Gaithersburg: 301-670-7030
Baltimore: 410-769-5400
Frederick: 301-668-2100
Contact Us For Legal Help

Social Security Disability Blog

What Are “Exertional Levels” And Why Are They Important In A Social Security Disability Case?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011
What Are “Exertional Levels” And Why Are They Important In A Social Security Disability Case?

The amount of exertion (or effort) required in a particular job is a key component in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA’s) analysis of every disabilityclaim. The SSA classifies each job by how much exertion is required. For example, work that requires very little effort or exertion is considered to be “sedentary.” While, at the other end of the spectrum, jobs which require extreme exertion are classified as “heavy.”

The following illustrates what I consider to be the most important differences between the different exertional levels:

  • Sedentary work involves no lifting of anything heavier than 10 pounds. It also is mainly performed sitting with up to 2 hours during the day of standing or walking around.
  • Light work requires a little more exertion. These jobs involve lifting of up to 20 pounds and the majority of the day is usually spent standing or walking.
  • Medium jobs can involve lifting up to 50 pounds. Workers in these jobs are usually on their feet almost all of the day and are also expected to be able to frequently bend or stoop.

There is really no point in discussing heavy work. If the claimant could perform heavy work it would be extremely difficult to prove disability.

The exertional levels are used in three different steps in the disability evaluation process: determining residual functional capacity, evaluating whether the claimant can perform their past work, and, if not, whether they can perform some other type of work.

Residual Functional Capacity

The very first step in determining whether someone is “disabled’ is to determine what level of exertion they can still perform, despite their disabilities. This is referred to as their residual functioning capacity (RFC). Can the claimant still perform sedentary work? Light work? Medium work?

Past Work

Once the RFC is determined, the next step is to determine whether this RFC would preclude them from performing their past relevant work. So let’s say SSA has determined that a claimant has a RFC to do sedentary work. SSA will then examine the jobs the claimant has had for the last 15 years. In this review, the SSA will classify those jobs by their exertional levels. (For example, if the claimant had performed construction work for the last 15 years the exertional level would be heavy.) If any of the past work was performed at the sedentary exertional level, the SSA will most likely deny the claim because the claimant can return to their past work. If the past relevant work was all more than sedentary, the evaluation of the claim continues.

Other Work

So once the SSA has established that the claimant cannot perform their past work, the question then becomes would the claimant be able to work at another job given their sedentary RFC. This analysis focuses on the claimant’s age, education and work experience, with age being by far the most important factor. (See Age: A Crucial Factor in Your Social Security Disability Case). For a claimant with the RFC for sedentary work, the determinative factor is usually age:

  • If the claimant is over 50, then it will be presumed that he or she will not be able to transition to this new exertional level unless the claimant has special skills through work experiences or education that would allow for employment at that level.
  • If the claimant is under 50, it will be presumed that regardless of education or work experience, the claimant is young enough to learn the skills necessary for sedentary work.

The analysis is similar if the claimant’s RFC is determined to be either light or medium. Disability in both of those situations, though, becomes more difficult to prove.

One final note regarding exertional levels. The analysis above only applies to the claimant’s exertional (effort-based) limitations. These are limitations in the ability to lift, sit, stand, and make various postural movements. In most cases there are also non-exertional limitations - such as the affect of pain on the ability to concentrate while at work. For more on these non-exertional limitations see What Are Non-Exertional Limitations?

By David Galinis

RSS

What Our Clients Say

Known for our unwavering commitment to clients, for our integrity, and for delivering the best results, our clients continue to refer their friends, families and neighbors to us for their legal needs.


"One year ago today I made the call to your office. The best decision I could make. I wanted to share with you how impressed I am with your staff and your professionalism."

Heather P.


"Craig did a great job representing me! He's the lawyer I have trusted with my legal needs because he's professional, knowledgeable, and keeps me informed about my case."

Jaclyn K.


" wanted to thank you, in writing, for your kindness and prompt response. Customer service is a dying art, and you gave me hope for my family."

Karla


"I would like to express my gratitude for your efforts and dedication for my disability case. It's has been quite a long and upsetting process but you have handled my case in an extremely competent and responsible manner."

Leo H.


"I have recommended Mr. Feldman to several of my friends and colleagues and have heard nothing but excellent reviews. He is the best lawyer I have ever used."

Martin


"I received the check today. I could not believe it until I saw the check. Thank you so much. You have improved my family's quality of life tenfold."

Mike F.


"These guys go above and beyond! They always have your best interest in mind."

Mike W.


"I would like to express my thanks to Amanda Knott and Gretchen Rogers for their patience with me through my ordeal with my workers comp claim. I was impressed from the very beginning when I spoke with G. Rogers on the phone and although she did not have to, she met with me personally and walked me through the steps of what to expect in this process."

Mr Sagal


"You have been kind throughout this process and I appreciate your professionalism as well as your gentle concern. Thanks for helping us and all the others who need your legal expertise. We are grateful."

Nancy F.


"Thanks to Mr. Shultz's aggressive and professional work ethic style I was able to receive the medical services and compensation pertaining to my case."

Navdeep C.


"I can honestly say this firm is simply TOP NOTCH! They not only have handled countless cases for my members that require their services, they also have gone well beyond their "scope" to help some of my folks in other areas of need. "

Rick H.


"I wanted to compliment your law firm on having Amanda Knott as a paralegal. She worked tirelessly for almost 2 years making sure I understood what was happening and at the same time keeping all my records straight and in order, which allowed Gretchen Rogers to represent me in the best way possibl"

Terrye G


"The attention and professional care the staff has taken toward my needs has always been excellent. I have no complaints nor worries that my issues discussed are not addressed."

Tim T.


"I just got off the phone with Craig and let him know how thankful we are to you, him and Ken for all your efforts – you are all really terrific to work with!"

Val K.


Locations Throughout Maryland & Washington DC

Gaithersburg Office

481 N. Frederick Avenue, Suite 300
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
301-670-7030 / 800-248-3352
Fax: 301-670-9492

Lutherville Office

1301 York Road, Suite 600
Lutherville, MD 21093
410-769-5400 / 800-248-3352
Fax: 410-769-9200

Frederick Office

30 W. Patrick Street, Suite 105
Frederick, MD 21701
301-668-2100 / 800-827-2667
Fax: 301-668-2000


TOP