A disability attorney is important in helping applicants for disability benefits understand each and every technical, legal, and medical term encountered during the application process and thereafter. In this blog I will define and explain the terms that the SSA uses to describe and classify occupations and offer some examples of each classification.

For every case, the SSA has to classify the skill and exertion levels of the applicant’s past work.  An initial inquiry in just about every disability case is whether a person can go back to their past work.  If so, we lose.  For the SSA to fairly  answer this question, they must classify your past work.  The look into the physical demands of the past work (exertion), and the skill level (the job duties, the education required…)   Regarding skill level of your work, there are SSA Regulations  and Rulings that control, and even Dept. of Labor publications that can assist in this classification.  In general,

Unskilled work

Unskilled occupations make up the least complex jobs and types of work. A job is unskilled if individuals can learn to do them in 30 days or less.

Examples of some jobs that can be classified unskilled are:

  • receptionist
  • parking lot attendant
  • packer
  • circuit board assembler
  • restaurant busboy or dishwasher

Semi-skilled work

Semi-skilled occupations are naturally more complex than unskilled jobs,  yet simpler than highly skilled job types. These jobs are broader in scope and require more judgment than unskilled occupations. There are literally levels of semiskilled work, meaning that there is a spectrum of skills that can exist, yet not quite rise to the level of skills work.  The SSA uses something called  the Dictionary of Occupational Titles [DOT] to help classify work.  The SSA takes their own regulations that describe unskilled, skilled and semi skilled work, and also use direction from one of their special Rulings (SSR-00-4p).  They basically cross reference their complex definitions to the Dept. of Labor classifications as published in the DOT.  Yes, this is typical- one government agency using the publications of another to help define their program.  We call it  “regulation soup.”  Moving on,  the DOT has an Appendix (seems that almost every major government publication has an appendix) that rates the skill level of jobs by numbers (called a SVP rating).  The DOT has a “ SVP” rating for thousands of jobs.   The higher the SVP number, the more job skills and the longer it takes to learn. So in practice, we look up the job, get the SVP rating, and then translate that rating into the SSA definition!  Here is cheat sheet:

TYPE OF WORK                SVP rating                         TIME TO LEARN

Unskilled work                SVP 1-2                              less than 30 days

Semi Skilled work:          SVP 3                                 30-90 days

Semi Skiled work             SVP 4                                 90-180 days

Skilled work                     SVP 5-9                              6 months – 10+ years

As per the DOT, it is clear thatany job that can be learned in 30 days or less is unskilled.  Semiskilled work requires more than 30 days to master, but no more than 180 days.  Think 1-6 months of work experience for semiskilled work. Skilled work takes at least 6 months and up to 10 years t learn all job duties.

Examples of semi-skilled jobs are:

  • administrative assistant
  • waiter
  • carpenter
  • nurse’s aide
  • bartender

Skilled work

Skilled occupations are more complex and varied than unskilled and semiskilled occupations. They require more training, usually a college degree, and abstract thinking in a specialized field.

Easy examples of skilled jobs are

  • physicians
  • attorneys
  • chemists
  • engineers
  • CEOs

Job skills exist on a spectrum.  A particular job can have any number of skills, or none at all. As you can imagine, “job skills” is a fertile area of legal dispute.  We can argue what a skill is (yes we have regulations and rulings), we can argue that the skills are industry specific.  We can argue the jobs skills don’t transfer to other work under the law.  Your case can literally turn on the skill level of your past work and whether the jobs skills can be fairly said to transfer to other jobs.    Did you ever think you would lose your disability case because of a particular job skill.  Think your own description of your past work is not vital.  Like many other things in disability, this area  goes from simple to complex in the blink of an eye. The SSA has a vocational expert witness in almost every adult case.  Want to cross examine that witness on your own???

One of the best ways to make sure you understand all of the technical, legal, and medical terms associated with applying for disability benefits is by retaining the services of an experienced, knowledgeable, and qualified Social Security Disability attorney. Contact Sullivan Law Office today. We offer free consultations, so there is absolutely nothing to lose! Call 888-587-0228 or visit us online today!Social Security Terms Defined And Explained Part 3