Skilled and Unskilled Work In Social Security Disability Cases

Numerous factors are examined to determine whether an individual is eligible for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits. While the first few steps look at whether you are currently working (and to what extent), whether your impairments are severe enough to qualify, and whether your condition is severe enough to meet one of the designated Listings, the fourth and fifth (or final two) steps turn on whether you can go back and perform your past jobs or perform other work.

Among the factors considered when evaluating whether an individual can return to his or her past job(s) depends, in large part, on the skill level involved in your past work. In evaluating your case, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will look into what impact your disability has had on your ability to work at the same skill level as before. Understanding the differences in skill levels and how the SSA uses them are vital parts of knowing whether you are eligible for SSD benefits. In order to increase the chances of approval, you will want an experienced attorney to review the details of your past work to create a legal strategy that will work best for your case.

The attorneys at Disability Law Group are experienced in all aspects of Social Security Disability, and we can help you apply for and obtain the benefits to which you are entitled.

Why Do Job Classifications Matter?

If you are claiming SSD benefits, the Social Security Administration must be satisfied that your disability makes you unable to work any type of job currently available with narrow exceptions. In other words, are you completely disabled by your medical condition – unable to work at all – or could your skills and background enable you to work in another field despite your condition? You may not be able to work the same job you had before your disability. However, the SSA will determine if there is less demanding work you could do. To answer these questions, the SSA will look at the skill level of your past work.

How Will The SSA Classify My Past Work?

The SSA categorizes jobs into three levels: unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled

Unskilled work: This is work that does not require the worker to exercise much, if any, judgment in carrying out his or her essential job functions. Unskilled work can typically be learned in a very short time period but does not help the worker acquire any transferable skills. These jobs often require physical strength, coordination, and manual labor. Examples of unskilled work include fast food and restaurant jobs, clerk, and packer.

Semi-skilled work: Jobs that fall into this category require employee alertness and more attention to detail than unskilled work. But they don’t require extensive education or training. The skills that are required typically take between three and six months to learn. Coordination and dexterity may be part of the job. Semi-skilled work often involves monitoring or operating machines and equipment and performing repetitive duties. Some examples are nurse’s assistant, retail sales, and call center employee.

Skilled work: This type of work is the most complex and requires the use of judgment in providing a service or creating a product. Essential tasks include the use of reason, making decisions, working closely with figures, and thinking abstractly. A skilled worker has usually had years of education and training as well as educational qualifications such as degrees, certifications, and licenses. Doctors, teachers, and engineers fall into this category.

An essential question is how long it takes a worker to learn how to do the job he or she had before the disability. The SSA uses a rating system called Specific Vocational Preparation, or SVP, to decide this. The SVP helps categorize jobs as unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled. The higher your skill level, the more difficult it will likely be to obtain benefits. That’s because the SSA could decide there is other work, requiring less skills that you may have acquired, in which you are capable of doing despite your disability. Alternatively, SSA may find that you have acquired skills that could easily – with little to no training – transfer to other work you may not have performed before.

How Does The SSA Use My Job Skill Classification?

In considering your application for SSD benefits, the SSA evaluates the limitations that are imposed by your medical or psychological condition. Some conditions are considered so severe that the applicant will be automatically approved for benefits if they meet other criteria. The SSA’s objective is to determine if you can obtain and maintain gainful employment in light of your disability.

If the SSA determines that you cannot perform your past job, it will still need to decide whether you can perform a new, different job. To answer this question, the SSA determines whether you have any transferable skills from your previous employment. This requires examining your work history, educational background, and age. You will be approved for SSD benefits if it is determined that your physical or mental condition, in addition to these factors, renders you unable to perform a new job. However, you will be denied benefits if they deem that you can be trained for and/or obtain a new job.

What Evidence Does The SSA Consider In Making Its Determination?

In a broad sense, eligibility for SSD benefits is based on a comparison of an applicant’s skills to his or her medical condition. When applying for benefits, it’s important to accurately describe your job functions since this information is used to assign a skill level. In other words, you need to be honest about the kinds of job duties you performed, making sure to highlight the physical demands and skills that you actually acquired on the job even if they are not typical of the occupation.

Medical evidence is critical, and therefore it’s important that your records are up-to-date with information about your exact condition. The SSA reviews these records to decide if there is evidence of your injury or illness, and what impact it has on your ability to work. The SSA will use a claims examiner and medical consultant, among other individuals, to evaluate this.

Your medical records help the SSA assign you a specific Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). The RFC is the level of exertion of which the worker is capable despite his or her limitations. The RFC may be sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy work. Additionally, like we have covered, your RFC must also account for the skill classification – at unskilled, semiskilled or skilled work – considering any documented non-exertional limitations. THe RFC is the determinative factor in your case as this will tell SSA what you can still do, despite your disability. For example, SSA may find that you are unable to stand for more than 2 or 4 hours total in an 8-hour workday, but that you may be able to perform desk work.

What If I Disagree With The SSA’s Determination?

If you’ve had an SSD claim denied, you have the right to appeal the decision. You may also want to understand your eligibility before you apply. Social Security Disability rules are complicated, and it’s best to have an experienced attorney assist you with the process. Count on Disability Law Group for the help you need to obtain the benefits you deserve. Contact us now for a consultation regarding your case.