How Your Social Security Work History Impacts Disability Benefits

February 24, 2023 in
Sample application form on tablet computer

Many individuals develop medical conditions that begin to interfere with the type of work that they are used to doing.

For example, people who have physical jobs may develop spinal conditions which cause back pain and make it difficult to continue with their normal work. Another example is people who have jobs which require a high level of mental skill and complexity who begin to require medications which have side effects such as dizziness and drowsiness.

Many people wonder how their past work activity will affect their chances of success with their disability claim. The answer to this question can be somewhat complicated and vary based on factors such as the person’s age, education, and the type of conditions they have.

To shed some light on this issue, it is helpful to understand Social Security’s definition of “disabled” and its process for evaluating disability claims.

What is Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability benefits are available to those individuals who have a severe medical or mental health condition which lasts or is expected to last for at least twelve months or result in death.

The Social Security Disability Insurance benefits require that the person have worked and paid taxes on his or her income for at least five of the past ten years.

What is the Social Security Disability evaluation process?

First, the Social Security Administration will confirm that you are no longer engaging in substantial gainful activity.

“Substantial gainful activity” is determined by your gross income per month and not the number of hours that you have worked. This monthly amount is updated on an annual basis. In the year 2023, the monthly limit is $1450 per month. Note that this is based on gross earnings, not take home earnings – in other words, the amount that you are paid before taxes and other deductions are applied to your paycheck.

Next, Social Security will determine whether you have a severe impairment. This is based on your medical records which include doctor’s visit notes, hospital emergency room records, operative reports, imaging reports such as MRIs and CT scans, physical therapy notes, and any other medical documentation from professionals regarding your condition.

Social Security will then confirm that you do not fit the criteria for one of the conditions in its Listing of Impairments. If not, Social security will assess your residual functional capacity. This is your ability to perform certain activities that would be required in a work setting, such as standing, walking, lifting, carrying, crouching, crawling, and using your hands.

They will additionally consider the ability to perform certain mental activities such as maintaining attention and concentration and working in proximity to others. Once your residual functional capacity has been assessed, Social Security will determine if you can perform your past work. If you are unable to perform your past work, Social Security will determine whether there is other work you are able to perform. If not, you will be found disabled.

How is past work determined?

Your work will count as “past work” if you have performed it at substantial gainful activity level and performed it long enough to have learned it.

Social Security will evaluate all jobs you have performed within the past fifteen years and determine whether they should be counted as “past work.”

Whether you have performed the work long enough to have learned it depends upon the skill level of the work. The higher the skill level, the longer you will need to have performed the work for it to be counted as “past work.” For example, if you worked as a cashier, you only need to have performed the job for thirty days for the work to count as past work. However, as a paralegal, you will need to have performed the work for at least two years due to the skill level involved in the position.

Social Security will need detailed information from you in order to determine what your past work is. One way that Social Security will obtain that information from you is by sending a Work History Report form to you when they are processing your application for benefits. The Work History Report form will ask you to list your employers and jobs within the past fifteen years. You will need to include information for each job such as the amount of weight you lifted and carried, a description of your job duties, whether you supervised people or did any hiring and firing, and whether you used any special machines or tools in the job.

Your caseworker may also contact you while your application is being reviewed to obtain more details about your past work and specific job duties. If you attend a hearing with an administrative law job, you may be asked questions by either the judge or your attorney regarding your jobs for the past fifteen years and the specific job duties required for your position.

At a hearing, there will be a vocational expert present. This person will review the work history information completed in the file and listen to any testimony you give about your job history.

The vocational expert will then use your description of the job to look it up in a dictionary of jobs and determine its classification according to skill level and physical requirements. The vocational expert will state whether the way that you performed the job is the same way that the job is typically performed. The vocational expert will tell the judge, based on the limitations that he or she provides, whether you would be able to do the job according to both how it is normally performed and how you performed it in the past.

Hiring an attorney is crucial for guidance on past work issues

Having an attorney present at your hearing places you in the best position for success. The attorney will be able to help you recall your past work history and prepare you for how your past work will be used at a hearing. Additionally, a skilled attorney will know how to question the vocational expert regarding your limitations in light of your past work.

Give us a call at LaBovick Law Group at (561) 625-8400 and our legal team will be ready to fight to win your case.