Light Work, Sedentary Work, and Mental Limitations: Social Security Disability

How a restriction to light or sedentary work can help you get disability benefits if you also have a mental or emotional issue.

The vocational guidelines for Social Security disability  define work activity as medium, light, or sedentary. This is how these work activity levels are defined.

  • Sedentary work means that you are able to sit for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day and lift up to 10 lbs. occasionally during a day
  • Light work means that you can stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day and lift 10 lbs. frequently and 20 lbs. occasionally
  • Medium work means that you can stand and walk for up to 6 hours in an 8 hour day and lift 25 lbs. frequently and 50 lbs. occasionally.

Social Security medical consultants assign an applicant a residual functional capacity (RFC) level of sedentary, light, or medium work, and then disability claims examiners use the RFC to see if the applicant can be expected to work by using a  vocational grid pubished by Social Security. If a disability applicant's characteristics fit within a grid rule (for instance, age 55, sedentary RFC,  history of unskilled work), the applicant will be found disabled through a "medical-vocational allowance." This is the way applicants  whose condition doesn't  meet or equal an impairment listing  can be approved for benefits.  (For more information on the use of the grid rules, see our article on using the medical-vocational grids.)

If the grid rules say that an applicant should not be disabled (for instance, age 45, sedentary work), disability benefits will generally be denied. But for individuals who also have  mental impairments, cognitive, psychiatric, or emotional limitations can reduce the amount of jobs the applicant can do, when combined with a physical RFC. As a result, Social Security is required to consider how these applicants' mental limitations limit  their potential to do unskilled work.

Let's look at how this plays out for someone with an RFC for sedentary work.

Grid Rules for Sedentary Work

The following information is just a sample of the vocational grid rules for those with sedentary RFCs.


    Rule 201.01

    -----------
  • Age: 55+

  • Education: Didn't graduate from high school

  • Work History: Unskilled work or no work within last 15 years
  • Equals finding of: Disabled



    Rule 201.02

    -----------
  • Age: 55+

  • Education:  Didn't graduate from high school    
  • Work History: Skilled or semi-skilled work, but skills not transferable
  • Equals finding of: Disabled



    Rule 201.03

    -----------
  • Age: 55+

  • Education:  Didn't graduate from high school

  • Work History: Skilled or semi-skilled work with skills that could  transferred  to other work
  • Equals finding of: Not Disabled


    Rule 201.04

    -----------
  • Age: 55+

  • Education: HS grad or more

  • Work History: Unskilled work or no work within last 15 years
  • Equals finding of: Disabled  

As you can see from the above grid rules, an individual'

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