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Social Security uses a 5-step sequential evaluation to determine disability. Step 4 comprises your ability to perform your past relevant work (PRW), both as actually performed by you, and as generally performed in the national economy.

There are a number of factors that are not considered at step 4. POMS DI 25005.001C. states:

When evaluating a claimant’s ability to do PRW at step 4, do not consider:

  • age,
  • education,
  • transferability of skills,
  • whether PRW exists in significant numbers in the national economy,
  • whether PRW was done in a foreign country,
  • whether PRW was an elected position,
  • whether PRW was in the military and the claimant is no longer in the military,
  • whether the claimant has maintained licensure or currently meets the qualifications for licensure to do PRW,
  • whether the employer had accommodations for the claimant that are no longer available,
  • whether the claimant would be hired by an employer,
  • whether PRW would only be available on a part time or seasonal basis,
  • whether the claimant would have to relocate to do the job, or
  • whether a job opening exists.

This list from the POMS is a useful reference.

Several of the items on the list would seem, as a practical matter, like they would be considered at step 4. Of course, the first items on the list – age, education and transferability of job skills – are not considered until step 5. And there is a U.S. Supreme Court case stating that past relevant work does not have to exist in substantial numbers; see Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20 (2003) – the elevator operator case.

But the rest of the list appears relevant to the step 4 determination. So it is important to know that these items are not relevant, as a matter of policy. You do not want to build your theory of the case around an item on this list. Find other reasons why the claimant cannot perform past relevant work. If possible, find three reasons that the claimant cannot perform PRW.

Getting past step 4 is important in every case, but for those age 55 or older, the ability to perform past work is often the focus of the hearing.