To be found disabled under the Social Security Act, individuals must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which makes them unable to do their previous work, as well as unable to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy. The Social Security Act ‘s regulations specify a five-step sequential evaluation process to make a determination of an applicant’s disability. Consideration is given to the individual’s capacity to perform past relevant work (PRW) in the fourth step of this process,.

The five-step sequential evaluation process is used by Social Security to analyze a claimant’s condition to determine if a disability exists. Each step involves a question. If the answer to this query enables a finding of disability or no disability, the decision is made and the evaluation comes to an end then and there. In other words, a query may or may not yield a determination of disability or no disability, if it does not, the evaluation moves on to the next step.

Sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) of the Social Security Act’s regulations state:

“Your impairment must prevent you from doing past relevant work. If we cannot make a decision based on your current work activity or on medical facts alone, and you have a severe impairment, we then review your residual functional capacity (RFC) and the physical and mental demands of the work you have done in the past. If you can still do this kind of work, we will find that you are not disabled.”

In the context of the Social Security Act and accompanying regulations, the term “work experience” is defined as those skills and abilities acquired through work previously performed by the individual, indicating the type of work the individual may be expected to perform. Thus, work for which an individual has shown some capability is the best indicator of the kind of work that the individual may be expected to do in the future.

The regulations state: “We consider that your work experience applies when it was done within the last 15 years, lasted long enough for you to learn to do it, and was substantial gainful activity (SGA).” Work performed 15 years or more prior to the time the claim is adjudicated is ordinarily not considered relevant, unless a continuity of skills, knowledge, and processes can be established between this work and the applicant’s more recent occupations. Also, under the regulations, examiners may consider individuals working for brief periods of time or sporadically during the 15-year period to have no relevant work experience.

An individual’s capacity to do past work may be an indicator of his or her capacity to engage in SGA. This may be the case when past work experience and work activity constitutes SGA,  and the work skills have  current relevance considering their duration and recency. Duration is the length of time the person gained job experience and the time which is sufficient for the worker to have learned the techniques and developed the capabilities (physical and mental )  needed to perform the job as the average person would. Of course, the length of time associated with measuring “duration” depends on the nature and complexity of the job. Recency refers to the time which has elapsed since the work was last performed. Jobs change over time so that after 15 years the skills learned in such jobs generally have little relevance to the current labor market (especially computer or tech skills). What is and is not a job skill has been the subject of much litigation.  Transferability of job skills to other work has been hotly litigated.  There is a special Ruling on point that requires a three part analysis to assess traceability of a job skill.

A disability attorney is important in helping applicants for disability benefits understand each and every aspect of the disability application process. Contact Sullivan Law Office today. We offer free consultations, so you have absolutely nothing to lose! We look forward to hearing from you. Call 888-587-0228 or visit us online.The Five Step Sequential Evaluation Process And The Relevance Of Past Work