In adult Social Security disability and Supplement Security Income cases, prior relevant work plays an important role. In order to receive disability benefits, the burden is on you to prove that you cannot return to any of the relevant work you have done in the past. But how does Social Security determine what your prior relevant work is? Social Security determines whether your prior work is “relevant” by looking at three main factors: (1) whether it was performed at the substantial gainful level, (2) the duration of the work, and (3) the recency of the work. For more information on these terms, you can read the Social Security Administration’s Ruling on this subject, found here.
What this necessarily means is that an Administrative Law Judge must know these three factors about your work. At your hearing, the Administrative Law Judge will have access to your earnings history. However, the exact dates, lengths of time you were employed, and your particular job duties are not immediately available to the Administrative Law Judge. This information must come from you, the claimant. This is why it is important to carefully think about your prior work when you are completing the paperwork for your disability claim. It is often hard for claimants to remember specific work dates for jobs they held 10 years ago. However, it is in your best interest to gather this information early, and as precisely, as possible.
In a recent case, my client was over 60 years old and limited to performing light work. Under Social Security’s Regulations, she would be found disabled if all of her prior work was performed at the medium exertional level or higher and if she had no transferable job skills. There was some indication in the file that the claimant had done work as a child care worker, which is classified as a light job. If this job was considered past relevant work, the claimant would not have met her burden of proving she could not return to any of her prior work. However, the claimant testified that the business was owned by her sister and that she never worked there full-time or made a significant amount of money. Her sister confirmed this through an affidavit. Because we were able to prove that the claimant work for her sister was not actually “past relevant work,” the client won her case.