Can You Get Unemployment and Disability at the Same Time in NC?

A man using wheelchair consults a woman on a couch with a laptop and paperwork about his benefits

Can you? Possibly. Should you? Probably not.

In North Carolina, if you have a pending Social Security Disability claim, you should generally not apply for unemployment insurance. To apply for unemployment insurance, you must:

  • Be able to work
  • Be available to work
  • Be actively seeking work
  • Accept suitable work when offered

The definition of being able to work under North Carolina law includes a reference to not applying for or receiving Disability benefits. Specifically, North Carolina General Statute 96-14.9(c) states that “an individual is not able to work during any week that the individual is receiving or is applying for benefits under any other state or federal law based on the individual’s temporary total or permanent total disability.”

Simply put, if you are receiving or applying for Social Security Disability benefits, you are usually not considered able to work under NC law. One of the basic requirements for Social Security Disability benefits (SSI and SSDI) eligibility is that your medical condition must be serious enough to prevent you from doing more than an insignificant amount of work for at least 12 continuous months. The Social Security Act uses “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) to determine what is too much work to be considered disabled. 

Furthermore, it is a potential misdemeanor to claim both (if the unemployment benefit is $400 or less) or a felony (if the unemployment benefit is over $400) in North Carolina.

So, you shouldn’t focus on the question: Can I collect unemployment and Disability at the same time? Instead, I recommend that you ask yourself another question: Can I work? If you can work, we advise you to work as long as you can. You will almost always make more money working than you can receive in Social Security Disability benefits. Social Security Disability was designed to be a safety net for disabled individuals, not a wage replacement.

But Can I Ever Get Disability and Unemployment at the Same Time?

Things aren’t always as straightforward as they may seem, and you may be able to obtain both benefits concurrently. As I mentioned above, to receive unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, available to work, and seeking opportunities to work. And to receive Social Security Disability benefits, you must have an impairment that makes you unable to work. While many administrative law judges (ALJs) see these conditions as mutually exclusive, others may not.

In fact, a 2016 Chief Administrative Law Judge memo reminds ALJs that “the receipt of unemployment insurance benefits does not preclude the receipt of Social Security Disability benefits. The receipt of unemployment benefits is only one of many factors that must be considered in determining whether the claimant is disabled.” Thus, there is a conflict between federal law and NC law on this matter.

This is a confusing issue, and one that I advise you to discuss with an experienced NC Social Security Disability lawyer. In addition to helping you answer the question “Can I receive unemployment and Disability at the same time?” a Disability attorney can help you in many other important ways. In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research reported on a study that found that Social Security Disability claimants were 23% more likely to have their claims approved during the initial evaluation phase when they had legal representation.

At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, several of the team members on our Social Security Disability team have worked inside the Social Security Administration. We understand the procedures, we have the resources and skills, and we want to help our clients obtain the Disability benefits they may deserve. We take pride in representing each and every client.

If you have a Social Security Disability question, please give us a call at 1-866-900-7078, or visit us online for a free case evaluation.

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About the Author

Rick Fleming practices Social Security Disability law at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin. In addition to heading up the firm’s Social Security Disability Department, he is a North Carolina State Bar Board Certified Specialist in Social Security Disability Law and fluent in English and Spanish. Rick has received multiple Order of Service awards from the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and he is an active board member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR). He currently holds the board-elected position of NOSSCR Treasurer, after completing a year serving as the organization’s Secretary.