The Importance of Physical Exertion Requirements in Social Security Disability Cases


When evaluating your application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will use the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, also called the Disability Grid Rules, if you are over the age of 50 and do not meet a disability listing.


Determining the physical exertion requirements of your past relevant work and other work in the national economy is an important part of deciding whether you can prove that you’re disabled under the Social Security Act. Section 404.1567 of the Social Security Act explains how the SSA classifies the physical exertion requirements of all jobs.


Social Security Disability Puts Jobs into Five Physical Exertion Categories


The SSA uses the same classification of physical exertion requirements as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which is published by the United States Department of Labor. Jobs are broken into these five physical exertion requirements: sedentary; light; medium; heavy; and very heavy. Let’s take a look at the definitions of each of these terms.


Sedentary Work under Social Security Disability


A sedentary job is work that involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at one time and occasionally lifting small items such as files and hand tools. Most sedentary jobs involve lots of sitting, but a job can still be defined as sedentary if it requires some walking and standing to carry out job duties. Usually a job is considered sedentary work if it requires only occasional walking and standing (no more than 2 to 3 hours per day) and the other sedentary criteria are met.


Many sedentary jobs involve office work, administrative duties, answering the phone, and using the computer. If you have a physical disability involving your back, neck, hands, or swelling in your legs, then you may have a difficult time performing sedentary work. In our experience a vocational expert will testify that a claimant is unable to perform sedentary work if he or she must elevate one or both legs to waist level or above throughout most of the day.


Light Work under Social Security Disability


Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of items weighing up to 10 pounds.


Many light jobs require walking or standing more than 4 hours total in an 8 hour work day, or the use of arm and leg controls when sitting.


If someone can perform light work, then the SSA will determine that he or she can also do sedentary work unless there are additional limiting factors. For example, limitations involving gross and fine dexterity of the hands or the inability to sit for prolonged periods may eliminate sedentary work when someone is found capable of performing light work.


In our experience many vocational experts will testify that a claimant is unable to perform light work if she or she requires the use of a cane, walker, or crutch for both ambulation and balance. It’s important that you get a written prescription for your cane, walker, or crutch if you require one because of your physical disability.


Medium Work under Social Security Disability


Medium work requires you to lift up to 50 pounds at one time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 pounds. Many warehouse and maintenance positions are classified as medium level work.


If the SSA finds you capable of performing medium work, then it will also find you capable of doing sedentary and light work.


Heavy Work under Social Security Disability


A heavy job is one that requires you to lift up to 100 pounds and to frequently lift or carry objects weighing up to 50 pounds. Examples of heavy work include construction jobs and delivery driver jobs.


Very Heavy Work


These are jobs that require lifting more than 100 pounds. Most of these jobs require lots of walking and standing during the work day.


Though it may not seem like a big deal, it’s important that both your past relevant work and jobs listed by the vocational expert in response to the administrative law judge’s hypotheticals be classified correctly. We have won several cases because Disability Determination Services (DDS) misclassified our client’s past relevant work and we were able to prove it through our client’s testimony and other evidentiary sources.


Looking for a Social Security Disability lawyer in Richmond, VA or a Virginia Beach disability attorney? Corey Pollard can help, even if you want to appeal a denied SSD claim. Contact us today for a free consultation. We have represented hundreds of adults and children at Social Security disability hearings and helped them get approved for the benefits they deserve.