Why did the judge at my Social Security disability hearing care so much about my past work? There is a lot going on at a Social Security disability hearing, and most of it is going to be information you have never heard before. The way an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) analyzes your disability claim is completed in different steps. One of the steps is to determine if you can return to any of your past work with your current disabling condition(s).
When the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews your past employment, they go back 15 years. You must have earned certain amounts of money, and you must have worked long enough to learn the job tasks. The ALJ will attempt to determine your previous exertional level. This means how much you had to stand, walk, sit, and lift at your previous employment. The SSA will determine whether your job was skilled or unskilled. If the job was skilled, the ALJ will decide whether you acquired any transferable skills to other types of employment that may be less physically demanding.
At your hearing, the ALJ will then use a Vocational Expert (VE) to classify your past job(s). The VE will attempt to do this by looking at a publication called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). The VE will attempt to assign a code that your past employment corresponds with and will testify as to what exertional level it was performed at, and how it is generally performed. The VE will give this information to the ALJ to use to further analyze your claim.
With this information in mind, the ALJ will then determine if you can do any of your past relevant work or any other work using the skills you acquired. If it is determined you cannot, the ALJ will determine if there are other jobs in the economy that you can do with your restrictions. If the answer is no, you may find yourself with a favorable decision.
Many factors go into this process; details such as transferrable skills, your age, and education can come into play. In the end, the strength of your medical records can overcome many obstacles your past jobs may present. This is just a very brief overview as to why you may be questioned about your past employment. It is in your best interest to have a general idea of the details of your past employment before entering the courtroom so that you are prepared for the ALJ’s questioning.