The Social Security Administration uses a 5-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether or not you will receive disability benefits.
Step 1: Are You Working?
Step 1 determines if a person is “working”, according to the Social Security Administration definition. Earning more than this amount a month as an employee is enough for disqualification from receiving Social Security disability benefits. If you are self-employed, the determination is more complicated, and a Social Security disability lawyer can help.
Step 2: Is Your Condition Severe?
Step 2 evaluates whether your medical condition is severe enough to significantly limit your ability to perform basic work activities. In addition, the impairment must last, or be expected to last, for a continuous period of not less than 12 months or result in death.
Step 3: Is Your Condition A Listed Impairment?
Step 3 asks if the impairment meets or equals a medical “listing.” The Social Security Administration uses more than 150 categories of medical conditions, called “listings.” You can browse the Social Security listed impairments for adults. These conditions are severe enough to presumptively preclude a person from working. If you “meet or equal a listing” you will be granted benefits. If you do not meet a listing, the SSA proceeds to Step 4.
Step 4: Can You Do Work You Did Previously?
Step 4 explores your ability to perform work you have done in the past 15 years, despite your physical or mental impairments. If the Social Security Administration finds that you can still perform this past relevant work, benefits are denied.
It does not matter at step 4 if your former employer would not hire you, or if the place where you worked is no longer in business, or if all those jobs are now done in China. All Social Security does at this step is match your physical and mental residual functional capacity with the requirements of your former job.
If you cannot perform your past relevant work, then the process proceeds to the fifth and final step.
Step 5: Can You Do Any Other Type Of Work?
Step 5 determines what other work, if any, the person can perform. Social Security considers your age, education, work experience and physical/mental condition to make this determination. If Social Security finds that you cannot make the transition to other work, you will be granted benefits.
Because Social Security considers your age at this step, there are special rules for claimants over the age of 50.
Social Security explains the five-step sequential evaluation process in Ruling 86-8. See also 20 C.F.R. 404.1520.
Knowledge of the 5 step sequential evaluation process is critical to making a successful Social Security disability claim. An experienced disability lawyer can help you with your disability claim.