Examining “past relevant work” is the fourth step in determining if you qualify for social security disability. This article is the fourth in a series discussing each step of the five-step sequential evaluation process that social security disability judges use to determine you are disabled.
As discussed in the prior articles of the series, the first three steps in determining qualification for social security disability include: (1) Are you engaging in “substantial gainful activity,” meaning, are they working now and earning more than a minimum amount? If the answer is “yes” you are not disabled. If no, you move on to Step 2. (2) Do you have a “non-severe impairment” or “severe impairment”? If it is a “severe” impairment, we move to Step 3. (3) Do you meet or equal one or more of the Listings of Impairments published in the regulations that automatically stop the inquiry and conclude that you qualify for social security disability benefits? If not, it does not mean that you are not disabled. It only means that the social security judges go on to Step 4 to determine your “residual functional capacity.” Residual functional capacity means what is left to work with that is not affected by the disability, to determine if vocationally, there are jobs that you could still perform. To determine your residual functional capacity, the social security judge will examine your past relevant work in Step 4.
Step 4 can be rephrased to say “Although your condition prevents you from performing your current work, are there any jobs that you could hypothetically still perform considering your history of prior relevant work during the last 15 years? If yes, you would not qualify for social security disability benefits. However, if your impairment prevents current and past relevant work, the social security disability administrative judge would move on to Step 5 (the topic of the next and final article in this series).
Past Relevant Work
Social Security Administration regulations define past relevant work simply as “work [the claimant] ha[s] done in the past.” If you are capable of performing a job you held in the past which constitutes substantial gainful activity, you are not considered disabled under social security disability rules. As in the prior steps, you have the burden of proof to show that you cannot perform such work. Once you show that you cannot perform past relevant work, there is an important shift in the burden of proof to the Social Security Administration to show that there are other jobs in the economy that the claimant can perform.
However, it is important that your attorney focuses on the requirements of your particular job, as opposed to the general type of work. For example, although there are many machinist jobs, what you did as a machinist may be significantly different than what another machinist may have done. It is important that your particular skills as a machinist are considered and not simply the general overview of what a machinist job entails.
Also, how far back must you go to determine past relevant work? The Social Security Administration regulations state that work performed up to 15 years prior to the occurrence of an impairment be considered in determining whether a particular job qualifies as past relevant work. Work performed more than 15 years earlier typically will not be considered.
Lastly, do job you worked at for only for a short period of time should be considered in determining your past relevant work? This is important in determining disability because it is assumed that you have the skills required to perform that work. Social Security Administration regulations state that work experience from past work is relevant when the work “lasted long enough for [the claimant] to learn to do it.” Thus, the amount of time on the job doesn’t play as significant a role as the whether you worked long enough at the job to learn the required skills.
Assessing the Demand of Past Relevant Work
Once your prior relevant work has been identified and your residual functional capacity has been determined, the physical and mental requirements of your past relevant work must be assessed in order to decide if you can perform that work. This requires specific determinations as to the mental demands of your past work. Any other limitation on your ability to perform past work caused by your physical or mental condition must be considered as well. However, what is not considered at this stage is your age and education, including the ability to communicate in English, nor the availability of a past relevant job in the national economy.
The Social Security Administration revised its regulations in 2003 to make it explicit that it may use vocational experts or other vocational sources, such as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, to make this assessment. Although the testimony of a vocational expert can be relevant in determining whether you can perform past relevant work, the vocational expert’s testimony is not conclusive. Rather, the social security disability administrative judge must make an independent assessment of your ability to perform past relevant work.
Step 4 of the sequential evaluation process used to determine if you qualify for social security disability benefits is an important one. It is important that the proper past relevant work is considered and that the proper assessment of the demands of each position is addressed.
Attorneys Matthew Noyes and Lorrie Robinson understand what is required in Step 4 to get to Step 5 in your fight for social security disability benefits. In fact, they wrote a book on the battle to obtain social security disability benefits (get your free copy of the book here). Call Attorneys Matthew Noyes and Lorrie Robinson at 727-724-7884 or simply click here to schedule a free consultation. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless they get you the social security disability benefits you earned and deserve.