The Impact of Work History on Social Security Disability Benefits

When applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the initial phase involves assessing your eligibility for disability benefits based on your current medical condition. Various illnesses qualify for these benefits, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) relies on the Blue Book, a medical guide, to gauge the severity of a condition deserving of disability payments.  Although you may be dealing with a significant health issue, meeting the criteria outlined in the Blue Book doesn’t guarantee approval for disability benefits. 

A woman in a wheelchair diligently documenting in a notebook her work history.
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In reality, a substantial number of applicants face denial at this stage.

Should you encounter a denial based on the listed impairments, the SSA will then evaluate your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC), focusing on your remaining abilities. To succeed, you must demonstrate that your medical condition prevents you from performing your most recent job, any job you’ve held in the past 15 years, or any job you are qualified for.

This involves a thorough medical-vocational analysis, determining the type of work you can undertake, if any.

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What Is Considered "Past-Relevant Work"?

“Past-Relevant Work” refers to the work you have done in the past that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers when evaluating your eligibility for disability benefits. When assessing disability claims, the SSA considers whether you can perform any of your past relevant work despite your impairments.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) will assess your residual functional capacity and categorize your ability to engage in heavy, medium, light, sedentary, or less-than-sedentary work. If the determination is that you’re limited to less than sedentary work, you likely qualify for benefits.

However, if you’re deemed capable of other levels of work, the SSA will determine the specific type of work you can still undertake.

To secure approval for a medical-vocational allowance (MVA), you must demonstrate that you can no longer perform tasks in your most recent occupation and cannot succeed in any other job.

Completing form SSA-3369, a work history report form is mandatory. This document helps the SSA understand how your condition impacts your ability to perform work for which you are qualified.

What Constitutes The Work History Report?

The work history report provides detailed information about an individual’s work history, helping the Social Security Administration (SSA) assess eligibility and calculate benefit amounts. Here’s an overview of what typically constitutes the work history report:

1. Personal Information:

Full name, Social Security number, date of birth, contact information (address, phone number)

2. Detailed Work History:

  • Employment Details: List of all employers for whom the individual has worked in the last 15 years, including the name, address, and phone number of each employer.
  • Job Titles: Specify the job titles held during each period of employment.
  • Dates of Employment: Provide start and end dates for each job held.
  • Hours Worked: Include information on whether the work was full-time or part-time and the number of hours worked per week.

3. Job Duties and Responsibilities:

A brief description of the tasks and responsibilities associated with each job.

Emphasize any physically or mentally demanding aspects of the work.

4. Earnings Information:

  • Income Details: Include information about the individual’s earnings, specifying the gross income or salary received.
  • Frequency of Pay: Indicate whether wages were received weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or on another schedule.

5. Supervision and Special Conditions:

Specify if the individual worked under special conditions or received supervision due to their health or disability.

Indicate any workplace accommodations or modifications made to assist the individual in performing their job.

6. Reasons for Job Separation:

Clearly state the reasons for leaving each job, including terminations, resignations, layoffs, or retirements.

Provide details on whether health issues played a role in the separation from employment.

7. Changes in Job or Duties:

If there were any changes in job duties or responsibilities over time, document these changes.

8. Medical Treatment and Absences:

Provide information about any medical treatment received during employment.

Document any periods of absence from work due to illness or injury.

9. Education and Training:

Include information about the individual’s education and training relevant to their work history.

10. Supplemental Information:

Offer additional information that might be relevant to the evaluation of disability, such as the physical and mental demands of the job or any accommodations made by employers.

How To Complete The Work History Report In Tennessee

For individuals completing the work history report for disability benefits for the first time, a significant concern is how to approach the process. Given the form’s importance, it is essential to adopt a systematic approach:

1. Provide Clear Role Details: Avoid ambiguity. When documenting managerial positions, indicate the number of people supervised or any involvement in hiring or firing processes.

2. Emphasize Mental and Physical Demands: Clearly outline the physical aspects of your job, such as lifting heavy objects, by specifying the weight. Additionally, elaborate on tasks requiring intense mental focus.

A person is holding a piece of paper on a table while examining their work history.
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3. Detail Tools and Equipment: Include information about any specialized tools or machinery you used. This detail is crucial for understanding your role’s specific nature and demands.

