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How the Definition of Your Former Job Can Impact Your Disability Claim

 Posted on February 21, 2019 in Social Security Disability

IL disability lawywerEven if you otherwise meet the legal definition of disabled, Social Security may still deny your claim for disability benefits if there is evidence that you can still perform your “past relevant work.” In some cases, Social Security makes this assessment by referencing the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. This is an outdated catalog previously published by the U.S. Department of Labor that purported to define approximately 13,000 different types of work available throughout the country.

Although the dictionary has not been updated since the 1990s, Social Security continues to rely on it in disability cases. Federal courts have tried to restrict the use of the dictionary. In fact, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over disability appeals from Illinois, has said that for “composite jobs”–i.e., a position that has “significant elements of two or more occupations”–Social Security may not rely on the dictionary at all.

Federal Court Holds Social Security Improperly Classified Disability Applicant's Prior Work

This issue came up in a recent Seventh Circuit decision, Ray v. Berryhill, in which the Court ordered Social Security to conduct a new disability hearing for an applicant suffering from on a number of physical impairments. The plaintiff previously worked as a bus monitor. In that job, he needed to assist disabled children by lifting them into their seats, strapping down wheelchairs, and monitoring the children in general, according to court records.

When assessing the plaintiff's disability claim, a Social Security administrative law judge (ALJ) relied on the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to define a hypothetical “school bus monitor” job. Based on the dictionary and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ determined the plaintiff could still perform the position defined in the dictionary. The ALJ cited this as one reason for denying disability benefits.

But the plaintiff argued before the Seventh Circuit that his prior position was a “composite job,” and thus it was inappropriate for the ALJ to rely on the Dictionary. The Seventh Circuit agreed. The plaintiff's prior work actually combined the functions of a “school bus monitor” and “child-care attendant,” the Court said, which are separately defined occupations in the dictionary.

In addition, the appeals court said the evidence presented to the ALJ did not indicate the plaintiff was even qualified to perform the work as a bus monitor. That position requires a certain level of “language development,” which the plaintiff said he could not meet due to his mental impairments. Although the vocational expert testified the applicant did meet the qualifications, the Seventh Circuit said the ALJ needed to resolve this conflict before making a new determination as to the plaintiff's disability application.

Speak with a Cook County Disability Lawyer Today

If you are unable to return to your previous job due to a physical or mental impairment, you may qualify for disability benefits. Of course, Social Security will not make things easy for you. That is why you need to work with an experienced Chicago Social Security disability attorney who understands the system. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, at 312-999-0999 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.




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