Decoding the Revamped Definition of Past Relevant Work on Disability Claims


In recent years, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has undergone significant revisions to its policies and procedures regarding disability claims. One such area of focus has been the definition of (PRW) and its impact on Social Security Disability claims. This article delves into the recent changes made to the definition of PRW and explores how these alterations affect individuals navigating the disability claims process.

Understanding Past Relevant Work (PRW)

Past Relevant Work (PRW) refers to any substantial gainful activity performed by an individual within a specific timeframe before the onset of their disability. It plays a crucial role in determining eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits, as it influences the SSA’s assessment of an individual’s residual functional capacity (RFC) and ability to perform work-related tasks.

Historical Perspective

Traditionally, the SSA evaluated PRW by considering an individual’s work history over the past 15 years. This extensive look-back period aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s vocational background and capabilities. However, this approach has evolved in response to changes in the labor market and advancements in disability adjudication processes.

Recent Changes

In a notable policy shift, the SSA has reduced the look-back period for evaluating PRW from 15 years to 5 years. This means that only work performed within the last 5 years will be considered relevant in determining disability benefits. Additionally, the SSA has implemented an exclusion criterion for short-term employment, excluding work experiences lasting less than 30 calendar days from the definition of PRW.

Rationale Behind the Changes

The rationale behind these changes is multifaceted. By narrowing the look-back period to 5 years, the SSA aims to align the evaluation process with the modern labor market dynamics, which often witness rapid changes in job requirements and skill sets. Similarly, the exclusion of short-term employment seeks to streamline the evaluation process by focusing on more stable and substantial work experiences that better reflect an individual’s vocational abilities.

Impact on Disability Claimants

These changes have significant implications for individuals seeking Social Security Disability benefits. For new applicants, the revised definition of PRW simplifies the claims process by emphasizing recent work experience, thereby reducing the burden of providing extensive historical employment information. Moreover, individuals with pending claims can expect expedited processing and a more efficient evaluation of their disability claims under the updated PRW criteria.


In conclusion, the recent changes to the definition of Past Relevant Work in Social Security Disability claims represent a significant paradigm shift in disability adjudication practices. By adapting to the evolving landscape of the labor market and refining the evaluation criteria for PRW, the SSA aims to enhance the accuracy and fairness of disability determinations while ensuring timely access to essential benefits for eligible individuals.