is performed as therapy or training. Where remuneration
is received, the work is not done solely or “merely” as therapy or
training, and thus it does not fall under the exception to what counts
as services. To qualify as services, such work must still, of course,
exceed the monthly amount specified in the regulations.
APPLICABLE CASE LAW
United States Supreme Court
In Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 223-225, 122 S.Ct. 1265,
152 L.Ed.2d 330 (2002), the Supreme Court reversed the Fourth
Circuit’s decision in Walton v. Apfel, 235 F.3d 184 (4th Cir. 2000),
and abrogated rulings from the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth
Circuit, holding that the SSA’s interpretation of the statutory defini-
tion of disability as requiring that a claimant’s “inability to engage
in any substantial gainful activity” last, or be expected to last, for
at least 12 months, was based on a lawful construction of the stat-
ute. The Court further held that the regulation set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§404.1592(d)(2), which provides that a return to work prior to the
lapse of a 12-month period after onset of impairment, and prior
to adjudication of disability, precludes a finding that a claimant is
disabled, or is entitled to a trial work period, is a reasonable inter-
pretation of the statute and lawful. Id. at 225.
2007), the court held that a claimant’s argument that her job should
have been treated as a trial work period was misguided, because
she had not previously been found disabled and was not receiving
disability insurance benefits at the time the work occurred. In such
circumstances, “the trial work rules simply do not apply.” Id. at 60.
The claimant’s reliance on the out-of-circuit opinion of Newton v.
Chater, 92 F.3d 688 (8th Cir. 1996), was unavailing, as the court
questioned the continued viability of Newton’s approach even in its
own circuit after Walton, and in any event here the ALJ had followed
well-established rules and regulations concerning trial work. Id.
An ALJ erred by failing to consider work a claimant performed
prior to receiving benefits part of her trial work period. Rosario v.
In Parker v. Barnhart, 244 F. Supp. 2d 360, 368 (D. Del. 2003),
a district court rejected an argument that the absence of plaintiff’s
prior claim file from the record was relevant since in the event there
was a prior finding disability, his more recent work might qualify
as a trial work period that would not interfere with his continued
receipt of benefits. The court determined that the record indicated
plaintiff’s previous ineligibility for Title II benefits and thus his trial
work contention must fail. Id.
In Tumminaro v. Astrue, 671 F.3d 629, 633-34 (7th Cir. 2011),
the court discussed the basic operation of the nine-month trial work
period as authorized by the regulations. Crucially, an ALJ is not al-
lowed to consider the qualifying work as evidence of nondisability
during the trial work period. Id. at 633. Since the claimant had not
completed nine months of service as indicated by her wages, see 20
C.F.R. §404.1594(b)(1)(ii), the ALJ had improperly considered her