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Sometimes a prior job is actually more than one job at the same time. You were both a RN and a nurse supervisor. You were both a receptionist and a filing clerk. You were both a carpenter and a construction supervisor. These are called composite jobs.

If your past relevant work included a composite job, it can cause problems with your Social Security disability claim. The SSA must determine, at step 4 of the 5-step sequential evaluation process, whether you have the residual functional capacity to perform your past relevant work. Not only does Social Security consider your ability to do your past work as you performed it, but also as generally performed. And this is where the composite job can cause problems with a claim.

Typically, in the short space available on the work history report, you only give the job title for part of your composite job. Then you describe what you had to do. Social Security may find that you can’t do the job as you describe it, buy can still do that job as generally performed. The problem is that the “generally performed” analysis does not consider the composite nature of the job. The SSA will just use the job title that you gave in your work history report to determine how the job is generally performed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). If that past job was a composite job, this approach is incorrect under Social Security’s own rules.

Social Security Ruling 82-61 states “composite jobs have significant elements of two or more occupations and, as such, have no counterpart in the DOT. Such situations will be evaluated according to the particular facts of each individual case.” Social Security must consider all the exertional and nonexertional requirements of a composite job.

There is some good case law from the Ninth Circuit on this topic.

Every occupation consists of a myriad of tasks, each involving different degrees of physical exertion. To classify an applicant’s “past relevant work” according to the least demanding function of the claimant’s past occupations is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Social Security Act. Valencia v. Heckler, 751 F.2d 1082, 1086 (9th Cir. 1985).

See also Carmickle v. Commissioner, 533 F.3d 1155, 1166 (9th Cir. 2008).

Be sure to let your Social Security disability lawyer know if you performed a composite job, since it is hard to tell from the Social Security disability claim file whether or not a previous job was a composite job. Awareness of the composite job issue can make the difference between receiving disability benefits and having those benefits denied.