When applying for social security disability (SSD) benefits, most people focus on the disability aspect. Whether you have a qualifying disability, however, is only one factor that goes into the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) determination of whether you are eligible for benefits. (Though admittedly, it is the most important!). In addition to meeting the SSA’s definition of disability, you must have earned enough work credits and be able to prove that the disability interferes with your ability to work.

One way the SSA evaluates whether your disability prevents you from working is by conducting a thorough examination of your work history. The SSA looks to see not just whether your disability prevents you from working at your current (or most recent) job, but also whether it prevents you from doing any work you did in the past 15 years, or any other job you’re qualified for based on your age, education, skills, and experience.

You will submit work history information on the Work History Report. Here’s what the SSA is looking for, and how to complete the form to improve the chance your disability application is approved.


Work credits

Employees pay into the social security disability insurance program through payroll deductions and earn credits based on their income. You earn up to four credits each year and, though there are adjustments based on age, you generally must have earned 40 work credits to be eligible for SSD benefits, with 20 of those earned in the 10 years prior to becoming disabled. If you don’t have enough work credits – even if you meet all other eligibility criteria – your benefits application will be denied.

Although the SSA keeps records of how many credits workers have, the Work History Report can act as a backup to their records and help catch discrepancies.


Prior employment, skills, and experience

Because the SSA must determine whether your disability prevents you from doing any work that you are qualified to do, and not just your most recent job, the Work History Report is extremely detailed. It is important that you complete this form accurately. The SSA can cross-check your responses with tax returns and W2s to verify salary information and dates of employment. If the form contains any mistakes or omissions, even inadvertent ones, the SSA can deny your application.

The Work History Report asks for information on the following:

  • Rate of pay
  • Hours/days worked
  • Job description
  • Whether you used any tools, machines, or equipment
  • Whether the position required any technical skills or knowledge
  • The number of hours each day you were required to:
    • Walk
    • Stand
    • Sit
    • Climb
    • Stoop
    • Kneel
    • Crouch
    • Crawl
    • Reach
    • Handle, grab, or grasp large objects
    • Write, type, or handle small objects
  • An explanation (if applicable) of how frequently you had to lift and carry objects, what you lifted, and how far you had to carry them
  • The heaviest weight you lifted
  • The weight you lifted most frequently
  • Whether you supervised other employees

The Work History Report includes a section for you to share information related to each prior job that you could not include elsewhere on the form. Do not leave this section blank, and you can attach additional sheets if the space provided on the form is not enough. (Just make sure to clearly indicate which question the additional information applies to.) This information can help paint a clearer picture to the SSA of the work you did. Make sure to include as much information as you can about how the disability negatively impacted your ability to work. If you often had to stay late to complete tasks because you required frequent breaks, mention that. If you are no longer able to drive so had to leave for work hours earlier and got home hours later because you relied on public transportation, mention that as well.

You must answer these questions for every job you held for the 15 years prior to becoming disabled, provided you held the job long enough to learn how to do it. If you previously worked as a medical coder but quit one month into a three-month training period, you could omit that from your work history because you didn’t develop the necessary skills. However, including jobs you held even for a short time can help show the SSA (and later an administrative law judge, if you go through the appeals process) that you would work but for the fact that your disability prevents you from doing so.

Even if you are incapable of continuing in your current position, the SSA will use the answers in your Work History Report to determine if you could return to working in a prior field For example, if you can no longer lift and carry objects heavier than 15 pounds, and your current job requires that you do that every day, for 1/3 or more of the day, the SSA would likely find that you cannot return to that job. However, if five years before becoming disabled you had a job that required no lifting, the SSA would likely decide that you could return to this type of work and deny your application for benefits.

It is also important to answer every question, so the SSA doesn’t think you are trying to hide something. If a question doesn’t apply, write N/A rather than leave it blank.


Hiring a social security disability attorney

The SSD application process can be overwhelming, especially when you’re already worried about your finances. A social security disability attorney can help make the process easier. The disability attorneys at The Good Law Group have more than 30 years of experience handling SSD cases, from the initial application through the appeals process. Not only do we understand what information the SSA is looking for, but the best way to present it as well. Call us at 800-419-7606 to schedule a free consultation. If we accept your case, there is no fee unless you are awarded benefits.