An individual's past work is extremely relevant when it comes to determining their disability. As we discussed in a much earlier blog, one of the five steps in the disability determination process is to determine whether or not an individual applying for disability is capable of completing their past work. For instance, if an individual has past relevant work that would be classified as medium, yet an Administrative Law Judge finds them to retain a light or sedentary functional capacity, it would indicate that the individual, although not necessarily capable of completing their former job, would be capable of completing other jobs at lower exertional levels.
To determine the physical exertion requirements of work in the national economy, the Social Security Administration classifies jobs in five different categories: sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. These terms have the same meaning as they have in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, published by the Department of Labor. In making disability determinations under this subpart, the Social Security Administration uses the following definitions:
(a) Sedentary work. Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met.
(b) Light work. Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, the SSA determines that he or she can also do sedentary work, unless there are additional limiting factors such as loss of fine dexterity or inability to sit for long periods of time.
(c) Medium work. Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. If someone can do medium work, the SSA determines that he or she can also do sedentary and light work.
(d) Heavy work. Heavy work involves lifting no more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 pounds. If someone can do heavy work, the SSA determines that he or she can also do medium, light, and sedentary work.
(e) Very heavy work. Very heavy work involves lifting objects weighing more than 100 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing 50 pounds or more. If someone can do very heavy work, the SSA determines that he or she can also do heavy, medium, light and sedentary work.
If you're a client, you've probably had us ask for a list of your past work. You've also had us ask for a supporting opinion for a treating doctor-we promise, there is a method to the madness! One of the most important things to be able to present as evidence in a disability claim is an individuals residual functional capacity-or, rather, what an individual is capable of doing (i.e. how much can they lift? How long can they sit, stand, or walk?) as a result of their disability. This information is compared against the information provided regarding an individual's past work to determine what jobs, if any, they are capable of performing. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your past work and its affect on your Social Security Disability claim, feel free to leave a comment and let us know!