If you have skills you could transfer to another type of job, Social Security will deny you disability. (Read the first part of this article on when transferable skills matter.) It's helpful to understand the SSA’s definition of “skill” and “transferable.” Here are the SSA’s definitions for both:
Here are some examples of transferable skills:
Social Security bases the decision whether you have skills you can use at another job on many different factors.
The first thing the SSA will do to decide if you have any transferable skills is to classify your past work as unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled. Once the skill level is determined, the SSA will then use the factors discussed below to determine what, if any, of the skills you acquired are transferable. For example, Social Security defines shipping or receiving clerk as a skilled job, because it usually involves clerical work such as "counting, weighing, or measuring items of incoming and outgoing shipments."
A person can acquire skills only from work that is classified as either skilled or semi-skilled. This means that if you only performed unskilled labor, such as sorting at a factory, the SSA will conclude that you have no transferable skills. Unskilled work usually takes less than 30 days to learn.
And again, skills learned at a semi-skilled job can only be transferred to another semi-skilled job. For more information on skill levels, see our article on SSA definitions for skilled and unskilled work.
Whether a claimant’s skills are transferable partly depends on whether the claimant’s impairment affects the ability to perform those skills. If the claimant can no longer perform skills because of the medical condition, the skills are not transferable. However, if the claimant’s impairment does not interfere with a skill, it can be considered transferable.
Here are some examples.
Some jobs have what the SSA calls an “isolated vocational setting.” These are jobs like mining, fishing, and farming. Although these jobs require significant skill, the skills acquired cannot be easily used in other positions or work settings outside their specific industry. Here is an example.
The claimant’s only work was as a long-line fisherman. He filed for disability due to COPD. Although the claimant acquired numerous skills, including the ability to read charts and operate navigational equipment, the SSA concluded that the “isolated vocational setting” prevented these skills from being transferred to other jobs outside the fishing industry.
Some jobs require skills that are so specific to a particular industry that those skills cannot be transferred to another job. Here is an example.
Some jobs have skills that can be used across many fields of work. These skills are frequently acquired in administrative, clerical, or professional positions. Unless the claimant’s medical condition prevents him or her from performing them, these skills are usually transferable. Here are some examples.
If you are 50 years old or older, whether you have transferable skills can be pivotal in your disability case. If your past job was skilled or semi-skilled, you should contact an experienced disability attorney to discuss how your job skills can impact your chances of winning your claim. At your disability appeal hearing, an attorney can help show the SSA that your skills can't be transferred to another type of job or that you can no longer perform the tasks that require the skills. You also may need an attorney to cross-examine and challenge the SSA's vocational expert as to what skills you acquired at your last job.
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