Chicago residents who perform highly physical jobs often have trouble continuing in their work if they develop disabilities. Social Security Disability benefits are generally only available to workers who cannot perform any past jobs or adapt to new jobs as a result of their disabilities. However, under the “worn out worker” rule, a worker with a limited education and a history of unskilled physical labor may qualify for benefits more easily.
Arduous, unskilled work
The “worn out worker” rule allows people who meet a specific vocational profile to qualify for SSD benefits, even if they might be capable of more sedentary work. Applicants must meet the following criteria to qualify as worn out workers:
- Sufficient work history — The applicant must have spent at least 35 years performing arduous and unskilled work. The worn out worker rule may still be applicable if workers have performed short or occasional periods of skilled or semi-skilled work. However, this work must not have yielded transferable skills that could be applied to a sedentary job.
- Disablement — The applicant must suffer from a disabling condition and, as a result, no longer be capable of performing work he or she did in the past. The condition must be expected to result in death or last longer than 12 months.
- Limited education — An education below the sixth grade level is typically considered limited. However, grade level is not decisive. The Social Security Administration considers a person’s communication, reasoning and arithmetic skills to determine his or her educational level.
If a person meets these criteria, the SSA presumes the person is incapable of performing lighter work.
The SSA only employs the worn out worker rule if a person fails to qualify for benefits by suffering from a listed impairment or meeting the requirements for a medical-vocational allowance. Many applicants who match the worn out worker profile qualify for benefits based on their conditions or functional capacity. However, the rule can help applicants who might otherwise be deemed capable of sedentary work.
The worn out worker rule isn’t always applied when it should be. The SSA may misinterpret an applicant’s level of education or the skill level of the applicant’s past work. If medical documentation is insufficient, the SSA may also find the condition does not meet the definition of disability. Workers who may qualify under this rule should provide detailed documentation of their impairments, educations, past jobs and associated duties.
People who might be considered capable of sedentary work without the worn out worker rule should consider partnering with an SSD attorney. An attorney can ensure that the claim is properly documented and evaluated under the worn out worker rule or any other relevant rules.