Qualifying for Disability Because of Reduced Productivity

If you are 15-20% less reproductive than you used to be due to your condition, hire a lawyer to help you prove you should get disability benefits.

To qualify for disability benefits, you must prove that your medical condition prevents you from doing substantial work on a continuous and sustained basis. One way you can show this is to prove that your medical condition has reduced your productivity by at least 15% of the acceptable level. This works because most vocational experts (VEs), the people hired by Social Security to testify as to your work ability, would conclude that a reduction of this magnitude would make you unemployable. (For more information on VEs, see our article on why the vocational expert's testimony is important.)

Concentration, Persistence, and Pace

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses the terms "concentration, persistence, and pace" to describe a person's ability to focus well enough to do his or her work in a normal amount of time. People with disabilities frequently experience trouble with concentration, persistence, and/or pace because of the mental symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, related to their medical condition. These symptoms can be a direct result of the impairment, or can stem from medications required to treat the impairment. Significant problems with concentration, persistence, and pace invariably affect productivity; accordingly, if you prove your productivity would be reduced by at least 15% of the normal rate, you will most likely be approved.

Here are some examples:

  • The claimant (applicant) filed for disability because of severe bipolar depression and anxiety. Despite following his prescribed treatment, the claimant's ability to concentrate was significantly impaired by his illness and he made frequent mistakes in his work. The result was that he could only stay on task about 80% of the time, and that he often had to spend time correcting his errors. At his hearing, the claimant's attorney presented objective evidence that described his symptoms and also provided a statement from the claimant's employer about the claimant's reduced abilities. The claimant's attorney then asked the vocational expert whether a person with these symptoms, whose productivity was reduced by 20%, would be employable. The VE testified that no, such a person would not be able to work. Accordingly, the SSA approved his claim.
  • The claimant filed for disability due to a rare uterine disorder that caused excessive chronic bleeding. She was unable to undergo a hysterectomy and frequently required blood transfusions. Her severe anemia caused significant fatigue. Additionally, her condition necessarily required that the claimant spend excessive time away from her workstation throughout the day. As a result, the claimant's productivity rate was significantly reduced. At her hearing the claimant's attorney produced supportive medical records and evidence of her work history. The attorney then asked the VE whether a claimant, with symptoms such as these and a productivity level that was reduced by 15%, would be employable. The VE testified that such a claimant would not be employable. Accordingly, the SSA approved her claim for disability.

Side Effects From Medication

Side effects from medication can also interfere with your productivity. If your medication causes significant side effects, you must report them to your doctor. And for disability purposes, you must make an effort to find alternative medications with fewer side effects; otherwise, the SSA may conclude that the side effects of your medication are preventable and will disregard how they affect you.

Here is an example of where a claimant was approved based on how her medication impacted her work productivity.

  • The claimant filed for disability due to hepatitis C. The only treatment available was interferon, a potent medication known for its serious disruptive side effects. The interferon caused the claimant to experience significant fatigue, irritability, and insomnia. These side effects caused the claimant to frequently fall behind at work and triggered conflicts in her workplace that significantly interrupted her workday. The claimant's symptoms were clearly documented in her medical records. At her hearing, the claimant's attorney questioned the vocational expert about the claimant's symptoms and whether a person would be able to work if the symptoms reduced her productivity by 15%. The VE testified that a 15% reduction in productivity would make it impossible for the claimant to work. The claimant's attorney presented evidence that the claimant's productivity was significantly decreased, and the SSA approved her claim.

For more information on how non-exertional limitations like fatigue, the inability to keep up, and the inability to focus can affect your claim for disability, see our article on combining exertional and non-exertional limitations.


Disabilities often result in frequent absenteeism from the workplace. Missed work may be due to the need to see doctors or attend therapies, or because of the symptoms of the medical condition itself cause one to take sick days or even be hospitalized. If your disability leads to an absenteeism rate of 10% or more (about two days per month for most workers), the SSA will likely approve your claim for disability.

Getting Help From an Attorney

Proving that your disability reduces your workplace efficiency by at least 15% can be very difficult; however, it can be an important tactic to help win your claim. You should contact an experienced disability attorney to discuss your case and see if this is a good option to help you win your claim. To contact a disability attorney in your area, visit our disability attorney locator page.

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