Past Jobs and SSDI

Why Does Social Security Disability Care About My Past Jobs?

Many of my clients applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) wonder why I ask them about jobs they have performed in the past.

In claims for disability benefits, Social Security evaluates whether they believe you can return to jobs you held in the past. They look at the last 15 years of your employment history. As you can imagine, it may be easier to return to work at a call center as opposed to a heavy construction job.

In this blog post, I will briefly explain how this process works.

During the Social Security claims process, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will examine your past work to see if you can return to that work with the medical impairments you are experiencing.

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At the initial stages, a disability examiner will look at your job titles along with the physical and mental demand levels of your past employment.

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If the disability examiner determines you can do your past work, your claim will be denied.

If you cannot perform your past relevant work, the SSA will also determine whether you acquired transferable skills to perform a job with lower exertional requirements.

If they determine there are jobs you can perform with your transferable skills, your claim will also be denied. Many of my clients are denied for these reasons.

This is something you can appeal, and it is usually in your best interest to do so.


After appealing a disability denial, you may find yourself at an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing.

There will be a Vocational Expert (VE) at the hearing to testify about the demands of your previous employment and occupations in the labor force that can be performed with certain physical and/or mental restrictions.

This is where your attorney or representative can help the ALJ or VE better understand how your limitations caused by your medical conditions would prevent you from performing your previous employment.

At your hearing, it is important to outline the demands at your previous employment, such as how much you had to lift, walk, stand, and sit. It is also important to point out the mental requirements as to whether your past work was unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled.

In other words, did you perform simple and repetitive work tasks or did your job require highly specialized skills and knowledge to complete your duties?

This part of the claims and hearing process is probably the most confusing to my clients.

Many of the terms used by the SSA can be difficult to understand to a person not familiar to the disability process. Prior to the disability hearing, I prepare my clients as to what all of this means to an average person in relation to a disability claim.

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I find that knowing why the SSA discusses your past work, in addition to other issues, can remove some of the anxiety surrounding your disability claim. Your attorney or representative should know the specific rules that can help or hurt your case.

If you do not have a lawyer at your Social Security disability hearing, you should ask the ALJ to explain what all of this means and how it applies to you.

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