What if I can’t go back to my past work?

December 7, 2021 in

It is frustrating when you are unable to continue working at your previous job due to your health conditions. It is a particularly challenging situation to be in when you have only done one particular kind of job for your entire working life. If you are unable to continue working due to your medical condition, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. However, Social Security’s rules can be very difficult to navigate.

Social Security Disability benefits are eligible for those who have a medical condition that lasts or is expected to last for at least one year which has kept them from engaging in normal work activity. First, Social Security will confirm that you are no longer engaging in “substantial gainful activity” – meaning, you are not currently earning more than Social Security’s allowable threshold due to work activities. If you have stopped working due to your conditions, you will meet this requirement. Second, Social Security will confirm that you have a severe impairment. Social Security will determine this by reviewing your medical records and assessing which conditions you have been diagnosed with and which treatments you have been prescribed. If you do not have sufficient medical records, Social Security may send you to a doctor for an examination. This examination is paid for by the agency and is at no cost to you. After reviewing your medical records, Social Security will then determine your “residual functional capacity.” This is essentially an assessment of your physical capabilities in relation to normal work requirements such as standing and sitting for a certain number of hours per day or lifting certain amounts of weight. If your impairments are related to mental health conditions, the residual functional capacity will include limitations on areas such as focus, concentration, or interacting with others. Social Security will compare your previous job requirements as generally performed with your residual functional capacity and then determine whether you are able to return to your past work. When reviewing your past work, Social Security will refer to a guide called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (abbreviated as DOT). The DOT provides a description of the job and includes the residual functional capacity required to perform the job, as well as the skill level required.

Getting past this step, however, can be more complicated than it looks. First, it is important to note that the way you performed the job may differ from the way the job is generally required to be performed by most employers. For example, you may have worked in a cafeteria and were required to lift boxes up to 50 lbs. as part of food distribution. However, according to the DOT, the cafeteria worker’s job as generally performed does not typically have that type of lifting requirement. Therefore, if Social Security finds that you are able to lift up to 20 lbs., it will find that you are able to perform your past work as a cafeteria worker. Sometimes, though, the DOT’s classification of a job does not accurately reflect the manner in which the job is performed in the national economy. In sum, you will have to prove to Social Security that the physical and/or mental requirements of the job you did are industry standards for the way the job is performed, rather than just requirements that were particular to your former employer. This is a very challenging distinction to prove. It is best to retain an attorney who is knowledgeable about Social Security’s regulations and sequential evaluation process to move past this issue.

Another point to consider is whether your past job required you to perform more than one function. For example, you may have worked in a small restaurant where you would wait tables some days, cook some days, and wash dishes other days. In other words, you essentially performed three different positions in one job. If this job has significant elements of two or more occupations, it is referred to as a composite job. If your previous job was a composite job, Social Security can only find you capable of performing your past job if you are able to perform ALL parts of the job that you had.

Once Social Security has confirmed that you cannot perform your past work, it will continue to step 5 of the sequential evaluation process. If you are under the age of 50, Social Security will determine whether there are any other jobs that you can perform. The jobs must exist in significant numbers in the national economy; however, they do not need to be jobs that are necessarily available in your area. If you are unable to perform any other jobs, you will be found disabled. If you are over the age of 50, the rules regarding performing other jobs will change. If you were between 50 and 55 on the date of your disability and only able to perform sedentary work (sitting 6 of 8 hours in an 8-hour workday and lifting no more than 10 lbs.), Social Security will determine whether there are sedentary jobs with skills that you acquired at your past jobs. If there are not, you will be found disabled. If you were age 55 or older on the date of your disability and are found to have the residual functional capacity to perform no more than light work (lifting no more than 20 lbs.), then Social Security will determine whether there are jobs at that exertional level with skills that you acquired at your past jobs. If not, you will be found disabled. This step will be easier to get past if your previous work all involved heavy lifting (such as a construction worker) than if your previous jobs were all sedentary.

Working around Social Security’s disability regulations is very challenging. It is best to hire an experienced attorney who understands how to navigate the evaluation process. The legal team at LaBovick Law Group is well-versed in Social Security’s regulations and will use our knowledge to fight for the benefits you deserve. Give us a call at (561) 625-8400 to get your Social Security Disability application started.