4. Maintain a Personal Work History Report: Keep a personal record that serves not only as a document for administrative purposes but also as a personal reference. Regularly updating this report ensures you have a handy resource for the Social Security Administration.

Increasing your likelihood of SSDI eligibility involves presenting a robust employment background during the initial interview clearly outlining job responsibilities. Ensure accurate contact information for former employers is provided, allowing the interviewer to potentially verify details about specific roles and skills mentioned in your work experience.

A substantial job history proves your strong work ethic, portraying you as someone committed to labor rather than seeking assistance. This extensive work background provides insight into past job responsibilities and skills and contributes to building a favorable reputation during the hearing. The court is more inclined to believe your account of suffering and disabilities when supported by a well-documented work history.

How Does My Work History Affect My Disability Application?

When you apply for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) employs a Sequential Evaluation Process (SEP) to ascertain the true extent of the claimant’s disability, with work history playing a pivotal role in this assessment.

  1. Initial Determination: The SSA examines whether the applicant is currently involved in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). If the individual is still employed and earns above a specified threshold, they may be considered not disabled, regardless of their medical conditions.
  2. The Seriousness of the Condition: The SSA then evaluates the seriousness of the medical condition, requiring it to significantly limit the individual’s capacity to perform fundamental work-related activities for consideration.
  3. Listing of Impairments: The medical condition is compared against the SSA’s List of Impairments. If the condition matches or is equally severe to those listed, the claimant can be classified as disabled.
  4. Past Relevant Work: This is where work history becomes important. Considering their medical conditions, the SSA examines whether the applicant can still perform any previous occupations. A detailed work history report proves instrumental in facilitating this determination.


Other Available Jobs: If the individual cannot perform past work, the SSA then assesses whether they can adapt to different types of employment. Factors such as work experience, skill set, education, and age—often derived from the work history report—play crucial roles in this evaluation.

How Can A Tennessee Social Security Disability Lawyer Help Me

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) can be a challenging and often overwhelming process. The intricacies of the application, appeals, and eligibility criteria can leave individuals feeling lost. In these situations, having a dedicated  Tennessee Social Security Disability lawyer by your side can make a significant difference. At Burnett Law, we understand the complexities of SSDI claims and are committed to helping individuals secure the benefits they deserve. Here are ways we can help.

1.Assessment of Eligibility

Determining eligibility for SSDI benefits involves thoroughly examining an individual’s work history, medical condition, and financial situation. Our experienced attorneys can assess your case to provide an accurate evaluation of your eligibility, helping you understand your chances of a successful claim.

2.Gathering Medical Evidence

Strong medical evidence is often the linchpin in a successful SSDI claim. Our Tennesse SSDI lawyers can work with medical professionals to gather the necessary evidence, ensuring your medical condition is thoroughly documented and presented persuasively to the SSA.

3.Application Assistance

The SSDI application process can be lengthy and complex. Our attorneys can guide you through the application and ensure all necessary documentation is prepared accurately and submitted on time. This reduces the risk of delays or denials due to incomplete or improperly filed paperwork.

4.Appeals Representation

If your initial application is denied, the appeals process becomes crucial. Our attorneys can represent you in appeals hearings, presenting a compelling case before administrative law judges. Our legal team will gather additional evidence, prepare you for hearings, and navigate the appeals process to overturn initial denials.

5.Communication with the SSA

Effective communication with the SSA is vital for a successful SSDI claim. We will act as a liaison between you and the SSA, handling correspondence, inquiries, and any additional requests for information. This ensures that your case is managed efficiently, reducing the burden on you during an already challenging time.

6.Maximizing Benefit Amounts

Our SSDI attorneys work diligently to maximize the benefits you are entitled to receive. This involves a comprehensive review of your work history and earnings to ensure that the SSA calculates your benefit amount accurately, considering factors such as average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) and other pertinent details.


Burnett Law understands the challenges individuals face when seeking Social Security Disability benefits. With a commitment to providing personalized and expert legal representation, our SSDI lawyers can be your dedicated advocates throughout the process. Contact us at (931) 484-7549 for a free consultation.

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