What does social security mean by past work?

When you file an application for Social Security Disability or SSI, the disability examiner who reviews your case uses your medical records to determine what your physical and mental capabilities are. The assessment of your current capabilities is known as your RFC rating. RFC stands for residual functional capacity.

For example, some claimants, after a review of their records, are considered to have a light RFC, meaning they are considered by the social security administration to be only capable of light exertion, or light duty, work activity (for SSA purposes, light work is work in which you would be required to lift ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally).

If you are restricted to light work, meaning that you have a light RFC rating, and your past work was medium work (meaning that your past work required the ability to lift twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds occasionally), then you would not be considered capable of going back to your past work.

In such a case, the disability examiner would need to consider whether or not you are capable of doing some type of other work that you might seem logically suited for based on your age, educational level, acquired job skills and the transferrability of those skills to other jobs, and, of course, your residual functional capacity rating.

Past work is the step of the sequential evaluation process (the process used by the social security administration to decide disability claims in which the claimant has not met the approval criteria of a listing in the impairment listing manual, or blue book) where many claims are denied. But what exactly is past work?

Past work potentially includes all the jobs that you might have done in the past fifteen years. This fifteen year period is known as the relevant period. Jobs performed in this timeframe are considered in the disability claim process because it is thought that any job skills you may have acquired in such jobs might still be "relevant" to the current labor market.

However, not every job that you did in the last fifteen years would necessarily be considered by SSA. If you worked a job in the relevant period but did not do the job long enough to learn its requirements (for example, if you quit the job in the training period), or you did not work and earn what SSA refers to as a "substantial and gainful income" while you had the job, then the job will not be considered by the disability examiner when he or she evaluates your ability (or inability) to go back to an old job.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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