Can’t sit for 4 Hours? Court says you can’t do “sedentary work.”
Disability insurance companies often deny Long Term Disability (LTD) claims by saying that claimants can do “sedentary work.” They rarely define that phrase. Sometimes, it seems to mean people that can generally do sitting work, and other times disability adjusters use it to mean people that can lift up to 10 pounds. But is “sedentary work” a real thing? Is it a technical term that really means something, or is it just a buzz phrase used to deny claims?
The U.S. government and and vocational rehabilitation professionals both use the same definition of sedentary work. It comes from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”), and it states:
S-Sedentary Work – Exerting up to 10 pounds of force occasionally (Occasionally: activity or condition exists up to 1/3 of the time) and/or a negligible amount of force frequently (Frequently: activity or condition exists from 1/3 to 2/3 of the time) to lift, carry, push, pull, or otherwise move objects, including the human body. Sedentary work involves sitting most of the time, but may involve walking or standing for brief periods of time. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required only occasionally and all other sedentary criteria are met.
Seems pretty straightforward, right? But how long do you have to sit to meet that definition? It does not say how long in plain English, does it?
Appeals Court Says You Cannot Do Sedentary Work if You Cannot Sit for 4 Hours in a Day.
In a recent ERISA Disability case involving Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company, a lower court had rejected the disabled claimant’s argument that he could not do sedentary work, because he could not sit for 4 hours. The trial judge said that this definition of “sedentary” came from Social Security law, which has very different rules than group disability employee benefits. However, that judge did not explain how the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (which is not part of the Social Security Administration) definition did not apply.
A panel of appellate judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that conclusion, and held:
other courts evaluating ERISA claims and interpreting the DOT have consistently held that an employee who cannot sit for more than four hours in an eight-hour workday cannot perform work classified as “sedentary.”
The Ninth Circuit cited to 6 other courts from all over the country that had reached that conclusion. In the case, there was no evidence which contradicted that the disabled claimant, Armani, could not sit more than 4 hours per day. As a result, the appeals court vacated the lower court opinion, and sent the case back to the District Judge to apply the proper standard.
If you can’t sit for half the day, you cannot do sitting work!
It seems obvious, but at least one judge, many disability insurance companies and employees of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cannot seem to understand that if you cannot sit for most of the day, you cannot do sedentary work. The DOT definition has generally been understood to mean that you have to be able to sit for 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday.
CASE: Armani v. Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, No. 14-56866, 2016 WL 6543523 (Nov. 4, 2016).