A critical component of Social Security disability or SSI cases is determining the nature of a claimant’s prior relevant work. Prior relevant work is defined as work the claimant has done in the 15 years immediately preceding their alleged onset date of disability.
In step four of the five step sequential analysis for determining disability (see my blog post dated March 25th, 2014, or refer to Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Section 416.920 for more on the five step sequential analysis for disability), the fact finder (typically an Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ) will determine whether or not the claimant (or, to be more precise, a hypothetical individual who fits the claimant’s profile) could perform his or her past relevant work, considering the person’s age, education, and functional limitations.
In making this determination, Social Security categorizes work as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, or very heavy.
These categories are terms of art, and are not necessarily as intuitive as they may appear at first glance.
Sedentary work is primarily seated work; i.e., the person is sitting down most of the work day, although there may be some standing and walking. In addition, the lifting demands of sedentary work are fairly minimal; i.e., a maximum of 10 lbs. at one time, and occasionally lifting or carrying small things such as files, ledgers, and small tools.
Light work is work that may require a person to stand and walk for a good portion of the work day (i.e., about six hours out of an eight hour work day). In addition, the lifting demands of light work are greater than sedentary work, and require a person to lift up to a maximum of 20 lbs. at one time and to frequently lift or carry objects weighing ten lbs. or less. Light work is also work that may be primarily seated work but requires some pushing and/or pulling of arm or leg controls.
Medium work is work that requires lifting up to a maximum of 50 lbs. at one time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 lbs.
Heavy work is work that requires lifting up to a maximum of 100 lbs. at one time, with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 50 lbs.
Very heavy work is work that requires lifting objects weighing more than 100 lbs. at one time with frequent lifting or carrying of objections weighing 50 lbs. or greater.
See Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Section 404.1567.
This material should not be construed as legal advice for any particular fact situation, but is intended for general informational purposes only. For advice specific to any individual situation, an experienced attorney should be contacted.