The Importance of Past Work in Determining a Social Security Disability Claim

When the Social Security Administration considers a disability application, it to a applies the facts of your application to a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether you meet the definition of "disability."

Along the way, the Administration will consider your "past relevant work." Your past relevant work is the work that you performed in the fifteen years prior to the date you claim your disability began. In order for your work to qualify as past relevant work, you must have worked at the job long enough that you would be considered competent to perform the essential duties of the position. Some jobs, usually unskilled positions, do not require a lot of training, so there is no "vocational preparation" required. However, other jobs, that require special skills, may involve more extensive training, and even though you may have started a certain job, you may not have been working that job long enough for to be considered past relevant work.

Why is this also important?

Depending on how severe Social Security feels your medical conditions are, it will determine your physical and mental abilities at the workplace. This is called "residual functional capacity." Once Social Security determines your abilities and limitations, it then looks at your past relevant work, and determines whether you can still perform this work given your limitations. If Social Security feels that you are able to still do your past work, even with the limitations that you currently experience, you are not disabled.

Typically, if your case goes to a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, the judge will have a Vocational Expert, who will testify as an expert witness on this particular issue. The Vocational Expert, commonly referred to as a VE, will want to know how you performed your specific work. This is important, because some jobs may be described as "light work," but could have been performed at the "medium work" level. This could make or break a case.

If you have been denied benefits, or have questions about your past work, call us at 503-325-8600. We have helped several people over the years, and can let you know where you stand with your claim.