How do I prove that I can’t do sedentary work?

Submitted by Maya on

Winning your Social Security Disability claim depends on proving that you are completely disabled. It is the responsibility of the Social Security Administration (SSA) to ensure that individuals who genuinely need benefits have access to them. As such, the SSA carefully scrutinizes each applicant and attempts to assess if their limitations might allow them to do a less strenuous job. If it is determined that you can adapt to a more manageable job, you may be denied the disability benefits that you desperately need.

To be approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, you will need to show that you are not capable of doing your most recent job, as well as any less demanding job. Essentially, in order to win your claim, you will need to prove that you are even unable to do a desk job, or what the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers “sedentary work.”

What exactly is sedentary work and what actions does it include?

When examining the physical difficulty of a particular line of work, the SSA classifies jobs as sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy.

Sedentary work is defined as a job in which you are seated for most of the time that you are working. In fact, according to the SSA, those in sedentary jobs should be sitting for at least six hours of an 8-hour workday, and periods of standing or walking should be limited to less than two hours during that timeframe. Individuals in sedentary jobs should be able to stand up or walk around occasionally in order to carry out their job duties.

Further, individuals who work sedentary jobs should be able to lift objects up to 10 pounds. For example, if you can perform a sedentary job you should be able to occasionally lift and carry items relevant to your job, such as file folders or small tools.

While it might appear that some disabled individuals should be able to do a sedentary job, this is not necessarily true. Sitting for long periods of time without the ability to lie down, standing up or walking around, or lifting even smaller objects may not be an option for some people.

What actions can I take to prove my work ability?

To determine what kind of work you can do, if any, the SSA will assess your physical and mental capabilities, called a Residual Functioning Capacity (RFC). This detailed report describes what kind of work-related functions you are able to do on a regular, sustained basis. An RFC is primarily based on medical evidence, but may also include observations or descriptions, including a statement from you. Once your RFC is complete, the SSA will determine the type of work that you can perform. To be awarded benefits, you will need to earn a “less than sedentary work” classification.

It is important to have your physician carefully document your abilities. For example, if you are not capable of going from a seated to a standing position or if you are unable to walk or stand for up to two hours throughout a day, this should be carefully noted in your medical records. Additionally, if your doctor has said that you cannot lift objects less than 10 pounds or you are unable to grasp or hold objects, it is imperative that this is documented.

Some questions that you will want to consider and have documented are:

    • If you can sit for up to six hours at a time, do you require pain medications to do so?
    • What types of medications are you on and how do they impact your ability to work?
    • Do you suffer from diagnosed depression or anxiety as a result of your illness? If so, what types of treatments do you require for them and how do those treatments impact your work?
    • Does your medical condition require you to take frequent breaks, lie down, or elevate your legs? If so, how often?
    • How often must you attend to treatment, such as therapies, infusions, or doctor’s appointments?
    • Are you able to go from a seated to standing position without assistance?
    • Does your condition prohibit you from using your hands, such as answering a phone or grasping objects?
    • Can you reach things across your desk or bend down to get something without assistance?

These are just a few of the questions that you may want to consider when trying to prove that you are not capable of sedentary work. It’s essential that you not only know the answers, but that they are backed by medical evidence or expert opinion.

As noted, some of the evidence may come from sources other than your primary physician, such as physical therapy records, psychiatrist notes, or occupational therapy reports.

How Do I Prove That I Can't Do Sedentary Work?

Should I hire an attorney or an advocate to help me prove that I am unable to do sedentary work?

If you are unable to do sedentary work, you will want to hire an experienced attorney or disability advocate to help you with your case. It is difficult to prove that you can’t do sedentary work. An experienced disability attorney can help you determine which functional limitations apply to you, what medical evidence you may still need to collect, and how to best present your case.

When you are unwell, it is often difficult completing even the simplest of life’s tasks. Hiring an experienced attorney or disability advocate will allow you to worry less about the administrative parts of life, thus offering you the ability to focus on becoming well again.

Additional Resources