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  • Writer's pictureStephanie O. Joy, Esq.

Your Past 'Relevant' Work - The 15 Year Rule - It's Important To Your Claim (Part A)

Updated: Oct 19, 2022

Note: This article/video is for general information only and is not legal advice to any particular reader or individual. For legal advice, you must specifically retain a lawyer who evaluates your specific situation.

When you file your Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income claim, the SSA paperwork will be asking about your Work History. It asked about some of it in your application and, later, will more specifically in your Work History Report. This is because at Step 4 of the Sequential Evaluation Process of determining if you may prevail on your SSD or SSI claim, the question is, "Can you do the work you did previously? "

If you prefer to watch/listen, here is the video component:

However, the SSA is generally not interested in your past 40 years of work, or even 20 years, at this step. Rather, 15 is the magic number. Those are the "relevant" most recent years. And your burden is to prove, among other facts, that you cannot perform any of your past relevant work (PRW).

In order for your past work to be 'relevant' to the disability determination on your Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income claim, it has to meet certain criteria.

The work must have:

  1. been performed within the relevant period (recency);

  2. lasted long enough for your to learn to do it (duration); and

  3. been substantial gainful activity (SGA).

Let's look now at #1. Typically, as noted above, the relevant period is the prior 15 years as per this Recency rule. But this is a moving target because the 15 year period ends at the time of the adjudication - meaning, when the SSA is deciding whether you are disabled. As such if you filed 4 years ago, in 2018, at that time, the SSA would be looking at the years 2003 to 2018 and all the jobs you performed. However, now, you are in front of an ALJ in 2022, so the period she'd be looking at is 2007-2022. This means that the jobs considered previously, those between 2003 and 2007, are no longer relevant unless performed on/after 2007.

This is very, very important. It means that a claim that was denied due to a found ability to do a PRW based on your then-current Residual Functional Capacity (determined by SSA), may very well, at a later stage or even on new application later, be an awarded claim if the old PRW is no longer PRW because it is now over 15 years in the past. Don't give up until you look into this particularity within the SSA law.

For consideration for Attorney SSD/SSI representation in an upcoming or pending SSDI/SSI disability claim, please fill out our free Attorney Evaluation form. We do NOT charge a retainer to serve you. If, on the other hand, you only seek an attorney level consultation/analysis of a particular situation, whether you are a company or an individual, or to discuss your own situation without representation, to learn information beyond that information you may obtain for free from the SSA itself, and you do not otherwise have a lawyer representing your before the SSA, you may order a scheduled consultation at affordable attorney rates. Contact the office at 201-317-0610 or email

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