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On April 18, 2024, Social Security published a final rule revising the period for Past Relevant Work (PRW) from 15 years to 5 years. That published rule contained an implementation date of June 8, 2024.

A notice in today’s Federal Register delayed implementation of the new rule by two weeks. The new rule will now

At Step 4 of Social Security’s sequential evaluation, the SSA considers the claimant’s ability to perform their past relevant work, both as actually performed and as generally performed in the national economy. That means that Social Security will evaluate your ability to do the jobs you have had over the past 15 years, both as described in your work history report and as generally performed.

If the job you had as a cashier was more demanding physically than that job is generally, and you could perform the job as generally performed, you will not be awarded disability benefits. On the face of it, this is a fair rule. But in practice, problems arise.

The first problem is that, to determine how a particular job is generally performed, Social Security refers to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a Department of Labor publication that hasn’t been updated since 1991 (and many jobs in the DOT date back to the 1970’s). So the description of a job’s requirements may be woefully outdated. I had this issue at a hearing recently, where an office-type job description in the DOT dated back to before there were PCs in the office, and before the internet. The job today is all about working on a computer and keyboarding, in a way the job wasn’t performed 30+ years ago. It took a lot of cajoling to get the vocational expert at the hearing to acknowledge that the job had evolved over time from its DOT description, and now required extensive use of the hands (which was a problem for my 63-year old client with severe psoriatic arthritis).

The disparity between the reality in the workplace and the dated job desciptions in DOT continues to grow with time. The issue has started to garner some media attention because of its unfairness. Claims are being denied using outdated vocational information.

Another problem is that a disability examiner at DDS may select a job title in the Dictionary of Occupational TItles that has the same name as the job performed by the claimant, but is a actually a different job.Continue Reading Past Relevant Work as Generally Performed

Sometimes a prior job is actually more than one job at the same time. You were both a carpenter and a work site supervisor.  Your were a front desk clerk at a hotel, but also cleaned rooms and sometimes carried guests’ luggage to their room. These are called composite jobs.

In every disability claim, the

I have three clients at various stages of the Social Security disability process whose past relevant work is solely as a surgical technician, or surgery tech. Obviously, assisting the doctor in the operating room is a demanding job. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles describes the job as Light, SVP 7 (DOT Code 079.374-022).

At the hearing level, the SSA adds to the disability claim file a document called the “Detailed Earnings Query,” or DEQY. The DEQY lists all the employers that have paid wages (and the amount of annual wages paid), during the past 15 years. Fifteen years is the time frame for past relevant work for Step 4 of the sequential evaluation of a Social Security disability claim.

When past relevant work is critical to a claim (Social Security disability claimants over the age of 55 suffering from physical impairments, in particular), a Representative needs to look very carefully at the DEQY, so that all past relevant work can be properly classified and evaluated.

Let me give an example, one that turned out fine but could have been a disaster.Continue Reading Look at the DEQY

Why does an administrative judge request a review by a vocational expert of the jobs from a claimant’s work record?

It means that the administrative law judge (ALJ) is considering whether or not you can return to your past relevant work at step 4 of Social Security’s sequential evaluation process. After the vocational expert