Justin S. Raines
What is a job’s skill level, and why does it matter?
In a Social Security disability case, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the five-step sequential analysis to determine if a claimant is disabled. The SSA applies the five-step sequential analysis whether the disability claimant is applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
At step four of the sequential analysis, the SSA determines whether the disability claimant can return to any past relevant work that the claimant performed. Past relevant work is any work that the claimant did within the last fifteen years at the substantial gainful activity (SGA) level for long enough to learn the job.
But how does the SSA determine the amount of time it takes a claimant to learn a job? This is where the skill-level of the job comes into play.
A job skill level roughly equates to how long it takes to learn the job. Highly skilled jobs take longer to learn, whereas lower skilled jobs take less time to learn.
SSA regulations recognize three skill-levels of work: unskilled work, semi-skilled work, and skilled work. Unskilled work usually takes thirty days or less to learn. Semi-skilled work takes more than one month and up to and including six-months to learn. Skilled work takes over six months and up to more than ten years to learn.
Also, the higher the skill level of a job, the more significantly mental limitations will influence its ability to be performed.
To get past step four, a claimant will have an easier time proving that a job or occupation was not past relevant work than proving that the claimant cannot return to the position.
For this reason, a good disability attorney will try to disqualify past relevant work whenever a claimant did not perform the work long enough to learn the job.
A claimant’s past relevant work is also important at step five.
At step five, the claimant needs to show that there is no other work that the claimant can perform in the regional or national economy considering the claimant’s age, education, and work background.
Depending on the Medical Vocational Rule that applies, this may require the SSA to determine if the claimant has transferable job skills that meet the requirements of other work.
But if the claimant did not perform a job at the SGA level for long enough to meet its skill level, then the claimant cannot have transferable job skills, and a finding of disability is more likely.
If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury and need help proving your disability case, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.