Statements from your former co-workers or supervisors about problems you had performing the duties of your past jobs can be very persuasive evidence to a Social Security administrative law judge.
Since the main issue in your disability case has to do with whether you have the capacity to perform simple, entry-level work, it stands to reason that personal observations from former co-workers or supervisors – people who actually saw you in the workplace – would be very relevant evidence.
Presumably your claims file contains solid medical evidence. At a minimum, your medical record should include one or more diagnoses and medical records documenting treatment. Functional capacity evaluations from long time treating doctors (ideally medical specialists) help the judge understand how and why your medical issues would prevent you from reliably performing any type of job.
Your hearing testimony should demonstrate that you are honest and truthful and motivated to return to work if you could.
In addition to these standard building blocks for your case, statements from people who actually observed you struggling at a job can greatly strengthen your case and sometimes make the difference between winning and losing.
Who Should Write Supportive Statements?
The most persuasive statements should come from former co-workers or supervisors who saw you struggle on a daily basis over an extended period of time. It helps if the statement writer can discuss your decline in performance and steps you took to compensate for your reduced capacity.
In my practice I ask my clients to identify one or more former co-workers and then I will reach out to these individuals by phone or email to ask if they have personal knowledge as to your job performance.
In some cases I will send them a sample statement they can use to write their own or I may interview the former co-worker and send them a draft statement for their review and corrections.
These statements are much more convincing when they are in the co-worker’s own voice using language and words that this person uses. If I am involved at all it is to answer questions and to focus the co-worker or supervisor on the issue at hand – what were the specific problems my client had with job performance.
What Should Co-worker/Supervisor Statements Say
In my experience the most persuasive statements from former supervisors or co-workers should include the following information:
- how long the statement writer knew you
- how frequently the statement writer interacted with you
- what was the nature of your relationship (co-worker, supervisor, subordinate)
- specifically what issues did the statement writer observe about your job performance and your decline in performance
- what were the physical or mental requirements of your job and where specifically did you fall short
- what steps did you take to compensate for your declining physical or mental health
- what help did the employer or co-workers offer – such as more break time, or donated leave time
- how often did the statement writer observe you taking excessive breaks or missing days from work
- did the statement writer observe you to be in pain – how would he/she know this?
- at what point did the statement writer realize that you were no longer performing the duties of your job at a minimally competent level?
- did it appear to the statement writer that you were fighting the idea of leaving your job – what made the statement writer think this?
The former co-worker/supervisor’s statement should not offer an opinion as to whether or not you are “disabled” – that is a decision for the judge. Also the statement should not appear to advocate for you – it should reflect observations by the statement writer.
How Should the Statement be Submitted?
Since Social Security disability judges allow for a relaxed evidentiary standard, third party statements can be in the form of a letter (“to whom it may concern” or “Dear Social Security Judge”). If the statement is sent to me, I will attach it to form SSA-795 and submit it using my client’s evidence bar code.
Should The Statement be Prepared by the Claimant’s Lawyer?
I think this would be a mistake. The most effective statements should reflect the voice and vocabulary of the statement writer. Judges do not expect perfect grammar or spelling and they will spot a statement drafted by a lawyer.
If the former co-worker or supervisor does not feel comfortable writing out a statement I will conduct a telephone interview, asking the above questions and transcribing the answer word for word. At most I may redirect the statement giver if he/she gets off topic or uses generalities like “not too much” or “not very far.”
When Should a Co-worker/Supervisor Statement be Submitted?
As this type of evidence is both valuable and underused, I would submit it to the State Agency adjudicator if possible, or to the hearing office as soon as I have the statement available.
Can the Statement Writer Submit the Statement Directly, Without Giving it to the Lawyer First?
Yes, if the statement writer prefers to submit his letter directly I will provide him a Form SSA-795 and a copy of the bar code with instructions about how to submit it.