What Is a Sedentary Job, And How Do I Know If I Can’t Perform One?

Social Security Disability Benefits can be necessary for people who are unable to work yet still need to pay their bills. Qualifying for these literal life-saving benefits can be a complicated process that adds even more stress to a life already burdened with the inability to work.

To access these benefits, you’ll have to meet several different requirements and prove you’re qualified to the Social Security Administration. After a five-step sequence, you can be approved and start receiving your benefits.

The major aspect of making your case to the SSA is proving that you can’t do sedentary work, which is considered the easiest work for people to do in terms of physical difficulty. Take a look at what qualifies as a sedentary job and how you can prove to the SSA that you can’t perform this type of job.

What is a Sedentary Job, and How do I Know if I Can’t Perform One?

The first step is identifying what a sedentary job is. The SSA defines sedentary jobs as work that involves sitting down for most of the day. Any standing or walking is limited to two hours or less per day. Additionally, these jobs require lifting no more than ten pounds on rare occasions. Most lifting will be light items like papers. It’s important to remember that sedentary does not mean a job that has you sitting all day, just three-quarters of the day at least. However, this is just a general definition, with the SSA occasionally using vocational experts to identify jobs you may qualify for even if you don’t qualify for some sedentary work.

Determining Disability

The SSA utilizes a five-step process to determine if someone is disabled and needs benefits due to their disability.

  • Step One: Determine that applicant does not earn more than $1,220 in a single month from working any kind of gainful employment while also claiming disability.
  • Step Two: Determine that the applicant is impaired in a way that has limited their ability to do basic work for at least twelve months.
  • Step Three: Determine that the applicant’s condition is included on the SSA’s list of disabling conditions or is equal in severity to any condition on that list.
  • Step Four: Determine that the applicant’s impairment prevents them from doing their previous work.
  • Step Five: Determine that the applicant is unable to do any other type of work due to their impairment in combination with their age, education, work experience, and transferable skills.

Residual Functional Capacity

To determine whether or not someone can perform certain kinds of work, the SSA uses the Residual Functional Capacity assessment. This test determines whether or not you can do sedentary work and is the test you’ll need to focus on if your goal is to prove you can’t do that kind of work. If the assessment determines that limiting your activity to less than sedentary levels, you’ll likely qualify for benefits. Meeting this standard is easier to do if you’re over 50 years of age.

Essentially, any kind of impairment that prevents you from getting through an eight-hour workday can help you qualify. Some examples include chronic back pain that makes it impossible to sit for hours at one time or if you need a mobility device to walk. Even medication that impairs concentration and focus can help you qualify.

What the RFC Measures

Residual Functional Capacity assessments measure four factors in determining whether or not you can do certain kinds of work, and those factors are as follows.

  • What functions you can do on a sustained basis
  • All your functional capabilities as backed up by supporting evidence
  • Any issues related to your ability to do sustained work
  • Your overall functional capacity

Remember, medical evidence is the primary basis for qualification, so you’ll have to make a concentrated effort to prove that you can’t do sedentary work.

Proving You Can’t Do Sedentary Work

When proving that you can’t do sedentary work, you’ll need to prove how your impairment prevents the work. This evidence can take quite a few different forms, but yours needs to include at least one of the following.

  • Needing a device to walk, like a cane
  • Inability to sit for six to eight hours
  • Inability to walk or stand for more than two hours overall throughout an eight-hour day
  • Inability to lift ten pounds or lighter amounts regularly
  • Needing to lift legs for most of the day in a way that interferes with sitting at a desk
  • Needing to lie down for more than an hour in eight hours
  • Needing to change positions in a way that compromises sitting at a desk
  • Inability to work in noisy environments
  • Inability or reduced ability to use both hands and all fingers
  • Inability to balance while standing upright even on smooth surfaces
  • Inability to use an arm
  • Needing to take frequent multiple sick days

The Right Kind of Evidence

Even with the requirements for evidence in mind, you must submit the right kind of evidence. It’s generally best to file with the SSA giving them as much evidence as you have. That can include many aspects of your medical records, including test results, documented treatment plans, and letters from your physician in which a professional outlines the extent and limitations of your condition. Gather all of this evidence for your case before filing for disability with the SSA.


Eroding the Occupational Base

Suppose you’re trying to prove that you can’t do sedentary work. In that case, your goal should be eroding the occupational base, which is a practice that involves demonstrating as many factors as you can that contribute to your inability to do work. Having just one of the limitations specified by the SSA may not be enough to rule out all sedentary work, as there are some jobs in which that limitation isn’t a hindrance. The more limitations you have, however, the smaller the pool of suitable employment becomes.

Generally, multiple qualifications are needed for the SSA to consider you as less than sedentary according to the SSA’s assessment, and two particular impairments tend to be powerful enough on their own. They include the complete inability to bend and the inability to stand and sit as needed even when your standing is limited to two overall hours out of an eight-hour workday.

Summary Sedentary Work and Performance

Sedentary work is work in which you are seated for most of the day with only two total hours of having to stand up and/or walk out of an eight-hour workday. To receive disability benefits, you’ll have to demonstrate that you aren’t capable of any kind of work, including sedentary work.

You can generally determine whether or not you can perform sedentary work by the SSA’s RFC. This assessment measures a variety of factors to see how your condition impairs your ability to work—generally, the ability to bend and sit and stand as needed reigns supreme over the others.  

To demonstrate that you’re incapable of sedentary work, you’ll have to provide medical evidence. It’s best to opt for a lot of evidence to the point where it’s probably more than you need, including medical exams, test results, treatment plans, and written letters from actual physicians describing the extent of your impairment.

Generally, proving that you can’t perform sedentary work is accomplished by eroding the occupational base. That means showcasing as many impairments as you can as they relate to performing sedentary work. While more is always better, the inability to stoop or stand and sit as needed tends to be enough on their own.

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