Health Care

Previous Relevant Work in Social Security Disability Cases

Denied Social Security Disability Applications
megan November 18, 2021

Cardinal Law Partners has years of experience representing claimants seeking disability benefits before the Social Security Administration.  They understand what types of evidence makes claims stronger and how Administrative Law Judges analyze claims.  They also know how a claimant’s previous relevant work affects whether a claimant is approved or denied for disability benefits.

Previous Relevant Work (PRW)

Step four of the five step evaluation process for Social Security Disability claims is whether a claimant can perform their previous relevant work.  If the Social Security Administration believes that the claimant can perform their past relevant work, then their claim for benefits will be denied.

Previous relevant work consists of all the jobs a claimant held the 15 years before they allege they became disability.  Jobs a claimant may have had 20 or 25 years ago do not factor into the analysis.

Every job in the national economy is classified pursuant to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.  A job’s classification is broken down into an exertional level (sedentary, light, medium, or heavy) and a skill level (lower skilled jobs are assigned a number close to 1, 2, or 3, while jobs that require more education or training might have a skill level closer to 8, 9, or 10).

A claimant’s past relevant work will be analyzed by a vocational expert.  The vocational expert will describe each job a claimant had during the last 15 years and determine the job’s physical exertional level and the skills required to perform the job.  It does not matter so much how the claimant performed the job, it matters how the job is generally performed in the national economy.

How PRW Affects Claims

Simply put, a claimant has a taller hill to climb in proving their claim for disability if they have a mostly sit-down, sedentary job in your work past relevant work.  A history of performing physically easy jobs means that the claimant’s impairments must be so severe to prevent mostly sitting work.  Office work, computer work, and even call center work can be performed with bad knees, bad shoulders, and other physical impairments in the eyes of many in the Social Security Administration.

Not all is lost if a claimant has previous relevant work of unskilled sedentary work.  There are many arguments that can be made to improve a claimant’s chances of being approved for Social Security Disability.  For instance, a claimant might have an impairment that is so severe it meets a listing.  It might be that the claimant has non-exertional limitations that would prevent them from using the skills they developed over the years.  It may also be that the medical treatment required to address a medical issue is so time consuming that steady work impossible.

An experienced attorney can develop a theory of the case that maximizes the chances the Social Security Administration will recognize the futility of a claimant’s return to work.  Cardinal Law Partners has years of experience helping claimants navigate the Social Security Disability process.  Contact us toll free at (833) 444-4257 if you have questions or need help.