How to file for disability, Filing for SSI
Disability Requirements, Disability Status
How long is the wait?, Disability Application
The Social Security List of Impairments
Qualifying for Disability, Mental Disability
Disability Lawyer Info, Disability Back Pay

Social Security evaluates work history when making disability decisions

Social Security always evaluates an individual’s work when they file for disability. The definition of disability for Social Security purposes includes the inability to work at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) level for twelve continuous months or the expectation that a person will be unable to perform SGA-level work actvity for twelve continuous months due to a medically determinable mental or physical impairment.

SGA, or Substantial gainful activity, is a monthly earnings amount that Social Security sets each year as an amount of earnings that can be considered self-supporting. In fact, Social Security Disability is more concentrated on an individual being unable to perform substantial work activity rather than their specific impairment.

To reiterate, Social Security always looks at an individual’s work and work history to some degree. Actually, there are plenty of individuals who might meet the criteria established in a Social Security impairment listing (listings are approval criteria for certain mental and physical conditions), but do not qualify for disability benefits because they are still working over the SGA amount.

In these cases, it does not matter that the individual meets or equals the strict medical criteria of an impairment listing--their disability claim will be denied for the performance of SGA.

In other words, if you work and earn more than the allowable SGA limit, you will be denied disability benefits even if you have a verifiable disabling condition. As far as the social security administration is concerned, if you can work at a certain level, you are not considered to be disabled.

How are Social Security Disability and SSI decisions made?

Social Security uses a five step sequential evaluation process to make all disability determinations.

Step 1

The first step concerns whether or not the disability applicant is performing substantial and gainful work activity. If they are, their disability claim will be denied prior to being sent to a disability examiner for a disability decision.

Additionally, an individual’s disability claim could be denied during the disability decision process if they return to work that earns them at least the SGA amount.

If the individual is working but it is determined that they are not working at the SGA earnings level, their disability claim moves to the second step.

Step 2

The second step is determining if the disability claimant actually has a medically determinable mental or physical impairment. This must be done through objective medical evidence from acceptable medical sources. If the disability claimant does have a medically determinable impairment, Social Security must move to the third step.

Step 3

The third step is used to evaluate the severity of the impairment. As was indicated earlier, disability examiners use a listing of impairments to help reach decisions on claims and to evaluate the severity of an individual’s impairment. The Social Security Disability list of impairments is contained in the Social Security Disability guidebook, “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security“ (also known as the blue book).

The impairment listings address all body systems and establish the medical disability criteria needed to meet the severity requirements for winning disability benefits. If an individual meets or equals an impairment listing, the sequential evaluation process ends here. The disability claimant will be awarded disability benefits.

However, many disability applicants do not meet or equal the medical eligibility criteria established in the impairment listings. It is at this point that disability examiners must take a closer look at an individual’s job history or past work.

Step 4

Step 4 involves an evaluation of all relevant work that an individual has done in the past fifteen years. Relevant work is any job the disability claimant had three months or more at which they earned SGA and in which they had time to learn the job.

If the disability examiner determines that the claimant can do any of their past relevant work, their disability claim will be denied at this level. Conversely, if the disability examiner determines that they are unable to do any of their past work, they must move on to step five of the social security determination process.

Step 5

Step five involves a social security determination as to whether or not an individual can be expected to do some other kind of work considering their residual functional capacity (what they are able to do in spite of their physical and mental limitations), education, age, and the transferability of their job skills.

If the disability examiner (or judge if the case is at a hearing) determines that the individual is unable to perform "other work", they may be approved for disability benefits on the basis of a medical vocational allowance, or approval. Medical vocational approvals use age, education, and residual functional capacity to award disability benefits. By the same token, if an individual is found to be able to do other types of work, their disability claim will be denied.

Essential Questions

What is the Social Security Disability SSI list of impairments?

Can you work while getting or applying for Disability?

How Often Does Social Security Approve Disability The First Time You Apply?

Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

Receiving a Disability Award Letter

Conditions Social Security will recognize as a disability

Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

Applying for disability in your state

Most popular topics on SSDRC.com

Social Security Disability SSI Questions

The listings, list of disabling impairments

Can a mental illness qualify you for disability?

Disability Lawyers prevent unnecessary denials

How much Social Security Disability SSI back pay?

How to apply for disability for a child or children

Filing a Social Security Disability SSI application

Filing for disability - when to file

How to apply for disability - where to apply

Qualifications for disability benefits

How to Prove you are disabled and Win your Disability Benefits

Qualifying for Disability - The Process

How to get disability for depression

Getting disability for fibromyalgia

SSI disability for children with ADHD

What is the Application Process for Social Security Disability and SSI?

Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

Social Security Disability SSI Exam tips

More Social Security Disability SSI Questions

Social Security Disability SSI definitions

What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI?

New and featured pages on SSDRC.com

Who can help me file for disability?

Related pages:

How long does a disability appeal take?
How long does it take to get a disability check after approval?
How long does it take to get approved for disability?
How long does it take to get a decision on Social Security Disability or SSI?
How the Decision on a Disability Application or Appeal is Made
How Quickly Is The Disability Claim Decision Made?
Is Social Security required to make a decision on a disability case in a certain time period?
Social Security evaluates work history when making disability decisions
Social Security Disability decisions use two main criteria
Disability decisions are based on functional limitations
Factors affecting how long a Social Security decision letter takes
How Long Will it Take To Get a Disability Decision Letter from Social Security?
Avoid delays to reduce how long does it take to get a disability decision
If you apply for disability in in Louisiana
Getting a Disability Lawyer in Louisiana

These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

Can you get temporary Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

Permanent Social Security Disability

What is the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI?

Who is eligible for SSI disability?

Can I Be Eligible For SSI And Social Security Disability At The Same Time?

What makes a person eligible to receive disability benefits?

Applying for Disability - How long does it take to get Social Security Disability or SSI benefits?

What happens if I file a disability application and it is denied by a disability examiner or Judge?

For the sake of clarity, SSDRC.com is not the Social Security Administration, nor is it associated or affiliated with SSA. This site is a personal, private website that is published, edited, and maintained by former caseworker and former disability claims examiner, Tim Moore, who was interviewed by the New York Times on the topic of Social Security Disability and SSI benefits in an article entitled "The Disability Mess" and also by the Los Angeles Times on the subject of political attempts to weaken the Social Security Disability system.

The goal of the site is to provide information about how Social Security Disability and SSI work, the idea being that qualified information may help claimants pursue their claims and appeals, potentially avoiding time-consuming mistakes. If you find the information on this site helpful and believe it would be helpful to others, feel free to share links to its homepage or other pages on website resource pages, blogs, or social media. Copying of this material, however, is prohibited.

To learn more about the author, please visit the SSDRC.com homepage and view the "about this site" link near the bottom of the page.