PURPOSE: To state the policy and explain the procedures for determining a disability claimant's capacity to do past relevant work (PRW) as set forth in the regulations, and to clarify the provisions so that they will be consistently applied.
CITATIONS (AUTHORITY): Sections 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act, as amended; Regulations No. 4, Subpart P, sections 404.1505(a), 404.1520(e), 404.1560, 404.1561, 404.1562, and 404.1565; and Regulations No. 16, Subpart I, sections 416.905(a), 416.920(e), 416.960, 416.961, 416.962, and 416.965.
INTRODUCTION: To be found disabled under the law, an individual (except for a title II widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse, or a title XVI child younger than age 18) must have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) of such severity that he or she is not only unable to do his or her previous work but cannot, considering his or her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. The regulations provide a sequential evaluation process for determining disability. In the fourth step of this process, consideration is given to the individual's capacity to perform PRW. Sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) of the regulations state as follows:
"Your impairment must prevent you from doing past relevant work. If we cannot make a decision based on your current work activity or on medical facts alone, and you have a severe impairment, we then review your residual functional capacity [RFC] and the physical and mental demands of the work you have done in the past. If you can still do this kind of work, we will find that you are not disabled."
The Relevance of Past Work
The term "work experience" means skills and abilities acquired through work previously performed by the individual which indicates the type of work the individual may be expected to perform. Work for which the individual has demonstrated a capability is the best indicator of the kind of work that the individual can be expected to do. Sections 404.1565(a) and 416.965(a) of the regulations state as follows: "We consider that your work experience applies [i.e., is relevant] when it was done within the last 15 years, lasted long enough for you to learn to do it, and was substantial gainful activity [SGA]."
Except for the purpose of determining whether the disability criteria of sections 404.1562 and 416.962 of the regulations are met, work performed 15 years or more prior to the time of adjudication of the claim (or 15 years or more prior to the date the title II disability insured status requirement was last met, if earlier) is ordinarily not considered relevant.
An individual who has worked only sporadically or for brief periods of time during the 15-year period, may be considered to have no relevant work experience.
Capacity to do past work may be indicative of the capacity to engage in SGA when that work experience constituted SGA and has current relevance considering duration and recency.
The adjudicative criteria for determining whether a person has done "substantial" and "gainful" work activity are explained in sections 404.1571-404.1575 and 416.971-416.975 of the regulations.
Duration refers to the length of time during which the person gained job experience. It should have been sufficient for the worker to have learned the techniques, acquired information, and developed the facility needed for average performance in the job situation. The length of time this would take depends on the nature and complexity of the work.
Recency refers to the time which has elapsed since the work was performed. A gradual change occurs in most jobs in our national economy so that after 15 years it is no long realistic to expect that skills (or proficiencies) and abilities acquired in these jobs continue to apply. The 15-year guide is intended to insure that remote work experience which could not reasonably be expected to be of current relevance is not applied.
While the regulations provide that a claimant/beneficiary's work experience is usually relevant when the work "was done within the last 15 years," in some cases worked performed prior to the 15-year period may be considered as relevant when a continuity of skills, knowledge, and processes can be established between such work and the individual's more recent occupations.
The following subsections describe how the relevant 15-year period will be determined.
When deciding whether a claimant is disabled under title II or title XVI, the 15-year period is generally the 15 years prior to the time of adjudication at the initial, reconsideration or higher appellate level.
In those title II cases in which the claimant's disability insured status was last met prior to adjudication, the work performed for the 15-year period preceding the date the title II disability insured status requirement was last met would generally be considered relevant, since the claimant's capacity for SGA as of that date represents a critical disability issue.
When deciding whether a title II or a title XVI beneficiary continues to be disabled, relevant past work is work he or she performed in the 15-year period prior to adjudication of the issue of continuing disability.
What the Claimant Can Now Do Physically and Mentally — RFC
Evaluation under sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) of the regulations requires careful consideration of the interaction of the limiting effects of the person's impairment(s) and the physical and mental demands of his or her PRW to determine whether the individual can still do that work.
Since the severity of the impairment(s) must be the primary basis for a finding of disability, evaluation begins with a determination of the claimant's functional limitations and capacities to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, etc. (See SSR 82-51 (PPS-85: Guidelines for Residual Functional Capacity Assessment in Musculoskeletal and Cardiovascular Impairments).)
