How is ‘past work’ evaluated for determining disability benefits?

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) decides whether to award an applicant for disability benefits, it goes through a five-step process. Regardless of the state. First, the SSA determines whether the applicant earns too much money to qualify for benefits. Second, it will determine whether the applicant’s illness or injury is “severe.” Third, it will determine whether the applicant’s illness or injury falls under the agency’s list of disabling conditions. Fourth, the SSA will consider whether the applicant can still perform past work activities. Fifth, the SSA will determine whether the applicant can do any other type of work.

Today, we are going to focus on the fourth step: deciding whether the applicant can perform past work activities. First of all, the SSA will consider what work activities the applicant is able to perform, despite his or her medical condition. This examination includes the applicant’s ability to physically exert him or herself, as well as whether the applicant is able to perform manipulative and postural activities. In addition, whether the worker is able to tolerate environmental conditions will be considered. The applicant’s visual, auditory and speech capabilities, along with his or her ability to concentrate on work will also be considered. Whether the applicant can understand and remember instructions is also a consideration, as is the applicant’s ability to respond properly to others at work.

When determining whether the applicant can do his or her past work, the SSA will consider the demands of the applicant’s work activities spanning the past 15 years. If the SSA deems that the applicant’s past work is relevant, it will be compared to the applicant’s ability to actually do the past work and how that work is performed in general in America’s economy.

Once such comparisons are made, if it is determined that the worker can do his or her past work or that which is general done in America’s economy, the applicant will be denied benefits. If it is deemed that the applicant is unable to satisfy these elements, his or her application will move on to step five of the process.

In a future post, we will discuss what information the SSA needs from applicants that will help them make this important decision. In the meantime, those with questions about this step of the determination process can discuss the matter with a Social Security Disability attorney who can provide more information.