Thursday, April 29, 2021

Padilla v. Saul -- Office Helper and Occasional Changes in Essential Job Functions

 I tell lawyers to refrain from telling me what they think about the world of work and stick to the data.  Commonsense can understand the data, but do not impose your myopic view of the world on something that you really know little about.  Enter the court in Padilla v. Saul.  The decision projects an understanding of work that is ... wrong.  

Padilla is limited to “only occasional changes to the essential job functions.” It is unlikely, however, that two of the identified occupations, office helper (DOT 239.567-010) and counter clerk (DOT 249.366- 010)—which each require a reasoning level of 2—involve more than occasional changes to essential job functions. Level 2 reasoning requires the ability to “[d]eal with problems involving a few concrete variables in or from standardized situations.” U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Dictionary of Occupational Titles app. C (4th ed. 1991). But it does not speak to whether an “essential, integral, or expected” part of being an office helper or counter clerk entails changing essential job functions more than occasionally such that there is an apparent conflict here. See Gutierrez, 844 F.3d at 808. Nor do the DOT’s descriptions of office helper or counter clerk indicate that it is likely that either occupation requires more than occasional changes in essential job functions. Indeed, the DOT’s description of office helper has a discrete list of several specific duties, suggesting that the essential duties of an office helper remain rather invariable.

The decision focuses on reasoning level 2, involving a few concrete variables in or form standardized situations.  The question is not how many variables, but how often the person changes work functions between the variables present.  Reasoning level 2 is a useful guide for assessing complexity but the DOT has multiple layers of data that don't lend themselves to a singular focus on a complex question.  For instance, work that requires sitting all day long and frequent lifting of two pounds -- that requires light exertion because two pounds is more than a negligible weight (one pound).  

Back to the office helper.   We start with and dissect the lead statement and the task statement:

Performs any combination of following duties in business office of commercial or industrial establishment: 
1. Furnishes workers with clerical supplies. 
2. Opens, sorts, and distributes incoming mail, and collects, seals, and stamps outgoing mail. 
3. Delivers oral or written messages. 
4. Collects and distributes paperwork, such as records or timecards, from one department to another.
5. Marks, tabulates, and files articles and records.

DICOT 239.567-010.  The lead statement describes a combination of duties.  The purpose of the lead statement is to set forth:

  • worker actions
  • objective or purpose of the worker actions
  • machines, tools, equipment, or work aids used by the worker
  • materials used, products made, subject matter dealt with, or services rendered
  • instructions followed or judgments made

DICOT, Parts of the Occupational Definition, para. 5.a.  

Reasoning level 2 may describe a generic classification of a few variables but the narrative lead statement demands a different conclusion.  The task statement cements that conclusion:  office helper has five "indicate the specific tasks the worker performs to accomplish the overall job purpose described in the lead statement."  DICOT, Parts of the Occupational Definition, para. 5.b.  These are not "may" items that only a subset of workers perform but are instead task statements of functions typically found in the occupation.  DICOT, Appendix D.  

 Office helper requires the temperament V, performing a variety of tasks.  The Revised Handbook for Analyzing Jobs defines V:

Perform a VARIETY of Duties: Involves frequent changes of tasks involving different aptitudes, technologies, procedures, working conditions, physical demands, or degrees of attentiveness without loss of efficiency or composure. The involvement of the worker in two or more work fields may be a clue that this temperament is required.

There it is, frequent changes of tasks.  That is how Labor defines office helper.  That is not a lay understanding of the lead statement or the multi-part reading of the task statement.  Office helper requires performing a variety of tasks involving frequent changes not only in tasks but also in process and exertion.  

The definition of V states that this kind of work may have two or more work fields.  Office helper has three.  

231 - Verbal Recording-Record Keeping - Preparing. keeping, sorting, and distributing records and communications, primarily verbal in character but including symbol devices, to communicate and systematize information and data by methods not specifically defined elsewhere. as in Developing-Printing (202), Imprinting (192), Photographing (201), Printing (191), and Stock Checking (221). Distinguish from Numerical Recording-Record Keeping (232), where records are also involved but the primary activity is computation.

011 - Material Moving - Conveying materials manually and by use of machines and equipment, such as cranes, hoists, conveyors, industrial trucks, elevators, winches, and handtrucks. Distinguish from Transporting (013), which involves conveyance of passengers and materials by common carrier.

221  - Stock Checking - Receiving, storing. issuing. requisitioning, and accounting for stores of materials and materials in use; involves the physical handling of the materials. Representative job activities covered by this work field include processing records and keeping materials on hand in balance with operational needs; assigning locations and space to items according to size, quantity, and type; verifying quantity, identification, condition, and value of items and the physical handling of items, such as binning, picking, stacking, and counting; receiving. checking. and delivering items; verifying completeness of incoming and outgoing shipments; preparing and otherwise committing stocks for shipment; keeping and conducting inventory of merchandise, materials, stocks, and supplies; filling orders and requisitions; and issuing tools, equipment, and materials.

RHAJ, chapter 4.  

That is the DOT dataset and what Labor had to say about office helper.  

Counter clerk presents as a different kettle of fish.  First, the foto-mart booth in the shopping center is gone and has been gone for so long that many will not know what I mean.  For the current generation, Costco has eliminated their photo-processing service.  Why?  Because your camera is in your pocket and your photo album is on your thumb drive.  Counter clerk in the photofinishing industry does not exist.  Yes, I reported my commonsense understanding of the world.  But allow me to back it up:  the OEWS (successor to the OES) reports that counter and rental clerks have 870 jobs in the other personal services industry group (812900) that incl8udes all photofinishing (812920).  Counter clerk does not exist in significant numbers.  


Suggested Citation:

Lawrence Rohlfing, Padilla v. Saul -- Office Helper and Occasional Changes in Essential Job Functions, California Social Security Attorney (April 29, 2021)

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