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Factors Considered in Determining if You Can Perform Your Past Job

Gordon, Wolf & Carney May 30, 2023

Established in 1935, the Social Security Act changed how the federal government provided for the general welfare of the American people. Today, nearly 90 years later, millions of individuals still depend on this indispensable service which has since expanded to include disability insurance as well. In 2021, there were roughly 9.2 million people who earned some kind of disability benefit from the Social Security Administration. However, what many applicants and current recipients don’t fully understand is the process by which these benefits can be taken away if you’re deemed able to perform your past job. 

To speak with a Social Security benefits attorney about the factors SSA uses to determine your ability to perform a past job, reach out to us at Gordon, Wolf & Carney. Our attorneys are based in Maryland but we serve clients nationwide.   

How Is the Ability to Perform Past Job Relevant?

If you’re considering applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you’ll need to be prepared for a lengthy and often complicated process. As a part of your application, you’ll be required to provide information about your past work experience, including your previous jobs over the last 15 years and a detailed description of your duties. Using this information, the SSA will determine your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Your RFC is essentially a measure of what kind of work (if any) you’re able to do based on your past employment history in light of your disability. 

The SSA determination of “disability” is directly connected to this process. If you are deemed able to either still do the work you were doing before you applied for disability or you are deemed able to shift into another line of work that you have experience in, you will not be eligible for disability benefits.  

Factors Used to Determine Ability to Perform Past Job

Reviewing an individual’s 15-year work history is a complex procedure. The SSA will look at four basic factors when determining your ability to perform your past job: 

  1. Your job duties: The first step is to review your job description which includes the actual skills needed to complete the work, the environment you worked in, the hours worked, and the tasks you had to complete. 

  1. Physical demands: Next, the SSA will review the physical demands of your job which could include how long you had to sit or stand, any amount of weight you were expected to lift and carry, manual tasks you were expected to perform, as well as any tools or equipment you had to operate.  

  1. Troubles with the job: Once the basics of your job are understood, they will then review the difficulties you faced while trying to carry out your everyday work duties. This could involve how often you had to take a break or rest, whether you had to ask coworkers to help you or relieve you of your duties, if your hours were reduced because you couldn’t maintain them, and how many sick days you had to take. 

  1. How your disability affected the work: Lastly, the SSA will look at how your documented medical condition interfered with your ability to work. Primarily, they’ll want to know when and why you had to stop work due to your condition and when your disability first started affecting your work.   

Ability to Do Other Work  

If, in the course of their evaluation, the SSA finds you are able to perform past work (even if it wasn’t the job you quit to apply for SSDI), you’ll likely be denied SSA benefits if you have the ability to do “other work.” This is also true if they find you’re able to do other work that you have the education or skill set to perform, even if you’ve never actually held that position in the past. When deciding whether you can do other work, the SSA may consider the following factors: 

  • Your age: Typically younger applicants (under the age of 55) are considered more capable of transitioning to a new line of work. 

  • Your education: The SSA will look at your education, any areas of study you focused on, and any training you received in a specific field. 

  • Your work experience: Using the information you provided about your work history, they’ll look at your skill set, your experience performing different tasks, and your general knowledge to determine if any of these skills could be used in a different field. Then, they’ll ensure there are a significant number of job opportunities in the country fitting this description. Note, however, that they won’t consider your individual ability to get hired, only that jobs do exist.  

Detailed Legal Support When You Need It

If you’d like to connect with a team of attorneys in Towson, Maryland that also serves clients nationwide, reach out to us at Gordon, Wolf & Carney. We strive to help you better understand what goes into applying for disability benefits and how the SSA will evaluate your individual case.