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Disability Denied? They Say You Can do Sedentary Work… What Is Sedentary Work?

Tucker Law Group
September 16, 2016

The disability denial letter said that your claim was denied, because they decided you could do “sedentary work.”  What does that mean?  A sitting job?

“You Can Do Sedentary Work” – A Boilerplate Denial Phrase in LTD, SSD, and VA Disability Claims

Perhaps the most common way that the disability claims are denied is the decision-maker concluding that the claimant can work at the sedentary level, meaning that there are jobs that the person can do.  The phrase “sedentary” describes a certain group of jobs classified by physical demands of the work.  This type of denial is common in disability insurance, Social Security Disability, and VA Individual Unemployability (TDIU) claims.

Definition of “Sedentary Work” From the D.O.T.

The definition of sedentary work comes from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“the D.O.T.”), a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor.  The definition is quoted below, and it if a job or occupation is described as “sedentary,” this is the maximum physical demands that the job requires:

Physical Demand Definition of Sedentary Work from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles 

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.

Sedentary Jobs Require Much More Than Sitting and Lifting Less Than 10 Pounds!

In disability decisions, it is extremely common form the people deciding disability claims to be laser focused on doctor’s records that say a person can sit or lift up to 10 pounds.  However, this ignores key aspects of sedentary work that cannot be ignored.

1.  You must be able to lift 10 pounds “occasionally” to do sedentary work.

The D.O.T. definition (which is a standard concept in vocational rehabilitation) states that a person doing sedentary work must be able to lift or push up to 10 pounds up to 1/3 of the day.  That means a person doing sedentary work may be called upon to lift up to 10 pounds repeatedly throughout the day for up to 2.5 hours.  Rarely does a person have to do this continuously for 2.5 hours.  Instead, during an 8 hour day, they must be able to lift 10 pounds when needed – any time during the day, for up to 1/3 of the day.

Disability claim handlers see notes that show a person can lift 10 pounds and conclude they can do sedentary work based on this alone.  Not only does this ignore whether they can do other aspects of sedentary work, but it ignores whether they have the ability to do this lifting multiple times per day (up to 2.5 hours per day), day-in and day-out.

2.  You must be able to sit “most of the time” to do sedentary work.

If a person cannot sit most of the day, they cannot do desk or bench work.  It is that simple.  Most vocational experts will testify that a person who cannot sit for 6 hours out of the day cannot do sedentary work.

A person that has to take frequent breaks, particularly to lay down, cannot do sedentary work (or any work, for that matter).  How frequent is too much?  Assume a person has to take a break for 10 minutes every hour of an 8 hour day.  That is 80 minutes, or “breaking” for 1 hour and 20 minutes a day.  That is not acceptable to maintain gainful employment; no employer would tolerate that.  Even a 10 minute break every half an hour will usually be considered problematic.

3.  You must be able to use your arms and hands to write, move small files or objects, type, etc. to sedentary work.

These days, many people think of sedentary work as an “office job.”  Desk jobs in an office are only part of the group of jobs called sedentary, but when it comes to desk work you have to be able to use a computer to do sedentary work.  If you cannot sit and type for extended periods of time and move paper and files around your desk for hours each day, you cannot do sedentary work.

Even in less skilled sedentary jobs like small parts assembler where you sit at a bench, you still have to be able to sit and use your arms and hands over and over during the day.

If you have any limitations or restrictions to your hands or upper extremities (your arms and shoulders), you have to develop evidence about that in your disability claim.  Not being able to use one’s hands and arms over and over during the day will prevent anyone from doing sedentary work.  Disability claim handlers will often ignore the ability to use the hands and arms, focusing solely on lifting and sitting.  In your disability claim – whether it is an LTD insurance, SSD, or VA Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability claim – you must document the problems you have with any movement or repeated action you have with your hands and arms.

4.  You must be able to focus and concentrate on the work at your desk.

Disability examiners often focus just on the physical parts of work.  This ignores the most important part of nearly all sedentary work:  your ability to think and focus on your work.  If you are doing work at a desk, you cannot do the job if you cannot pay attention to your work.  We are not just talking about a brain injury here.

If you suffer pain that is serious enough to distract you (i.e., you cannot stop thinking about the pain), you likely cannot perform any job over a full day.  Likewise, if you have side effects from your medication that keep you from thinking straight, no employer wants you working on something in which accuracy or pace is important.  Developing proof to show why you cannot focus and concentrate is a key part of proving you cannot do sedentary work.

5.  You must be able to lean over a desk or table to do sedentary work.

Vocational consultants recognize that leaning over a desk or work bench is a component of many sedentary jobs.  Although every sedentary job may not require this, many do.  If you are not able to bend forward at the waist and  lean over a table (also called stooping), you cannot do all sedentary work.

To Prove That You Cannot Do Sedentary Work, You Must Develop Evidence of ALL of the Reasons Why You Cannot Do the Duties of Sedentary Work.

To show the disability examiners that you cannot do sedentary work, you have to create evidence.  That may be medical records.  It might be one or more expert witnesses whose statements you need.  It might be a test called a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE) or some other type of testing to prove your limitations.

In any disability claim, you not only have to prove that you cannot sit for most of a day or lift up to 10 pounds over and over for a large part of the day.  You also have to prove every other reason why performing a sedentary job is not something you can do. When theh disability examiner says you can do sedentary work, it is crucial that you hire experts and create the documents needed to show that you cannot do sedentary work.

If your claim for disability benefits was denied, call our team of experienced disability attorneys at (866) 233-5044 to discuss your rights about Disability Insurance, ERISA Disability, Social Security Disability, or VA TDIU benefits.