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Past work and Social Security Disability

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When people with disabilities in California or elsewhere in the United States file applications for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, the examiner who reviews the application uses a series of steps in order to evaluate the claim and the applicant’s current status. The applicant’s medical records are used in order to determine their physical and mental capabilities and develop what is known as a rating for residual functional capacity, or RFC.

In some cases, applicants are considered to have a light RFC due to physical disabilities. This would mean that they are capable of light-duty work, which for the Social Security Administration is work in which a person may have to lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds only occasionally. While an applicant’s RFC rating may be light, all of their past work could have been medium- or heavy-duty labor that required the lifting of 25 or 50 pounds on a regular basis. In this case, an applicant would not be considered able to return to their past work.

Examiners in these cases assess whether the applicant is able to do a different type of work based on their job skills, education, age and other factors, including the RFC rating. As part of this process, past work from a 15-year period, known as the relevant period, is evaluated in which all jobs an applicant has done in that time are assessed to determine if the applicant can still do that work.

In a number of cases, disability applicants are denied benefits on the basis of the assertion that they are able to do some form of their past relevant work. People applying for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits may be able to work with a disability lawyer to challenge findings about past work that do not reflect an applicant’s actual ability to work.