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SSDI Step 4, Let’s Start With Part 1: Can You Do Your Past Relevant Work?
So, your impairment or impairments didn’t meet the requirements laid out in the Listing of Impairments that we previously discussed. Is your case over? Not yet. The next step is for Social Security to ask: Can you do your past work? In other words, even with your “severe impairment” (from Step 2), could you still perform the type of work that you did in the past? If you used to be a bus driver, can you still meet the physical and mental demands of the job? If you used to do factory work, can you still do it?
Once again, Social Security does not just take your word here. You may feel you can’t do your past work – but that’s not good enough for them. They want to be convinced by evidence. So they look at your medical record. They also research what your past job required of you. How many hours did you have to stand? How long were you allowed to sit during the day? Did you have to supervise anybody? Was there a lot of stress involved? These are the kinds of things they look for in trying to figure out if you can do your past work.
Part of the process of figuring out if you can do your past work involves classifying that work based on the “exertional” level of the job. As the name implies, the exertional level of your past work is based purely on the physical part – sitting, standing, walking, lifting, carrying and so on. There are five categories: sedentary, light, medium, heavy and very heavy. Most jobs are either sedentary or light; only a few jobs are very heavy (firefighter is one of them).
Here’s a quick breakdown of the main exertional levels:
- Sedentary work is job where you can sit for at least 6 hours during a regular 8-hour day. You never carry anything that weighs over 10 pounds. Many office jobs fall into this category and quite a few assembly jobs as well.
- Light work is a job that requires you to walk or stand most of the day. It also requires you to lift things weighting up to 20 pounds on a regular basis. Many factory or sales clerk jobs fall into this category.
- Medium jobs require that you stand most of the day, sometimes lift up to 50 pounds and frequently lift between 20 and 25 pounds.
- Heavy work also requires you to be on your feet most of the day. But here you frequently lift over 50 pounds, though never more than 100 pounds. Construction work is often heavy work, to take one example.
- Very Heavy work is rare. It requires you to be on your feet most of the day, frequently lift over 50 pounds an d sometimes lift over 100 pounds.
Besides physical exertion, other factors go in to determining the demands of your past job. For one, Social Security looks at the skill level that was involved. If it was a job you could learn quickly – in less than about a month – it is considered “unskilled.” If it took more time, it can be considered “semi-skilled” or “skilled.” Don’t let these names fool you or get you down, an unskilled job is not supposed to mean that it wasn’t important. It’s just Social Security’s way of identifying the type of training you might have, and whether you could use this training to do other types of work.
Step 4, Part 2: Residual Functional Capacity
Once Social Security has figured out the requirements of your job, they move on to an extremely important calculation called your “residual functional capacity” or RFC. Basically, RFC is just a fancy way of saying “this is what you can still do.” It is the level of work you can perform, taking into consideration the limitations and pain caused by your condition.
Your RFC is based on your physical abilities, such as how long you can stand and how much you can lift. It also takes into account your mental abilities, such as concentration and memory. Other factors, such as vision and hearing are considered as well. Eventually – based on doctors’ opinions, your own testimony and the judge’s sense of things – your RFC is determined. It corresponds to the job requirement descriptions we have previously discussed. So, for example, you might have the RFC to perform only sedentary work. This would mean you could sit for at least 6 hours, but could not stand for that long or lift more than 10 pounds.
The RFC is important for Step 4 because it is matched up against your past work. If your past work was light, for instance, but your RFC is for sedentary work only, then it must be ruled that you cannot perform your past work. If on the other hand, your past work was sedentary, and your RFC is found to be sedentary, then most times the judge will find you can perform your past work.
IT is important to understand that RFC deals mostly with the physical aspects of a job. Often times a client of ours has the strength to do his past job, but does not have the mental stamina to do it. In such a case, a ruling can be made that he cannot perform his past work, even though his physical RFC would seem to allow it.
Why is RFC Important To Me?
Even though you probably have little control over what the analyst or judge decides, you can help your case by understanding RFC. From the very first stages of the application process, you are asked questions about your past work and your current limitations. Too many people rush through this information without giving it careful consideration.
When you rare asked questions about how many hours you walked during your past job, or how much weight you can now lift, it is extremely crucial that you give accurate and carefully considered answers. If you rush through it, you may give the impression that your job was easier to do that it actually was. This can hurt your case by making it easier to match up your RFC with your past work. If your old job was actually “medium” but you describe it as “light,” then you might be found not disabled simply because your current RFC is light. Had you accurately portrayed your past work, however, then your light RFC would not have cut it and you would have been able to move on to Step 5.
Step 4 Bottom Line
If SSA finds that you can do your past work, you are not considered to be disabled, and the 5-Step Process ends. If they find that you cannot do your past work, it does not necessarily mean you are considered disabled. This is one major difference between SSD/SSI and Workers’ Compensation. For Workers’ Comp, you generally just have to show that your injury stops you from going back to your previous job. But for Social Security, there is still another step in the process. Not only do you have to be unable to do your past work, but in many cases, (we’ll explain which ones later), you also have to show you cannot do any work. This all happens at Step 5.
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