Comparing RFC with the Physical and
Mental Demands of Past Relevant Occupations
The RFC to meet the physical and mental demands of jobs a claimant has performed in the past (either the specific job a claimant performed or the same kind of work as it is customarily performed throughout the economy) is generally a sufficient basis for a finding of "not disabled." Past work experience must be considered carefully to assure that the available facts support a conclusion regarding the claimant's ability or inability to perform the functional activities required in this work. (See SSR 82-61 (PPS-72: Past Relevant Work — The Particular Past Job or the Occupation as Generally Performed) and SSR 82-40: (PPS-69: The Vocational Relevance of Past Work Performed in a Foreign Country).)
The claimant is the primary source for vocational documentation, and statements by the claimant regarding past work are generally sufficient for determining the skill level, exertional demands and nonexertional demands of such work. Determination of the claimant's ability to do PRW requires a careful appraisal of (1) the individual's statements as to which past work requirements can no longer be met and the reason(s) for his or her inability to meet those requirements; (2) medical evidence establishing how the impairment limits ability to meet the physical and mental requirements of the work; and (3) in some cases, supplementary or corroborative information from other sources such as employers, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, etc., on the requirements of the work as generally performed in the economy.
The decision as to whether the claimant retains the functional capacity to perform past work which has current relevance has far-reaching implications and must be developed and explained fully in the disability decision. Since this is an important and, in some instances, a controlling issue, every effort must be made to secure evidence that resolves the issue as clearly and explicitly as circumstances permit.
Sufficient documentation will be obtained to support the decision. Any case requiring consideration of PRW will contain enough information on past work to permit a decision as to the individual's ability to return to such past work (or to do other work).
Adequate documentation of past work includes factual information about those work demands which have a bearing on the medically established limitations. Detailed information about strength, endurance, manipulative ability, mental demands and other job requirements must be obtained as appropriate. This information will be derived form a detailed description of the work obtained from the claimant, employer, or other informed source. Information concerning job titles, dates work was performed, rate of compensation, tools and machines used, knowledge required, the extent of supervision and independent judgment required, and a description of tasks and responsibilities will permit a judgment as to the skill level and the current relevance of the individual's work experience. In addition, for a claim involving a mental/emotional impairment, care must be taken to obtain a precise description of the particular job duties which are likely to produce tension and anxiety, e.g., speed, precision, complexity of tasks, independent judgments, working with other people, etc., in order to determine if the claimant's mental impairment is compatible with the performance of such work. Persons with physical impairments (e.g., cardiovascular or gastrointestinal disorders) may have performed stressful tasks. This may also require a decision as to whether the impairment is compatible with the performance of such work. If more than one job was performed during the 15-year period, separate descriptions of each job will be secured.
The Disability Determination or Decision Where a Claimant or
Beneficiary Can Meet the Physical
and Mental Demands of a Past Relevant Occupation
The rationale for a disability decision must be written so that a clear picture of the case can be obtained. The rationale must follow an orderly pattern and show clearly how specific evidence leads to a conclusion.
The file will contain all the pertinent information which respect to the medical aspects of the case as well as the nonmedical facts.
The explanation of the decision must describe the weight attributed the pertinent medical and nonmedical factors in the case and reconcile any significant inconsistencies. Reasonable inferences may be drawn, but presumptions, speculations and suppositions must not be used.
A decision that an individual is not disabled, if based on sections 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) of the regulations, must contain adequate rationale and findings dealing with all of the first four steps in the sequential evaluation process.
In finding that an individual has the capacity to perform a past relevant job, the determination or decision must contain among the findings the following specific findings of fact:
A finding of fact as to the individual's RFC.
A finding of fact as to the physical and mental demands of the past job/occupation.
A finding of fact that the individual's RFC would permit a return to his or her past job or occupation.
EFFECTIVE DATE: The policy explained herein was effective on August 20, 1980, the date the regulations covering the basic policy in the subject area were effective (45 FR 55566).
CROSS-REFERENCES: Program Operations Manual System, Part 4 (Disability Insurance State Manual Procedures) sections DI 2041, 2382, 2383, 2383.1, 2387, 2389, and 3027.
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